When you see a red flag, it’s a warning. It means “beware” and/or “caution.” When observed, it heightens your senses. It communicates that something is not normal here, and if you check it out, check it out with caution—and don’t make any decisions till you know what it’s all about.
As campus missionaries, we spend a lot of time helping our students navigate life. One such area concerns their dating life. By this point in the semester, students have been on campus long enough that romantic sparks are flying, new connections are forming, and existing relationships are progressing. If your ministry is anything like mine, then you regularly have students, male and female, come to you seeking advice about dating.
When students come to me for dating advice, in the course of our conversations, I inevitably talk about how to recognize the red flags of dating relationships. I wish I could say I came up with these on my own, but I’m not that smart. These were given to me by my campus missionary, Arliss Dickerson, when I was a student at Arkansas State. He served as the BCM Campus Minister at ASU for 32 years before he retired, so he knew a thing or two! Without fail, these ring true as much today as they did 35 years ago.
When we talk about these seven red flags, we must recognize that any one red flag can be a deal breaker, meaning that the dating relationship should no longer continue. Some of the red flags are indicator lights saying, “we need to work on this problem.” Some red flags are blaring alarms alerting, “I need to end this relationship immediately.”
Biblical Groundwork for Christian Dating Relationships
Before we get into the seven red flags of dating, let’s briefly lay some groundwork. What does the Bible say about dating? Not much, honestly. But it does speak much of how we should relate to one another in a variety of relationships. These groundwork principles lay the foundation necessary to identify the seven red flags. I won’t go into depth with these because I want to focus on the red flags, but a few principles do need to be mentioned:
- Genuine love wants what’s best for the other person (c.f. 1 Corinthians 13:4-6). Relationships that are totally selfish don’t work.
- Sex outside marriage is harmful (1 Thessalonians 4:3).
- How you feel about yourself affects how you treat others (Matthew 19:16-19).
- Believers should not marry non-believers (2 Corinthians 6:14).
The 7 Red Flags of Dating
So, with those in mind, let’s dive into the seven red flags of a dating relationship.
- Both parties are all-consumed with each other while neglecting other relationships. No relationship is meant to be the only relationship. All of us have seen couples who have dropped all of their friends. Not good! Couples who do this have put all their emotional eggs in one basket and are asking that one person to meet ALL their needs. This is very unhealthy. It is also the most common red flag. When this is done, it can be a sign of mistrust or a sign that one wants to dominate the other in their dating relationship. Feelings of insecurity may be at the foundation of this, with a fear of being compared with others.
- Major differences are ignored or not talked about. Future goals, religious differences, life priorities, etc., are rarely or never mentioned and discussed. Oftentimes when this red flag is present, we see that the relationship is based solely on physical attraction and very little communication is happening. Couples need to realize that communication is the oxygen of the relationship. Without it, the relationship will die. The differences that couples have will assert themselves at some point—for sure when they are married. The differences are much, much easier to work through prior to marriage.
- There is a drastic change in commitments by one or the other person. When we see this red flag, this is a sign of withdrawal. There is a disconnect from real life, and this type of dating relationship burns out quickly. The reality is that the person who gives up all commitments may give up on the other person and their relationship.
- A family member or friend who knows them the best and loves them the most disapproves of the relationship. Some say, “love is blind.” Others say, “love is blind and stupid.” When a family member or a close friend really questions the relationship, we should sit up and take notice. There may be something there that the couple isn’t seeing. Instead of dismissing them, couples should listen to what they have to say and be open to the possibility that something may not be right regarding the person they are dating.
- Conflict is avoided at all costs. Healthy relationships learn to express and deal with disagreements. If they must never disagree—it’s not worth saving. Also, if a person falls into this category then my question would be, “Are you being you?” All relationships have their disagreements. All. So, if there are no disagreements and conflicts, is the couple being honest and being themselves?
- One person totally dominates the relationship and/or demonstrates a lack of respect for the other person. In this relationship, we typically see that all decisions are made by one person without the input of the other. Another thing that is typically present is for one person to change all their ideas and goals to be in this relationship. Oftentimes, tagging along with this particular red flag is excessive anger and possible abuse. If this is the case, then this red flag is a deal breaker—it is time to immediately end this dating relationship.
- Physical contact or sex becomes the central activity or main part of the relationship. We often forget the truth that sex is an expression of love—sex itself is not love. When a dating relationship revolves around the physical, it makes it hard to know if they love the person or the experience. This type of relationship typically does not last. And if marriage occurs, it often happens as a result of guilt.
Again, any one of these red flags can be a deal breaker. At the very least, they serve as warning signs regarding the health and well-being of the dating relationship. Be proactive in sharing these with your students, and don’t hesitate to lovingly speak to them when you notice one of these red flags present in their dating relationships.