Early relationships are often based on projected material.  We gravitate to people who let us do what we know how to do. The early patterns of interactions that we learned with our opposite-sex parent might lead us to the same patterns again, that which we know how to do: our comfort zone.  And even though we would prefer different experiences, we gravitate to the familiar, thinking that we can handle that.  So, for example, if your opposite-sex parent was dominating or controlling, you may find yourself in a relationship in which your partner is dominating, controlling, or both.

You might go along, to get along because you feel that you can handle it, after all, you have for most of your life.  However, under the radar you are maturing and growing even if you never go to therapy.  And at some point, you do not want to be dominated or controlled any longer.  Therefore, to know yourself, is to be armed with skills and tools that can help you acknowledge and recognize similar patterns in relationship, and avoid them.  This is your red flag.  Though still compelled to move in that direction, the familiar patterns from your family of origin, you can choose to deliberately override the compulsion, through conscious awareness and that big red flag.  If you do this, then you make room for the right relationship to enter.  Because you have changed, you attract a different person, a better person.

Some of the signs to look for and be aware of include:

  1. An overly intense person who exhibits characteristics of dominance and control–someone with a temper, someone who pouts, withdraws and has to have his or her way.
  2. Narcissism is a big red flag yet hard to detect.
    • Narcissists are great at hiding their self-interests.  They are the perfect chameleons—highly tuned to your wants and needs.  Nevertheless, everything for the narcissist directs back to self-interest.
    • Their agenda is to pursue you, and they will do anything it takes to achieve their goal.  So pay attention.  Listen and watch for the signs.  If you date long enough, the narcissist will reveal their need to have it their way, to see things from their perspective, their demanding behavior.  And finally, further into the relationship you may notice that narcissists are punishers and if you don’t do things that fulfill their ideal, they become upset and withdraw.  Narcissists are manipulative and will do anything possible to accomplish their goal.
  3. Another red flag to look for is a person who is so focused on themselves that there is really no room for you.  You can identify this person very early in the relationship.  You may notice that for example, all the conversations are directed towards them.  They may not even ask you about your interests or experiences, never mind your feelings.
  4. Then there’s the person who is so badly damaged from their own childhood wounding, there is no way that they can be in a healthy relationship, without serious therapy. Many times the caretaking child becomes the caretaking adult and gravitates to this kind of person.  It is extremely important to be aware and recognize this and override the impulse to think that you can make a difference in this person’s life.  Rescuing is an addiction in itself, and can only lead to serious problems later on in the relationship.
  5. Another sign to look for is a person lacking in empathy.  Empathy can be taught, but if it’s missing in an adult, it requires a lot of therapy for rehabilitation.
  6. Next, there is the older person syndrome—people who continue to date others that are several generations older than they are.  10 or 15 years is doable.  But when you are looking at  20 or 30 year differences, the relationship is doomed to fail.  In the beginning, the relationship may work, but when a 40-year-old is married to a 70-year-old, you can see the problems that might emerge: your time of life is different, your frame of reference is different, and you are of different generations, facing different problems, at different times, in their lives.  These problems include both emotional issues as well as physical issues.  For example, a 40-year-old, will look at sex differently than a 70-year-old.  Their energy level is different.  Their needs and desires for social activities are different, etc.
  7. Also, listen and pay attention to conversations that arise while dating.  Was the individual married?  How does he or she speak about his or her ex-spouse? Does he or she have children? How does he or she feel about his or her children?  Was he or she involved in a custody situation?  If you recognize anger and hostility, as well as, revenge in your conversations, see the red flag and run.
  8. Notice if the person is open to new experiences, including learning about intimacy.  Look for addiction.  Is this person addicted to drugs or alcohol?  Learn to recognize and be sensitive to honesty.  Is this person telling the truth?  Does he or she pepper the conversation with little white lies, which can easily become big lies and ultimately, betrayal?
  9. See who this person hangs out with.  Get to know his or her family and close social ties.  Most importantly, is this a controlling and possessive person?  Does he or she react negatively to your relationship with others?
  10. Finally, does this person share your values?  In reality, you can’t have a relationship with someone who doesn’t.


