I don’t talk much about this, but years ago I was in a relationship full of red flags. Like a parade down Main Street, the red flags in this long ago relationship waved loud and proud. I knew the flags existed early on, but I chose to ignore them to the detriment of myself and my family. It took me years (and years) to climb out from beneath the weight of these flags. I’m all too familiar with the struggle of a union steeped in this oppressive cycle. In “Psychology Today,” Dr. Abigail Brenner writes about 10 warning signs to look out for when entering into a relationship.
As I read over her list of cautionary signs, I was taken back in time. Taken back to moments of connection in each and every warning sign she highlighted. I also found myself breathing a sigh of relief in knowing I was no longer that woman in a bad relationship. I had clawed and clambered my way up and out of the destruction. I was done turning a blind eye to behavior that was harmful and hurtful. It took me a minute, but I persevered.
I could’ve easily remained stuck in the cycle of something I didn’t want to happen. It was one of those times in life in which we become so focused on what we don’t want that we realize we’ve never really nailed down what it is we DO want! I was finally free to connect with someone for all the right reasons. I knew all the red flags, now it was time to train myself to recognize all the green ones.
Green Flag #1 – Strong Communication Skills
What makes my communication with John so wonderful? I can trust him. I can trust him with the truth of who I am. I’m allowed a platform of vulnerability that enables me to get in touch with my true thoughts and feelings. John and I encourage each other to speak freely. We know the only way our relationship is going to continue to grow and prosper is by staying in touch verbally. We’re conscious in our speech, our tone, whether or not the words coming out of our mouths foster strong bonds, and how we speak about each other to others. We don’t shy away from the hard questions nor do we run when our fear surfaces. We lean into each other for support and as a guide in getting to the other side of our emotions. When you can create a safe environment for open communication you’re acknowledging the value of each other. Let’s not forget the art of listening is just as important. When our partner is passionate about a topic, let them voice those opinions completely. Really listen to what your partner is expressing. I know for me, those times John was a sounding board for my brainstorming were some of the deepest and most connective moments in my relationship with him.
Green Flag #2 – Responsible, Mature, Predictable
When you’re in a green flag relationship, being responsible, mature, and predictable are seen as the building blocks of a strong foundation. The health and wellbeing of the union is understood to be the responsibility of both partners. I know in my marriage to John, we both know the importance of showing up each and everyday. Marriage is a 365 day a year endeavor for us. We hold our union in such a place of honor that showing up is a joy. We also appreciate the maturity of our relationship. The comedian Sinbad, when asked by a woman at one of his shows why her husband wasn’t romantic enough, responded, “What do you mean romance? Do you mean fix the screen door or hold your hand? If you want him to hold your hand, then say so!” This is maturity to me—those couples who put down the fantasy of mind reading and just get real with what it is they want from each other. There’s much more room for love and movement in a relationship when we learn to voice our desires rather than a union based on telepathy. Can you depend on me? Can I depend on you? If you can answer yes to both these questions then you have the basic framework for predictability. In relationships a level of predictability is vital. There’s no doubt a comfort level those in green flag relationships benefit from, and knowing we can depend on our partner to be relied upon will give us the freedom to showcase our authenticity.
Green Flag #3 – Trust:
We all know what it’s like to trust someone. We can count on dear friends or family members to tell us the truth. You also know the reverence you have towards those people. They’re the ones you turn to time and time again for their honesty and advice. You know these people will be straight with you and you also know they’ll hold your innermost thoughts and feelings in high regard. You’re sacred to them and this is reflected in their behavior. This is trust in its simplest form. Trust is the mortar that holds all the bricks of your relationship walls in place. With trust you can build a relationship mansion that will withstand the test of time. When you’re trustworthy you’re basically saying the other person is worthy of trust. This is a huge message. If I’m worth the truth from you, I know you’re willing to be vulnerable with me. Trust moves in both directions though. If John tells me (and shows me) he loves me, my trust needs to be in a space in which I can accept that love. Both members of a partnership have to trust. Those giving trust and those receiving.
