If you’re on this site, you likely know something about unhealthy relationships, toxic individuals, red flags and abusive partners. If not, welcome, we have over 1,000 articles on these topics.
It’s good to know what (or whom) to avoid, but what if we’re looking for the signs that someone is actually a potentially safe partner? What does that look like?
For survivors of domestic violence, it can sometimes be tricky to let down their guard and not suspect every person they come in contact with is a potential enemy. It can also be difficult to trust their own gut feelings about people — after all, they were tricked once before.
In this guide, we’ll talk about what constitutes a healthy relationship and a safe partner and how to recognize the green flags that indicate you’re safe to proceed.
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What’s a Green Flag?
Well, we know what red flags are—indicators that a person could be abusive and definite warning signs we should heed before getting involved with them. So it makes sense that green flags are the opposite—signs that a person is likely safe and understands boundaries and mutual respect.
Of course, it goes without saying that abusive partners are cunning individuals who often act one way at first and then change into someone else later on, many times after the abuser has love-bombed a victim. That’s why it’s important to always listen to your gut and if a person seems too good to be true, this in itself should be a red flag.
We asked our readers to tell us what they saw as being green flags. Here’s what some of you said:
- “Respects a ‘no.’” – C.D.
- “Doesn’t ‘flip out’ when I express an opinion or feeling.” – A.M.
- “Same person in public and private.” – C.N.
- “Accepts who you are as an individual.” – M.S.
- “Doesn’t blame the woman [for] why past relationships didn’t work. Does not belittle you in public or private. Doesn’t mind attending family gatherings.” – S.D.
- “When the person’s actions match their words, from the smallest of things to the most important. This proves honesty, sincerity, faithfulness and a sense of safety.” – P.D.
- “When I was dating my husband, he said he would never raise his voice to me. Married eight years to my safe man.” – C.B.
- “Respectful, open, honest communication.” – B.H.
- “When a guy doesn’t show signs of jealousy when I’m away from him and doesn’t try to stifle my life.” – J.D.
- “Not asking for sex right away.” – C.S.
- “Is keen to introduce you to family and friends.” – J.H.
- “Genuine apologies.” – C.N.
- “When they can take a back seat and acknowledge that you know more than they do on a subject.” – M.S.
- “Unselfish behavior. Humbleness.” – R.L.
- “I knew my husband was a keeper when he made no effort to stake his claim on me in public … did not get angry at me for making a mistake … laughed at my off-color sense of humor and didn’t tell me I should not talk that way.” – A.F.
- “I tell people straight up that my job involves advocating for victims of domestic and sexual violence. If we get past that, it’s a start.” – P.H.
Dating After Domestic Violence—Listen to Your Gut
A healthy relationship can be more challenging after someone has survived an abusive partner. It may seem inconceivable to imagine a partner who isn’t controlling or abusive, who doesn’t threaten, intimidate or degrade you, but these types of partners do exist.
The most important thing a survivor can do first, before heading back out into the dating world, is to make sure they’ve processed their trauma. This could mean seeing a therapist, attending a support group, talking to a trained advocate at a domestic violence hotline or just giving yourself enough time to catch your breath. There’s no need to rush back out there after abuse, and doing so may make you more vulnerable to another abusive partner.
In Emily Avagliano’s book Dating After Trauma, she writes that victims of trauma may be more tolerant of bad behaviors in a partner once they start dating again, perhaps because it is what they have been used to. “This is why it is important to be in touch with your feelings when you date, so that you can identify bad [partners] and weed them out quickly.”
She says that before every incidence of violence, there is a moment when the abuser tests his opportunity with the victim. Avagliano calls that a “shark bump.”
“Just as a shark knocks its prey before eating it … predators test boundaries. The most important thing is to respond immediately.” In other words, set your limits up front. Say something if you do not feel comfortable. Make sure you are considering your feelings and values more so than your partner’s.
First Date Safety Tips
That first date can be both exciting and intimidating. Whether you’ve been hurt before or not by a partner, it can be a little nerve-wracking to open yourself up and trust a new person. Make sure you’re respecting your boundaries first and foremost and consider these safety tips.
- Meet your date at a public location. Until you know they’re a truly safe and respectful person, it’s not a great idea to allow them to know your home address.
