2 women holding handsIn relationships, love can blind us to red flags when they appear. Here I offer 5 secrets to never again ignore red flags in relationships.

This week, I have struggled to find words. As a writer, creating content about dating and relationships feels trivial after yet another school shooting. As I have tried, along with everyone else, to process the conditions of our country, one idea plays over and over in my head: ignoring a problem only allows it to grow worse. Then I remember Brené Brown’s words: Love is the last thing we need to ration in this world.  In the spirit of love and creative expression, I returned to my computer to share what I know about love and connection. Here I offer five ways to never again ignore blaring red flags in relationships.

1. Look for pillars of healthy relationships.

Love shouldn’t hurt or cause us to lose things; friends, money, or a sense of ourselves. Healthy relationships involve two people who are invested in each other’s separate existence. When relationships are toxic, they lack essential relationship pillars like trust, intimacy, passion, respect, and commitment.

2. Listen to your gut.

Looking back on my most toxic relationships, it was clear that red flags were there all along. So why did I ignore them? In every case, it came down to one bad habit – ignoring my instincts.  In one particularly toxic relationship, I ignored major red flags like intermittent reinforcement and poor boundaries with other women, right up until I got punched in the arm. Listening to our gut is easier when we identify our deal breakers.

3. Identify deal breakers.

Deal breakers are the boundaries we set before falling in love that name what we will not put up within a relationship. Aside from the biggies like cheating and abuse, I think of things like shutting down during conflict, unwillingness to take responsibility for her part in issues or keeping secrets as deal-breakers. Relationships are about being a team. Behaviours that erode trust chip away at the strength of your cohesiveness as a team.

4. Learn from past relationships.

The worst relationship I ever had taught me the most about myself. Namely, that I often chose to trade the illusion of being in a committed relationship for being authentic about issues when they arose. In order to break the cycle of feeling disregarded in relationships, I had to stop blaming my exes and examine my role in each relationship. What I realized was that I had a lot of judgment about my own feelings and needs, which kept me passive about communicating them. Finding my voice empowered me and strengthened my sense of self.

5. Commit to healing yourself.

With the exception of the rare unicorn adult who grew up in a highly functional family, most of us have some baggage that spills over into our intimate relationships. Add to that some repeated patterns in love and you have the perfect storm of accumulated muck. Healing ourselves can involve practising better boundaries, speaking our truth, improving our communication skills, evolving our stories about our role in relationships, and forgiving ourselves and others. For me, everything changed when I accepted that I was carrying around unresolved grief that lay like a thick blanket on my life. As soon as I accepted this truth and gave myself permission to grieve, it was as if something opened up let trapped me out. I replay this time in my mind to Eminem’s Slim Shady “Will the real Kim Baker please stand up”. We have a saying in my spiritual community that goes something like: whatever it is that is awkward, painful, or unpleasant, love that.

Like most difficulties in life, ignoring issues in relationships tends to only make the problem worse. By dialling into our gut, looking for healthy relationship pillars, identifying our deal breakers, owning our part in past relationships and healing ourselves we can trust that whatever arises will not only be addressed but will be examined with an open, authentic heart. And isn’t that our greatest beauty?