Green Flag #4 – Your Inner Circle of Friends and Family Like Your Partner:
If you find yourself defending your partner to friends and family, you might want to take a look at why. If the common denominator in difficult situations seems to circle back around to your partner, then it’s safe to say you’re the one blind to what’s happening. Look, I know it can be hard to want to listen to friends and family when they appear to be raining on your parade, but try to keep the situation in context. Your friends and family love you, that’s why you keep them in your life. You know they’re going to be truthful and will only have your best interest at heart. These people WANT you to be happy! I ignored comments from family and friends and spent 18 years struggling before I finally conceded they’d been right all along. We want to think we’re mature and healthy enough to make good choices, that our partner “picker” is in ship shape working order, but sometimes we aren’t where we’d like to think we are. We can’t see it, but our friends and family can. Like an intervention, sometimes we have to put down our ego in order to admit we’ve lost control. I mean come on, you know deep down you would prefer that your friends and family adore your partner. You want to be able to attend gatherings and parties and get togethers in which everyone is happy to see you and your partner. Remember who we choose says more about where we are in life than it does about our potential partner. Where do you want to be?
Green Flag #5 – Non-Controlling Behavior:
When you find a partner who encourages your freedom of expression, you know you’re on the right track. John and I never lost sight of those traits we saw in each other that cemented our love for one another. We chose to capitalize on those qualities. I adore John’s extrovert personality. His magnetic vibe means he’s a natural draw. People want to be around him. I never ever want him to change this part of who he is. For me, I love connection. I cherish those times in which I can be completely engrossed in another person. John loves this about me. We come at our relationship as a sharing of two lives. We’re never blended into one, but remain two distinct beings. This balance of individuality is what makes us such great friends. We don’t complete each other, because we view ourselves as already complete, and this is another reason why any need to control each others’ behavior seems out of place. Look, the man I chose to spend my life with is an adult. He shows love and respect for himself and me, and I know he would never do anything to fracture the relationship we’ve built. Besides, we both understand the benefits of compersion… happiness in each others’ happiness.
Green Flag #6 – Security in the Relationship:
When both partners are actively contributing to the relationship then a sense of security is present. I know how John feels about me. I know he loves me and values our union. John knows these same attributes about me. I’m never left wondering whether or not he’s “all in” when it comes to our relationship. I know this because he shows me on a daily basis his commitment and vested interest in our marriage. When I see John, I’m filled with a desire to show him through actions and words how much he means to me.
Green Flag #7 – Your Partner is Open and Honest About Their Past:
When you’re in a green flag relationship you know all about the good, bad, and ugly of your partner’s past. Not only are you privy to their past, but you’re also knowledgeable about how any amends were made. You’ll know the truth about your partner’s journey towards you. If they suffered from an addiction… you’ll know. If they suffered from bad monetary decisions… you’ll know. You’ll know about past relationships, and you’ll know what steps your partner has made to rectify any of these past issues. Look, we’ve all at one time or another made decisions that cause us to cringe later on. The last thing we want is to be judged by those past choices. One way we can show we’ve taken our past and put its lessons to good use is by showing the steps we took to grow from the experience.
Green Flag #8 – Amends of Past Relationships:
Most of us have a story about a difficult relationship, whether it was with a past partner, a friendship gone south, or the collapse of a family relationship. Most of us at one time or another have dealt with confronting the pain of a relationship gone bad. What makes our resolutions to these past relationships such a green flag is our ability to look at self. If we were the ones causing the pain, did we make amends? If we were on the receiving end of amends, were we able to accept the apology in love? How we’re able to lovingly deal with difficult situations with others says much about our capacity for empathy, patience, and understanding. These are all qualities we should want in our green flag relationship.
Green Flag #9 – Your Partner Doesn’t Need You to Complete Them:
Oh boy! This is a big one. When you’re in a green flag relationship, you and your partner are in the partnership as two complete people. I don’t need my partner to complete me. I don’t expect my partner to fulfill all my needs, nor does my partner expect me to fill the void needed to make them complete. If I believe my sense of affirmation can only come from John, I place an enormous amount of pressure on him. If I make John 100% responsible for my needs being met, then this also means I make him 100% responsible when I claim those needs aren’t being met. When I can come at the relationship from the standpoint of I’m in control of my needs, then all the interactions I have with John are a bonus to the relationship.
Green Flag #10 – Affirming Behavior:
When we’re in a loving and growth inspiring relationship, the desire for each partner to be loved completely is what it’s all about. You want your partner to be their most authentic, most organic, most expressive version of themself. You’re joyous in their joy and celebrate in what your partner finds fulfilling. You’re supportive, patient, and receptive to your partner. You want your partner to know through words and actions just how important they are to you and how much you love them. In an affirming relationship, both partners are guilty of these loving acts towards one another.
Focusing on all the wonderful green flags a relationship can offer will change our view towards what it is we WANT from a relationship. Instead of looking at all the horrible red flag warning signs, maybe if we searched instead for all the things we DO desire will draw those desires towards us. Remember, “A good relationship is when someone accepts your past, supports your present, and encourages your future.”