On the Road to a New Relationship, Stay Alert to Red Flags
In my practice, I frequently notice many cognitive distortions when it comes to entering new relationships. The focus tends to be on the “new, exciting, passionate” aspects of the relationship while the “warning signs” of unhealthy traits are being dismissed, minimized and ignored. The following article by M. MacCutcheon, LPC gives an interesting and valid insight to entering new relationships.
Our vehicle side-view mirrors warn us “objects in the mirror may be closer than they appear,” and I’ve found a similar distortion tends to occur in dating. Often in a new relationship, we fail to see or truly recognize the red flags as we are cruising headfirst into new, exciting territory. But after we veer off the projected path or ultimately crash, in hindsight the red flags are huge, obvious, and quite unmistakable.
A good friend of mine recently began dating a guy who seemed great, at least on paper. He was attractive, funny, open, communicative, and seemed eager to spend time together. He talked about long-term goals, being ready for commitment, and acted legitimately interested in her and in seeing where the relationship was headed. But very quickly, the conversations began to involve a lot of drama, and his lack of confidence, personal confusion, and jealous tendencies came out as he projected his personal baggage and insecurities onto her. The relationship ended in a pile of hurtful words and unfair accusations, and left my friend bewildered at how things had changed so quickly and how a seemingly great guy could turn out to be such a train wreck. But as we talked through everything that happened, she began to point to various incidents, saying, “Maybe I should have seen that as a red flag.”
When we are excited about the prospect of a new relationship and are getting to know a potential new partner, it’s easy to overlook the little “red flags” or fail to acknowledge things that may be cause for concern. We want to give the person the benefit of the doubt and may overlook or excuse questionable comments, behaviors, and actions. It’s all too easy to frame jealous questions, controlling actions, or pressure to move too quickly as signs the person is really into us or feels a deep connection. Yet putting on blinders to these potentially telling negative signs can ultimately set us up for more confusion, hurt, and heartbreak.
When I’m working with people in therapy who experience bumps along the road of a new relationship, I often ask if they’ve heard of or read the book He’s Just Not That Into You by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo. Many people respond, “I’ve seen the movie,” so let me just clarify here the movie doesn’t do justice to the insight the book has to offer. While the title may turn some people off (the ones who ignore the red flags because they really want the other person to be interested), it’s a great and humorous read for anyone navigating the world of dating. It’s been nearly a decade since I read the book, but I still remember and find myself referencing some of its valuable and timeless wisdom.
In particular, I remember a page with a picture of a flag. It reads something like, “Get out a red crayon. Color in the flag. There’s your big red flag.” At the time, this made me chuckle. But over the years, after hearing countless stories in which people turned a blind eye to what I, an objective observer, was able to see as glaring red flags, I find this advice more then just a silly cliché—and actually incredibly wise. On the journey of dating, we need to stop and actively acknowledge the red flags, then pause long enough to determine whether a detour is in order.
We tend to minimize, dismiss, or forget the negatives amid the excitement, lust, and yearning for love that may be present in a new relationship.
What’s particularly interesting is how there may be a gazillion little red flags, yet we may fail to see the bigger picture in terms of how these warnings add up to indicate signs of an unstable or dishonest person, or provide clues that predict a potentially unhealthy and rocky relationship. We tend to minimize, dismiss, or forget the negatives amid the excitement, lust, and yearning for love that may be present in a new relationship.
I now advise the people I work with in therapy to take a piece of paper and fill it with not just one but many small red flags in rows and columns on the page. Anytime something happens in a new relationship that seems off or makes them feel uneasy or uncomfortable, they are to jot it down in one of the red flags. Over time, they develop an unavoidably clear visual of any negatives and can more accurately judge how cautious they should be in investing in the person and pursuing an ongoing relationship.
The concrete visual can help a person be more impartial. A few random red flags may be excusable. We all make mistakes. We all have bad moments, dating anxiety that may get the best of us, or insecurities that need to be worked through. But a lot of red flags that demonstrate a pattern of unfavorable traits, dishonest actions, or unhealthy dynamics should not be ignored. If you keep track and begin noting multiple red flags, stop and ask yourself if you are willing to compromise your relationship goals or sacrifice your well-being for this person of interest.
Cautiously considering red flags can help you make better, more balanced decisions. On the other hand, by overlooking important red flags, you may mistakenly idealize an undeserving person, prolong the struggles the relationship may bring, risk having your self-esteem negatively impacted, and delay the ability to move on and find a healthier, more desirable companion. It’s hard to be patient and insightful when you’re navigating a new relationship, but staying alert to the warnings that may arise can help you arrive at the destination that’s in your best interests.
