What It Means If Your Partner Suddenly Goes On A Spending Spree
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Once upon a time, relationship red flags reflected the expectations of a heteronormative, monogamous society. It was typically considered a "red flag" if marriage wasn’t on your radar or you weren’t interested in having kids. But now, as people have realized that love can take many different forms, experts say that what may be a red flag for one person—say, a lack of desire to talk about politics—may be a breath of fresh air for someone else.
Still, there are "absolute" red flags, like abusive and controlling behavior, that shouldn’t be ignored, says Callisto Adams, PhD, founder of HeTexted.com, and a dating and relationship expert and coach. She says being cautious (not paranoid), and trusting your gut feeling and instincts is key to spotting a red flag. "It saves you time, tears, and experiences that won’t feel good when you look back at them," she adds.
Meet the experts: Callisto Adams, PhD, is the founder of HeTexted.com and a dating and relationship expert and coach.
Rebekah Montgomery, PhD, is a clinical psychologist with a private practice in Washington D.C. that specializes in relationships.
Terri Orbuch, PhD, is a professor at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research and author of 5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage From Good to Great.
Dr. Jane Greer, PhD, is a New York-based marriage and relationship therapist and author of What About Me? Stop Selfishness From Ruining Your Relationship.
Dr. Lillian Glass, PhD, is a communication expert and the author of He Says, She Says: Closing the Communications Gap Between the Sexes.
Rachel Wright, MA, LMFT, is a psychotherapist and founder of Shame Free Therapy based in New York.
Ahead, discover the signs experts say most commonly indicate your 'ship is heading for some rough waters, exactly how to address red flags as they emerge, and how to know when it's time to cut and run so you can save yourself some heartache.
What is a relationship red flag?
What constitutes a red flag in a relationship varies from person to person, but a blanket understanding of what they are can be helpful if or when they crop up in your love life. "Red flags represent the early warnings of unhealthy traits that could potentially be damaging to the person or people involved in the relationship," says Adams. "They’re tiny signals that make that inner voice say, 'There’s definitely something off.'"
There are also yellow flags, which are "more of a warning sign that an issue may develop from a difference, difficulty, or area of struggle," says Adams.
A yellow flag might be that someone you're dating isn't available to spend enough time with you, says Rebekah Montgomery, PhD, a clinical psychologist based in Washington D.C. who specializes in relationships. This could be a more circumstantial situation (e.g. they're burning the midnight oil to nab a job promotion) or turn into a longer-term issue that signals they can't make you or the relationship a priority.
"Identifying yellow flags is important... [so] you don't feel blindsided if things don't work out," she explains. "But you also don't have to feel as though every area of difficulty means you should end it with someone."
What are the most common red flags in relationships?
Aside from the universal red flags that live in the realm of abuse, toxic and/or controlling behavior, and invasions of privacy, a red flag is usually subjective, says Rachel Wright, MA, LMFT, a psychotherapist and founder of Shame Free Therapy.
For some people, that can look like wanting or not wanting a monogamous relationship, children, etc. But it's worth noting that one person's red flag could be a giant green one for someone else.
"While much of society subscribes to the relationship escalator, we tend to assume everyone does, which is simply not true," explains Wright. "So, usually, when the term red flag is used, it’s describing an alert that this person isn’t going to be a good fit for the role in your life that you’re trying to fill or cast."
Now that you get the gist, here are 15 typical red flags in relationships and expert tips on how best to address them.
1. There are sustained difficulties in your sexual relationship...
...And you’re not talking about it. At all. Or, if you are, it’s just in passing as a joke and not getting the actual attention the lack of time you’re spending between the sheets deserves. "There will always be ebbs and flows with sexual connection, but if you can't talk about it, and it becomes chronic, it can really harm the relationship," says Montgomery.
As she emphasizes, all relationships have difficult periods. But the critical piece is: Can you openly discuss it? "Does the other person care about your perspective, share their feelings, and want to address your concerns?" she adds.
2. You’re witnessing toxic behavior.
"The word 'toxic' has been used a lot—so much that it is almost just normal to label even the simplest things as 'toxic,'" says Adams. But if your partner is exhibiting true toxic behavior such as manipulating, gaslighting, dishonesty, and lying, it will end up draining the hell out of you. Feeling fear towards (or because of) a partner is another red flag that indicates toxicity in a relationship, she adds.
