5 relationship red flags to look out for

Control comes in many forms. Learn the signs.

We’ve talked recently about first date red flags–behavior that we think should make you think twice about seeing the other person again. But what about when you’re already in a relationship with someone—perhaps even years deep into a relationship?

Controlling behavior within a relationship can be hard to identify at first, especially when the person exerting control is talking about their behavior in terms of “boundaries” without using that term correctly. Here’s the thing: having a boundary doesn’t mean that you get to control whether anyone else crosses it. It means that if someone else does cross one of your boundaries, you get to choose to leave or limit that relationship. If you don’t want to be in a relationship with a social media influencer, for example, then don’t! That’s your choice. What isn’t your choice is whether or not that person decides to be a social media influencer.

So here are some red flags that we recommend taking very seriously if they come up in a relationship.

1. They try to control what you wear

One common control tactic used by abusive partners is trying to control what you wear when you go out. You, and only you, get to choose what you wear. If you want to keep your body mostly covered up, that’s your choice! If you want to wear a bikini on a walk, great! It’s really no one else’s business. No one—NO ONE—has the right to tell you you can’t dress a certain way because it’s too revealing or will get you too much attention, or for any other reason.

2. They try to control who you hang out with

Another very concerning red flag is when a partner tells you who you can and can’t spend time with. This is a common tactic used by abusive partners to try to isolate you from your friends and loved ones. You’re easier to control psychologically if you don’t have people around you pointing out that your partner’s behavior is not normal. Healthy relationships encourage social connections and personal growth outside the partnership. Your partner doesn’t have to like all of your friends, of course, but they have no right to tell you who you can and can’t be friends with. If they don’t like someone, they don’t have to hang out with that person.

3. They try to control what you post on social

If your partner monitors or interferes with your social media activity, that’s a huge red flag to pay attention to. Privacy and trust are vital aspects of any relationship. Just being in a relationship with someone does not give them the right to control what you post online. If they don’t like it, that’s okay, and communicating about it is okay, but ultimately it is your choice what you post.

4. They try to control your birth control choices

Any attempt to control or manipulate what you do with your body is a major, major red flag. While it’s great to discuss your birth control options with your partner, especially since some birth control options might involve a partner’s participation (like withdrawal, for example), that does not mean that they get to tell you that you can’t use birth control or interfere with your use of birth control in any way, like by throwing away your pills, poking holes in condoms, or stealthing (when someone takes off a condom during sex without telling their partner). And neither partner has the right to stop using birth control without telling the other one. This type of control is called reproductive coercion, and it’s a form of abuse.

5. They are threatened by your success

In a healthy relationship, partners support and celebrate each other’s successes. When one partner is threatened by or jealous of the other’s achievements, and tries to sabotage their success or make them feel bad about it, there’s a big problem. If you get a new job or one of your social media posts goes viral, that’s cause for celebration.

If you find yourself facing any of these red flags in a relationship, it may be wise to seek support from friends, family, or professional counselors. Remember, your well-being, safety, and autonomy are the most important things, and it’s a healthy step to seek help if you’re in an unhealthy dynamic.

If you’re in an unhealthy or abusive relationship, and you need support, here are some organizations that have local resources as well as 24/7 English and Spanish hotlines:

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