About a decade ago, I was enjoying a yummy brunch with my good friend Lisa, when she suddenly blurted something I’ll forever remember.
“Your ex always reminded me of the U.N.,” Lisa announced.
“The U.N.?” I repeated – not sure where Lisa was going – although she and I usually finished each other’s sentences (as well as each other’s leftover omelets and fries).
“You know how the U.N. has all those flags waving outside it? ” said Lisa, “When I think of your ex, I think of lots of red flags waving in the wind!”
I laughed. “Yeah, you’re right,” I said, “Why didn’t I see those red flags? I guess love is colorblind.”
“You saw those red flags,” Lisa insisted. “You just didn’t run when you did. Or rather you ran – but towards your ex – like a bull towards a red flag cape! And hell, we all know what happens when a bull runs towards a red cape.”
I laughed again. “No offense, Lisa,” I said, “but I hate that in this particular analogy I am the bull – when my ex was so full of bull – he should be the bull.”
Lisa’s turn to laugh. “How true,” she agreed. “And I truly hope you’re gonna be better at avoiding red flags in the future.”When I returned home from brunch, I immediately headed to my underwear drawer, in search of my old journals.
Review the journal I’d kept during this Ex’s Era (Error?) to more clearly see just how many red flags were signaling:
Carefully I re-read each entry. Then, for every red flag story found, I drew a red flag with a red marker.
When I was done, I flipped through. The red flags appeared slowly at first, making brief flashes of appearance. Then as the pages went forward in time, the red flags got closer and closer together.
By journal’s end, there was a flurry of non-stop red flags.
Or rather, due to my simplistic drawing style, what appeared to be little red hatchets – each waving up at me, menacingly warning:
Reviewing that journal was a powerful wake up call.
Shortly after, I made a list of all the red flag/red hatchet lessons I’d learned from this experience.
Turn my crisis pain into crisis fuel – and motivate myself to never ignore red flags a-waving ever again!
I wound up sharing many of my insights and lessons on Oprah’s site. The people at Oprah loved my relationship tools I shared so much, they gave me a column on Oprah’s site to continue to share more love advice.
And this number one feeling you should be seeking is the feeling of safety – even before the feeling of love!
Without feeling safe, you will never feel true love – because you will never feel comfy being vulnerable enough to reveal your true self. Without vulnerability there can be no intimacy – no heart connection.
It won’t matter how sexy, smart, funny etc your partner is – if you don’t feel safe – you won’t be able to enjoy a happy, healthy relationship.
In a good relationship your partner should WANT to make you feel safe. They should even feel happy to do what they can to make sure you feel safe.The goal of a relationship is to improve your life – not create consistent chaos and conflict. It’s called a love life – not a stressed-out-all-the-time life!
For this reason, at the beginning of a relationship, it’s helpful to start what I call an “Isn’t This Interesting Folder.”
You can keep this folder metaphorically in your mind/memory. Or you can write down the clues you gather.
The point of this “Isn’t This Interesting Folder” is simple: Make sure you don’t rush to “Paranoic Red Flag Conclusions” – while still remaining protectively and proactively alert to all the information you’re receiving.
Indeed, a lot of dating is about getting to know someone, and discovering who they are from bits of unfolding moments.
Sometimes you need to gather more information before you can clearly determine if a flag is red – or simply an orange-ish yellow.
If your partner doesn’t value growing, then your relationship won’t survive “red flag” events – because a relationship is only as strong as its weakest moments – how you each handle stress and conflict.
Basically, toxic people are not open to listening, empathizing and growing. Healthy, thriving people are!
I’m a big believer that it’s easier to smoosh a little monster than a big monster.
Meaning? You shouldn’t wait for a “Small Red Hankee-Sized Flag” to grow into a “Huge Red Banner-Sized Flag” before you speak up about it.
It’s always better to have that difficult small conversation sooner, rather than try to deal with a hugely difficult problem later.
Why? Because you’ll want to see what you need to see.
If you intuit you presently have an “achilles something” you need to work on loving and accepting yourself – imperfections and all.
All love is a mirror of your self love. If you want to improve your love life, improve how you love yourself.
With this in mind, I often tell clients I coach to create what I jokingly refer to as a “They Should Be So Lucky As To Be With Me List” – where they write down all they have to offer a partner – so they take their focus off the neediness their insecurities inspire.
This list is not meant to create cockiness. I gave this list a funny title to keep things fun. This list is meant to stabilize self esteem – which can be thrown off kilter by an “achilles something.”
What’s something which comes to your mind and heart when you read my essay about avoiding toxic partners? Share with others below!
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Hi I’m Karen Salmansohn, founder of NotSalmon. My mission is to offer you easy-to-understand insights and tools to empower you to bloom into your happiest, highest potential self. I use playful analogies, feisty humor, and stylish graphics to distill big ideas – going as far back as ancient wisdom from Aristotle, Buddhism and Darwin to the latest research studies from Cognitive Therapy, Neuro Linquistic Programming, Neuroscience, Positive Psychology, Quantum Physics, Nutritional Studies – and then some.