People often talk about “red flags” in the world of dating and relationships. These are signs that you and your partner are not compatible, or toxic behaviors and personality traits that you want to avoid. But there’s also such a thing as “pink flags.”
“Pink flags are those things that you notice, that nag at you,” said Tracy Ross, a licensed clinical social worker specializing in couples and family therapy. “Maybe the first or second time you push them away, but after a few times, you begin to pay attention and ask yourself, ‘Is this a flag that could be a deal breaker, or am I imagining it or overreacting, or is this something that can be addressed?’”
Pink flags tend to more subtle and less serious, but they can still pose some risk to a relationship.
“I think it’s important to be mindful of pink flags, or points of anxiety in your relationship, but use them as opportunities to grow together and individually,” said Alysha Jeney, a therapist and owner of Modern Love Counseling in Denver. “Don’t ever dismiss your intuition, but also try to sit with it to be sure you aren’t making assumptions or projecting onto your partner.”
Although pink flags can vary from person to person and relationship to relationship, some occur more frequently than others. Below, Jeney, Ross and other relationship experts break down 10 examples.
You’ve never had an argument.
“If you’ve never argued before or don’t argue really ever, this can be a ’pink flag,’ because oftentimes it can be an indicator of both parties not being authentic enough in the relationship, and/or willing to be vulnerable enough to truly grow within the relationship,” Jeney said.
She emphasized that arguing is not always a bad thing, and that couples need to learn how to deal with conflict effectively in order to have a successful relationship.
“It’s a pink flag when difficult or uncomfortable conversations are avoided,” Ross noted. “At first it seems like you are just having a good time, and then you notice you check yourself before bringing up something that could be tense or create controversy.”
Instead of avoiding problems and letting them fester, try addressing them head-on and learning to communicate through difficult situations together. Otherwise, this pink flag may turn into a red flag.
You show affection in different ways.
“A potential pink flag might include a difference in how you express affection and want to receive it,” said Rachel Needle, a licensed psychologist and the co-director of Modern Sex Therapy Institutes. “If you are someone who really enjoys physical touch like holding hands, kissing, and embracing often, and your partner does not, this might be OK for you in the beginning while you have all these other exciting and intense emotions, but not feel as good as time goes on and your needs remain unmet.”
It can be helpful to learn and talk about your respective “love languages” to understand the best ways to show each other affection. This might also be an opportunity to discuss expectations when it comes to communication.
Damona Hoffman, an OkCupid dating coach and host of “The Dates & Mates Podcast,” noted that many people want to communicate with their partner throughout the day.
“One of the most common topics I get questions about on ‘Dates & Mates’ is texting,” she said. “For some people, daily texting is an imposition; for others, it’s a red flag if they don’t hear from their partner every day. That leaves us in pink flag territory where we might read it to be a sign of a relationship roadblock, when our partner simply has a different way of communicating or comfort level with constant connection.”
You sense that they’re hiding something.
“Not sharing about what came before you, or who is in their life, might be a pink flag,” Ross said.
Sure, it’s natural to want to know all about your partner’s life and experiences, and learning this takes time. But perhaps you feel like they’re intentionally keeping information from you.
“If you sense your partner is hiding something from you, this can be a pink flag that needs some special reflection to help you identify whether or not you are being a bit too cautious from a past experience, or if you have valid reasons to explore further,” Jeney said. “Your intuition is important, but sometimes it can be misguided if you aren’t sure where it is coming from.”
She recommended taking a moment to journal and ask yourself if you remember having similar feelings in a past relationship, and if you might be projecting that experience onto this one.
“If you aren’t sure, then simply talk to your partner about your anxiety without being accusatory,” she advised. “Maybe it’s just that you have a need or boundary that isn’t being addressed. Maybe they have a need or boundary that isn’t being addressed. Talking to each other can clear all this up, and if it doesn’t, this may turn into a full-blown red flag.”
There’s sexual incompatibility.
“If you find you are not sexually compatible, that might be a pink flag,” Needle said. “Not all sex is spectacular at the beginning of a relationship, as it often gets better as we get to know someone and feel more connected and comfortable.”
Pay attention to whether the issues are a matter of newness and simply needing to learn each other’s turn-ons and desires, or if it’s a longer-term concern.
“If after some time it hasn’t improved even after communication, or there is sexual incompatibility i.e. your sexual preferences or styles don’t align, this could create a much bigger issue moving forward,” Needle said.
They aren’t reliable or consistent.
