click here to jump to start of article
Join Our Newsletter

Get latest articles and videos with Jewish inspiration and insights​

Don’t Ignore Red Flags

Don’t Ignore Red Flags

Breaking someone’s heart for the right reason.


Breaking up after dating seriously

You finally meet someone really special and your heart opens up, your guard comes down and you feel connected to the person you’re dating. And then a red flag appears. But because you’re feeling connected and good about this relationship you may not want to let go. Perhaps you keep dating to see if things will change.

Often there is a nagging voice in the back of your mind reminding you that you have some serious concerns – aka the red flags – about this person. Because you’re a good person you give the other person the benefit of the doubt, wait it out and hope and pray that they aren’t what you think they are.

When I’m working with my clients, it is at this point that I remind them that breaking off a relationship is much easier than breaking off an engagement. I know this is easier said than done, but it’s a necessary reality check. I hold my clients accountable to what they previously defined as a deal breaker. I work with them to confirm that the red flag they see is really red and not yellow.

If you’re working through this on your own, ask yourself: Could I be happy living with someone who has/does _____? Will this person help me achieve my greatest potential, or does this red flag prevent them from being the partner that I need?

Don’t ask: Is there someone out there who is better? Rather ask: Is this the right match for me or do I need to sweetly and kindly get out of this relationship now?

The longer a relationship lasts, the harder it is to pull away. Try to make a decision in good time, and once you’ve made the decision don’t delay. (A word of caution: If the flag is yellow and not red, then you do want to give more time to see its true colors.) Once you are clearly seeing a red flag, get the support you need and make the right decision now. A delay in breaking up can lead to a questionable engagement.

I can’t break up, I’m engaged

Being in the dating-for-marriage business, I can tell you from a professional point of view that more engagements are broken off than you think. Perhaps you know someone who has been, or you yourself have been, in the following situations:

“I can’t break up! I’m engaged and I’m not like that; I’m someone who follows through with things.”

“We already had our engagement party; I’m so embarrassed to break up. And what will I do with all the presents, and the ring? Whatever, it will be fine. I guess I’ll just get married.”

“Maybe s/he will change. I know there is a red flag, but I’ve come this far, so we’ll just have to work this out.”

“My family will be so upset. They really like my fiancée. I can’t do that to them. They’ve never liked anyone I’ve brought home before.”

Whatever the red flag reason is for wanting to call off an engagement, it's your reason and it's RED! Red is a danger sign: you are in danger of doing the wrong thing. (Having cold feet, however, is not a red flag. Pre-wedding anxiety can happen to anyone, regardless of who you're engaged to. This is one reason it’s important to have a mentor or good friend in your life to help you sort real worries from temporary anxieties.)

Whether you've paid for the hall, bought the dress/suit, or given a deposit to the caterer, a red flag is a red flag. Just as ending a relationship is easier than breaking an engagement, a broken engagement is much better than a divorce. No matter how bad you feel about breaking off an engagement, you'll feel much worse breaking a marriage. In situations with a serious red flag, I'd choose a broken engagement over a divorce. This kind of thinking is with your head rather than your heart. It’s not easy, simple or fun. As we all know, sometimes it’s hard to do the right thing.

I married someone with a red flag

Although this is an article about dating, we need to touch on the topic of marrying someone with a red flag. Should there be abuse, addiction or adultery you need to deal with a qualified professional. Your safety is a top priority. If your red flag is some other concerning issue, you would be wise to get help with it ASAP. The sooner you get help, the better your chances of bringing your code red to a yellow (when possible).

If you knew about the red flag in dating and consciously chose to get married anyway, what matters now is being committed to working out your red flag. You have a greater obligation to work through this issue, and not abandon the relationship. (Remember I am NOT talking about a situation where your safety is a concern.)

What if the red flag appeared after you were married? Working through it with your whole heart and soul, along with professional guidance, will help you reach the best possible outcome.

