Interpersonal Red Flags

By Glenn Lutjens
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Focus on the Family


This is not the problem for most couples. Often there’s a need to restrain the passions that run so strong at this point in a relationship. Setting the flames of romance aside for a moment, is your friend comfortable with giving and receiving affection? Does he/she show appropriate affection to friends, parents, siblings, etc? If two people are less inclined toward affection, maybe neither will miss it. But affection is a part of the way our Creator wired us. Will your friend be able to show affection to your children? Is it uncomfortable for your friend because affection was never received growing up? The affectionate-resistant person would be wise to explore the reasons that touch is so uncomfortable.

Avoids Conflict

Some people just don’t want to deal with conflict of any size, shape, or variety. When tension is present, withdrawal or denial serve to gloss over the problem allowing it to be avoided for another day. Obviously, the problem gets bigger with every effort to sweep things under the rug. How does your friend deal with conflict? Does the problem get avoided or minimized?

Conflict is inevitable because we’re human. Whether you realize it or not, there’s conflict in your relationship even this side of marriage. You might ask your friend the question, “If I have a concern, how can I bring it up in a way that you’ll be able to hear me?” Your friend might say, “I don’t want to hear it.” That should be a pretty obvious red flag for you. Right now your conflicts might be fairly small, but marriage will change that, there’s more at stake. If you don’t develop a healthy pattern now, it won’t get any better in marriage.

Fears Commitment

We might presume that if the person we would like to commit to isn’t quite as interested, it must be a fear of commitment. That’s not always the case. Since marriage is such an important decision, getting to know a person well makes a lot of sense. And there’s no substitute for time.

Yet there are times when a person sends mixed messages, or struggles to commit due to a fear of intimacy. “When you find out who I really am, will you still accept me?” It seems like she’s interested, then it doesn’t. He appears to want to move forward in the relationship, but then he pulls back. This hot and cold pattern can go on for years. And even if one makes it to the altar, if the issue isn’t resolved, it can still cause chaos and insecurity in a marriage. Do you see a pattern of consistency in your friend’s commitments in general? Without the ability to commit, marriage is like the sands of an hourglass just waiting to run out.

Isolated from Family and Friends

Does your friend interact with family and friends? How healthy are those relationships? Though we have no control over our family members, family interactions tell us a lot about a person. That doesn’t mean our friend will always end up like Mom or Dad, but it doesn’t mean one will necessarily end up differently either. If we don’t have the ability to pick our family, we do when it comes to our friendships.

Has your friend kept you away from her family? Does he avoid introducing you to his friends? If so, what’s the reason? Are there some issues that are being kept from you? Sometimes those boundaries may be necessary, but interacting with a partner’s family and friends will provide valuable information for your decisions about the relationship.

Emotionally Stuck at Home

Has your friend been able to leave home emotionally? I’m not saying she shouldn’t love her parents, or that he shouldn’t respect his folks. Honoring one’s parents is a lifetime responsibility. But honoring them is not about obeying them now that you are an adult.

Genesis 2:24 states, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” When a man or woman doesn’t leave home emotionally, heartache invariably results. I’ve talked with countless couples who’ve experienced this betrayal from a spouse. People may still be seeking parental approval that they didn’t receive as a child. A man may still be controlled by his mother, but anything that even hints of control by his wife will be viewed as such. Can your friend set boundaries and say “no” to his parents when needed? Can your friend tell her parents when she disagrees with them?


No matter what someone does, including yourself, does your friend always second-guess the motivation? If you give your friend a gift, does the question reverberate, “What does he/she want?” Granted, our motivations aren’t as pure as the driven snow, but with time one’s constant questioning will drive a wedge into any relationship.

Distrust often develops as a self protective measure when people were not trustworthy in one’s life. “I can be fooled once, but I won’t be fooled anymore,” may be the mindset. Again, hurt and pain likely exist behind the wall; and without help, the distrust will likely creep into every crevasse of the relationship. Can people be too trusting? Yes, absolutely, and that’s a problem of a different kind. But without trust, marriage becomes a daily witness stand. Over time, the distrust will likely increase.


It may be hard to imagine, but some people get married so that they can have someone else tell them what to do. They may fear making mistakes, lack self confidence, or want a “parent” to direct or blame their lives upon. It can look a lot like submission, but it’s not.

You may see it in the amount of time a friend wants to spend with you. Who could argue against a couple sharing quality time? Every counselor knows the importance of that! But when your friend wants to spend every waking moment together, you’ll likely feel suffocated before very long. It can feel flattering at first, but be careful of anything that tends to get out of balance!

© 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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