It’s often tough to spot potential relationship problems when you’re in the throes of a new love. You may even look past red flags or hope that minor-seeming issues will magically smooth themselves over — after all, the honeymoon phase can make you view your S.O. with rose-colored glasses. But the reality is that lots of early relationship issues can get worse over time.
If you notice something that seems a bit off — maybe your partner is controlling, or you two always argue — don’t look the other way. “Everyone is usually on their best behavior at the beginning of a relationship,” says Dr. Alisa Ruby Bash, Psy.D., LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist. A small lie early on could indicate that your partner will tell a bigger one in the future, or a little break in trust now might foreshadow epic problems down the road. It’s why “whatever behaviors might be an issue for you now, you should try to imagine them heightened down the line and ask if you can live with that,” Bash tells Bustle.
For the right person, it may be possible to look past a small imperfection or character flaw. (No one is perfect, after all.) But according to Bash, you should tread lightly and not be afraid to leave a relationship that’s chock full of issues from the get-go. “In cases where there are some incompatibilities from the beginning, it’s probably best to fold and move on,” she says. “That is not going to get better.”
With that in mind, here are some early relationship problems that aren’t great the first time they happen, and are often an indicator that things will be even more annoying — sometimes even downright toxic — in the future.
1. You Don’t Communicate Effectively
One thing that tends to cause lots of problems as the years go by is mismatched communication styles, which means there’s an inability to communicate effectively, says Sharon Gilchrest O’Neill, Ed.S. LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist.
This covers everything from what you share with each other, how you say it, and even how you argue. If you both go about these things differently, it will eventually lead to feelings of confusion, resentment, and/or a sense that you aren’t fully loved or understood.
It’ll also make it really tough to plan your lives together, since you’ll never feel like you’re on the same page. Unless there’s a concerted effort made to understand each other, O’Neill says this is a problem that’s bound to get in the way down the road.
2. One Of You Cheated
If your relationship starts off with physical cheating and/or emotional affairs, you’re likely setting yourselves up for failure. “Infidelity is typically the most destructive problem in a relationship and often signals other major problems,” clinical psychologist Dr. Josh Klapow tells Bustle.
The act of cheating is bad enough, but it also points to darker issues lurking beneath the surface. Klapow says someone who thinks it’s OK to sneak around isn’t likely to change their ways unless they’re willing to overhaul their stance on commitment and respect. (Hint: They typically aren’t.)
Cheating — even if it just happens once — also tends to have a lasting impact due to the way resentment brews. While you may be able to forgive each other, establish new boundaries, and continue on happily, keep in mind that the side effects of cheating often don’t go away.
3. You Catch Them In A Lie
The smallest mistruth can be a major red flag. “This may seem innocuous at first, but lies —even little ones — often represent deeper things such as insecurity in the relationship or something more significant,” Dr. Jacob Santhouse, LCPC, a licensed clinical professional counselor, tells Bustle. “When the deeper issue is not addressed long term, it weakens the relationship and opens the door to jealousy and heartache.”
While it may be tempting to look the other way for the sake of keeping the peace, consider talking about it instead. As Santhouse says, “The best place to start is usually by bringing the issue up in a [non-confrontational] way and asking a question like, ‘I feel hurt by the lie that you said, and I wondered if we could talk about it?’” Communicating about small problems early on is the only way to see if they’re fixable.
4. Your Partner Is Controlling & Demanding
Bash says people are normally on their best behavior in the early days of dating because they want to seem impressive and chill and cool. So if your partner is on their “best behavior” and still shows signs of a toxic personality, you may want to run in the other direction.
“This will not only get worse, but could also foreshadow a potentially abusive partner,” he says. Think of it this way: If they demanding or ignore your boundaries on a first date, they have the potential to be even scarier and more controlling a few months down the line, once they drop the “nice” act.
In less extreme cases it may help to point out their crappy behavior — like the fact they were rude to the Uber driver — and see if they’re willing to change their ways. It’s possible your partner didn’t realize how they were coming off and will jump at the chance to do better.
5. You Have Vastly Different Approaches To Money & Spending
Take note if you and your S.O. are different when it comes to spending and saving. Since money is one of the top things couples fight about, O’Neill says, don’t be surprised if it becomes a go-to argument once you’re an established couple and have to face things like bills, rent, and other major financial decisions.
“Money issues are one of those things that can be ‘fixed’ if a couple cares about each other and are willing to give and take,” she says. But you’ll both have to put in the work to change your habits and be understanding as you both adjust. If that isn’t something you’re willing to do, the relationship will feel like one giant argument.
6. They Struggle With Alcohol
Does your partner drink? Like, a lot? If so, “find out more about their relationship with [alcohol] and what it does for them — like if it eases anxiety or makes them relaxed,” Carrie Mead, LCPC, a licensed clinical professional counselor, tells Bustle. “If you find that your partner has an addiction problem that they are unwilling to admit or if they do not see their substance use as a problem, I would suggest seeking couples counseling to address this important issue together.”
Mead says it may be possible to navigate through their dependency and come out the other side. “For some couples, though, it becomes a wedge that cannot be overcome,” she says.
7. You Don’t Have Sexual Chemistry
If you two aren’t the most sexually compatible, you can definitely work on it by communicating and experimenting. Over time, you may find your groove and start to have great sex. But if there seems to be no chemistry whatsoever, keep in mind this problem doesn’t always work itself out — especially if you aren’t willing to talk about it.
