The Red Flags in Dating

The Red Flags in Dating


A group of teenage girls were recently asked if they would date a boy simply because he was good looking. Hi, I’m Lysa TerKeurst for Proverbs 31 Ministries.

Most said yes, they would date someone on good looks alone. My friend who was asking the question asked another, “But what do you know about him?” The silence made her point.

She then talked with the girls about 5 red flags to look for before entering a dating or courting relationship with a guy.

Does he lose his temper frequently? Does he consider himself a failure and seem to be looking for a rescuer? Has there been abuse in his home? Does he often put you down or disrespect you? And, does he appear to be jealous, controlling, or need to spend all his free time with you?

I thought these questions could help everyone avoid getting into a situation that could lead to heartache!

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  1. I’m so glad you shared this…it definitely needs to be talked about more with your young adults! I see kids at age 10 dating and it baffles me!!!

  2. I do understand why “abuse in the home” is noted. But, there are many of us both male and female who came from some sort of an abusive background. For some it may give way to heartache in a relationship. I must say, it does not make someone less loveable or less worthy of a meaningful, close, healthy relationship. If you hold out for the perfect, unflawed human with no previous scars…you won’t experience relationship heartache…because you’ll be alone.

    • I don’t think what Lisa is saying is that people from abused homes are unlovable. I think she is saying that its a red flag so be cautious and make sure the person has dealt with their past before you allow them to bring it into your present and possible future. I came from an abusive home and from that I had alot of emotions I had to deal with.

      • I also have a background of abuse. If it weren’t for a wonderful man, my husband, looking past this…I would never hqve sought the help I need. I wouldn’t have woken up and become the woman I am now. I respectfully disagree. I say look for signs that the person you may be considering for date might themselves be abusive. This has really struck a cord with me and hurts very deeply. I wonder what Christ wouldsay…

    • Unfortunately, abuse has proven time and again to be cyclical. I would think that holds true more so for males than females. I don’t believe the idea is too reject that peraon out of hand,but simply to see the red flag and know the dangers.

      • Actually males who grew up in an abusive household are less likely to be abusers than the general population. Women who grew up in an abusive household, though are more likely to be in an abusive relationship.

    • Abuse is tough. As a person who dealt with it growing up, it can affect your perceptions of a loving relationship, God’s role in your life, your role in the lives of others, etc. Without counseling, I have seen it tear relationships to shreds. In fact, it is because I destroyed a relationship that I sought counseling at all.

  3. Does he consider himself a failure and seem to be looking for a rescuer? — Why does him feeling like a failure/loser = bad things?

    • i think it is just meant for it to be noticed that you must realize you can’t save them that is Christ’s job.

      • Stephanie says:

        Believe me when I say this, because I am speaking from experience: this is not a red flag – Its a BILLBOARD. When you start to believe that you are ‘his only answer’, you start trying to take the roll as Savior, and it will not work. Oftentimes, one or the other will begin to feel too much pressure and if they want to leave the relationship, they guilt themselves into staying. Speaking from experience, and I have had a few like this before in my past, and I make it a point now not to date someone because I feel sorry for them from the very beginning.

      • This is not about spiritual salvation. It’s about someone who lacks self-confidence and always looks for someone else to validate their existence. It is not the responsibility of a significant other to validate a partner, that is a start of a dangerous dependency model that ends up draining both parties and, usually, pushing them apart.

    • It’s indicative of poor self-esteem that could be destructive to others as well as himself. It may also be a manipulative attempt at gaining sympathy or appear vulnerable. Later, the girlfriend is trapped by his “needs” and abused for the sake of appeasing his insecurities. Read up on abusive relationships, it’s part of the signs of a potentially abusive boyfriend.

      • Stephanie says:

        “It may also be a manipulative attempt at gaining sympathy or appear vulnerable. Later, the girlfriend is trapped by his “needs” and abused for the sake of appeasing his insecurities.”
        Hit the nail on the head.

    • It’s one of the red flags (not saying it’s impossible to overcome), BUT someone who needs/wants rescuing by another is not in a state to be in a healthy relationship. They are emotionally unstable because their self worth is lacking. Emotional/physical abuse is possible when they are looking to their significant other to fill the void that is within themselves. You become their hope, and your relationship “makes” or “breaks” them. Over time, a relationship will naturally endure stresses of life, and in these times it can become scary and glaringly obvious. *learned this the hard way.

