Many of the people I’ve interviewed have told me there were relationship red flags from the beginning, even before they were married. It’s not that they didn’t see the red flags at the time but more that they underestimated the impact they’d have on the relationship and the marriage.
My current guest Sandy was married for over twenty years and she too says there were red flags about her relationship from very early on:
I married what I thought was safe, because of my own heart being broken by men who were unsafe and not knowing myself well enough to know that I could feel incredible love for somebody and attraction for somebody and feel safe.
That didn’t ever happen in my life prior, so I married somebody that I didn’t feel that kind of attraction for, but I thought he had the good values that I needed. And he really loved me, he was very devoted to me. I thought that was a safe formula.
The red flags were his mom, his devotion to his family. That showed up very, very early on. He’s a comedian and he was doing a performance in Toronto on a TV show and his father had a kidney stone, which it wasn’t major. He was in the hospital, he had many kidney stones and my husband left his job to go be with his father, even though his father didn’t want him there.
On one hand I was thinking, “Oh, this is so nice. He has such a nice family relationship,” and on the other hand, I said, “His job, he left a job and it wasn’t an emergency.” So there was this confusion that I had about that, but it struck a cord in me, that this was extreme.
He included his parents in everything. We actually took them on our honeymoon.
We went about six months after our marriage. We went to Israel, Holland and Italy. His parents had never been to Israel. Neither had he, I think. He asked me if they could come for two weeks, because this would probably be their only chance. That they would never go on their own. I said, “This is our honeymoon. This is not supposed to be with parents.” I’m like, “No, no, no,” and he said, “Oh, come on.” He was really persuasive and they ended up coming with us. That was challenging.
Throughout the marriage basically his mother would bring him closer and push me away. Whenever we’d have a problem, it was, “Poor baby, bad wife,” and I didn’t realize until much later, how toxic that was. It felt bad. One of the first things she said to me was, “I hold grudges, so don’t ever cross me.” That’s such a welcoming statement, isn’t it? And also, “We don’t babysit by the way, so don’t ever ask us.” There were a lot of things like that.
I’m so looking forward to my kids having kids. I can’t wait to be there for them, but I’m not going to move in with them and I’m not going to tell my daughter that her husband is a bad boy, because she’s having marital issues. I’m going to encourage her to work things out and be independent. There’s a lot of co-dependency in not healthy relationships.
What else was a red flag? There was a an extremism. He fell for me in five minutes. He was really dying to get married and I remember saying to him, “What do you love about me,” because I didn’t really feel seen.
I’ve talked to other women who’ve told me the same thing. There’s a lot of talk about love, but the actual demonstration of love in it’s true sense, where somebody really respects you and talks out issues and gets you gifts that you want, not that he wants and gets you the ice cream cake that’s in your favorite flavor and not his for your birthday is missing. All of those things were signs of him really not seeing me, but seeing what he wanted to see.
I know that he cared deeply about me, but it’s very different when you feel that true connection, where somebody really gets you and you get them.
Also our connection to Judaism was never the same. Even though we were both Observant, he was only two years into it when I met him and he was fanatical as he was with many things. He’s very black and white. That was also a red flag.
He would have conversations with God. He’d say, “God just told me this,” and I’d think “That’s weird but OK, he’s really into it.”
My connection was much more intellectual and spiritual and his was very emotional and very different. I think that was important too.
There could be some outside signs that look good on paper, but when it comes to the practicality of it or the truth of it, it’s very different. I think that’s an important place to look in a relationship.
The value of going back and looking for these red flags isn’t to beat yourself up about why you ignored them or didn’t act on them. The value comes from using these to stop yourself from making the same choices again. It’s less about the other person and more about you.
This means digging deeper and asking what was it about your own development that made you willing to accept the behavior. Then you have to ask yourself what changes you’ve made or that you’re going to work on so you won’t accept the same behavior in the future.
Sometimes the red flags are less about behavior and more about a fundamental difference in values. These are valuable insights you can take with you when you’re ready to start dating again and they’ll help you decide what is and what is not a dealbreaker.
What do you see now as red flags from your relationship with your STBX? What have you learned from them?
Sandy Weiner is a dating coach at Last First Date where she blogs about dating and offers coaching services for completing your online dating profile. You can also sign up for her free report: Top 3 Mistakes Midlife Daters Make.
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