22 Therapists Discuss Relationships They See That Immediately Set Off Red Flags

I don’t think I’d be a very good couples therapist for one HUGE reason: I’d have a really hard time biting my tongue and not telling women and men to run for the hills when they told me about the really bad relationship problems…and especially when I saw the red flags that would be hard to reconcile.

But, it’s their job to try to help people work it out, so they gotta do what they gotta do.

Let’s see what therapists on AskReddit had to say about the red flags they see with couples and what they try to do (or not do) about them.

1. All bad things.

“Couples in a tit for tat arrangement. For example: I cheated so you can have one night to cheat with whomever. Or I violated your trust and did drugs, you can go out and do whatever for one night. It erodes trust and compounds the hurt.

An affair that won’t end. I’ve never seen a relationship bounce back where a partner is still in contact with their gf/bf (I don’t mean an ex gf/bf, I mean the person x is having the affair with), or is lying about it.

Control to an excessive amount. I most commonly see partners having to send pictures holding up a certain number of fingers or proving that it’s a live picture. This is abuse.

Overbearing parents and in laws. I understand there’s a ton of cultural nuance here, and I work with couples who have arranged marriages, as well as the south Asian community.

However, when a spouse is more allied with their parents and calls them on speakerphone for fights, or often speaks ill of their partner to their parents, I usually see these couples stay very unhappily married for years. It’s sad.”

2. Escalation.

“Constant, needless escalation.

When “I dont think we need this expensive thing” is escalated to “you don’t really love me” – major problem.

It shows up quickly in therapy if you’re watching for it.

Mostly because the one using this to avoid accountability is almost guaranteed to play this card in relation to therapy itself, either “I had to drag them here” or “they’re just trying to break up with me”

What they’re doing is avoiding conversation about the issue by blowing it up into a bigger problem then it is, so they can make the other person respond to their feelings rather than dealing with their concerns.”

3. Lots of conflict.

“High-conflict relationships.

If frequent and bitter conflict began a few months (or less) after the relationship began, and continued, relationship therapy is going to be a sh*tshow, won’t be helpful.

Either the conflict will continue indefinitely, or come to an end. Not just my opinion. The research supports this.”

4. Dependency issues.

“When one person is entirely dependent on the other, especially at a relatively young age. I mean financially and emotionally.

These are typically young women (sometimes young men as well) who do not work, do not have children, stay home all day and have no friends or hobbies outside of hanging out with their spouse. Very unhealthy, and a huge red flag. Always ends in a painful and messy breakup.”

Generally, we try to get them to find a friend, join a community, get a job or volunteer – something to provide them with self worth and personal fulfillment outside of their spouse.”

5. Part of the deal.

“Refusal or inability to compromise is a ginormous red flag, one that, I believe, is empirically validated.

Compromise is a significant predictor of satisfaction in relationships, and it plays an important role in the long-term success of marriages and relationships in general.”


“The biggest one I notice is respect. Respecting space, boundaries, feelings, interests, relationships are all so important and lack of respect by either person for the other is going to mean big problems.

I would definitely try to help them work through it but it’s hard to point out to someone that something they are doing is hurting the other.

Which leads to my second red flag, lack of communication..”

7. Yikes.

“Welp, they used meth together on a regular basis. They continued to cheat on one another.

Fighting in front of their kids, cheating in front of their kids, and oh wait! Meth in front of their kids. When doing couples work, your client is the relationship itself not person à or b. So of course we try to work it out even knowing in our head “there’s no way these toxic MFers ever work this out”.

And believe me I tried… I tried so hard, until this thing happened that I will never forget and tell my students about all the time. Person B was like “why don’t you tell him (me) about you sleeping with your nigger bf”. Quick note, I’m black and will type this word out to illustrate the hurt this word can cause. At that point I was just like “nah f*ck this”.

My dissertation was finished, I had maybe a month left at this spot before leaving the state. I just told em that were done today and advised them to seek another therapist at the front desk because I was no longer able to accommodate them.”

8. A whole bunch of them.

“Saying, directly to each other, “I don’t love you. I am just here to try and like you enough to stay together”. And the other person replaying with “good. We can do that”.

Partners refusing to listen. Absolutely deafening themselves to certain explicit statement.

Active physical abuse and each person admitting it and trying to be OK with it.

Name calling in session and when I intervene they both get mad at me.

Complete disrespect and true contempt with each other. Yet refusing to accept their relationship is over.

I could keep going. These are obvious red flags…”

9. Retaliatory cheating.

“I saw a couple that was doing “retaliatory” cheating (and telling each other about it). When they got through their anger, they decided to call a truce and made peace.

With their level of emotional maturity, I doubt it lasted. I don’t know if I helped them or prolonged their suffering. It was their decision to come to counseling, so I think it was the help they wanted.

Other clients realize what they really want is “divorce counseling”. What’s the best way to behave civilly and minimize damage to the kids while we go our separate ways?”

10. That’s not good.

“People who approach therapy with the idea that they must convince the therapist that they’re right and their partner is wrong.

Almost like they’re complaining to a parent or boss to have them sort out the problems.”

11. The good stuff.

“One of the biggest red flags I see when working with a new couple is when they’ve totally forgotten the good. Part of relationship therapy is reconnecting a couple with what they like about each other, what initially attracted them to each other, and what the positives are between them.