  4. Currently raising a teen daughter. Would love more of these type questions to discuss with her. Also would like a book to read that her and I could discuss about dating. I want her to be equiped to think through the choices she makes when choosing someone to date.

    • I have a book on my bookshelf called Is He a Man or Just Another Guy?. It was written by the parents of 3 daughters and has 100 questions over several different areas- finances, temperament, work ethic, and self image. I thought it was well done. I only have sons, so I was reading it from the perspective of preparing them. I liked the way the dad gave an action plan depending on the “grade” the young man earned like- give him some time, run the other way, KEEPER. ( that was the score my sweetheart got)

  5. Would love for someone to go into depth about these red flags, explaining why entering a relationship with a guy who has them is indeed dangerous, what the consequences could be, etc.

  6. @ Justine: I so wish I would have had this list to look at when my daughter began to date. We went through several of these things WITH ONE PERSON. So, I feel like maybe I could comment on a few:
    #1: Does he lose his temper frequently = potential for emotional abuse which frequently escalates to physical abuse. You can’t do anything to please someone with a short fuse! who needs that?
    #2: Does he consider himself a failure and seem to be looking for a rescuer? = his poor self esteem will bleed into your daughter’s esteem. She cannot “rescue” him or his self esteem–only Christ can do that. The constant “help me” mode takes an emotional toll and may be a temptation for your daughter to lower her goals in an effort to make the other person feel better.
    #3:Has there been abuse in his home? Unfortunately, we learn what we live. Of course this can be redeemed through OUR REDEEMER, but do you really want your daughter having to deal with an unhealthy relationship at dating age (I am assuming high schoolers here)? It’s hard to know what “normal” relationships are supposed to look like after awhile if you are only used to dating people who are working through their own issues.
    #4: Does he often put you down or disrespect you? I think this is probably pretty clear. The world is hard enough without the person who is supposed to cherish you contributing to this type of feedback in your life.
    #5:does he appear to be jealous, controlling, or need to spend all his free time with you? I think this probably relates to #2 somewhat. If you are exposed to “other people” (including family) they might influence you to end the relationship. I asked my daughter once if she wanted to be married to someone who checked the mileage on the car every time she went out. . .so quickly saw how her bf was wanting to know her every move and what a prison that was. . .

    • Well said on all counts, “Not Cory”.

      • Thank you Oma J! Trying to save someone else a little heartache. . . we lived through it and God was merciful, but it is not something I would want to repeat by any means! (hug to you gal!)

    • Very good comments.

    • I am “exhibit A” of someone who did not heed the wisdom of others who saw ALL of these red flags in my dating relationship (that quickly turned into a marriage). Looking back, I know I was not listening to God or godly authority, but at the time, I was head strong and rebellious, and thought that love would conquer the problems. The list that was written is real and prudent. PAY ATTENTION PEOPLE!!!

    • Thank you for sharing what you’ve learned from personal experience NotCory! You indeed have words of wisdom to share. I could guess at some of reasons but I do not have much life experience or have studied such scenarios so I appreciate your explanations! My daughter (age 4 months) won’t be dating for awhile but I still want to be prepared, and I have 5 younger sisters in school as well as single friends who I’d be heartbroken for if they were in an abusive relationship. My (single) friend was of the same opinion as me, I’ll share your response with her.

  7. I am so glad that women are talking to young women about this. Afterall, they are like sheep among the testosterone filled wolves. Some are shy, and some are sly. Either way, God tells us like a loving father does to “judge a man by his fruits.” This is what he does, wherever he is and in all circumstances. Just dating does not reveal this…I mean, you have to be able to observe men in many situations–around their family, various friends, and see how they are when the going gets tough, or when they don’t know you are looking. Getting to know their family and friends helps. Real life is the best test and so is time. Guard your heart, and keep your eyes open on actions and not looks. It is their true actions/reactions when hard times hit that will really capture your heart or make you run in the other direction.

