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Reading the Green Flags in a Relationship

Learning to identify the positive signs that tell us our relationships are safe and healthy

 

We often hear and are bombarded with information about the "red flags" in relationships-the "what to look out for". Equally as important for us to recognize are the "green flags" in our relationships. In a world where we are often overwhelmed with information, left to interpret the meanings of what is said and how others behavior; how do we distinguish what is a positive and what is a negative, what is a deal breaker and what is not? Below we are going to look at what I consider the green flags of a relationship.


 

What are green flags?


When I work with couples or individuals that speak about their healthy relationships there are definitely trends that are easy to pick up on. These would be the "green flags", the signals that the relationship is healthy and safe. What makes identifying green flags difficult for some people? The answer, of course, is not black and white. For some people, their relationship experiences lack in healthy traits or are abusive. When coming from an abusive relationship it can become difficult to correctly identify signals that something may or may not be okay and safe. This can be because of gaslighting in the relationship and towards themselves outside of the relationship. Gaslighting is a psychological abuse technique that undermines a persons sense of reality and causes great confusion for the person (for more information on gaslighting and psychological abuse please visit the blog post "The 20 tactics of psychological abuse"). This can also happen for people when coming from home environments that are neglectful or abusive. When people have experienced traumatic events, this can also impact their ability to critically assess and make judgement calls on situations. Our brains are hardwired to detect both promising opportunities and threats to our well-being and safety. During a traumatic event, this part of the brain can become stuck or hyper-sensitive to threat detection, making it more likely to scan for red flags than for green flags. Our brains also often run what is called negative biases, looking at negative impacts over favorable impacts. Societal norms impact how we perceive information as well. If you are never taught to evaluate what is positive about your partner, the things they do well, but always asked what you do not like, or what could be better, you can become conditioned to look at what we worry about or feel isn't a fit compared to what feels good. Lastly, of course, is the factor that normal human behavior is not black or white, but often in the grey area. Our partners, friends, family, are not perfect and bring forward their own histories of trauma, experiences, influences, etc. This means that many of our experiences with relationships will not be perfect and our partners, friends and/or family can be reactive, emotional, or despondent at times, just like we can be. Our human behaviors are often influenced by our own internal processes as well as external factors, which then show up in our interactions with ourselves and others. It can be confusing for someone in a new relationship to evaluate what is a green flag when our partner comes with flaws and "baggage" of their own.


So what should you look for as green flags that your relationship is healthy? Green flags are all about consistency. As stated above, human's have a whole host of different responses and reasons for those responses. So one of the following green flags showing up occasionally does not meet criteria to put your mind at rest. Similarly to that, if a partner is reactive in one or two isolated situations or with a specific trigger, that does not mean that it is necessarily a red flag.


Here are some of the consistent green flags you should see in your relationships.


1) Respect

Healthy relationships exhibit mutual respect for one another. Your partner should be approaching conversations and communication with you in a way that is respectful. This means there is no belittling, degradation, rudeness, condescension in communication with them the majority of the time. Your partner is not going to be a perfect communicator and the expectation should not be perfection. We are all human and we all have flaws and faults, especially during difficult and emotional times. However, if your partner can operate most of the time being respectful this is a great green flag. Respecting boundaries is another green flag in a relationship.


2) Communication and Open to feedback

Another green flag in a healthy relationship is a partners willingness to communicate around enjoyable and difficult topics as well as their openness to receiving feedback from you on something potentially difficult. Healthy communicators will look for solutions, express opinions and emotions in a way that is honest and kind, while remaining open to dialogue and feedback from their partners. Healthy communication does not devolve into argumentativeness, criticisms, or stonewalling. They will also be able to practice active listening and not monopolize the conversation in a effort for it to become about who's right and who's wrong. A partner that can express their needs and receive feedback from yourself without stone-walling, criticizing or getting defensive are green flag traits.