According to John Gottman, expert in marital stability, the key to a successful relationship is in how you resolve conflict. Having ups and downs in a relationship is normal. What couples in unhealthy relationships lack is both a deep understanding and the strategies that help to resolve conflict. On the other hand, couples in healthy relationships have made an investment in learning conflict resolution strategies and apply their knowledge daily.

May you find the right partner and maintain a loving, long, and healthy relationship to last a lifetime.

September 13, 2014

Give Tzedakah! Help create inspiring
articles, videos and blogs featuring timeless Jewish wisdom.
The opinions expressed in the comment section are the personal views of the commenters. Comments are moderated, so please keep it civil.

Visitor Comments: 7

(5) Rachel, September 22, 2014 12:53 PM

Wise Advice!

Don't give the relationship another day if there is no future in it. Time is very precious and we can never get it back. Try to learn what you can from the red flags so that you might avoid making the same mistakes again.
Shana Tova!

(4) Anonymous, September 20, 2014 7:36 PM

Please, Please Listen

Nearly 30 years ago I married someone with a number of "Orange Flags." Within 6 months of our wedding, the orange flags had become red and were raised to full staff. I knew I had made a terrible mistake, but being a person of "honor," I hung in there, thinking that things "couldn't get worse." I am still shocked at my naivety & weakness.

My former husband was eventually diagnosed with a mental illness for which he refused treatment. Thankfully, I finally realized that staying in my marriage would eventually destroy me and our children and no amount of love, patience, or prayer could "fix" him. Thanks to the support of my faith, a great attorney, my local women's shelter, and a good therapist (who believes that I may have been married to a sociopath), I was able to get out of my 20 year marriage; 9 months later, we reached an agreement and 3 months after our agreement was signed, I was diagnosed with (and later treated for) cancer.

My former husband, who is clearly on a downward spiral, has recently lost (another professional) job, destroyed his credit, and is on the verge of homelessness. My prayer is that he will eventually see the truth, but for now, my former husband is unable to contribute financially so I am (literally) working day and night to keep food on the table, a roof over our heads, and to pay my medical bills.

Thankfully, our children seem to be slowly healing: Our teenage son is getting-by in school and volunteering in the community and our adult son recently graduated from college and is gainfully employed. Both of them continue to receive therapy.

Only time will tell if my beautiful children will be able to rise above the dark pain of their childhoods and become sources of light in the world, but until my dying breath, I will bear the burden of knowing that I contributed to my children's pain. While divorce is a mitzvah, avoiding an unhealthy relationship is certainly much less painful.

(3) Lois Homer, September 18, 2014 4:28 PM

Right On

Great article. If something doesn't feel right, run and don't look back. You'll be glad you did.

(2) Miriam, September 16, 2014 10:40 AM

See how s/he reacts to your concerns.

This will show the color of the flag. A friend of mine was dating a guy and she had concerns. She approached him about them and his reaction was: "I'm so hurt that you think this about me." Huge red flag, in my opinion (and hers). It's not supposed to be about him! An healthy guy will be so happy she approached him since he only wants her to be happy. If there's any issues he wants to work them out to make her happy!
Also, none of his workers liked him, which my friend also saw to be a red flag.
Bottom line, what saved her was a presentation at her high school by Shalom Task Force where the presenter played out scenerios of what a red flag looks like on a date and how it plays out in marriage (abusive or just mean).
Thank G-d, she remembered the presentation seven years later, broke up with this guy and is now happily married to a fabulous, darling guy who is crazy about her. Happy ending.

Dvirah, October 16, 2014 8:13 PM

My Point Exactly

I agree. What I found lacking in this article was no advice to discuss the concerns ("red flags") with the potential spouse him/herself. If this is indeed one's "very special person", he/she should not be discarded without making some effort to resolve the problem. It is natural to expect some resistance or a defensive attitute at first and the issues need to be approached with tact. But if the person is not willing to take the issues seriously even after repeated efforts to discuss them, best not to continue the relationship.

See All Comments

Submit Your Comment:

  • Display my name?

  • Your email address is kept private. Our editor needs it in case we have a question about your comment.

  • * required field 2000
Submit Comment