“Sexual incompatibility is another relationship problem that tends to get worse over time,” says Saba Harouni Lurie, LMFT, ATR-BC, a licensed marriage and family therapist. “In the beginning stages of a relationship when infatuation is at its highest, we might notice some differences and feel more willing to compromise. However, as the relationship settles into being long-term, sexual incompatibility may become more glaring, or those compromises might not be as sustainable.”
Of course, sex isn’t everything in a relationship, so it’s also possible to have a great relationship even if the aforementioned clunky sex continues. It might just be something you accept about each other and learn to laugh about.
8. You Have Different Social Expectations
You don’t have to be identical in order to make a relationship work, but it may not be a good sign if you have vastly different approaches to socializing. If you’re an introvert while your partner is an extrovert (or vice versa) you may be able to step outside your comfort zones in the early days of dating. Your best bet in this scenario is to be open and honest about how you feel.
“Ultimately, as an introvert-extrovert couple, you’re trying to find the happy place between introversion and extroversion, and you can only do this through open lines of communication, and through trial and error,” Adam C. Earnheardt, Ph.D., chair and professor of the department of communication at Youngstown State University, previously told Bustle.
That said, if you truly don’t have any common ground, Bash says it will eventually lead to you living separate lives.
9. They’re Still Hung Up On Their Ex
If your partner is still hung up on their ex when you start dating, relationship expert Stef Safran says you should brace yourself for bigger problems down the road. Any number of things can happen, from your partner going back to their ex, to cheating, and everything in between.
There’s also the fact many people rush into new relationships as a way of “getting over” an ex before they’re truly ready, which could lead to a series of annoying false starts. Others don’t have the bandwidth needed to start a new relationship and end up seeming detached and noncommittal. While they may eventually move on, it may not be something you want to wait around for. It may help to sit down and have a serious conversation about boundaries, what’s safe to talk about, and how you plan to deal with this issue should it come up again. If you both respect each other’s opinions, this problem doesn’t have to get worse.
10. You’re Both Bad At Arguing
Take note if it seems like you’re bad at arguing as a couple, meaning you never seem to reach a conclusion. “Couples need good communication skills, and this is especially true during conflict,” Rhonda Milrad, LCSW, a licensed clinical social worker, tells Bustle. “If you don’t [argue effectively] it will continue to be a problem during the course of your relationship as life gets more complicated and challenging.” While it’s definitely possible to practice and learn how to argue in a healthier way, that takes a lot of effort that not everyone’s willing to make.
11. They “Fight Dirty”
Another red flag? If your S.O. fights dirty — meaning they call you names, bring up past grievances, or ice you out every time they get mad. “Conflicts are bound to happen in a relationship,” psychotherapist Kimberly Perlin, MSW, LCSW-C tells Bustle. “But if someone goes below the belt every time you argue it will get increasingly more difficult to solve problems, stay intimate, and be honest. There are statements that can never be taken back once they are said.”
12. They Have Poor Follow-Through
If you notice that your partner says they’ll do something, but then never follows through, take note. “Couples can come to an agreement and if one partner does not follow through it diminishes trust and the couple’s ability to solve problems,” Perlin says. “No one wants the job of constantly reminding a grown adult what they agreed to.”
13. They Have Trouble Respecting Boundaries
Unclear relationship boundaries almost always lead to resentment, which is something that can get worse with time — for you and your partner.
“While we all want to love others ‘no matter what,’ we must first love ourselves and establishing healthy boundaries and standards is the best thing we can do,” dating expert Lisa Concepcion, founder of LoveQuestCoaching, tells Bustle. Once you do that, you’ll have a better shot at a healthy relationship.
This might look like talking about how much time to spend together versus how much time to spend apart, and what you’d both like to get out of the relationship. Knowing early on can save you from having arguments and misunderstandings years down the road.
14. They’re Disrespectful
If someone can’t be respectful on the first date, imagine how they’ll act on the 100th. This may not be something you want to wait around for, especially if their behavior is particularly bad.
“If you notice a wandering eye or words and actions not matching up and your gut simply says ‘this doesn’t feel right,’ pay close attention,” Concepcion says. They’re probably not the most trustworthy person, and that’s one trait that can lead to a lot of problems in the future.
15. They Can’t Handle Constructive Criticism
While it may not seem like a big deal that your partner hates constructive criticism, it can actually start to cause problems over time. “As your relationship grows, you will have more feedback to give,” Perlin says. You’ll want to share what is and isn’t. “If your partner cannot or refuses to accept and utilize feedback, your relationship will not grow,” she tells Bustle.
The same is true if they aren’t “emotionally curious,” Perlin says, meaning they don’t inquire as to what’s going on in your head. “If you have a partner that greets you with their needs, wants, and disappointments and expresses no curiosity about yours, just trust me on this one — get out now.”
Dr. Alisa Ruby Bash, PsyD, LMFT, licensed marriage and family therapist
Sharon Gilchrest O’Neill, Ed.S., LMFT, licensed marriage and family therapist
Dr. Josh Klapow, clinical psychologist
Dr. Jacob Santhouse, LCPC, licensed clinical professional counselor
Carrie Mead, LCPC, licensed clinical professional counselor
Stef Safran, relationship expert
Rhonda Milrad, LCSW, licensed clinical social worker
Kimberly Perlin, MSW, LCSW-C, psychotherapist
Adam C. Earnheardt, Ph.D., chair and professor of the department of communication at Youngstown State University
Lisa Concepcion, dating expert and founder of LoveQuestCoaching
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