What happens when you break up with a narcissist
It is challenging and exhausting being romantically involved with a narcissist, but they can also cause havoc when they leave. Break ups are always hard, but when you've been in a relationship with someone who uses others and is obsessed with themselves, it can be even harder.
On the surface, narcissists can seem charming, engaging and charismatic, which can make them difficult to leave in the first place.
Dr Judith Orloff, a clinical psychiatrist at the University of California Los Angeles, wrote in a recent blog post on Psychology Today that narcissists can make you "fall in love with them so hard that it feels like you're giving up a part of your heart to leave them," because they're very good at becoming the center of your universe while you're with them.
Here's what to expect if you break up with a narcissist.
One minute you may feel like everything your partner has ever wanted, and the next you're left wondering what on Earth went wrong. This is because narcissists are great at playing a part while they're getting something from their source, according to Orloff. But when they're done using you, they have no difficulty in casting you aside like a used tissue.
There will be no apologies or remorse, and you may well never hear from them again, regardless of how long your relationship was. If they do return, it will be because they've realized they can get something from you.
If you're the one who chose to leave, on the other hand, be prepared for begging, pleading or bargaining.
If you're the one who chose to leave, good for you because Orloff says that's hard to do. They are likely to give you the fight of your life because they're not done with you yet. Narcissists hate losing their supply, so they won't let you go easily.
Prepare for them to promise "to change." They might suddenly start doing things for you that you'd been complaining about. They may say "you'll be lost without me," or "you'll never find someone like me."
Don't listen, Orloff advises. It's just a trick to get you to come back to them out of fear.
What’s next? Establish no contact.
No contact is exactly what it sounds like: no contact whatsoever. That means blocking their number, making sure any emails from their address go into your spam folder, and deleting them off social media. This is tough, but mental health counselor Dr Stephanie Sarkis explains in a blog post on Psychology today that it's the best option because sooner or later the narcissist will find a way to return.
The narcissist will try to contact you if you cut off their supply, and they know just what to say to make you come back. So you have to be brutal, and fast. It may be best to break up with them over text also, so they can't manipulate you any further.
If you left something at the narcissist's house, Sarkis adds, you should just leave it and let it go. Consider it a very small price to pay for your own sanity and well-being.
Consider also removing people you have in common from social media.
It might seem harsh, but sometimes it's just better to start completely fresh and remove any association of the narcissist from you life, psychologists advise. This includes their friends and family, from all social networks: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn...
The more connections you still have to each other, the more opportunities the narcissist has to slide back into your life somehow. They could also use their friends to try and make you jealous.
So unless you're very good friends with them, and you trust them completely, you should probably wipe the social media slate clean.
You may have to repeatedly pause and remind yourself of why it ended.When you break up with someone, a few selective good memories can come flooding back, prompting confusing feelings of regret. These feelings are usually false and unrepresentative of the relationship, psychiatrists say.
You might remember a time when your partner was sending you loads of messages every day and continually complimenting you. Compliments are great when they're sincere, but when a narcissist uses them it may be part of a technique called "love-bombing" in which the person bombards you with affection but has an ulterior motive.
As a reminder to yourself, jot down the reasons you split up. Did your partner frequently put you down? Call you names? Make you feel guilty or like you were crazy?
Your partner will likely appear to 'move on' quickly — and tell you about it.Most true narcissists don't need time to heal from a break up as their initial feelings about the relationship were likely insincere or absent. It's not unheard of for a narcissist to have someone already waiting in the wings as a new source of support, or have their exit strategy carefully planned out.
This is one of the reasons removing them from social media can be helpful — there's likely to be a lot of loved up selfies.
In reality, they may simply be love-bombing a new target. On the bright side, it isn't you anymore.
Expect grief and embrace it, because it's important.Grieving will be an important part of your recovery, so embrace it when it comes, advises Sarkis. After all, you have a lot to grieve over: the end of a relationship, and the person you thought your partner was. They love-bombed you when they first met you, and these feelings are still there, and they are strong and intense.
However, you figured out enough reason to get out of there, so remind yourself that many of these feelings were likely built on something false. The narcissist may have appeared to sweep you off your feet, but did they really deliver on their promises? Probably not.