    • It’s really indicative of a deeper issue for you the essentially call us all “wolves.”

      • Doug, foul on the play. Please read her comment again. In no way did she call ALL men wolves. And if you think there aren’t wolfish men out there, you must live alone on a ship at sea.

  8. Everyone of these questions should also be asked by the guys who are looking for a good woman. These unhealthy traits are not gender specific.

    • That is right….

    • I was thinking the same thing! These are definitely NOT for girls only. My son has been in a relationship for 2 1/2 years and every red flag is present in their relationship!! How do you tell a 17 year old son that this is a very unhealthy relationship?

      • @Sandy: say, Son I love you. I want the very best for you. And then share with him that you read this and ask for his thoughts. Unless someone says “this is not healthy” he may just think every relationship operates this way? He probably already knows deep down that something is wrong withit but may need your gentle confirmation…

    • My thoughts exactly!

    • Lori Alderson says:

      I agree!

  9. Heartbroken Mom says:

    My 19 year old daughter was responsible, yet young and naive when she moved out on her own. Soon there was a guy spending a great deal of time at her apartment. We noticed few things that were a bit “off”, but she insisted all was fine. We found out the truth a couple of months later when he choked her to the point of unconscienousness in a public parking lot and someone was bold enough and kind enough to intervene and call the police. The perpetrator is now sitting in jail and our pregnant daughter has shared that he abused her mentally, emotionally, physically, and sexually—but she was too scared to say anything and didn’t know how to get out of the relationship. In retrospect, he exhibited all 5 of these red flag behaviors, and we were all inexperienced and naive enough not to really see the signs. Thankfully, God is in the business of redeeming lives and hopeless situations. He is bringing good from something horrible. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t wish this experience on my worst enemy. I applaude you for sharing this–if it can save 1 girl, 1 mom, 1 dad, 1 family the heartache we have experienced, bless you !

  10. Well said. “not Cory” did an excellent job on explanation. Coming from experience may I recommend several resources: Cry for Justice by Jeff Crippen and Anna Wood, The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout PhD, The Abusive Personality by Donald G. Dutton PhD.
    Successful, intelligent woman are often targeted because they are the last ones to doubt their own sanity. Abusers think differently so it is hard to grasp the “why” behind their actions. Raise the red flags and always trust your instincts is something seems “a bit off”.

  11. This can apply to both sexes! Boys want they same things! These red flags should not be targeted towards boys alone. There are plenty of girls out there that are equally scary!

  12. Sadly it seems like there is more and more evil in this world and very specific issues effecting people and relationships. We had always planned for our daughter to court, she found this young man and we asked her to wait while we got to know him. She ran away instead. He was someone the pastor had lifted up in church as an outstanding person.
    There were at least 3 of your red flags. But we only got to see them as we prayed our daughter out of the situation. So thankful the Lord answered all our prayers. I think what we need to do is teach our children more about what specifically they should look for to avoid. Some red flags/negative traits are kept hidden and isn’t that what the real issue is? What does a healthy person look like? How do you know as you get to know them that they are healthy in their responses? Those things can be learned in a loving family…..but not recognized as things they need to CLOSELY look for. Your article entioned an attractive person, what about charming? Funny?Witty? I think it is most important to teach our children to pray. pray for every relationship they are to become involved in. Pray for the Lord to reveal anything hidden.pray for His match and His match only. Let’s not teach our children to settle for second best.

  13. sue huffaker says:

    MY pastor told us do not get involved with a eye ball man. A man that has to look at all the pretty girls.

    • Your pastor needs to re-think his stance, unless I misunderstand. Looking is part of the way guys, and girls if they are actually honest, are wired. It is made even harder by women who intentionally dress in a manner designed to draw attention to themselves. Logos printed across the chest of their skin-tight t-shirts. Wearing skin-tight pants that serve as billboards with slogans on their backsides. To put the weight on us in unfair and hypocritical.

      • Lori Alderson says:

        You are right about the way girls dress. I often feel females are sending very mixed signals. On one side you hear women should be repsected yet you see Mother letting young girls dress as they chose and talk as they chose. It is sad to see what girls will do for attention.