  • Dr. Gail Gross

    Author and Parenting, Relationships, and Human Behavior Expert

    Dr. Gail Gross, Ph.D., Ed.D., M.Ed., a member of the American Psychological Association (APA) and member of APA Division 39, is a nationally recognized family, child development, and human behavior expert, author, and educator. Her positive and integrative approach to difficult issues helps families navigate today’s complex problems. Dr. Gross is frequently called upon by national and regional media to offer her insight on topics involving family relationships, education, behavior, and development issues. A dependable authority, Dr. Gross has contributed to broadcast, print and online media including CNN, the Today Show, CNBC's The Doctors, Hollywood Reporter, FOX radio, FOX’s The O’Reilly Factor, MSNBC, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Times of India, People magazine, Parents magazine, Scholastic Parent and Child Magazine, USA Today, Univision, ABC, CBS, and KHOU's Great Day Houston Show. She is a veteran radio talk show host as well as the host of the nationally syndicated PBS program, “Let’s Talk.” Also, Dr. Gross has written a semi-weekly blog for The Huffington Post and has blogged at EmpowHER.com since 2013. Recently, Houston Women's Magazine named her One of Houston's Most Influential Women of 2016. Dr. Gross is a longtime leader in finding solutions to the nation’s toughest education challenges. She co-founded the first-of-its kind Cuney Home School with her husband Jenard, in partnership with Texas Southern University. The school serves as a national model for improving the academic performance of students from housing projects by engaging the parents. Dr. Gross also has a public school elementary and secondary campus in Texas that has been named for her. Additionally, she recently completed leading a landmark, year-long study in the Houston Independent School District to examine how stress-reduction affects academics, attendance, and bullying in elementary school students, and a second study on stress and its effects on learning. Such work has earned her accolades from distinguished leaders such as the Dalai Lama, who presented her with the first Spirit of Freedom award in 1998. More recently, she was honored in 2013 with the Jung Institute award. She also received the Good Heart Humanitarian Award from Jewish Women International, Perth Amboy High School Hall of Fame Award, the Great Texan of the Year Award, the Houston Best Dressed Hall of Fame Award, Trailblazer Award, Get Real New York City Convention's 2014 Blogging Award, and Woman of Influence Award. Dr. Gross’ book, The Only Way Out Is Through, is available on Amazon now and offers strategies for life’s transitions including coping with loss, drawing from dealing with the death of her own daughter. Her next book, How to Build Your Baby’s Brain, is also available on Amazon now and teaches parents how to enhance their child’s learning potential by understanding and recognizing their various development stages. And her first research book was published by Random House in 1987 on health and skin care titled Beautiful Skin. Dr. Gross has created 8 audio tapes on relaxation and stress reduction that can be purchased on Amazon.com. Most recently, Dr. Gross’s book, The Only Way Out is Through, was named a Next Generation Indie Book Awards Silver Medal finalist in 2020 and Winner of the 2021 Independent Press Awards in the categories of Death & Dying as well as Grief. Her latest book, How to Build Your Baby’s Brain, was the National Parenting Product Awards winner in 2019, the Nautilus Book Awards winner in 2019, ranked the No. 1 Best New Parenting Book in 2019 and listed among the Top 10 Parenting Books to Read in 2020 by BookAuthority, as well as the Next Generation Indie Book Awards Gold Medal winner in 2020 and Winner of the 2021 Independent Press Awards in the category of How-To. Dr. Gross received a BS in Education and an Ed.D. (Doctorate of Education) with a specialty in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Houston. She earned her Master’s degree in Secondary Education with a focus on Psychology from the University of St. Thomas in Houston. Dr. Gross received her second PhD in Psychology, with a concentration in Jungian studies. Dr. Gross was the recipient of Kappa Delta Pi An International Honor Society in Education. Dr. Gross was elected member of the International English Honor Society Sigma Tau Delta.