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Dating & Relationship Red Flags

Frustrated by the Tricks Narcissists Use to Secretly Control Your Relationships?

Are you one of the thousands of innocent individuals struggling to figure out why certain people in your life are always so difficult?

If so, read on . . . you're definitely not alone!

Below are answers to frequently asked questions (FAQ) about the most common terms and phrases used to describe relationship red flags, dating red flags, and narcissist red flags.

You may already recognize some relationship red flags from unfortunate personal experience. Some dating red flags may simply seem silly. Some narcissist red flags can be downright disturbing.

I provide a brief description for each, together with links to additional reading you may find more or less helpful – depending on how recently you personally experienced one of the red flags.

See something I missed? Have a question? Need help? Email me at

Red Flags in Everyday Relationships

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Words and Phrases We'd Rather Not Need to Know

What is Blame-Shifting?

A partner shifts responsibility for his own mistakes and misadventures onto you in order to absolve himself. Sometimes associated with borderline and narcissistic personality disorders.

See also manipulation, projection.

What is Breadcrumbing?

Breadcrumbing is an emotional manipulation tactic used to lure you in and keep you interested in another person while they commit to nothing and follow through on little.

See also manipulation.

What is Emotional Blackmail?

In emotional blackmail, a partner takes advantage of your emotional vulnerabilities to pressure you into doing something for them that you otherwise would not. One study calls it “a type of psychological violence” that “is often more harmful than physical and verbal violence.”

See also guilt-tripping, manipulation, silent treatment, threats and ultimatums, victimhood, playing on insecurities.

What does friends with benefits mean? What is FWB in dating?

If you are the rare person who still asks "what does FWB mean in text messages" you get from your relatives, I got you! In short, friends with benefits means two people are friends and also have sex together. To compare and contrast FWB with situationships, take a look at “The Debate over Situationship vs Friends with Benefits: Which is Right for You?” by Genesis Gutierrez.

See also situationship.

What is Gaslighting?

The National Domestic Violence Hotline website suggests gaslighting typically occurs when your partner repeatedly says confusing or inaccurate things about the relationship that can make you start doubting the accuracy of your own perception of reality, and eventually make you question your own sanity.

See also emotional blackmail, manipulation, projection, toxic relationships.

What is Ghosting?

It’s rare to hear someone ask, “What does ghosting mean”. Unfortunately, this is because most people are familiar with the “ghosted” meaning in a dating context. For the rare person who hasn’t had the stressful and confusing experience, ghosting someone is when the person you’re enthusiastically dating suddenly stops all forms of contact and disappears from your life without any notice or explanation.

See also manipulation.

What is Guilt-Tripping?

Guilt-tripping is a tool used to manipulate your emotions. Your partner says things to make you feel guilty, in order to get you to agree with them, give in to what they want, change your mind, or otherwise do something you normally wouldn’t.

Also see emotional blackmail, manipulaton, blamd-shifting.

What is Love Bombing?

Love bombing is when your partner overwhelms their target with excessive affection and attention early on to draw you into a relationship, then abruptly stopping the effusive attention once they know you’re hooked.

Love Bombing message in typewriter

See also manipulation.

What’s Manipulation in relationships?

In short, manipulation is when someone else uses indirect, subtle, confusing, and/or deceptive methods to negatively influence your thoughts and feelings, override your better judgment, and trick you into giving in to what they want.

See also breadcrumbing, blame-shifting, love bombing, negging, playing on insecurities, silent treatment, stonewalling, threats and ultimatums, victimhood.

What is a Narcissist?

Today, there are way too many definitions for narcissism to fit here. A narcissist can refer to anything from when a person who has been formally diagnosed as having narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), to a non-clinical, angry name used to disparage someone’s despised “soulless” ex-boyfriend.

See also toxic relationship

What is Negging?

Saying something that seems like a compliment on the surface – but is not – in order to subtly undermine confidence and self-esteem, and make it seem like you need the partner’s pre-approval.

See also manipulation, toxic relationship.

Is my relationship one-sided?

If you find yourself investing more time and effort into connecting than your partner does, this is a red flag that you may be in a one-sided, toxic relationship. To consider whether that’s true for you, check out this simple video:

See also breadcrumbing, situationship, emotional blackmail

Am I Overthinking?

Overthinking is a term commonly used in reference to negative rumination. It’s a habit someone can develop to cope with overwhelming emotions. Your brain repeatedly thinks about negative feelings and distress (i.e., anger, fear, frustration, uncertainty, sadness) and their possible causes or imagined catastrophic consequences. For futher information about the cycle, and possible steps to help you break free, see the American Psychiatric Association (APA) article “Rumination: A Cycle of Negative Thinking.” For a less nerdy explanation, try this Cleveland Clinic article: “How To Stop Overthinking: Tips and Coping Strategies.”

See also gaslighting.