      • Doug, I couldn’t agree more! It saddens me that girls think so little of themselves that they dress in a way that exposes as much as is legal. Then their moms wonder why those girls are being preyed upon. Really sad.

    • Your pastor’s right! It may make men “feel good” to stare at women, but a real man controls his impulses and is ready to be faithful by only looking at ONE woman … for the rest of his life.

  14. There were no ‘red’ flags before my marriage. Maybe I saw things through pastel-pink glasses? After 9 years of marriage, I told my mom that I was afraid because I was ‘too happy’. Before our 10th anniv. my God fearing, hard working husband and great dad to our kids was starting to secretly become evil incarnate. The minute I was diagnosed with cancer, a cancer was eating at him from within.. his female co-worker. I as only 30 years old and this was 25 yrs I can talk about it. But how do I speak to my 30 yr. old (single by choice) daughter that it’s ok to fall in love, get married and have kids..when she saw me suffer through my ‘stuff”? She has not come home to visit me in almost 4 yrs. She lives a 20 minute train ride away from me. While my 32 yr old son lives with his wife and 1.5 children in TN and they come here at least twice a year, sometimes more. I’m tired of asking for a charity call or visit from my daughter…but I’ll never give up on her, because my Father in heaven never has with me. I would have appreciated to see a red flag before my marriage, but maybe they were well hidden.. or people who turn their backs on God change. Keep us in your prayers. Thank you

  15. Mimi of five; aunt of ten says:

    As a professional counselor with over two decades of experience, I think maybe the most telling trait is “how does he treat his mother?” Now I know that can lead to problems if he’s a Mama’s Boy, but you need to detect a genuine respect for his mom as a person of value.

    • Oh @Mimi hit the nail on the head. Recently I’ve noticed a couple of our sons friends whose girlfriends say rude things to them about their mothers or parents in general. Basically questioning the young man’s parents authority. I would have never talked to my boyfriend (now my husband) in a negative way about either of his parents. So disprectful. I would have a hard time doing that today after being married 30 years.

  16. Ronnie (mom) says:

    This may seem up-tight, but I really don’t encourage dating in high school at all. Not to say our children won’t be fond of one another. Finding them attractive etc……. But I feel they are to emotionally in mature to handle a relationship especially,committed. My son is 15 years old and has a full school schedule, plays sports,involved in music, participates in a disciple group. Where is the time to commit to a girl? NOT! Group outings I feel are the way to go.Besides, it’s so much more fun going out with your friends in a group than one on one anyway just ask them. Parents, if you are worried about your children hooking up with the wrong person, discourage that kind of intimacy. Instead, encourage group outings, have the kids over to your house so you can monitor, and have frequent discussions about their self worth and their relationship with Jesus!

    • Lori Alderson says:

      I agree! My husband and I have encouarage the same with all of ours, one which is now 20. We always tell them the purpose of dating is to find a spouse and your don’t need to do that in high shcool. I find that alot of parents encourage it though. It is as though the feel that it makes their kids more valued and popular. From my obeservation it causes more grief than good.

    • @Ronnie and @Lori, I agree with you. Our daughter had a friend who felt like she had to kiss a few frogs before she found a prince. Because of that we made a point to have discussions with our daughter from the time she was in 5th grade about having a boyfriend vs. just being friends and having fun. I believe our daughter enjoyed the big events in high school (award dinners, homecoming, prom) that involved a date a lot more when they went as a group or with a friend. She had a couple of guy friends that agreed to be her date when she needed one and vice versa. I’m so thankful our daughter listened and didn’t really date until she met her future husband. Now here we are nine years later doing the same think with our son. We look for opportunities to discuss what he’s looking for in a girl. We also include his friends if they are with us) in these discussions.

    • This is a reply to “Ronnie” about dating in high school. I totally agree about discouraging dating in high school. Like in most situations, there are exceptions to the rule. In our home, we also have a rule “never date someone that is in high school while you or the other person is out of high school.” People, who have graduated from high school, have a very different agenda than people still in high school, which can distract the high school person’s life goals. So, I agree with encouraging our high school teens to focus on their individual goals and maturing in their own self-worth, faith, life skills, etc. On the flip side, we have discouraged high school dating with our 3 children, and now our daughters, in their twenties, have experienced a few unhealthy relationships mentioned in the “red flag” warnings. Currently, our oldest daughter, 23, is in one of these relationships. Several friends and family members have tried to warn her, but now it’s a “Be still and wait for the Lord” to answer our prayers. I think young people, in general, are vulnerable and these warning signals aren’t secluded to only teens. We, as the Body of Christ, just need to be in constant prayer and be encouraging to one another . . . like this blog.