“We can consider lack of consistency a pink flag because it could indicate that they are not reliable, possibly cheating and/or not being honest,” Jeney said. “Most oftentimes, though, it could mean that your partner is human and just trying to do their best in navigating their own life and stressors. Sometimes they aren’t able to be consistently open, happy, patient, available. Sometimes they are defensive, withdrawn, inattentive.”
Other times, however, a lack of consistency might be a sign that something is off or there’s a bigger issue at play. Your partner might be sending you unclear signals, or their ways of expressing affection or connection might be all over the place.
“Maybe they won’t touch you in public but are all over you in private, or the opposite,” Ross said. “Maybe there are boundaries that give you pause or make you uncomfortable, or they’re not respecting your boundaries, only their own ― double standards.”
Jeney recommended having a conversation with your partner with the intention of “checking in,” rather than coming at it from a place of suspicion. Ask if they’re doing OK, and if they feel comfortable sharing their concerns with you during stressful times.
“These questions are important to answer before jumping to conclusions and making more issues in the relationship than necessary,” she said.
Technology is a big distraction.
“Another pink flag might have to do with distraction from technology and inability to be present,” Needle said. “If your partner is constantly distracted with checking their phone, computer, or even watching television, especially during conversation or even sex, this could lead to a bigger issue if not discussed early on.”
Be mindful of the different ways you both interact with technology and social media. Perhaps one of you posts photos of the other, or of the two of you as a couple, but the other never does. Consider whether this contrast bothers either of you, or is an indication of bigger issues beneath the surface.
They avoid defining your relationship.
“It can be a pink flag if you are seeing someone for several months with regularity and they won’t define the relationship, [or] you find that you are not talking about what you want in a relationship,” Ross said. “Maybe you are getting signals from the other person that they are just having a good time while you are looking for something more serious.”
Perhaps the person you’re seeing tries to avoid meeting or spending time with your friends and family. Again, it’s important to feel open to communicating about the bigger picture of what your relationship is, and what it means to both of you. This kind of avoidance can be a sign that you’re on different pages.
Emotional safety is compromised.
“Feeling emotionally safe in a relationship is essential for the relationship to be healthy, grow, and thrive,” said Sarah Weisberg, a licensed psychologist and founder of Potomac Therapy Group. “We feel emotionally safe when we are respected, heard, validated and supported in our relationships. Emotional safety happens when our partner makes an effort to understand and prioritize what matters most to us.”
She noted that this should be reciprocal in all relationships, whether between friends, family members or romantic partners. Anything that reduces a sense of emotional safety can be a pink flag.
“It could be forgetting to ask about your partner’s big work presentation, failing to truly consider your partner’s point of view on an important topic, not keeping your word, putting your needs ahead of your partner’s, snapping, interrupting, leaving your partner hanging, rejecting bids for connection, etc.,” Weisberg said. “A pink flag becomes problematic when emotional safety is compromised and there is not swift effort to repair the hurt.”
There’s a history of betrayal.
You might find yourself in a relationship with a person who has a history of cheating, lying or betraying. Or perhaps you have this experience in your past.
“If your partner has been vulnerable enough to disclose to you that they have had a past they aren’t proud of, you should appreciate their honesty first and foremost, because obviously we all have pasts and behaviors we have had to learn from,” Jeney said. “Although your partner is being forthcoming and you feel they have changed, this could be considered a ‘pink flag’ to just be aware of.”
She recommended giving your partner the benefit of the doubt and trusting them as much as you can without judging them for their past behaviors.
“But at the same time, be cautious of any potential patterns that show up in your relationship,” Jeney added. “Time will naturally reveal if this is their character, or if these past experiences were in fact mistakes that you both have to let go of.”
You might also want to pay attention if your partner is very close to their ex. Needle noted that this doesn’t have to be a negative thing, depending on the nature of the relationship.
“If it is an unhealthy relationship filled with co-dependency and emotional lability on either side, or if there are unresolved feelings, this could create an issue in your relationship,” she explained. “There need to be boundaries with any relationship, but especially with an ex-lover.”
Your relationship has changed — for the worse.
Relationships inevitably evolve over time, but some of these changes can be pink flags in themselves.
“Maybe you’ve stopped being intentional,” said Liz Higgins, a relational therapist and founder of Millennial Life Counseling. “You’re not putting intent into dating, nurturing your relationship, checking in with each other. Or your physical relationship has changed in [a] noticeable way. This wouldn’t necessarily be a negative, but I see [it] as [a] ‘pink’ flag because it may represent a transition or impasse that is happening that you could benefit from talking about.”
Addressing the changes, whether they’re temporary or longer-term, can help bring you and your partner closer, and prevent the pink flags from turning red.