If you ever feel afraid to discuss issues with your partner, fear for your safety in their presence, or are worried that they’ll accuse you of something, it’s time to move on, and potentially seek professional support. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available at 800.799.SAFE (7233).
3. You stop doing the little 'just because' gestures that show your partner you love them.
It doesn't take a relationship expert to figure out that saying "I love you" regularly and then stopping out of nowhere is a warning sign. But if you used to bring your S.O. something from your coffee run just 'cuz—and now you don't—that can be just as worrisome, says Terri Orbuch, PhD, a professor at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research and author of 5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage From Good to Great.
Ditto if your partner used to do little lovey dovey stuff, like text you sweet messages and cute throwbacks pics, regularly and now doesn't.
That's because couples express love and affection with their actions just as much as they do by saying the "L" word, explains Orbuch. So if showing your partner you love them isn't as top of mind for you lately, you might need to do some soul searching and think about why.
4. You don’t tell them about that awesome thing that just happened at work.
Sure, it might not seem like a big deal if you don’t immediately run to tell your partner when your boss gives you extra kudos. But if you notice that tendency to confide in other people first—and maybe even skip your S.O. altogether—becomes a pattern, it could be a warning that you don’t feel supported in your relationship, says Orbuch.
It’s a similarly bad sign if you find out that your partner isn’t filling you in on what’s going on in their life. "One of the ways partners bond and become close with each other is to share personal, often confidential, information with each other," says Orbuch.
So if you’re not doing that, well...
5. You don't want to introduce each other to your inner circles.
There's a reason that first meeting with your parents is such a big deal: It helps give your partner a sense of your past and a deeper connection to your life, says Orbuch. While no one expects you to go on a double date with your brother before you've "defined the relationship," if you find yourself preventing run-ins between your close friends and your significant other, that's a problem.
If the situation is flipped, and your partner won't introduce you to anyone in their life, it could be a sign that heartbreak is on the horizon.
6. One of you switches from saying 'we' to 'I.'
As much as you might roll your eyes when your friend starts dating someone new and turns into a "we" person, there’s a perfectly good reason this happens, says Orbuch. It’s a sign you see your lives as intertwined and that you consider yourselves on the same team.
If you or your partner have crossed that relationship milestone of using the "w" word—but then you notice that stops—it’s an indication that the person with the change of lingo may be having a change of heart, too.
7. They're tight-lipped about past relationships.
Remember, sharing personal information with each other creates a tight bond, according to Orbuch. So, if you ask your partner about their ex or something similarly personal—say, what they envision for your joint future—and they brush off your questions, it could be because they don’t see your relationship as being that serious.
Granted, that's not necessarily a reflection on you—they just might not be ready for a long-term, committed relationship. But if you are, it’s better that you catch on ASAP.
FYI: A ton of people lie to their partners about their past sexual relationships:
8. You don’t consult each other before making big decisions.
When someone sees their relationship as serious, they might consult their partner before making major moves in life, says Orbuch. It’s not about approval, but a sign that they want to make choices together—and that they see a shared future with you.
But if you keep something, like the fact that you’re looking for a new job, from your partner, it could mean they’re not a priority for you.
9. They have a lot of solo plans.
In healthy relationships, couples don’t do everything together. But if your partner is headed to a party and they don’t even give you a heads-up and normally would, there could be something going on, says Jane Greer, PhD, a New York-based marriage and relationship therapist and author of What About Me? Stop Selfishness From Ruining Your Relationship. At best, failing to include you was an oversight. But it could be another indication that they don't feel comfortable letting you spend time with their friends or family.
And if the tables are turned and you find yourself enjoying time spent away from your partner more than you do with them, that's a pretty good clue that it's time to cut 'em loose.
10. You stop seeing their quirks as charming.
If minor habits you used to be indifferent to—or even found endearing—start annoying you, Greer says this means you’re losing patience with the relationship. You might say you've got the ick.
Accepting your partner (loud phone voice and all), is key to a healthy relationship. So if you find yourself losing your temper over little things, you might want to consider whether the dirty dishes are the actual reason you’re angry... or if it’s because you don’t want to be with your S.O. anymore.
11. They’re suddenly showering you with gifts and attention.
"A partner who is suddenly much more attentive and complimentary or who starts buying you gifts for no reason may be feeling guilty about something," Greer says.