  17. Lori Alderson says:

    Another thing that as a parent of three teens is “what do they say on social media?”. Kids reveal alot of the behavior patterns on these sites. Call me a social media stalker Mom, but I think you can really see who your kids friends are by checking in every once in awhile.

  18. chica mia says:

    I came from an abusive home myself, and ruined my first marriage with depression, negativity, emotional problems, etc. After two years I was numb and so was he, so I left and divorced. I spiraled down for awhile, and then looked back to my savior for help. I found him there, got back in Church and really began to grow. Five years later, I was very needy, always have been, and really still wasn’t ready for a relationship. I met a young man, one so handsome, and he came on very strong. His words were so perfect. He knew what to say. I wanted him to be saved, and knew he wasn’t. That is when you pray and let God send a godly man to that person. I began to witness. But he studied me. He told me what I wanted to hear. I found a crack pipe in his coat pocket and was very naïve about drugs, he said he decided to quit and wanted to throw it away at work so no one would find it in the trash at home. I was like a frog in a kettle, cooked slowly and never feeling the heat. He slowly let me know about his children all with different mothers. He acted interested in God, and when I once had the courage to end it, he wrote what seemed a very heartfelt letter about how Jesus was his “king.” The hardest thing for me now, is to look back, and see how many “Red flags” God himself had given me. I exhibited some that you mentioned myself, low self esteem, few friends, and a temper. But at that point, I was growing, I was teachable…. I needed to grow. I took him to meet my family… he didn’t like them.. he didn’t like my friends,… he slowly isolated me to where I felt dependent on him. The red flags I ignored… my wise neighbor lady.. telling me he had too much baggage. I really respected her and didn’t even take offense at her saying it she was so gentle. My brother, gently told me to be careful…he had heard he was a theif. My dad told me to please not date him. A girl from my work took me aside and told me how she had struggled with crack, and I knew she was warning me about him. Another girl he had dated tried to warn me gently. But I was wiser in my own eyes than all of these. While I was trying to sort through all that was in front of me… he pulled a clever old trick…he rejected me. And for someone with a low self esteem, who had been eating up his attention for only two months, I began to grovel… and so the stage was set… I married him.. and he punished me with women for years…he knew my kryptonite…I needed his love…. it took seven years to break free… I wrote this to add some flags… a smooth talker, a seducer (the guy that rejects you to get your attention, some guys do it when they first meet you with that intent), and the many voices of reason that come to you from other people, and making sure you are healthy and whole enough to be in a relationship, and my personal favorite, Ladies, if you do dare to witness to a man you are attracted to, make it brief and separate yourself from him…DO NOT disciple him. Ask a man you trust to have that honor…if he only wants you.. he has some other motive other than learning Christ!!!!

  19. How does he treat his mother? With respect or disrespect? What did he learn from his father about treating women?

  20. It’s not a bad idea to look at YOURSELF in terms of these five red flags as well. So many young women open themselves up to exploitation by expecting a young man to “rescue” them, or, worse, trade on their problems to try to develop a relationship based on unhealthy dependence. It’s important to take responsibility for and learn to deal with one’s OWN baggage, rather than expecting a partner to unpack it. We women can be jealous, controlling, and insecure as well, and that kind of unhealthy relating attracts unhealthy partners. Abuse cuts both directions, also — there are many young men verbally, emotionally, and even physically abused by young women who are not ready for a relationship. A wise therapist once told me that we recreate our unresolved relationships, so if we come from an abusive background we are at risk for looking for abusive partners. It is so important to be squared away with oneself and to find one’s worth in oneself and the Lord, not to look for one’s worth in a relationship. When a person is confident she can stand on her own two feet, and is comfortable in her own skin and satisfied with her own company, THEN it’s time to think about entering into a relationship.

