Emotional Red Flags

By Glenn Lutjens
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Focus on the Family


I’m not talking about one’s ability to experience the feeling of anger; all of us should be able to identify that God-given emotion in our lives. I’m talking primarily about frozen anger — resentment. When we hold on to anger and don’t address it, bad things often happen. There may be issues about unforgiveness in the person’s life. Often, underlying anger is fear, hurt, or both. Metaphorically, the clenched fist feels a whole lot safer than the more vulnerable open palm.

It can also relate to the frequency and intensity of how anger is expressed. Proverbs 22:24 says, “Do not make friends with a hot-tempered man, do not associate with one easily angered.” Is it really stretching this verse to say, don’t marry a hot-tempered person?  I don’t think so. “But he’s got a good reason to be angry!” “You don’t know what she’s been through!” There are a lot of legitimate reasons people may struggle with anger, but marrying into it is like walking into a hornet’s nest.

Men tend to have a tougher challenge facing their anger. They may either ignore it, denying its there, or they may explode. Ladies, seeing how he resolves his anger will be the difference between a red flag and a green light in your relationship. 

There is no place for physical control or violence in a relationship! It is a major red flag that needs swift action like ending the relationship! Could someone get help for their violent ways? Yes, but you would need strong evidence that it has been thoroughly dealt with spiritually, emotionally, and with a significant time of violence-free living. Your friend getting help while remaining in the relationship runs the risk of pseudo recovery.

Lack of Self Control

If a person is merely the pursuer of one’s latest desire or emotional experience, life will be interesting, to say the least. Does your friend follow through on commitments and plans? Does he lack the initiative to find and hold a job? Has she gotten into debt because of impulse spending? Have you looked at each other’s credit histories? Does he lack control of his passions?

When a person’s emotional state rides like a roller coaster, there may be biochemical issues involved which may need to be evaluated by a doctor or psychiatrist. If that’s the case, what changes will proper medication produce? How likely is the person to stay on the medication over time? There may be a legitimate explanation for one’s actions, but those actions still need to be lived with if two marry. And if the behavior persists you have to decide if you can deal with that for a lifetime.


How much of your friend’s life revolves around himself? Does she have a very narrow flexibility quotient — is there only a thin range of your behaviors that are acceptable in her thinking? Does she need to get what she wants even when it inconveniences others? When the pursuit of a relationship is in full gear, it’s easy to think we could live blissfully seeking our friend’s interests into the sunset. If that doesn’t wear off before marriage, you can count on it doing so after the vows have been exchanged.

You might think that you are acting selfishly when you want your friend to meet your needs. Look for balance. Philippians 2:4 says, “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interest of others.” It’s a good thing to want your friend to show interest in your needs as well as those of others. We often get an accurate sense of a person’s ability to sacrifice not by their response to a romantic relationship, but by one’s reaction to others in need. Are you willing to be the tag along to your friend’s self indulgence? I hope not.

What amount of energy does your friend give to appearance? I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with working out or dying your hair. Some need to give more attention to their appearance. But is it in balance? Does it keep a person from serving others? Does it communicate a narcissistic tendency? Sometimes it’s difficult to see because we’re attracted to the results. Yet over time, the downside of self absorption will become more negatively evident and destructive to the relationship. Does your friend have a humble heart?

Victim Perspective

When a person struggles with distrust, he or she is only a step away from playing the role of the victim. We can call it by different names — hyper-sensitivity, self pity, critical, or martyrdom. The thread that connects these is a person’s difficulty resolving pain and moving forward. Life is a series of whirlwinds that just don’t seem to end. Other people or circumstances are perceived as the cause of undesirable events, and one is likely to blame just about every problem on just about everyone else. A person will take little responsibility for life’s struggles. When married, it becomes very easy for a spouse to be blamed for one’s lack of contentment.

Is there any truth to the person’s perspective? Yes, probably a little. But when someone may not want to get past the pain, there’s a good chance that they won’t. And who ends up with the bull’s eye on their chest? You do. In extreme cases, there may be a personality disorder that is involved that is pretty resistant to change. Does your friend own his shortcomings? Does she have a narrow band of acceptable behaviors for you? You may be able to put up with that for a while when the romantic feelings are sky high, but what happens when they’re not?

It’s easy to think that we can rescue the victim. That if we’re able to express true love, godly love, that things will change. It’s tempting, but it’s a trap.

© 2011 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

Glenn Lutjens

Glenn is a licensed family therapist who’s been on the Focus counseling team for 23 years. Prior to joining Focus, he spent time in church counseling and pastoral ministry. He and his wife, Elizabeth, have three young adult children. Glenn loves Jesus, has an affinity for lasagna and cheers for the Oakland Raiders.

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