Yellow Flags: The Relationship Signs You Need To Spot Sooner Than Later

Red flags are commonly pointed out when discussing relationship dynamics, from cheating to possessive jealousy to pushing you beyond your limits in the bedroom. Though not all red flags are easy to spot, they tend to make themselves apparent sooner or later — these behaviors or patterns can easily tank a relationship. Essentially, red flags are those blaring neon signs that make you, your friends, or your family declare that the relationship is not healthy and that something needs to change ASAP! But just like traffic lights where red means stop and green means you're good to move forward, there's a yellow light in between that signals you should slow down. In relationships, the equivalent is the less frequently discussed set of yellow flags, which caution slowing down and taking a step back to evaluate if the current dynamic is working for you.

Much more subtle than red flags, yellow flags can be just as important to identify so that you can make certain you're moving in a healthy direction. Psychology Today aligns red flags with being signs that show up when a relationship situation has already gotten to a bad place, while catching yellow flags early in a new relationship can give you the opportunity to decide if you want to try to course correct with your partner or if you should move on before a full-blown red flag appears. Here are some you'll want to recognize and address before they have a chance to evolve in a less-healthy direction.

One person makes all of the decisions

Relationships should provide both people equal space to be seen, heard, encouraged, and supported. From needing space to open up about struggles you're having with your boss at work to having the chance to choose which show you stream during an at-home date night, you should be able to speak, vent, and choose just as much as your partner gets to do those things. However, if you find that one person is making all of the decisions or taking up most of the conversational space in your relationship, that could be a yellow flag. Relationships are about compromise, not control. Healthy relationships have balance and mutual respect, with each person getting to choose the movie, restaurant, date night location, and other shared activities to a relatively equal degree.

One-sided relationships can appear when one person makes all of the decisions while the other person feels silenced, but they can also transpire when one person feels like they're the only one investing effort. Your intuition may let you know early on that things feel off-kilter and there doesn't seem to be a 50/50 balance. The best thing you can do is listen to yourself and take stock of the dynamics in your relationship. Perhaps your partner doesn't want to steamroll you so they refrain from making decisions, or they may have learned certain patterns from past relationships. With open communication, decide if balance can be achieved or if you should part ways.

Your partner lacks a sense of self

In healthy adult relationships, both people should feel comfortable expressing themselves and having lives outside of the relationship, including friendships, hobbies, career pursuits, and anything else that fills each person's energy tank. But if one person in the relationship lacks a confident sense of self, it could be a yellow flag that the relationship isn't going to be sustainable.

Healthline defines a sense of self as encompassing self-worth, self-awareness, self-knowledge, and self-esteem; a person's sense of self is their confidence in their unique values, moral code, beliefs, likes, and dislikes. But you don't have to be the most confident person in the world or maintain perfect self-esteem to have a strong sense of self. Rather, your sense of self is your ability to ascertain your own needs — such as noticing when you're struggling with body image — and having a sense of where you can go for support, including which hobbies or self-care activities are likely to uplift you.

When a person who enters a romantic relationship lacks a strong sense of self, they may begin to adopt the traits, values, lifestyle, and beliefs of their partner because they aren't confident in themselves, or they may rely solely on their partner for social and emotional support. If you need to finish a project or wish to meet up with friends, but your partner wants to be with just you every day, then you may be discovering a yellow flag in your relationship.

There are constant judgments and assumptions

The human experience inherently comes with subconscious judgments and assumptions about situations, which we can attribute to our primitive need to determine our safety and — ultimately — survival. As evolved beings, though, people can learn how to recognize when they're making judgments and pause before moving forward with assumptions about someone else's intentions. Becoming adults means that our brains reach full development and we're gifted with the ability to control our reactions. While a child may lash out due to a lack of emotional regulation development, adults should be capable of recognizing their own judgmental thoughts as being based on their own experiences and allowing mature communication to take place before finalizing their beliefs.

Of course, just because adults may have fully developed brains doesn't mean that assumptions and emotional reactions don't take over at times. No one is perfect, but it may be a yellow flag if your partner constantly makes judgments about you or assumptions about your relationship without first communicating with you. It can be stressful when interpersonal conflict arises, but healthy conflict resolution should include open communication and partnership in crafting solutions. If the conflict in your relationship frequently arises because your partner misinterprets your actions without seeking clarification or makes judgments about your character without getting to know you, then your partner may not have the skill set to communicate maturely and regulate their emotional reactions. You should feel like you have a teammate in your relationship, not an adversary.

