A woman and a man do not look to each other

Red Flags You Should Never Ignore

Ten years ago, I was a bright-eyed, slightly naive Christian girl who didn’t understand how dangerous people can be.

I was dating the “edgy Christian guy” who played guitar in the worship team and wore cool shoes. He also exhibited small but worrying behaviours at times, but I figured (in my wisdom) I would be able to fix them. Even as I shared my concerns with others, they also thought that with time and maturity, these behaviours can and will be flushed out.

“All I had to do,” I thought, “was to be steadfast in this relationship.” I thought if I kept my end of the deal, he’d eventually step up and become the “dream guy”.

Spoiler alert—I couldn’t fix him. In hindsight, the small, worrying behaviours were red flags—early warning signs that I should have taken notice of.

Yet, whenever I read articles on red flags, I would convince myself that my ex-boyfriend wasn’t “as bad as that” and they “don’t know” my boyfriend, all because I wanted to continue in the relationship more than to see the situation for what it was.

As a result, these worrying behaviours snowballed in the way described in James 1:15: “After desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” I had to learn a hard and painful lesson because I had ignored the warning signs.

Scripture says we’re to bring things into the light (Ephesians 5:13, John 3:20), because it is only in the light of Christ that sin and its corrosive effects can be exposed.

Being aware of red flags means you’re allowing light to be shed on the reality of your relationship; it means being truthful about your situation, acknowledging when something is wrong and needs to be addressed.

As I share some of my toughest learnings with you, I invite you to carefully think over and reconsider any relationship that has red flags waving about—in dating, friendship, or any other relationship.


Red flag #1: Deception of any scale, in any context

“Have you got it?” I asked, fizzing with excitement.

He gave me a coy smile, and nodded, “Sized and everything.”

We had picked out my engagement ring together (because we’d talked marriage, and I was fussy about jewellery); that was months ago, and I was getting antsy.

The next day, a friend and I were at the mall when we passed the jewellers. I saw the salesperson who had helped us pick out my beautiful ring. He greeted me, then asked if I had wanted to try the ring on.

“The ring?” I clarified, my brain jamming.

“Yeah, to show your friend.”

So I did. I went in to try it on and showed my friend, but inside my chest was a deep swamp of yuck.

When I thought about how to confront him about it, I started feeling guilty somehow, and my mind began to formulate excuses on his behalf. “Maybe he didn’t have the money and struggled to admit it? Maybe I pressured him to purchase something outside of our means?” I thought.

In the end, he did rattle off an excuse along those lines—that he didn’t want to let me down and he didn’t have the money just then (even though he had told me he could afford it, and I had checked with him for the millionth time that the ring wasn’t too expensive).

The ring story was just another in the litany of seemingly tiny, often pointless lies that I’d been told. The problem was, I had gotten used to excusing his lies as just him being insecure; I thought he’d eventually outgrow that. But they were the beginnings of something much, much bigger.

Even though it started out with little lies that seemed like isolated incidents, eventually there was heavy and complicated deception, which made me prone to question myself—“Maybe I misheard?”, “Did I really hear it that way?” It’s also called “gaslighting”, where someone purposefully makes you question your understanding of reality.

There’s simply nothing loving about being lied to or deceived. As 1 Corinthians 13:6-7 says: “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” Deception in relationships will undermine any sense of trust, which is a non-negotiable in any relationship.

A few years down the track, when several enormous lies came to light, the people closest to me finally challenged me to draw a firm boundary so I wouldn’t be lied to anymore.

I threw myself into Scriptures, mostly around repentance and reconciliation that I was praying for. Amongst those stories of repentance, I came across King David’s in 2 Samuel 11—his attempts to hide his sinful affair with Bathsheba, ultimately sending her husband to death in battle.

The way David would rather have a man die than be truthful about the situation and face the consequences showed me how this person acted the same way, determined to  hide their sin and cover one wrong with more wrongs.


Red flag #2: A posture of unaccountability

Somehow, it was always someone else’s fault. Initially, it was for smaller misdemeanours, like that one extra beer after work meant he had to sleep it off on the couch in the office and miss our date night.

A few years later, a friend messaged me a screenshot of his Tinder profile. I remember getting in my car and driving straight over to show him the screenshot, with tears streaming down my face.

“The guys at work did it, they talked me into it . . .” he said, with sad puppy eyes.

Going back to the story of David and Bathsheba, as furious as we feel towards David for pursuing another man’s life, we see a man who, when confronted by the prophet Nathan, takes on a posture of accountability.

Psalm 51 details David’s absolute outpouring of regret and remorse. In verse 3 we find him lamenting, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.”

While it is difficult to admit when you’re wrong, never admitting to wrongdoings is a major red flag.

Someone who hurts you and doesn’t take any accountability for it is exhibiting a profoundly harmful behaviour. They might tell you they’ll change, or that things will be better next time. Or you’ll pray for them, begging God to change their hearts. But if they never confess when they’re at fault, and there’s no clear sign of repentance, then there’s no forgiveness and reconciliation to be had.

Genuine repentance at its core includes acknowledging the anger of God against sin. As David proclaims in Psalm 51:4, “Against You, and You alone I have sinned”. While our actions and activities can bring harm to others and we should seek forgiveness from them, the journey starts with seeking forgiveness and reconciliation from God.

When we realise we have done something wrong, we need to feel a sense of what God feels towards the sin, so we can take a posture of accountability. Then we can pray, as David did, for God to cleanse us and create in us a pure heart (vv. 7, 10).


Red flag #3: When it’s all talk, no fruit

For me, this is one of the most profound things Jesus ever said:

“You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit and a bad tree cannot produce good fruit.” (Matthew 7:18-19, NLT)

If the person you are dating talks a lot of game but doesn’t ever seem to play it, it might be time to have a good, long think about the relationship.

My ex-boyfriend used to wax lyrical about his relationship with God, yet he got drunk, swore, made inappropriate comments to me (and others) and eventually was not only booted out of the Bible college we both went to, but was also pulled off our church worship team for his misbehaviour.

While none of us can attest to being perfect, Jesus is clear that faith in Him bears good fruit.

Returning to the story of David and Bathsheba, not only does David tell Nathan he’s sorry, he also puts in the hard yards to make things right. He seeks reconciliation with God, and he marries Bathsheba.

If any of these red flags flagged above are ringing true for you today, take the advice of a slightly harder, slightly wiser Christian girl, peel your fingers off your face, and do something about it.  I know it’s scary, because it may mean having to call time on a relationship or having a hard conversation with a group of discerning and trustworthy people.

If you’re spotting all the red flags in a friend’s relationship (romantic or otherwise), it could mean having a gentle conversation with said friend, at an appropriate time (I personally find appropriate times are best prayed for, and God genuinely provides them).

Asking open-ended questions is always the most helpful starting point. Here are a couple of ways to go about it: “What do you think motivates this [the worrying behaviour] in them? What within you makes you feel that [said behaviour] is okay?”; “What one thing do you feel would improve the situation?” Asking questions without presuming answers is important to help the friend in that situation feel like they have agency over things.

Relationships are a beautiful and wonderful thing for which we are created. But they need to be built on truth and love, to enable us to experience them in the true glory that God has created them to be within our lives.

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