why green flags are as important as red flags
Relationship expert, Dr George Blair-West, co-author of How To Make The Biggest Decision Of Your Life, believes that being overly focused on finding the ‘red flags’ in relationships is misguided. Instead, new couples should consider whether they have the green flags that are the key to a long-lasting relationship.
When it comes to relationships, we’re constantly being told to look out for red flags. He describes his ex as “crazy”? Red flag. She complains when you catch up with your friends? Red flag.
Embarking on a new relationship these days can feel like you need to toggle up and learn semaphore what with all the signals, flags and cues to interpret.
Of course, a little circumspection is probably prudent, particularly in the era of internet dating where there’s all manner of charlatans and triple dippers, but there is also the danger of becoming overly negative and suspicious.
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What if we focused on the green flags rather than the red, and what even is a green flag? Turning up? Well, that helps. Likewise, plenty believe you can tell a lot about a person by how they treat the waiter. Friends may recommend you look for someone who can apologise, or someone who is independent (though not too much), or someone who has an amicable relationship with a former partner.
In the first instance, you need to identify two central principles, says Dr George Blair-West, co-author of How To Make The Biggest Decision Of Your Life (Hachette, $32.99). “To build love you need to accept and be accepted by the other person despite your respective shortcomings,” he tells Body + Soul. “The second part is having a commitment to nurturing their personal growth as well as your own.”
From there, Blair-West believes green flags are arguably more important than red flags. “They speak to the backbone of the relationship,” he says. “Red flags are relatively straightforward. If your partner treats you poorly or they sleep around, then you ignore the flags at your peril.”
While an aligned vision and values are critical to the success of a relationship, there are six qualities – or green flags – that are necessary or, at the very least, can be cultivated in your relationship to ensure its success.
It sounds straightforward, but reliability is more than just the boring glue of the relationship; it’ll help determine your wellbeing. Blair-West says he sees many people who realise well into their relationships that their partner does not have their back or is not there for them when they are sick or incapacitated. Fortunately, it’s a quality you can evaluate early on by asking yourself some of the following: How well do they communicate when plans have to change? Do they build you up in front of others? Do they make you feel safe?
Do you have a mindset of “we” instead of “me”? If so, you’re capable of “influenceability”, which describes a couple’s willingness to not only respect each other’s opinions, but also allow themselves to be influenced by each other for the good of a relationship. Studies by respected psychologist Dr John Gottman have shown there’s a strong link between influenceability and long-term relationship success. Curiously, this is particularly important for men, who are often resistant to being influenced by their partner. According to Gottman, there is an 81 per cent chance of a marriage ending when the man is unwilling to allow their partner to influence them. You can detect influenceability by noting whether your partner asks your opinion and whether they consult you when making decisions or changing plans.
Most people would nominate “trust” as an important factor in relationship success, but it’s not as simple as being open, honest and faithful. Blair-West says trust must be built alongside intimacy and vulnerability. As he says: “You can only become truly vulnerable with a partner you can trust, and you can’t develop intimacy without vulnerability.” The good thing is that studies show self-disclosure in relationships is reciprocal – the more we open up, the more a partner will follow suit. Essentially, you want to feel like your partner is on your team. Some of the questions to ask yourself are: Do they keep secrets? Do they use sensitive information against you? Do they share their internal world with you?
Too often we think of empathy as one of many desirable attributes we’d like on a checklist, alongside generosity, kindness and a good sense of humour. But it’s more than that. It’s the human state at its very best. Blair-West says to be empathetic, we have to be able to put aside our own emotional responses to connect to another person without judgement and we need to feel what they’re going through on a meaningful level.
But central to empathy is communication; your partner can’t support you if they don’t know what you need. While we often think of men struggling with empathy, women can also be insensitive to men’s emotions, says Blair-West, pointing out that they have a tendency to respond to their partner’s vulnerability with insensitive, throw-away lines. While we all feel things differently, we need to ask whether our partner tries to understand what might have upset us.
Preparedness to raise issues
Hardly anyone likes conflict but, as Blair-West points out, a relationship without conflict is not a very intimate relationship. In fact, he says no conflict would be deeply concerning as it’s a necessary by-product of two intelligent individuals with different agendas living under one roof. Instead of seeing conflict as a problem, we need to see it as an opportunity to create a deeper connection. “When we can address conflict, accept the discomfort that comes with it and talk through an issue to find some kind of resolution – perhaps a better strategy for the future, or even just agreeing to disagree – we tend to bond more deeply with our partner,” he writes. If assessing a partner’s preparedness to raise issues, consider whether they get aggressive, if they’re avoidant or whether they’re prepared to navigate conflict in a more functional way.
A long-term view
While we are increasingly encouraged to “be present”, when it comes to relationships, having a long-term view is protective because it not only allows us to check if we have a shared vision, but it combats destructive behaviour, too. As Blair-West says, a partner who has a long-term view is less likely to engage in an impulsive affair because they’ll consider the longer-term impact. Ask yourself to what extent your partner is prepared to plan ahead and talk about their future. Will they be prepared to give up partying when you have a child?
Finally, while a partner may not embody all the qualities above, what you are looking for is someone who recognises the importance of developing them over time.