Gaining perspective on our relationships, both past and present, can be difficult. For one thing, being intimately involved in a friendship or love affair generally means we lack the benefit of objectivity — a neutral, detached or outside perspective. We’re too close to the action and emotion, operating too much out of instinct and habit, to have a clear view of the dynamic unfolding between ourselves and the other person. Furthermore, many of us gravitate toward certain types of people and relationships without considering why — what it is about that personality type or relationship dynamic that draws us in again and again.
If your relationships tend to be mutually fulfilling and long-lasting, you may not feel the need to look into your past or try to predict the future of your connections. But if you have noticed a pattern of unhealthy or unsatisfying friendships or love affairs — perhaps you don’t feel heard or respected by the other person; perhaps you have to do more than your fair share of work to keep the connection afloat; or perhaps you just aren’t having much fun — take it as a sign that it’s time to look more closely into what is occurring and why.
Often, the best place to begin looking is the past. While many people might argue that we must leave the past behind and continue progressing into the future, sometimes there are issues from our pasts that must be understood, processed and set to rest before we can truly move forward. Once you gain a clearer view of your past relationships with family members, friends and lovers, you can become more realistic about your present and future connections with other people. That, in turn, will enable you to predict the future of your relationships more accurately, almost as soon as you become involved in a new one.
Following are some signs that can signal a relationship that may not be fulfilling or successful in the long run. As you read, consider these signs in light of past friendships or love affairs that went sour. Which, if any, of the following signs describe that relationship? Take note of them to determine whether they can provide a clear picture of why the relationship did not work out.
Once you have completed this retrospective work, it is helpful to consider these same signs again, only this time, review them in light of a newer friendship or romance in which you’ve become involved. If the same red flags pop up in your current relationships that affected your connections from long ago, this could be a sign that you have unwittingly developed an unhealthy pattern. Eventually, you will begin to remember these signs on your own; they will take root in your mind as red flags that remind you to maintain a certain distance and proceed with caution, rather than jumping wholeheartedly into a new connection without considering where it might lead.
Signs that your former friend may have had issues with anger, jealousy or depression:
• When you were out together, your friend often found problems with the restaurant server or waiter, the gas station attendant, or others you encountered, and made their displeasure known in a way that seemed rude, or at least seemed to be an overreaction. This could mean they had a lot of irrational anger that they had a hard time keeping in check.
• When you received text messages, phone calls or attention from other people, your friend became angry or upset, taking it as a sign that you weren’t as devoted to them as you should have been. (This can happen in friendships as well as romances.) This could mean that your friend suffered from insecure attachment, an unreasonable sense of possessiveness, or both, prompting them to feel excessively threatened by your connections with other people.
• Your friend regularly turned down your invitations and ideas for fun things to do together. Alternatively, your friend rarely laughed at your jokes, at funny films, or at funny situations you experienced together. This could mean that depression was affecting their ability to relax and have a good time.
• When you got together or spoke on the phone, your friend tended to have more complaints about life than positive comments; they might have griped about anything from traffic to customer service, to their health, to other relationships they were involved in, and more. This could mean they had a generally negative, pessimistic or depressive outlook on life, which might have proven emotionally tiring for you over time.
• When your friend spoke about their problems or about previous relationships that had failed, they always blamed someone else, rarely taking any responsibility of their own. This could mean they were incapable of viewing their own choices and behavior with any level of clarity or honesty, which likely persisted through their relationship with you.
• Whenever you and your friend argued or disagreed, they rarely apologized, instead finding ways to make you feel guilty, wrong or otherwise responsible. This could mean that taking their fair share of responsibility for the conflict made your friend feel too vulnerable or threatened, so they twisted reality in order to blame you instead.
Signs that your former friend was overly self-absorbed or failed to treat you with enough kindness or respect:
• Your friend regularly made critical or belittling comments about your looks, income, intelligence or other qualities, perhaps passing off these comments as jokes. These attempts to tear you down, whether done consciously or unconsciously, could indicate that your ex suffered from insecurity and low self-esteem.
• You often noticed that your friend did most of the talking, rarely asking questions about your life or how you were doing. Alternatively, during conversations with your friend, they might have interrupted you frequently to steer the conversation back toward themselves. This could mean that your friend was simply — and unfairly — more interested in themselves than they were in you.