What is Passive-Aggressive?

This is another term that is used in multiple ways. In short, someone acts passive-aggressive when they hide anger or negative feelings, expressing them only indirectly rather than through open, healthy, direct communication.

See also blame-shifting, gaslighting, manipulation, toxic relationships.

What is Playing on Insecurities?

Playing on insecurities can show up in many ways. Simply put, it's when a date or partner focuses on your fears and weaknesses to manipulate and gain control over you.

See also emotional blackmail, gaslighting, guilt-tripping, manipulation, negging.

Is Porn Addiction Real?

Believe it or not, “porn addiction” is not an official psychological disorder listed in the APA’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Neither is “Sex Addiction,” a related concept.

Nonetheless, for many porn addiction is still very real. So much so, that many mental health professionals offer “porn addiction therapy.” Articles describe “porn addiction signs” and “porn withdrawal symptoms” to watch for, answer questions like “is porn addiction real” and “why is porn so addicting,” and offer advice about “How to help someone with a porn addiction.”

To simplify matters, I’ll stick with the simple definition psychiatrist and addiction expert Dr. Jud Brewer uses for addictive behavior in general: “continued use despite adverse consequences.” Bottom line, you can suspect something like porn addiction is afoot when a person keeps watching porn, even though the many hours it uses up each day causes persistent or repeated problems for them at home, at work, and/or in their social life.

See also toxic relationship.

What is Projection in the Context of Dating and Relationships?

In the context of dating and relationships, projection is when your partner falsely accuses you of having shortcomings or negative behaviors they actually display. Projection is not always intentional, or necessarily manipulative. It can be an unconscious coping mechanism where someone else blames you for negative aspects of their own personality that they are mentally not yet ready to accept.

See also blame-shifting, gaslighting, manipulation. one-sided relationships.

Can Scorekeeping be a Relationship Red Flag?

Yes, when taken too far. It can be healthy to work towards maintaining a reasonable balance of interest in the relationship and effort by each partner in support of a couple. Keeping score can click quickly become toxic, though, when it involves selfish pursuit of an individual's own interests or harsh judgment of the other partner.

See also toxic relationship, transactional relationship.

What is Silent Treatment?

Silent treatment is sometimes considered a form of emotional abuse. Your partner ignores or refuses to speak to you as a form of punishment for disagreeing, or control to get you to do what they want.

See also emotional blackmail, manipulation, passive aggressive, playing on insecurities.

What is a Situationship?

Situationship? According to Susan Albers-Bowling, PsyD of the Cleveland Clinic, there are five signs that what you think is a relationship, is actually a situationship. In short, the relationship has “no labels or exclusivity,” “no clear boundaries,” “irregular or superficial contact,” “lack of integration into each other’s lives,” and it “doesn’t grow or end.”

See also 'it’s complicated'.

What is Stonewalling?

Stonewalling is when the partner effectively shuts down all meaningful communication by refusing to talk, discuss, engage, and/or give direct answers to questions.

See also silent treatment, manipulation.

Am I in a Textuationship?

A textuationship (aka textationship) is when most or all of your communication takes place via text message / chat. It may last for a long time, and seem very intimate. Unfortunately, without meeting in person, such connections will likely remain superficial, and might even develop into manipulation or a scam.

breadcrumbing, one-sided relationship

Could I be in a toxic relationship?

In short, a toxic relationship is when your partner makes you feel worse about yourself over time, rather than supported and respected.

See also one-sided relationship, manipulation, situationship.

What is a transactional relationship?

A transactional relationship can be somewhat adversarial. You basically treat human interactions like they're part of a business deal. This isn't a problem if you are, in fact, in a professional relationship with the person (boss/employee, doctor/patient). Viewing relationships as transactional can become problematic when they involve a friend, family member, or spouse. Keeping these people at arms length prevents you from building meaningful connections with the people you love. Contrast this with "relational relationships" where two people collaborate as part of a true partnership, rather than each keeping score and looking out for only themself.

See also manipulation, toxic relationships.

What are Ultimatums?

An ultimatum is essentially a demand accompanied by a threat describing the dire consequences (divorce, breakup, etc.) that will result if the other person fails to comply. An ultimatum is not always intended to be harmful (even though it usually feels that way). It may simply be the only way the other person can express desperation or frustration.

See also emotional blackmail, manipulation.

Seeing red flags in your own relationships? I help individuals and couples explore dating and relationship challenges. I also offer group therapy for gay men struggling in relationships.

DISCLAIMER! Opinions, beliefs, clinical assessments, errors, omissions, mistakes, or typos in the resources linked above do not necessarily represent my own views. In addition, information herein is provided solely for informational purposes, and should not be considered professional mental health treatment or advice. You should always consult a professional psychotherapist if you have psychological problems, have questions about yourself raised by information you read, are struggling in your own relationships, or otherwise need help with mental health problems.

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