Is it just me, or are we all all great at picking up red flags in our friends' relationships and terrible at spotting them in our own love interests? Especially when it comes to finding red flags in your partner's past relationships — sure, they might talk about their ex like they're a fire-breathing dragon, but they would never talk about you that way... At least, that's what we tell ourselves.
Then, when a rocky relationship inevitably comes to an end, we're left with a million people saying "I told you so," and, "There were so many signs!" But here's the challenge: How do you differentiate between a minor character flaw or past mistake and a signal that someone is going to be an unfaithful or distrustful partner?
One area to examine with a fine-toothed comb, as mentioned, is their past relationships. And no, I don't just mean stalking their exes' prom pictures on Instagram. Look at the patterns they have or have not fallen into, the way they speak about their exes, and their ability to own up to and learn from their past mistakes.
There's so much to consider and unpack when it comes to finding red flags in a partner's past, so I spoke with licensed marriage and family therapist Nicole Richardson to find out exactly what you should be looking out for (and what you can quit stressing about!). Here are four red flags that suggest a potential partner might not make the best SO, based on their past relationships.
1. They speak disparagingly about their exes.
"I think the most important thing to look out for is the way your partner talks about their ex," explains Richardson. "While we all have a relationship in our past that we are really glad we are out of, it is important to notice to listen to our partner being disrespectful or derogatory towards their former partners."
The way a person speaks about others (particularly when those "others" aren't around) is always a much clearer indication of their character than anyone else's. If your potential partner has nothing but rude or insulting comments to make about their exes — and places all of the blame in their failed relationships on past partners — it shows that they likely lack respect as well as self-awareness.
TBH, I think we've all got at least one ex who left us with nothing but bad memories and a broken heart (I know I've got one!), but be careful not to vilify that person when explaining the situation to future partners.
That said, don't worry too much if your partner's not super open their past relationships, especially in the early days of your courtship.
"Some people are very wary about talking about past relationships with their current partners," Richardson notes. "I don’t see that as a big red flag."
2. If they've had a ton of past relationships.
"If a partner has [had] a lot of past relationships, I would wonder if they fall fast and fall out just as quickly," Richardson says. "It could indicate that they have a tendency to see what they want to see in the early stages of a relationship, and cut and run as soon as they realize their idealized traits don’t exist in the other person."
If your new beau has a long list of ex lovers, à la Taylor Swift, it probably means they either don't know what they want or expect nothing less than perfection from their partners. Be sure to talk about where those flings went wrong, and what they're looking for in their next S.O., before diving head first into what could be a short-lived (and possibly tumultuous) relationship.
3. Or if they've never been involved with anybody — ever.
"When someone has never had a relationship and they are over the age of 25, I wonder if it is because they are painfully shy or if they have a fear of being to close to other people," says Richardson.
There are a lot of reasons why someone may not have had a relationship — maybe they'd moved around a ton, had been heavily focused on their education, etc. But, as Richardson said, if someone's inexplicably never been romantically involved with another person, it suggests that they might be reserved or nervous to get close to others.
It's not necessarily a bad sign if your new person has never had a capital-O Official relationship before. But if they've never had a situationship, a fling, or a six-month "what are we?" thing going on, that's a red flag.
4. If they've had an long-running on-again, off-again relationship.
As Richardson puts it, an on-again, off-again relationship "could be a red flag if your partner doesn’t have clarity on why it was on-again, off-again."
If your S.O. can't pinpoint the problem, it might mean that they lack closure and there's a chance they'll fall back into a relationship with that person. Conversely, if they have a solid sense of where things went wrong, they're likely coming out of that situation with an ever better sense of what they do or do not want from an S.O.
"If [they] understand why things got complicated and why it wasn’t good for them, it could have actually been a good learning experience for them," Richardson explains. "If there is no clarity, there could be a danger that the door is open to an on-again."
If the door still appears to be open, maybe let that one go... You don't want to stand in the way of a Jelena kind of love, do you?
On the flip side, if your new S.O.'s able to reflect on their past flings — regardless of how many or how few there have been — with a sense of clarity, responsibility, and respect, it's a solid sign that they'll make a great partner to you. Congrats on finding a catch, girl!
Check out the entire Gen Why series and other videos on Facebook and the Bustle app across Apple TV, Roku, and Amazon Fire TV.
Check out the “Best of Elite Daily” stream in the Bustle App for more stories just like this!