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Saturday, June 3, 2017

Ten Red Flags in Relationships: How to Recognize Them

I recently posted an interview with a victim of domestic abuse. (You can read it here.) My guest, “Lisa,” referred to the “cycle of abuse”1 and the “red flags” that she noticed when she was dating her husband. Several of my readers asked if there was a resource for recognizing red flags in order to warn young people before marriage.

So, I’m taking it upon myself to write a list of red flags that should be huge signals that a relationship is not for you. (I’m using “he” in the generic sense—to represent both male and female. These warning signs are for both men and women.)

1. Professing faith but not truly practicing—Your friend says he’s a Christian. He goes to church. He might even sing in the choir. But, he only acts like a Christian at church. You may notice his core values are materialistic. He isn’t really concerned about others, and he isn’t soul conscious. He doesn’t seem to have a personal connection to Jesus Christ. You think he’s probably a Christian—after all he says so—but you’re not 100% sure. I recommend that each man or woman who is interested in someone talk to that person’s pastor before pursuing a relationship. His pastor will (usually) know his reputation and if he acts like a true Christian. Why is faith so important? Consider these verses:
  • These were instructions for Israel about not mixing in marriage with people from pagan religions: Neither shalt thou make marriages with them; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son. For they will turn away thy son from following me, that they may serve other gods: so will the anger of the LORD be kindled against you (Deuteronomy 7:3-4).
  • Can two walk together, except they be agreed? (Amos 3:3)
  • Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? (2 Corinthians 6:14). 

2. Lack of respect—This red flag shows itself in all kinds of forms. It might be:
  • Disrespecting parents, teachers, police, government, rules, bosses, and other authorities. Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee (Exodus 20:12). Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation (Romans 13:1-2).
  • Being unkind to others. Watch how he treats his mother, sister, aunts, grandma, and other women in his family. That’s how he treats women. If you see disrespect or unkindness and unloving dealings with his own family, you can be sure you will suffer the same unkindness, if you were to marry him. And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you (Ephesians 4:32).
  • Terrible manners. Manners mean you are looking out for others’ sensibilities, that you are in lowliness of mind letting each esteem other better than themselves (from Philippians 2:3). When a person refuses to greet another properly, when he eats like a pig, when he grabs everything for himself and doesn’t prefer others—including you—he is a boor and will never treat you and others as the Bible commands. Biblical love doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own (1 Corinthians 13:5a).
  • Narcissistic behavior. Selfishness. Everything's about him, his needs, his wants, his desires. A Pharisee lawyer asked Jesus, Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets (Matthew 22:36-40). When a person loves himself more than God and others, there’s a serious problem.

3. Pornography use—If your friend regularly looks at porn, he will actually have two problems: a rewired brain—truly warped thinking2—and an addiction. People become addicted to porn very quickly. Like a drug, it is extremely difficult to give up. If your boyfriend looks at porn, he has a huge problem—and so will you, if you pursue this relationship. Porn use should be a game changer—a relationship killer. Can you imagine if your husband consistently looked at bizarre photos of naked people? You would feel violated and you wouldn’t feel confident in giving yourself to him in normal marital relations. The other problem is that his thought processes are literally altered. He can’t think like a normal person thinks. He fantasizes about scenes he’s witnessed in pornography. He has weird expectations. If your friend promises to do better after you’re married, he won’t be able to. The only way a person gives up porn is if he’s made accountable to someone, installs filters on his computer—and uses any computer in public—and he doesn’t have a smart phone at all. He must meditate on Scripture in order to over time rewire his mind in a new way. Only if your friend goes through this process and proves he’s given it up for good—over a period of years—can you trust that he’s over this horrible habit. The temptation will always be out there, but you can begin to trust him—with filters and a “dumb phone”—to have begun a new life. Jesus said, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart (Matthew 5:28). God equates lustful gazing with adultery.

4. Substance abuse and other addictions—It should be self-evident that anyone with an addiction isn’t a good candidate for matrimony, but you’d be surprised how many people fall in love with partners who smoke, drink, do drugs, gamble, and view porn. Any one of these is a recipe for problems in marriage and much grief. Run!