3) Trustworthy and Safe

When you're with your partner, check in with yourself. Do you feel safe with them, emotionally, physically or spiritually? Can you tell them something personal without fear of judgement? Can you confide an embarrassing or shameful moment from your past with them and feel they can be trusted with your story, that you won't face ridicule or further judgement or shaming? When you are sitting on the couch with them does it feel home like, cozy, what does your body and your gut say? Sitting here right now, how many incidents of broken trust can you think of with this person specifically? These reflective questions give us major clues as to whether or not our partner is trustworthy and safe to us. If the answers to those questions are yes to the safety and minimal/none to the broken trust, it sounds like you feel quite comfortable with your partner. If your answers to those questions are no to safety and minimal broken trust, I would encourage you to explore safety in your relationship with your counsellor to understand if past history is influencing your ability to feel safe now or if your partner really just isn't safe to you. If those reflective questions determine that you feel comfortable, safe and you trust your partner, these are important green flags to recognize.


4) Autonomous yet Supportive

Partnerships that are green "as in go", facilitate healthy autonomy. You enjoy doing things together but you have independence to do things for yourself should you chose too. Your partner should not engage in shaming or guilting you to see them, participate in events that make you feel uncomfortable, or make you feel overwhelmed and smothered. Healthy partnerships can incorporate appropriate amounts of personal space and time, which is different and dependent on each persons needs. Despite building autonomy within your relationship, there should also be support. Just because you can do things on your own does not mean you want to be abandoned by your partner when things are tough. Support also looks like facilitating your partner to have dreams and goals, working together to solve problems, and providing comfort when necessary. Having a partner that can respect your autonomy (however much you need) as well as be dependable and supportive are green flags.


5) Compromise

Compromise is an important aspect of any healthy relationship. When we are an independent person, we become accustomed to making decisions and living for ourselves (unless you have a dependent or familial situation to consider). It can be hard to transition into a partnered situation, where we now have to share our lifestyles with another person. In healthy partnerships, compromise plays a huge role in this integration. We cannot expect that everything be our own way all of the time. Healthy relationships have to learn to meld together two independent personalities. If your partner is open to compromising, hearing proposed compromise without automatic dismissal and does not always put themselves and their desires first, this is a green flag. However, healthy partners will not ask you to compromise on your values, morals, or beliefs and compromise does not mean total abandonment of any one thing.


6) Accountable

Accountability in a relationship is huge. If your partner can take accountability for their actions, discuss/provide solutions, and translate that to behavior change, especially when something hurtful happened, this is a waving green flag. It can be very difficult to admit when we are wrong, when we have hurt someone else, especially if we didn't intend too or are emotionally charged and committed to our point. However, taking accountability shows you that your partner can admit that they made a mistake, they can honor your hurt feelings by hearing you and accepting where they need to take responsibility. Equally as important to validating it to you verbally is honoring it through behavior change. This may not look perfect the next try a conflict arises or a similar situation but a partner that shows an honest attempt to change what was hurtful before is a big green flag for you to recognize.



Remember, relationships are complex, human behavior is not black and white. We can be in a healthy relationship even if our partners or perhaps us, need practice in one of the areas above. For example, our partner may need help learning to communicate more effectively, a very common problem for couple's therapists to work with. That does not automatically mean the relationship is doomed, toxic and should be abandoned. If you need help exploring the above, what you it means to you or how you and your partner relate consider booking an individual or couple's session with a registered therapist- Self Referral | Mysite (tynebuchyrcc.com).


These 6 green flags may seem self-explanatory or obvious, however when we are navigating new relationships, when we have been traumatized in previous experiences and when we factor in the flaws of human responses, it can be hard to take check of these simple traits. It may feel like we should "obviously feel safe and trusting of our partner" however many client's report that they don't, and it is not because their partner is unsafe nor untrustworthy but rather that they have internal processes and previous situations that contribute to those feelings that they did not recognize and are clouding their perceptions. Many client's also get confused when their partner becomes reactive in an argument in which they do not show up in their best light- note that arguments in relationships are not automatic markers that it is unhealthy. However, what it is also important in those situations is to recognize the reconciliation process afterwards. Sometimes we can also fail to consider the accountability and compromise that may come after an argument. Remember, we are really good at fixating on the red flags, but it's equally important for us to learn how to identify when someone really is healthy, comfortable, and safe to us. It is also important to remember we cannot expect perfection in ourselves or our partners, so notice the patterns of how your partner (and maybe yourself) shows up with the 6 green flags above.



 

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