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You’ve heard about relationship 'red flags.' But what about the green ones?

A photo of two hands intertwined.
Bryan Winter
/
KUT
Central Texas neuropsychotherapist Bella Rockman encourages people to balance their gut feelings with green and red flags when figuring out if a relationship can go the distance.

June is traditionally a big month for weddings, especially in Central Texas. Dripping Springs alone is home to at least 35 wedding venues within about 15 miles.

By the time couples are heading down the aisle, hopefully they're confident they've found "the one." But how do you know if you've truly found "the one?"

You've probably heard of relationship "red flags," those warning signals that the person you're with might not be a good match. But Central Texas neuropsychotherapist Bella Rockman says she encourages people to focus more on "green flags," or the promising signs in a relationship.

Here are some "green flags" Rockman encourages people to look for:

  • Willingness to apologize
  • Alignment of words and actions
  • Respect for previous partners
  • Respect for stated boundaries
  • Intentionality in conflict resolution
  • Active work on personal growth
  • Having life and relationship goals
  • Healthy parental relationships
  • Long-lasting friendships

Rockman acknowledges that this is a long list and few people, if any, possess all of these traits. But she says paying attention to "green flags" is a chance for friends and romantic partners to elevate their expectations in relationships, and it can help them ditch unhealthy relationship habits.

"We choose our adult partners so often based on childhood wounds," Rockman says. "We're either trying to heal a pattern and correct it, or we're repeating and continuing a pattern. When we marry, sometimes we tend to marry a version of our parents."

Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below to learn more about relationship "green flags" and how to break out of that inclination to marry a version of our parents.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

KUT's Jennifer Stayton: Why focus on green flags instead of red flags?

Central Texas neuropsychotherapist Bella Rockman: Because of this neat little thing that our brain does called reticular activation, which is whatever we focus on, it will grow, and our brain tends to search for data to confirm what we know or what we're focusing on. I think that if we focus on red flags too much, we can have a hyper-focus on that and almost be looking for them so much that it can be a bit more terrifying than it has to be in the relationship process.

Can you tell us what some relationship green flags are?

Being willing to apologize. Another big one is that their words and their behaviors or their actions align. Because when our words and our behaviors don't align, that's a form of manipulation.

When it comes to intimate partnerships, they speak about their ex-partners with respect. That's important.

Setting, honoring and respecting boundaries is a pretty huge one. If you say that something makes you feel uncomfortable or that you don't want to do something or this is a particular boundary for you, that they honor that.

They're intentional about resolving conflict. They're not sweeping it under the rug. They're actively working on their own growth or their own healing by going to therapy, going to coaching, reading personal development books, having people in their life that keep them accountable. Having goals and then having some compatible goals for the relationship.

And then also making you feel seen and heard and appreciated is really important.

And then the last one, I think when it comes to friendships and intimate partnerships, if they have good relationships with their parents and their family. And then if they have some good, older, maybe childhood friends, some people who have been witnesses to their life over time, because how they do relationship with other people in the long term oftentimes is an indication of how they'll do relationship with you.

That's a lot. And if one person had all of that, that would be the ideal person. How much of that should people be looking for when they're thinking about either advancing a friendship or advancing a romantic relationship?

It is. Yeah, I agree. If you're in friendship or dating someone that has maybe ... like six or seven out of 10, even maybe half, I think you maybe have something there. And the nice thing is that you can develop some of these things as you go. None of us are perfect, but if you get these core values and you see most of those there, some of the little things along the way don't even matter. It's not a thing of finding somebody that checks every single box and thinks just like you, because I don't think that's realistic for any of us.

That list also struck me as a good reminder that it's not just the absence of bad behavior. That's certainly important. But everybody deserves caring, attentive friends and partners who will treat them well. It's not just that somebody doesn't do something bad and wrong.

Yes, it's very true. I think also it’s about raising our baseline so that the very bare minimum isn’t, "Well, at least they aren’t speaking badly to me," or, "At least they haven't been harmful to me." That's a lower baseline. We want to raise that, to look for those positive things and then to also teach our children these kinds of behaviors.

It's really a nice way to shift how we do communication and community and culture as a whole. Because so often the template that we have set up in our early childhood becomes a relationship template through which we see the rest of the world until we heal that. We choose our adult partners so often based on childhood wounds. We're either trying to heal a pattern and correct it, or we're repeating and continuing a pattern. When we marry, sometimes we tend to marry a version of our parents.

When we can work on these things early on and make it a norm, it helps us go out into the world with a more secure attachment style.

What would you say to someone who may come to you and say, "Well, I've met this person. There aren't a lot of green flags. There may be more red than green, or maybe it's 50/50. But there's just this really strong feeling there. I just have this feeling in my gut that this person might be a good person for me."

So much of it depends on our relationship history, our family of origin history and our template. And not only that, our nervous system. If a person has already been through a significant amount of trauma or relational trauma, complex PTSD or PTSD or even betrayal trauma, just where they thought someone was one thing and then they ended up being another, there's going to be a level of hypervigilance there. Their amygdala, their threat detection system, is going to be more highly wired than someone else's that hasn't had those experiences.

I really don't always say to people, "Well, just trust your gut," because that can be terrifying for someone who felt, "Well, I trusted it before and it didn't work out." You can almost use some social science or data to weigh what you're seeing against what you're feeling and then give it some time as well. And then when you do start to see actual red flags, have a good friend or a good person or counselor that you can talk to about it so that you don't romanticize it.

Sometimes we put people on pedestals and we really need to de-romanticize them in our minds. We fall more in love with the idea of who they could be or who they say they are or who we want them to be rather than who they're actually presenting. Every person that I've ever talked to when relationships haven't worked out, and I can even include myself in that, if they look back on it, there was always something in that first 60, 90 days and you're like, "Oh, that did probably tell us much more than we ever needed to know."

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