- Google your date’s name to confirm they are who they say they are. It’s OK to approach dating with a dose of skepticism.
- Always tell someone where you’re going and with whom beforehand. If you’re able to, send that person a photo of your date as well.
- Ensure your cell phone is charged before leaving for your date.·
- Try to steer the conversation away from too much personal information—where you go to school or work, where you live exactly, the names of your friends or family members. Again, until you’re sure this is a safe person, you don’t want to give them too many clues to find you in case this is going to be your only date.
- Only accept drinks directly from the server or bartender and don’t leave your drink unattended.
- Don’t worry about being polite at the end of the date. If you want it to end, state clearly that the date is over and you’ll be going home alone. One of the best tests of a person’s level of respect for boundaries is saying no and seeing how they react. A date who’s upset at hearing no is a huge red flag.
A Healthy Relationship Checklist
It’s always good to examine a relationship and make sure it’s still working for you, whether it’s a few weeks or a few years into it. A healthy relationship can look like different things for different people, depending on what your likes and dislikes are and what types of boundaries you want to set. Relationship needs can also change over time—who you were at 20 is likely not the same version of you at 40. That’s why it’s important that a relationship can change as people change.
It may be helpful to ask yourself the following questions. If you come across any you answer no to, it doesn’t necessarily mean the relationship is toxic or the partner is abusive, but it should be something you keep an eye on or discuss with your partner. Remember, abusers typically follow a pattern—they repeat abusive tactics over time—and abuse almost always escalates.
A healthy relationship typically involves….
__ Trust. Do you feel like your partner is being open and honest with you and not keeping secrets? Does this person trust you to have friendships and family relationships without jealousy or suspicion?
__ Respect. Does your partner respect your boundaries, listen to you when you say no to something, and doesn’t sulk, get angry or guilt-trip you as a result? Does your partner respect your opinion on things even if it differs from theirs without degrading or putting you down?
__ Communication. Can you talk to your partner about your feelings without fear of judgment or backlash?
__ Dependability. Do you feel like you can rely on your partner to be there for you when you need them? Do they show up at the place they say they’re going to be at the time they said they’d be there?
__ Happiness. It may sound obvious, but do you feel happier after spending time with this person and not drained? Does this person raise and not lower your self-esteem?
__ Patience. Does your partner let things in the relationship evolve at a comfortable pace rather than rushing you to get serious quickly or move in together or get married right away?
__ Space. Does your partner allow for you to have personal space when needed without following you, calling or texting your relentlessly or making you feel guilty for doing something without them.
__ Kindness. Is your partner kind, even if you’re in a disagreement? Do they show remorse if they say something they regret? (Yes, there is a healthy way to argue.) Also, is your partner kind to others—your friends, family members, people in the service industry?
__ Honesty. Do you trust that your partner is being truthful? Do they speak honestly about their past, any previous relationships and own up to their part in past break-ups?
__ Growth. Is your partner willing to evolve the relationship and themselves as time goes on, to change and adapt as life changes occur (children, health issues, a move)?
__ Comfortable Intimacy. Do you feel safe talking to your partner about your intimacy boundaries, things you like and don’t like, even if those things change over time? Is your partner comfortable talking about sexual safety and protection?
__ Equality. Do you feel like an equal to your partner? Do you feel like your roles in the relationship are not defined by your gender identity?
Teaching Kids Early On
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The first romantic relationship many of us have often comes before we graduate high school. Even if the relationship only lasts a few weeks or days, it’s the first time we’re trying to figure out things like boundaries, mutual respect and how we want a partner to treat us.
While we often drill into teens the scary stuff about dating and sex—what could go wrong, what not to do and the warning signs of abuse, which are all important to be sure—what many of these talks forgot to mention is what a healthy relationship looks like.
When speaking to kids and teens about romantic relationships, make sure to cover topics like:
- Drawing boundaries, and how a safe partner will respect a “no” the first time.
- A partner should make you feel safe to express your feelings and opinions.
- Sexual intimacy is something that should feel comfortable and fun for both parties and should never be coerced or feel like its owed.
- Consent can be revoked at any time a person is feeling uncomfortable and a safe partner will be OK with that.
Read “Understanding Teen Dating Violence” for more suggestions. A few books to check out that may also help facilitate these talks:
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