  21. Wow, such a timely post. Last year our son came upon a scene in the hallway of his high school. Most students were already in their classes except for a few students including a boy and girl in a verbal fight. It escalated and the boy hit the girl. My son said another student took the boy down in a wrestling hold until the vice principle could get there. While this was an awful situation it gave us several opportunities to talk with our son and his friends about healthy relationships. Parenting teenagers is not for sissies.

  22. Mark Pichaj says:

    To that I would add, another red flag: “Does he have the sort of tongue that is always engaging in flattering, manipulative speech?” Such boys are skillful in and used to hunting women; they say whatever it takes to get whatever they want.

    • I agree 100% and have always ignored obvious signs from the Lord but thankfully have gotten out of that rebellious stage!

  23. I wish I would have know this about four years ago before I got completely heartbroken… This are all so true though… He was 4 out of 5 of those…

  24. I understand the red flags and know all too well what happens when you know for a fact that our Father basically screaming “STOP AND LISTEN! LEAVE BEFORE IT GETS WORSE!” But I have a question….What about a person who has all the qualities for the most part (no one is perfect) that you have prayed for in the one you want to marry, if God willing, and your mother, along with other Godly authority have prayed about the relationship and no one has felt it to be wrong. This man and I are reading Help Meet books (mine for women and his for men) and we pray together on the phone and when we see each other. Buuut, here’s my question, what if he has one of these “red flags”? He likes to spend every second he can with me. He isn’t always with me but when he is, he’s kind of clingy. He doesn’t freak out when I’m with family or anything though. Also, when we met (almost a yr ago), he had some emotional baggage and spoke down of himself often. I too had emotional baggage from previous relationships as well. But we work well together. I guess I’m just asking because if anyone has any experience in this kind of situation, I’d greatly appreciate some input. Thank you very much!!

  25. Thank you Lysa! I appreciate the heart and tone of your message.
    I will add that a young person should never consider dating or courting someone who is not a Christ follower.
    Time should be spent on a guy ONLY IF they would consider marrying them. I remember telling my husband of 27 yrs., “I am not marrying your hair, teeth, or body…it’s your heart, mind, and soul that I fell in love with! So, if you end up bald, toothless, and fat, no worries!” LOL It’s true! And because we built our relationship on God’s laws and principles, He has BLESSED our marriage tremendously!

  26. Mrs. Lysa, comments about not choosing a relationship based on outward appearance -alone- are worth reminding ourselves. However, your -jump- to a different topic of abuse is out of line. Such a short radio commentary is not the place to raise such an emotionally charged issue. I happen to know of several people in our church that openly admit to having been abused (which is not easy to admit) and they are healthy adults, they have adopted children, and are generally wonderful people. Your comments may not have been intended to suggest otherwise, but you raised the issue in the wrong context, and in the wrong place. Let those who have been there take the lead on this issue.

  27. TheMiddleChild says:

    After my Christian boyfriend asked me to marry him in college I prayed for guidance, asked my parents for direction and permission. They said yes enthusiastically. I went to visit his parents who were also nice Christian people. We talked with our pastor who gave us his blessing and wed. Four days into the marriage and 1800 miles from my home, he smacked me in the face for asking to go with him to a church event that included women- little did I know my new church and pastor agreed with the “need to put women in their place”. I was so mixed up with the church ideas I did not pack up and go home. I stayed and made excuses for years. The red flags were hidden behind a soft spoken seemingly kind young man that gave his time in church as a bus driver for Sunday school. He had lots of friends and everyone spoke well of him. So what was missing? It took me 32 years to figure it out.

    • Sheila Mangum says:

      Precious sister, Our hearts were broken hearing your story. We have prayed for God to reveal His true nature of perfect agape love through Himself personally. Your God will love you everlasting. He will never leave you nor forsake you and His your heart in His perfectly capable loving hands. We love you, Proverbs 31

  28. I like this site so much, saved to fav.


  1. […] The following is from Proverbs 31 Ministries “Everyday Life” Radio Show with Lysa TerKeurst. For more, visit […]

  2. Love Spell says:

    Love Spell

    The Red Flags in Dating

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