• When you went out together, your friend always chose the movie or restaurant, rather than sometimes doing an activity of your choice. This could mean that your friend was too preoccupied with their own feelings, needs and desires to be concerned with yours.
• Your friend regularly took advantage of your giving nature, relying on you for financial, emotional or other support without paying you back or returning the favor. This could mean that your friend was unable to make their own life function well, and relied unfairly on you to fill in where they couldn’t.
Signs that your former friend was overly clingy or needy:
• Your friend called and texted you so often that it made you uncomfortable. This could mean that they were desperate for a connection, whether with you personally or in general. Being too hungry for connection can become too much pressure for a relationship to withstand.
• Your friend regularly turned to you for advice or support in dealing with their latest crisis — of which there were many. Alternatively, you might have started feeling as if your relationship consisted of bailing your friend out of one problem after another. This could mean that your friend’s lack of independence and inner strength grew to be too much of a burden on you.
Signs that your former friend was afraid of commitment or emotional intimacy:
• Your friend referred regularly to having been mistreated, taken advantage of or “burned” by others in the past. This could have been their way of communicating their fear and expectation that you would mistreat them in the same way.
• While you regularly shared your feelings or intimate details about your life, including your needs, fears, hopes, plans and dreams, your friend was not as forthcoming about their own. This could mean that, while your friend may have wanted to become emotionally intimate with you, they just weren’t able to connect or reciprocate in the necessary ways.
• Just when you felt that you and your friend were truly becoming close, they pulled away — such as failing to get in touch with you for an extended period — or even ended the relationship altogether. This could mean that the intimacy growing between you was too much for them to handle, emotionally.
Signs that your former friend simply wasn’t interested in a relationship with you, or was actually unavailable:
• Your friend showed signs of being unreliable, such as regularly cancelling or forgetting dates that you made, showing up late, or otherwise letting plans fall through. This could mean they didn’t put as much thought or consideration into the connection as you did.
• When you spent time together, they often referred to an ex-lover or someone with whom they were no longer friends; alternatively, your ex had just recently gone through a breakup or divorce before you met. This could mean they had not fully moved on from that old relationship before becoming involved with you.
• When you spoke on the phone or spent time together, your friend often seemed distant or even bored. They might have failed to ask questions about your life and interests, or might have given excuses to cut the date short or end the phone call. This could mean that, for whatever reason, your friend lacked the level of interest needed to keep their end of the relationship afloat.
• Your friend drank alcohol frequently or showed other signs of substance abuse or addiction, and while under the influence, they were either a great deal of fun or quite difficult to deal with. Addiction makes it difficult for the addict to maintain a functional, healthy relationship with another person, since the addiction always takes center stage.
Once you have considered all of the above warning signs in light of past and present relationships, it is also quite beneficial to consider them once again, only this time, with respect to yourself and your own behavior. After all, every relationship is a two-way street. Perhaps you were more responsible than you realized for the way past friendships or love affairs ended. Even if the other person is largely to blame for what went wrong, you also participated in the unhealthy connection, putting up with some amount of mistreatment and unhappiness before the relationship finally ended. While none of the above red flags should be taken as a definitive sign that the relationship will be unhealthy or unfulfilling, gaining clarity on what happened will help you predict the course of future relationships more accurately. This, in turn, will assist you in devoting your energy and emotions to those connections that stand a solid chance of being healthy, harmonious and fulfilling.
Some signs that your current friendship or love affair is a healthy and fulfilling one that stands a good chance of lasting long-term:
• You feel comfortable sharing your needs, emotions and life plans with your friend, and you are genuinely interested in theirs as well.
• You feel a small, inner burst of happiness whenever your friend calls you or sends you a text message.
• When you and your friend have an argument, disagreement or misunderstanding, you are generally able to reach a resolution that is satisfying for both of you, and you are both able to offer a genuine apology when appropriate.
• Your friend accepts your relationships with other people, and you accept theirs; excessive jealousy and possessiveness are not a part of your connection.
• Your relationship with your friend does not revolve around drinking or other substance abuse. You are able to have fun doing many different activities together.
• Sometimes you get to decide what to do when you and your friend get together; other times, they decide.
• You trust your friend, and you strive to be trustworthy for them.
• You don’t mind giving your friend emotional or other types of support, because they do the same for you.
• You and your friend laugh and have fun together on a regular basis.
• You and your friend have discussed your hopes for the future of your relationship, and you are both on the same page in wanting and expecting your connection to continue into the future.