When people come in and they’ve been so unhappy for so long that they actually can’t remember what it was like to be in love, or to even like each other, they’re just about hopeless.

You don’t have to be happy for therapy to work–but if you can’t even reminisce about the good times, then the good times are probably over.”

12. A tough spot.

“One partner says they’re seeking your services to help them determine if they want to stay together; the other partner says they’re seeking your services to make it so they stay together.

Then it’s about highlighting the points and allowing the person who is on the fence decide what they want, since the other person knows.”

13. That means it’s over.


When I experience true contempt from one in the relationship I know it is usually over.

Look towards a peaceful ending at that point if possible.”

14. Can it be changed?

“When I see a couple in which one or both of the members are seeking to change something fundamental about the other person.

We process where the need for the change comes from and the person with the issue evaluates whether it’s a dealbreaker for them or not.

We work on acceptance and tolerance of others. I also recommend my couples are also in individual therapy on their own.”

15. But what about…?

“What-aboutism. Instead of taking ownership and responsibility for their contribution to the degradation of the relationship one or both parties simply point out an example of the other exhibiting a similar behavior.

It’s a red flag because it illustrates their lack of self awareness and poor communication skills. Communication is key when trying to mend a tattered relationship because without respectful communication the conflict-recovery process can never begin.

In the conflict-recovery model both parties agree to the terms under which they will communicate (no yelling, no interrupting, no I told you so’s… Etc). Each party gets a chance to share how the others actions make them feel.

Then they each propose their solutions and identify where they made assumptions or where they got triggered and why. Then they identify where they’re willing to compromise.

Next we create an actionable plan with deadlines and we monitor the progress to see if the proposed solutions were effective.

IMO everything can go to shi*, but once communication stagnates you’re in real trouble. So even if youre arguing you’re still doing ok, you just need to work on how you’re communicating.”

16. Interesting.

“One of the flags I’ve seen is one person digging their heels in and not accepting any feedback or suggestions, then that person tells me and partner that they are “trying.”

I called him out on it, said that he needed to evaluate what he’s willing to do and NOT do. Needless to say didn’t hear back from them.

Another weird one is separating without a plan. All that’s gonna do is teach you how to live without each other IMO. I would ask them “ok, how do you know when the separation works?”

“I dunno, when I start missing them I guess” is what I typically hear.”

17. Some people…

“Years ago when I was starting out I had a female client come in and she reported anxiety, depression, etc because her ex husband was bothering her.

I thought that was completely average and normal, so I asked her about it. She recounted many times that her and the ex clashed. I said, you know, you don’t have to interact with him and maybe just distancing yourself is the way to go.

Then she told me that they still lived together and had no plans of moving…

The red flag, indicted I was dealing with two crazy people.”

18. You need trust and respect.

“In my experience strong healthy relationships are built on two very important qualities: trust and respect. Love is not included in these qualities because love is not a determiner of a strong/healthy relationship.

Dysfunctional relationships are still possible among people who love each other. And loving someone isn’t the only reason to stay with a person. Many of the clients that I’ve worked with in the past who are in very dysfunctional relationships have actually stayed solely because of love, but continue to struggle in those relationships because they lack trust and respect.

Without respect and trust most relationships are doomed to struggle or fail. For the couples that I’ve worked with I always assess for whether or not trust and respect is present. And then build treatment goals around seeing if it possible to develop those qualities.

If they are not willing or able, then in most cases those relationships are likely to end.”

19. You gotta compromise.

“Being unable or unwilling to compromise or concede points for the betterment of the relationship. For example at some point in a long standing argument where neither party is willing to concede, a compromise is needed.

When it’s the same person in the relationship always hellbent on being right all the time, that’s a red flag. Most couples understand the importance of compromise, so if there is a partner who only thinks about themselves and how important it is for them to be right, that’s a major issue.

That either means that the person isn’t thinking about how this is also an important point for the other partner, or even worse doesn’t care.

Being obsessed with being in the right and only being in the right vs listening to your partners needs breeds frustration and a relationship power differential where one partner is just catering to the other.”

20. Well, that’s weird.

“When the husband wanted to be the sole translator for his non-English speaking wife.

We used a professional translating service.”

21. Playing games.

“Withholding affection in order to get their partner to “see how it feels” when their feelings get hurt.

I take a very direct approach in therapy so yes, I call it like I see it.”

22. A tangled web.

“I work in a relatively small city, and one couple I worked with for a few sessions had ties to one of the main firms in town (I won’t say what type of firm so it can’t be narrowed down); the husband worked there and the wife had another family member who worked there.

Met with them for the initial session, and wife’s perspective was basically that her husband felt neglected after she had their baby, had a one-time affair, and now she’s forgiven him and wants to make it work. Husband confirmed the affair happened once with another worker at the firm, he’s surprised wife didn’t kick him out, but wants to make it work.

Fast forward 2 weeks and I have another new client who—you guessed it—worked at this firm, too. She begins telling me about an office affair that’s been ongoing for about a year. I’m sitting there hoping she’s talking about someone else and not the husband I had just met with… but no.

She mentioned his very-unique name so I knew then that it was going to be a mess. Plus I had to carry on as if I hadn’t heard any of this info the third person gave me. Tangled web stuff is not fun.”

Do we have any therapists out there?

Well, we want to hear from you!

Tell us what you think are immediate red flags in relationships.

Thanks in advance!