What Are 'Amber Flags' In A Relationship?

Entering a new relationship can be full of swoon-worthy moments as we fall for a new love interest, but what about those little glimpses when you notice something just slightly off-putting about your new beau? It may not be a glaring red flag in your new relationship that grabbed your attention, but something a bit more subtle and arguably subjective. These less-than-ideal but not devastating qualities are called amber flags, and while they're certainly something to keep an eye on, they don't mean you need to call it quits right off the bat.

An amber flag might be a lack of personal interests or hobbies, a secretive nature, estrangement from family, or speaking poorly of their exes. These are generally qualities that need further investigation to determine whether or not they'll be issues for you in the relationship. For example, if your partner tends to be more private, and you have trust issues to work through, how will you two navigate that combination? On the other hand, if they have a good reason for not staying close with their parents, then you may agree the distance is valid. Once you've figured out how to identify your amber flags, you can begin to respond to them in a healthy way. 

How to identify your personal amber flags

If you aren't quite sure whether a quality falls under the amber flag category or is teetering into red flag territory, there are a few steps to take. Ask yourself what your intuition tells you when you're with your partner — do you feel anxious about the issues you've identified, or do you feel enthusiastic about the future regardless of them?

It's also wise to envision the type of life you'd like to have with your partner. Is a close relationship with extended family important to you? If so, perhaps their falling out with their immediate family will be tricky for you to work with. Do you see yourself living a simple life with your partner? In that case, their tendency to be a workaholic may be something of a deal-breaker.

You could discuss the matter with those close to you, as an objective opinion can be super helpful, particularly if your judgment is a little clouded thanks to Cupid's arrow. "Seek outside perspective," clinical social worker Pia Johnson, LMSW, told Verywell Mind. "Talk to trusted friends or family members about your concerns and ask for their input. They may be able to offer a different perspective or help you identify potential yellow flags that you may have missed."

It may also help to review your past relationships and take note if these amber flags were present before. If they were, reflect on how they affected the relationship. 

Responding to amber flags in a healthy way

It's important to determine the reasoning behind each amber flag before you respond. For example, if they're stand-offish around your friends, but then explain that they experience social anxiety, you may find room for understanding and acceptance. Assess how each amber flag makes you feel once you know all the facts, and whether it has a significant impact on the relationship overall. Those that bother you should be brought up with your partner, and conscious communication is key.

Be sure to approach the conversation from a place of open-minded curiosity that won't alert their defenses, and keep in mind that they may be noticing amber flags in you also. "We all bring past relationships and life experiences to a partnership," professor of sociology and intimacy at The Open University Dr. Jacqui Gabb told Stylist. "Acknowledge this and talk openly about how issues may be the result of two individuals with diverging experience and expectations rather than the fault of one person."

Marriage.com explains that the conversation should help you assess your partner's willingness to resolve issues that you find to be problematic. While you don't need to respond to amber flags with panic, you also shouldn't ignore them or enable any toxic behaviors in your partner.