What Are 'White Flags' In A Relationship And How Do You Identify Them?

Once upon a time, couples went into relationships looking for chemistry and a "spark," but now, savvy daters are scanning for "flags" that span every color of the rainbow. There are red flags, aka significant warning signs that a partner might be bad news. Then, there are green flags — the behaviors, habits, and personality traits that pass the gut check and lead you to believe someone might be a good match. In between are other colors, too, like orange, yellow, and pink.


While these color-coded flags are often identified early on in a relationship — at a time when they can help you decide if someone's worth continuing to see — another flag can take time to appear: white flags.

Historically, white flags have always been a marker of surrender during times of war, signifying that one party is ready to give up and stop fighting. In romantic partnerships, however, white flags carry a slightly different meaning. Here's what they are, how to identify them, and when to raise your own white flags in your relationship.

Relationship white flags, explained

Thriving relationships require a bit of surrendering — just as white flags traditionally symbolize — but surrendering doesn't take place only during arguments or times of conflict. As Elaine Parker, CEO and founder of dating app Safer Date, told Stylist, "There's a lot of discussion on green flags and red flags, and this seems to make the white flags go unnoticed. Maintaining romantic relationships requires lots of work, and sometimes, this means surrendering to some things in our life." In a separate interview with Metro, Parker offered a couple of examples: "Whether it's partaking in a hobby or a sport, you're surrendering yourself to the relationship by putting your interests aside and favouring your partners instead."


Put another way, white flags are sacrifices and compromises made for the sake of the partnership. In response to a TikTok clip by a creator named Avery, people shared amusing white flags from their own relationships, including pretending to like Harry Potter because a partner did and lying about not liking hash browns so the other partner never felt bad for eating both servings.

How white flags change over a relationship's lifespan

White flags at the start of a relationship can look quite different from those that come later, which is why they can be nearly impossible to spot. Avery's own white flag, which was actually more of a white lie, is a prime example. Text over her video reads, "For me, [my white flag was saying] I couldn't wink. I made it 3 whole years before Fiancé John caught me in the act." She explains further in the caption, "he thought it was so cute i just couldnt tell him." In other words, it brought her partner so much joy to think Avery couldn't wink, the content creator maintained the story, despite it being fabricated. Others who commented on the clip also noted that their partners eventually found out about the secret concessions they'd made when they were newly dating.


As a relationship progresses, these early-relationship fibs eventually come to light, but in their place are often new white flags. Surrendering can come in the form of letting your partner choose where you'll eat dinner or washing the dishes that your S.O. keeps forgetting in the sink. In serious relationships, it might also include giving up Friday night drinks with your friends to spend time with your other half or even moving to their city of choice so you don't have to be apart.

Can white flags be red flags?

There's a reason white flags are a concept separate from green flags: They aren't always a good thing for relationships. For one, if your white flag requires telling a white lie, it could trigger trust issues later. "[E]ven small ticket lies repeated day after day can harm a relationship," licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Ramani Durvasula said to Women's Health. Even if the lie is made for the other's benefit, when the truth comes out, they may struggle to believe anything you say going forward.


White-flag compromises and sacrifices that are made without dishonesty can have drawbacks as well. A 2022 research review published in Current Opinion in Psychology argued that sacrifices can be detrimental to both personal happiness and relationship health, unless the person raising the white flag views their sacrifice positively.

That means, in other words, that it doesn't always pay to let go and give the other person what they want, and too much selflessness can be a curse, rather than a virtue. This goes for both partners. If you notice you're giving too much, try honoring your own needs — without any compromise — next time. And likewise, if your partner is constantly yielding to your desires, know that it could indicate a pattern of unhealthy people-pleasing.


When to surrender in your relationship

White flags have their place in relationships, and some surrendering is necessary for a relationship to last. "However, it's important to be aware of surrendering in a healthy way," Elaine Parker told Stylist. "Surrendering yourself to be with someone shouldn't involve shutting off your loved ones [...] and it's crucial to be aware that scenarios like this can be dangerous."


It's also important that both partners are willing to raise the white flag from time to time. Otherwise, the relationship could become one-sided or, even worse, abusive. "For example, if one partner is regularly demanding a sacrifice from another or expressing the request as an ultimatum, that's a clear example of uneven compromising that can endanger the relationship," Dr. Callisto Adams, a relationship expert, shared with Well+Good.

One final way to know if a white flag is a good idea: Consider how you'd feel about the sacrifice if your partner didn't express gratitude after. If you'd feel resentful and expect them to return the favor, you're probably better off not conceding.

If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. You can also find more information, resources, and support on their website.