Apologies are rare or nonexistent

Apologizing for a wrongdoing or mistake is a common response that's considered polite and can serve as an olive branch following interpersonal conflict. But if apologies seem as rare as finding dinosaur bones in your backyard, then there may be a yellow flag flying above your relationship. That yellow flag may be even larger (or even turning red) if your partner refuses to acknowledge wrongdoing altogether. Just as adults should learn proper emotional regulation as they mature, a supportive partner should be able to recognize when their actions have been counterproductive — whether intentionally or unintentionally — and subsequently apologize.

The act of apologizing is often misconstrued as one person admitting fault for an entire situation, subsequently painting themselves as the villain. This is a toxic perception of the purpose apologies serve. In relationships, apologizing is a way to rebuild trust, reinforce the core values of your relationship, and let your partner know you're committed to the partnership you've built together. Psychology Today reports that there are narratives around apologizing that many people learn during childhood, especially if they weren't able to see adults model healthy ways of apologizing. Should you realize that your partner rarely apologizes, find a moment void of distractions to bring up your concern and let your partner know that you want to learn more about their beliefs about apologizing. See if your partner is open to learning new approaches to resolving conflict and apologizing, or if they're firm in their anti-apology stance.

Exes are always blamed and vilified

It's common to hear people say it's a bad sign when someone you're dating is still in touch with their exes. But many people decide to remain friends or acquaintances with exes because they've discovered that they're better as friends, or they genuinely want to congratulate former partners when they get married, welcome a child, get a huge promotion, etc. As long as the connection is healthy and respectful of each person moving on and starting new relationships with other people, maintaining contact with exes isn't necessarily a warning sign.

However, a yellow flag may arise from how someone talks about their exes. When your partner discusses their past relationships, do they say kind and respectful things, or do they blame every past issue on their exes? The way a person speaks about their former partners can reveal a lot about their character, their respect for the people in their life, and how they will treat you, should your relationship end.

There are a lot of harmful, toxic phrases considered acceptable when discussing exes, but in truth, they're not okay to say. For instance, calling an ex "crazy" is a label rooted in misogyny, sexism, and ableism. In the context of relationships, calling someone "crazy" can be a way to automatically invalidate their feelings, emotions, and opinions — a huge red flag in the making. Over time, this behavior can escalate into gaslighting and emotional manipulation.

Other people are involved in your relationship

When you enter into a monogamous romantic relationship with someone, it's understandable that you expect for the relationship to only include you and your partner. A yellow flag may become apparent if you learn that other people are involved in your relationship and your partner is sharing private information with others. To clarify, there's a distinction between speaking with a professional versus spilling secrets to a group of friends. Sharing feelings and concerns about relationships with a therapist can be a healthy way to determine productive ways to address conflict and become a better partner.

The yellow flag comes about when other people — like your partner's friends, family members, coworkers, or even strangers — are told personal information and provide their opinions about what should happen in your relationship. Other people having input in your relationship can feel like a violation of privacy, especially if you aren't aware that your partner is speaking to others about intimate aspects of your relationship. You might feel vulnerable knowing that others have been told details about things you shared with your partner in confidence. The result is a degradation of trust within the relationship.

A healthy approach is discussing the people with whom you'll each share information about your relationship — which could include best friends, siblings, or other confidants — and determining what can and can't be shared. Be transparent about who knows things about your relationship so no one is caught off guard.

Feedback and opportunities to grow are ignored

Similar to never apologizing, if your partner refuses to hear feedback about their behavior, especially when it's delivered with kindness and good intentions, watch out for a yellow flag. Our brains can put up barriers to block out things we hear about ourselves that don't align with how we see ourselves, which can prevent some people from taking responsibility for specific actions and accepting criticism, per Psychology Today. Everyone is going to reject feedback at some point because they don't agree with it, and part of that is knowing who you are and being confident in your identity. But if your partner rejects all feedback and refuses to seek out opportunities for self-improvement and growth, then you're likely looking at a yellow flag.

The difference between behavior that's benign and behavior indicating yellow flags is your partner's likelihood to take a look at their actions, patterns, and habits, followed by taking steps for self-improvement and growth. If you bring up a concern and your partner refuses to learn new habits and communication methods, then be wary of the flag becoming orange. In healthy relationships, partners should be excited to grow as individuals and listen to one another's feedback so that they can also grow stronger as partners.