Nevertheless, you probably had, and still have, a strong emotional bond to the narcissist, and only time can heal that wound. Sarkis says be glad you ended things when you did, because otherwise you'd still be in that toxic environment, losing more of yourself every day. The pain is only temporary.
Focus on yourself and do things that make you happy.Most importantly, you're going to need to focus on yourself, Orloff says. Take this time to try a new hobby or gym class, or go out and meet new people. This may sound daunting — being with a narcissist can use up a lot of energy and make you timid around new people.
But you're out of that situation now. It's time to reconnect with people that make you happy.
Sarkis and psychologist Dr Guy Winch recommend writing an "emotional first aid" list of things you can do as a distraction when you find yourself thinking about your former partner. You were pushed aside when you were with the narcissist, because your needs weren't important. Now it's time to look after you.
You'll realize relationships aren't supposed to be that way.When the time is right, you'll find someone new. Dating is an important part of recovery. Still, you shouldn't expect to find "the one" right away. Just go out and have fun. Maybe you'll meet someone amazing, or maybe you'll make some great friends. Either way, these people will be a breath of fresh air.
Plus, you'll likely have a deeper understand of your own boundaries than you did previously, so give yourself more respect if someone isn't treating you the way you want.
When you finally develop your first crush after a relationship with a narcissist, it feels really great. It might not work out, but you'll be reminded of all the reasons someone actually likes you — and there are a lot!
The following is a good article by Dr. Weber explaining what NOT to do if you find out your partner has been cheating...
The way people manage the shocking news that their committed partner is deceiving them by engaging another lover behind their backs predicts how healthfully they recover from such a betrayal. Here are 5 ways to NOT react when you discover your partner is cheating on you.
1. Don’t Panic: When we perceive danger or a threat, our bodies release excess stress hormones and adrenaline, essentially putting us in a hyper-vigilant, ready for action state. Although the chemicals associated with panic make us ache to take action, what we really need to do is take a breather. Pause instead of giving into the panic and throwing your partner’s clothes on the front yard or making a down payment for a new home. Give yourself the calm and tranquil space necessary for the chemicals to run their course through your nervous system. No one, and I mean no one, makes decisions in his or her best interest when in a panic state. You need just enough calm to return so you can begin to think through how best to handle the situation.
2. Don’t Stop Taking Care of Yourself: The shock of discovering an affair can make you want to pull up the blankets and hide from the world. As I describe in my workbook, Breaking Up and Divorce, the problem with this approach is you stop taking care of yourself and providing what you require to heal and recover. Treat yourself the same as you would if you had the flu and a fever. Be kind and gentle. Buy soup and easy/healthy foods, make sure you are drinking enough water. Try to rest, even if you can’t sleep. Every day go out and walk or sit on a bench in your yard to quietly reflect and feel the sun on your face. Remind yourself that your partner cheating is not a statement about who you are or what your worth is as a human being.
3. Don’t Tell The Whole World: The panic of discovering a betrayal compels many to immediately tell the world about how they were mistreated. The outrage of having been wronged and lied to calls for action and for people to stand up on the side of your honesty and against your ex’s perfidy. You do need support, but resist the immediate desire to tell your mom, colleagues and neighbors. As you get some time to process what’s happening in your relationship, you may regret sharing too much too soon. Many people recover from cheating and affairs—sometimes they go on to have better relationships as a result. You don’t want to feel you have shared intimate details with people that you would ordinarily not be that intimate with. It is better in these circumstances to pick one or two loyal and trusted friends to use as a sounding board. Wait on telling others until you have determined for yourself how you wish to proceed.
4. Don’t Rush to Court: If you are married, the impulse to immediately file for divorce can be one of the hardest to resist after discovering a spouse is cheating. The courts aren’t going anywhere. There is time for all of that. You will prolong the grief if you rush before you have emotionally processed what’s going on and has gone on in your marriage. And too, filing for divorce is not an immediate fix for the painful and complicated feelings you are having. In fact, it often makes them even more complicated.
5. Don’t Stalk: Resist the impulse to figure out, analyze and scrutinize, the person your love is cheating on you with. Do not use Facebook and social media to stalk your partner’s lover. All you are doing is giving yourself more and more material to be overwhelmed by. You have enough to sort through. You don’t need the image of your partner’s lover swirling around in your brain on top of all the rest. Also, the problem isn’t the person with whom your partner picked to cheat. The problem is your partner and the fact that he or she has been dishonest with you.
