Some people explain away or deny the uneasy feelings they have when they observe certain behaviors in a relationship. Maybe it’s because they want the relationship to work out. Or they are afraid of upsetting their families or their potential spouse.
As you are getting to know someone for marriage, it’s important to ensure that the relationship is a good fit. And this requires addressing any concerns that come up for either partner. A red flag is any concern that may create serious issues in the relationship. Below are five relationship red flags to be mindful of.
People can have enmeshed relationships with others, making them overly dependent on that person’s approval for big and small things in their life. This can be problematic for a couple trying to come together and form a new unit independent of one another’s families. No doubt, consulting with family and close mentors is really important during the courtship–but observe the influence of others upon your future spouse’s other affairs, and their long and short-term plans.
For example, a serious concern might be an overly involved parent who probes your partner for the details of everything you discuss together. Another serious concern would be if your partner prefers not to express their own opinion, but will also agree with the opinions of others and doesn’t seem to know what he/she wants. This person may need constant validation from others and seek approval over big and small decisions in life.
Indecisiveness about the relationship can also be caused by someone not really ready to make a commitment. This can look like avoiding conversations about involving your families or avoiding conversations about the next steps for the relationship.
Many people, after getting to know someone better, will identify gaps in the information they’ve been told or things that don’t add up. Their partner may say things but act in contradiction to what they say. Or they might be unwilling to discuss concerns brought up by their partner.
Look out for vague or conflicting information that your partner may not be sharing. When you try to address a subject you feel is important to discuss, is your partner repeatedly changing the subject or becoming angry with you if you try to ask about it? Someone who understands that a strong relationship is built on honesty and trustworthiness will be open about themselves as the trust in the relationship grows.
How does your partner interact with others, especially those who are younger than him/her, or who serve or work for them?
Does he/she make condescending or disrespectful comments about others, or criticize people behind their back?
Does your partner or their family make negative comments or generalizations about certain cultures or groups of people?
Racism, misogyny, and cultural stereotypes exist in the world that we live in–they can sneak into our relationships and interactions in sometimes subtle ways, causing stress and conflict. Educate yourself on these kinds of stereotypes and patterns so that you are also aware of them if they come up–especially if you are entering into a cross-cultural relationship. Something to keep in mind: even if you believe that your partner is not racist or misogynistic, it’s still important to learn and know that we live in a society that’s based on these patterns and how they influence us.
If you’ve been courting someone for some time, you should have had a few conversations where you disagreed. Seeing how your partner manages conflict and deals with strong emotions like anger is a huge marker of their character and maturity.
So when is it a red flag? When someone cannot disagree with others respectfully or cannot control their anger during a conflict– that’s a red flag. Or perhaps their anger is triggered very easily by small and insignificant things. Or a “my way or the highway” attitude during disagreements. This can sound like, “I see what you’re saying, but just listen to what I’m saying. Trust me, I know what I’m talking about.”
Or he/she may get defensive and blame others rather than accepting responsibility or admitting a mistake. This may sound like “Yeah I shouldn’t have said that but it wouldn’t have happened if you just did…” This makes it hard to negotiate or problem-solve because the conversation is about “I am right, you are wrong” rather than being about understanding each other.
A partner who is unable to resolve conflicts maturely, admit mistakes, or deal with constructive criticism is likely to be someone who is not able to take personal responsibility in their life.
If you’re not bringing up certain topics because you want to make things work, or you are not sure what your partner’s reaction to the conversation will be, this may be a red flag. Do you feel insecure or hesitant about sharing a part of yourself with someone else? It may be discomfort about opening up emotionally or sharing a very private part of yourself. Or a lack of confidence in yourself and your opinions. This is the time to have those conversations and learn about one another! If you don’t feel comfortable enough bringing up something that’s important to you, think about why this may be.
Maybe you don’t know if you can trust your partner just yet, or you might be fearful of the reaction you’ll get from them. If you feel the need to brush things under the rug or that your partner may have a severe reaction to something that you feel strongly about, this could be a red flag or a sign of incompatibility. Maybe you sense that your partner disagrees with you about something, and you are uncomfortable with the conflict that might arise. Know that the person you marry should be someone with whom you can be honest and genuine, and who will try to understand your perspective, even during disagreements. This is not something you will know until you have the opportunity to see it in action. Approaching topics of conflict is essential to deepening your understanding of yourself, your partner, and how aligned you are. It will also help you decide how conflict will be managed in the relationship.
Don’t assume change. You should never marry someone with the expectation that they will change or that you will change them after marriage. Assume that what you see is what you get. Stay critical, trust your intuition, and give yourself time to observe and discuss your concerns with the person and others. Being observant for red flags is not about being suspicious. It’s about protecting yourself and your partner from an incompatible or harmful relationship. Also keep in mind that abusive behavior doesn’t always begin in an obvious way, but there are patterns, and those patterns are found in many of the red flags we’ve discussed.
Do any of these red flags bring up a concern about your relationship? Realize that you may encounter a red flag or a behavior from a potential spouse (or his/her family) at any point in the process, possibly just days before the wedding. Don’t dismiss this. Address the behavior directly, and do not be pressured into moving forward with marriage at any point in the process if you are not comfortable.
Read more here about the signs of a healthy relationship. To learn more about red flags and conflict in a relationship, check out The FYI’s Marriage Prep course for courting and engaged couples here.
The Family & Youth Institute, or The FYI, is a well-known Muslim organization in the United States. It works to promote mental health and wellness by strengthening and empowering individuals, families, and communities through research and education. It has been working for many years to bring Islamic perspectives to understanding and promoting mental health in our communities.
It is dedicated to serving and supporting Muslims – safeguarding our deen, our families, and our future generations. Therefore, the work of The FYI comes in the category of ‘fi sabeelillah’ or the Path of Allah, within the eight categories where Zakat money can be used.
“Zakah expenditures are only for the poor and for the needy and for those employed for it and for bringing hearts together [for Islam] and for freeing captives [or slaves] and for those in debt and for the cause of Allah, and for the [stranded] traveler – an obligation [imposed] by Allah, And Allah, is Knowing and Wise.”
According to scholars who widen the meaning of fee sabeelillah to include any activities that promote Islamic growth, The FYI is indeed eligible to receive part of the Zakat funds for its programs and services. I urge Muslims in America to support this organization through their donations, general charity, and through their Zakat. I ask Allah swt to strengthen and guide The FYI to continue its good work in supporting Muslims.
Shaikh Ali Suleiman Ali, PhD
Sh. Ali Suleiman Ali was born in Ghana where he spent his childhood studying with various Muslim scholars. He then moved to Saudi Arabia and enrolled in the Islamic University of Madina. He graduated with a degree in both Arabic and Islamic Studies. Dr. Ali went on to complete his Ph.D. in Islamic Studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
Sh. Ali serves on the Advisory Council of The Family & Youth Institute. He is the Senior Imam and Director of the Muslim Community of Western Suburbs in Canton, Michigan. Additionally, he serves as the Director of Muslim Family Services in Detroit and is a council member of the Fiqh Council of North America (FCNA). He is also a member of the North American Imams Federation (NAIF) and the Association of Muslim Jurists of America (AMJA).