Coming home to prepared dinners when that isn’t the norm could be a clue they feel guilty about something—and they're overcompensating by fawning over you. Granted, a nice gesture in isolation is nothing to freak out over. But if it coincides with other warning signs, that's when it might mean something's up, says Greer.
12. They start putting you down.
This one may seem obvious, but it's worth saying—mostly because you definitely deserve better than a partner who's emotionally immature enough to create distance by criticizing you.
"The goal here is to make you feel bad and get you to back off, so they don't have to break things off themselves," Greer explains. This tactic is designed to make you feel so bad about yourself and the relationship that you’ll call it quits and do the hard work for them. So, do just that. Lose the loser—and any guilty feelings you might have about dumping them.
13. There’s a change in how your partner spends money.
If your S.O. starts splurging at the mall and that's totally out of character for them, they might be dealing with some emotions or stressors they’re not telling you about. Even if it's unrelated to you and your relationship—like the loss of a job or a bad investment—not sharing the reason behind their impromptu shopping sprees could mean that your partner doesn't feel comfortable telling you the truth. Not a great sign.
Similarly, if your partner is suddenly stingy or strict about how you (or they) spend money, Greer says, it's another tip-off of insecurity in the relationship.
14. You switch up your style.
Have you started adopting your partner’s style of dress or found yourself doing your hair in ways you know they like, but you don't love? This may be a red flag that you're losing sight of yourself in the relationship, warns Lillian Glass, PhD, author of He Says, She Says: Closing the Communications Gap Between the Sexes, Take a step back and ask yourself if you're giving more than your partner is—and be honest. If you are, this imbalance is a sign that you guys will have to recalibrate or call it quits, says Glass.
15. Their body language gets...different.
Sure, something like a stressful week could have your partner more fidgety than normal. But differences in your partner’s mannerisms could also indicate that they're less comfortable in the relationship, says Glass. Something as simple as an eye roll, or avoiding eye contact—if it happens several times—can be a relationship red flag, she notes.
Do they seem to be using more agitated gestures than normal? Feel free to ask if something is up with your S.O. to try to head off issues before they become any bigger.
How can you address red flags if/when they arise?
The first step in taking action is noticing the red flag (something you're likely already doing since you're reading this!) and knowing when it's time to walk away. To help you make that decision, take stock of your deal breakers, goals, and future plans, recommends Wright. It may even be helpful to write them down because seeing your non-negotiables in black and white can help reaffirm their importance to you. From there, you can ask your partner direct questions to get a good idea of whether or not you align.
The second step: Look for those previously-mentioned objective or universal red flags in your relationship. Wright notes that you're likely to notice them "when you feel berated, insecure, insane, hurt often, confused, or violated."
Finally, if you and your partner are misaligned or there's an objective red flag in the picture, try to have a conversation to make sure you're reading the situation correctly. However, if that's an unsafe option because your partner is abusive or manipulative, it's best to leave or speak with a therapist that can help you create an escape plan.
To begin this tough conversation, express your worries and ask your partner how they feel about the situation, advises Montgomery. For example, you might say something like, "I feel worried that we don't spend enough time together. Do you feel like we get enough quality time?" or "I'm worried we haven't had sex in a while. I know there can be lots of reasons for it, but I like feeling connected to you in that way. How do you feel about our sexual connection?"
If you know the red flags are enough for you to want to GTFO of the relationship, that decision merits a mature, responsible breakup talk. "Let them know you don’t see you two being a healthy fit for each other anymore, and that you respect and appreciate the time you two shared together," says Wright.
What if I’m the one who has the red flag?
Remember, a red flag is subjective. So maybe you and your partner just don't align on what you want for yourselves. That doesn't make you a bad person.
"Unless you are being manipulative, abusive, toxic, or unhealthy—the only red flags you’d have are not aligning with the other person’s relationship goals, values, and vision—which you don’t want to change," says Wright. "Find yourself wanting to check your partner’s phone? That’s a mechanism going off in your brain to protect yourself, but it’s not okay."
She adds that if you find yourself struggling with manipulative or toxic tendencies, consider enrolling in therapy to help you get to the root of those behaviors so you can show up better for your partner.
The bottom line: Think about your relationship norms, and if you notice changes from that baseline—on your partner's part or on yours—that could be a sign that one or both of you is starting to feel less secure in your bond. That said, there could be something else at play, so it's always best to try to approach the issue through an honest and open conversation with your partner.
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