There’s a lot of talk of “flags” in dating and relationships.
Perhaps the most common ― red flags ― refer to signs of toxic behavior or clear incompatibility in a partner. Think: love-bombing, being rude to waitstaff and trying to control and manipulate your every move.
Green flags, on the other hand, are signs of a good partner. You might have found a keeper if you communicate well and feel comfortable being yourself around them, for example.
But there’s another flag color that falls in the middle of the spectrum: pink flags. Below, relationship experts explain how to recognize pink flags and what to do about them.
What are pink flags?
“Pink flags are subtle indicators that you might not be a fit in a relationship,” said Damona Hoffman, an OkCupid dating coach and host of “The Dates & Mates Podcast.”
She noted that they’re not as overt as red flags, which tend to be compatibility and behavioral issues that anyone can recognize as problematic. But even though pink flags are less serious, it’s important to address these minor problems, rather than let them fester.
“Pink flags are the kind of warning signs that you can talk yourself out of and overlook until they become red,” Hoffman explained. “Alternatively, you can also make pink flags into relationship dealbreakers when they were simply subtle differences that could have been worked through.”
Alysha Jeney, a therapist and owner of Modern Love Counseling in Denver, similarly emphasized the importance of recognizing pink flags when they arise.
“Pink flags could be something that you intuitively sense is a bit off, but you’re trying to give the relationship time to determine its severity,” she said. “They can also be trigger points from past relationships that you want to be mindful of. Pink flags are important to make note of in relationships and be used as a point of reflection.”
What are the most common pink flags?
Pink flags come in many forms that vary from relationship to relationship, but there are some common examples.
“One that I hear clients discuss is a person who has limited opinions on things ― for example, never has an opinion or doesn’t care where you eat, what you go do, etc.,” said Liz Higgins, a relational therapist and founder of Millennial Life Counseling. “Another is differences in political or religious belief systems.”
Being messy or not texting often enough can be everyday pink flags as well. While these issues aren’t automatic dealbreakers, they shouldn’t be swept under the rug either.
“Some pink flags that should be observed are changes in behavior,” said Mabel Yiu, a marriage and family therapist and CEO of Women’s Therapy Institute. “As an example, if they used to be affectionate, but they have become less so over time.”
Pay attention if your physical relationship has changed or you’ve stopped being intentional about dating and growing as a couple.
“Another pink flag is unmatched love languages, such as acts of service and physical touch,” Yiu said. “This is not a serious issue if both partners are willing to pull closer and accommodate another’s love language.”
Sarah Weisberg, a licensed psychologist and founder of Potomac Therapy Group, stressed the importance of taking note of your own thoughts and behaviors, as well as your partner’s.
“When we notice ourselves deliberately or inadvertently hurting others, it’s important to take a step back and ask ourselves what’s going on,” she said. “What could this be telling us about our conscious or unconscious feelings about the relationship? In these instances we might need to do some work on ourselves, listen to our intuition and have some hard conversations.”
Still, what’s a red flag to one person might actually be a pink ― or even green ― flag for you.
“One person’s too much texting is another person’s just right,” Hoffman said. “You need to figure out what your needs and wants are in a relationship and be able to communicate that to your partner. Use pink flags as a signifier that you need to get more information rather than a signifier that the relationship is doomed.”
How can you tell if it’s a pink flag or red flag?
“Pink flags are easier to ignore and thus potentially more damaging than red flags,” said Tracy Ross, a licensed clinical social worker specializing in couples and family therapy. “Sometimes pink flags feel subtle ― you don’t catch them the first or even the second time ― as opposed to red flags that are obvious if you let yourself see them. But if something nags at you repeatedly, it’s time to pay attention.”
She recommended asking yourself, “Is this workable, is this person willing to work with me, willing to communicate, work through things together? If I express my concerns, do they hear me and take in what I’m saying?”
A pink flag could turn out to be the indicator that leads you to discover a red flag. In the process of exploring a pink flag, you might find that your partner isn’t willing to figure things out together.
“Every relationship has that dance and has to find that balance,” Ross said. “Pink flags are those things that make you question whether or not it will be possible, red flags are the areas where you find out it won’t be.”
She cautioned against confusing pink flags with just having the unrealistic expectation that your partner will meet each and every one of your needs. Instead, focus on feeling complete in yourself while identifying what is important to you in a partner.
“One sure way to understand the difference between pink flags and red flags is to give serious and honest thought to what you want in a relationship ― do an inventory of your ‘must haves,’ your ‘nonnegotiables,’ and your ‘would be nice ifs,’” Ross explained. “If you spend time reflecting on that in advance and know what you are looking for ― what you can and cannot compromise on ― then it will be much more clear when you see an actual flag.”
How should you address pink flags?
“Regardless of whether it’s a pink flag or a red flag, the most important thing is not to ignore it,” Ross said. “The discomfort or uncertainty surrounding these issues often leads to avoidance, and all kinds of relationship issues grow from avoidance.”
Rather than letting things simmer unaddressed, take the time to process the pink flags you observe. Then, talk about them.
“I would say knowing your safe spaces to explore these notions is important: with a therapist, a trusted friend, a safe relationship, especially if you’re in the beginning stages of dating,” Higgins said. “Sometimes it’s more appropriate to wait a bit before putting every last thing out on the table. In a newer relationship, the bond isn’t as structured or secure, so bringing up a lot of super important things right away may not work as effectively. Balance is key.”
Consider why you might be feeling concerned or uncomfortable, and if it’s possibly part of a bigger issue you that need to work through on your own or together. Sit with it and think about whether you’re making assumptions or projecting.
“Pink flags might also give you an opportunity to communicate with your partner(s), and how you do so can in itself determine if the relationship is one you want to continue with,” said Rachel Needle, a licensed psychologist and the co-director of Modern Sex Therapy Institutes. “Regardless of whether an issue is big or small, it is important in any relationship that you are able to communicate about it in a healthy way, and feel comfortable expressing your feelings and concerns.”
She also advised acknowledging the positive aspects of the relationship. Focus on communicating honestly to see if the pink flag issue is nonnegotiable, or if it’s something that you can accept or reach middle a ground on instead.
“It’s important to pay attention to pink flags but not to be obsessed with them or let them overtake your relationship,” added Hoffman. “They are simply things to keep an eye on or concerns you should get curious about.”