Most red flags in any form are subjective and to the person who experiences them, says sex and relationship therapist Rachel Wright, LMFT. (That is, except when the issue in question is related to any form of abuse, which is a universal red flag.) “A red flag for one person could be a green light for another person,” she says. “A red flag is something that you experience with one of your five senses that does not align with your values or goals.” That said, there are a number of common friendship red flags that tend to register as unideal to a great many people.
"We are looking for essentially the same things in our [platonic and romantic] relationships—being respected, being able to feel physically and emotionally safe, feeling heard.” —Karla Zambrano-Morrison, LMFT.
The good news here is that if you're already familiar with common red flags in romantic relationships, you can likely guess the typical friendship red flags, too, because there isn't a huge difference. “We are looking for essentially the same things in our [platonic and romantic] relationships—being respected, being able to feel physically and emotionally safe, feeling heard,” says licensed marriage and family therapist Karla Zambrano-Morrison, LMFT.
With friendship red flags, don't assume every single instance is a deal-breaker for your relationship, though—especially if the person displaying this less-than-ideal behavior is someone you truly care about. Rather, embrace the red flag as an opportunity to talk to your friend about how you’re feeling, says Wright.
Below, Zambrano-Morrison and Wright outline five common friendship red flags and what to do if you encounter them. (Spoiler alert: Get ready to communicate.)
5 friendship red flags, and how to proceed if you observe them
1. The relationship feels one-sided
Ever feel like you're the only one who reaches out to or tries to plan things? This red flag also might reflect a dynamic where “you only hear from them when they need you for something,” says Zambrano-Morrison.
That said, it's not necessarily the case that all healthy friendships need to follow a 50-50 split in terms of who reaches out to whom. And it’s certainly not right to assume someone’s not reaching out because they don’t care. Sometimes, Wright says, “it has nothing to do with [them] not wanting to connect with their friends, [and] has everything to do with their own boundaries and their own want for some downtime.”
That said, if you feel like your friend is not reciprocating the attention and care you need and want in order to feel valued, Wright suggests communicating that feeling by saying something like, “Hey, I’m usually the one that calls and I love talking to you. It would mean so much to me if you could also call me first every once in a while.”
2. They don't respect your boundaries
If your friend does something that rubs you the wrong way, you tell them you didn't like that, and they continue to do it anyway, that’s definitely a friendship red flag, says Zambrano-Morrison.
To gauge whether the friendship has viability to be healthy in this scenario, Wright recommends saying something along the lines of the following statement and follow-up question: “I felt very disrespected and, in order to continue a happy, healthy friendship, I need my boundaries to be respected. Is that something that you think that you can do moving forward?”
If you’re met with defensiveness or denial from your friend, but this is someone who means a lot to you, try talking through it with them. If they continue to refuse to see your side of the story, or even show signs of gaslighting, you might want to reconsider whether or not the friendship is truly serving you.
3. They dismiss your problems, but expect you to understand theirs
Your friend “can talk about their problems the whole time, but [when] you try bringing something up...it's completely shut down,” says Zambrano-Morrison. Because the best relationships are two-sided, noticing that someone doesn’t listen to (and, by proxy, seriously care about) what's happening in your life is a friendship red flag.
But since the issue might not come from a place of malice, there is still hope for the existence of a healthy friendship. “Often, this comes from one of two places: Either the person is very self-absorbed, or they don’t realize that they’re doing this,” says Wright.
To communicate how you’re feeling, you might try saying something like, “I shared with you something I was going through, and I felt really dismissed when you didn’t respond. I would really love it if we could talk about stuff that's going on in my life just as much as we talk about stuff that's going on in your life. Do you think that that's possible?” If the friend makes a better effort to listen and engage with you about your life after you bring this to their attention, it's a sign of positive progress and that red flag may not be a relationship deal-breaker.
4. They don't take responsibility for their mistakes or actions
Zambrano-Morrison says this is a friendship red flag because it signifies that the person you’re calling a friend might not be totally in tune with (or otherwise care about) how you’re feeling. Wright agrees “because it’s indicative of someone’s lack of self-awareness and empathy,” she says. “Unless you’ve seen them do otherwise, like actually take responsibility, you have no reason to think that they’re ever going to.”
Finding yourself in this situation can be particularly tricky, adds Wright, because a lot of people get stuck in unhealthy dynamics when they brush this off. “People are telling you who they are everyday. Listen to them,” says Wright. If this issue is chronic, you might want to reconsider the friendship.
5. You can't be yourself around them
This might happen “because if you are yourself, they may make fun of you in front of others or challenge your thoughts and beliefs,” says Zambrano-Morrison. This is dangerous, she adds, because “in the end, you find yourself people-pleasing just to be liked and accepted.”
It’s a scary thought to be friends with people who might make you feel the need to change who you are so that you can feel accepted. “If someone is actively telling us who we are, how we laugh, or what we think is not allowed, that's not a relationship—not a healthy one at least,” says Wright.
So, it’s probably best to cut off that relationship when you identify red flag, in the name of your own mental health. There are so many wonderful people out there who are ready to engage in a healthy friendship—so pay attention to the red flags you see and try to only let people into your life who display significantly more green flags.
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