The red flags and green flags of toxic relationships


UW-W Counselor Holly Kollwelter

Holly Kollwelter, Counselor

When it comes to relationships, it is important to understand the differences between “red” and “green” flags. Red flags are generally considered unhealthy or “toxic” while green flags are considered healthy. Whether it is a romantic relationship or any other relationship, know the warning signs that show up in someone’s behavior.

 Red flag behaviors often present as:

  • Jealousy related to your accomplishments/successes.
  • Lying or twisting the truth (manipulation).
  • Possessiveness or control in terms of your time or focus; using guilt tactics when you want to spend time with friends.
  • Selfishness and inability to consider your needs or wants.
  • Rejecting you and then begging for forgiveness, using phrases like “it won’t happen again”, only to have the behavior occur repeatedly.
  • Constantly criticizing you.

Conversely, people in healthy relationships demonstrate abundant green flag behaviors.

Green flags behaviors often present as:

  • Taking responsibility for actions.
  • Offering safety, both in the physical and psychological sense. Respecting your boundaries and promoting a feeling of safety in being your authentic self.
  • Honesty.
  • Balance in the relationship with respect to time together and apart (and the confidence to know this is needed in a healthy relationship).
  • Mutual commitment and expression of respect and gratitude for one another.

What to do if you find yourself in a toxic relationship:

  • Listen to your instincts as well as trusted friends—if it feels wrong, it is wrong.
  • Get help. Access friends and family and seek counseling as short and long term effects of a toxic relationship can be detrimental to your mental health. Additionally, those who find themselves accepting a toxic relationship often struggle with issues like low self-worth and lack of confidence that can be safely explored with a therapist.
  • Practice self-compassion; recognizing you are in a toxic relationship can be scary and cause us to engage in negative self-talk and self-doubt