I've been asked countless times by many of my clients, "what is the secret to happiness in relationships?" The following article by Dr. Whitbourne may provide a very simple yet true answer to this question...
Laughter can be, if not the best, at least great medicine for your personal health. You may not be aware, however, of the many relationship health benefits of sharing a smile or laugh. Couples who successfully navigate their inevitable periods of conflict and disagreement in long-term relationships know how best to use constructive, rather than destructive, methods of resolution. In constructive conflict resolution, you focus on the problem, not the person; in destructive conflict resolution, you make things personal.
A key component to relationship health is that happy couples know how to relish their happy moments together. It seems obvious that sharing the joys of everyday life with your partner could promote your long-term bond. When you laugh with your partner, you’re serving as a source of positive reinforcement. As your partner increasingly comes to associate you with rewarding experiences, you boost your partner’s motivation to be with you (and vice versa).
Positive emotions do more than provide psychological comfort, however. According to University College of London’s Sophie K. Scott and colleagues (2014):
“Laughter is one of the positive emotional expressions, which are expressly linked to a physiological reduction in the stressful reactions to negative emotions (e.g., fear, anger, disgust), in a way which may be more effective than other ways of managing negative emotions” (pp. 619-620).
Laughing helps your body as well as your mind: Scott and her team bolstered their argument with evidence taken from a long-term study of middle-aged and older married couples. That study focused on the general relationship benefits of being able to manage emotions. Called "emotion regulation," this is the ability to make yourself feel better when you feel bad. If you’re capable of emotion regulation, you can put the brakes on such negative emotions as anger, frustration, and hostility. You can also keep humorous reactions in bounds, reflecting the situation as appropriate (unlike the “class clown”).
Stanford University psychologist Lian Bloch and collaborators (2014) used data from a 13-year study of heterosexual marriages among middle-aged and older couples to examine whether the ones who used the process of “downregulating” negative emotion (i.e., getting themselves to feel better) would be better able to cope when faced with relationship strife. The researchers examined the predictive power of negative downregulation as the first assessment on marital satisfaction over the course of the 13 years of the study.
In a long-term study such as this, you could argue from the “correlation doesn’t equal causation” perspective that the same quality that allows couples to regulate negative emotions at one point in time allows them to feel more satisfied with each other. Only a true experiment could rule out this possibility. Because earlier scores were being used statistically to predict later outcomes, however, there’s also a strong case to be made for a directional arrow from downregulation at one point in time to marital satisfaction in the following years.
On each testing occasion, the Stanford study brought married couples to a lab session during which they spent 15 minutes each talking about:
The key question, then, was whether emotion regulation would predict marital satisfaction. However, the data were also broken down by spouse (husband vs. wife) so the researchers could also examine whose downregulation was more important for the relationship’s long-term health. The subtitle of the article— “More than a Wives’ Tale"—gives away the punch line because the wife’s downregulation more successfully predicted marital satisfaction over time. Her ability to communicate constructively played the key role in making good things happen long-term.
We know from this study, then, that regulating negative emotions (by wives in particular) is helpful in maintaining relationship bonds. How do the findings relate to the sharing of positive emotions? Were couples benefited at all by focusing on an enjoyable, mutual activity? Berkeley psychologist Joyce Yuan and colleagues (2010), using the same married couples in the Bloch et al. research, found that couples who experienced positive emotions were better able to calm themselves physiologically as well. Positive emotions, in short, “have the capacity to ‘undo’ physiological arousal” (p. 471).
Laughter is certainly one of the strongest reactions we have to positive emotions. You may smile when you’re feeling good, but you’ll only laugh if something strikes you as out-and-out funny. Scott and her team noted that people laugh surprisingly often, perhaps as much as 5 times in a 10-minute conversation.
People also tend to laugh more at what they say than at what others contribute to the dialogue, according to the Scott et al. analysis. We seem to use laughter more as a tool in communicating our thoughts to others than in reacting to what those around us are trying to communicate. (The next time you're chatting with a friend or your partner, take note of the times you laugh and see if this observation matches your own experience.)
Returning to the research, these findings suggest that you may be able to control the emotional climate of your relationship by bringing laughter into it. At first, it might seem strange or forced, but over time, you may find that you and your partner actually find more to laugh about in common. Press the pause button on conflicts before they become destructive and take a moment to put things in perspective. Who knows? Once you take that step back, the whole situation may become laughable. As difficult as it might be the first time, getting in the habit of downregulating together may be the best medicine for long-term relationship fulfillment.