5. Debt—Nothing can ruin a marriage faster than deep financial problems. If you or your boyfriend is in debt, do everything you can to get out of it as soon as you can, before you marry. If you have no idea how to do this, you can get practical help from Dave Ramsey.3

6. Physicality—“Mr. Hands and Mouth” really wants you. He doesn’t seem to be able to control himself, always sneaking in some kind of intimate touching, even in public places. He slips his hands down from your waist, or up, and he wants to kiss often. This guy lacks self-control, and he is not respecting your body. He is a taker. When a relationship is primarily physical and not on a head and heart level first, and if the guy can’t wait to touch and kiss you until your wedding day, that’s a huge red flag. The Bible says:
  • Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity (1 Timothy 4:12).
  • Paul told the young pastor Timothy that he was to treat The elder women as mothers; the younger as sisters, with all purity (1 Timothy 5:2).
  • Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart (2 Timothy 2:22).
  • I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service (Romans 12:1). 

7. Isolation—When a partner limits your friendships, you are headed for trouble. Does this person want you only for himself? Does he keep you from healthy relationships? Does he close you off from your former circle of friends? Does he alienate you from your family? Does he take all of your time? These are red flags. If you marry this individual, you’ll be a prisoner in your own home.

8. Mistrust—This is something like “isolation,” but it isn’t the same thing. If you can’t talk to another man without your partner showing great jealousy, this is a red flag. If your partner makes you accountable to him for every email or social media post, he doesn’t trust you. If you have no freedom to do things on your own, for example: call a friend, go shopping, meet a friend, or attend a social occasion, this is a problem! You should be able to live a normal life in a happy, trusting relationship. (Note: A married woman should not meet one-on-one with a man other than her husband for anything even resembling a “date.” She can take another woman with her if she needs to meet with someone for business purposes.)
  • Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies. The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her (Proverbs 31:10-11a).
  • Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered (1 Peter 3:7). 

9. Manipulation—This is perhaps the hardest red flag to nail down because it’s a conglomerate of several behaviors. It’s also probably one of the biggest red flags for any relationship. This should be enough reason—all by itself—to run! A manipulative person is all about what he can make you do. I found a very good list of how to recognize the tactics of a manipulator. It is a process. If several of these tactics raise red flags, you’re in a relationship with a manipulator. These people are toxic!
  • Lying
  • Denial—“I didn’t do anything. You're just imagining things.”
  • Shaming--"You're a terrible person" or "you don't deserve good things."
  • Diversion
  • Seduction
  • Minimization—“You’re making this important.”
  • Making you feel guilty
  • Rationalization
  • Covert intimidation—threats
  • Vilifying the victim—“You’re the bad person.”
  • Selective inattention—Only what he thinks is important. He doesn’t pay any attention to what you would like.
  • Playing the victim role—“Because of you, I suffer.”
  • Playing the servant role—“After all I do for you . . . .”
  • Blaming others—“It’s all your fault.”

10. Any physical hitting, punching, or slapping—You would think that everyone would understand this, but let me make a crystal clear statement: if your boyfriend hits or slaps you—even one time in “fun”—run! This will get worse after marriage. Hitting is assault. Slapping is assault. Shaking is assault. This is a crime. Break off your relationship. An apology isn’t enough. Get out of the relationship now! You will save yourself—and any future children—from much grief.
  • So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church (Ephesians 5:28-29).
  • The following verses are qualifications for men in ministry, but I think they’re a valid standard for any Christian man. (Striker means someone who hits people.) Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous (1 Timothy 3:3). For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not self-willed, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre (Titus 1:7).

Especially if your family history—or his—is less than ideal, you’ll need to work through what a biblical marriage looks like and make sure that goal is always before you.

This is what a good marriage is:

A godly husband acts in sacrificial love for his wife.
  • Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it (Ephesians 5:25).
  • Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them (Colossians 3:19).

A godly wife realizes her multifaceted role with beauty, dignity, and grace.
  • Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the LORD, she shall be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates (Proverbs 31:31).
  • Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord (Colossians 3:18).
  • The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed (Titus 2:3-5).

Together, husband and wife exemplify love, respect, and selfless giving.
  • Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband (Ephesians 5:33).
  • But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife. There is difference also between a wife and a virgin. . . . she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please her husband (from 1 Corinthians 7:33-34).
  • Charity (Love) suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a).

1. A clear explanation of the “cycle of abuse”:
2. The use of pornography actually rewires one’s brain.
3. Financial freedom, Dave Ramsey:


  1. Great article, Lou Ann! Parents should print it off and make it a priority for their kids to know and follow.


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