Couple nurturing a plant together that symbolizes their relationship. The flower of the plant is a heart.

A couple nurturing a plant together that symbolizes their relationship. The flower of the plant is a heart.

Red flags are a popular topic in our classes. We teach self-defense for worst-case scenario situations, but just like in sports, your best defense is a strong offense: trusting your gut, setting boundaries, and avoiding being around people who show you they may not be safe. Given that people we know – romantic partners especially – are more likely to cause us harm than strangers, learning to spot red flags and trust yourself when you do is one of the best gifts you can give to yourself.

But what about green flags? How do we not just avoid unsafe people, but also find safe ones? Here are 10 green flags to look for in a dating partner – signs that that person is more likely to be a safe and healthy partner; someone who will help you grow, build you up, and nourish you so you can be your best self:

  • They are comfortable expressing their feelings.

A healthy partner is able to express how they are feeling in a calm way, including expressing their fears, needs, desires, anger, and doubts, even if those doubts are about the relationship.

  • They are a good listener.

In an Online Dating class we taught during the pandemic, a student asked how they can spot someone who seems to care about other people, but is actually just really good at talking the talk or knowing the right things to say. In that case: notice how they listen. Do they care about what you have to say? Are they patient while you talk? Are they interested in learning from you? People can portray themselves any way they want by talking; a good listener knows they don’t have all the answers, and wants to know what you think.

  • They are self-aware.

A self-aware partner is a partner who can identify their strengths and weaknesses, and is able to identify when they’ve made a mistake or could improve on something. They are also aware of what they want/need from you. Someone who believes everything is everyone else’s fault is likely to blame others when they experience negative emotions, which can be dangerous in a romantic relationship where difficult emotions are bound to arise.

  • They show up for you.

Do they support you in ways you ask them to? Do you feel cared about? If so, that doesn’t guarantee the person is a safe partner, but it’s a good sign that your needs matter to them.

  • The relationship moves at a comfortable pace.

A partner who is trying to move the relationship into more committed territory than seems reasonable could end up being an intense or abusive partner. A partner who seems unreasonably hesitant to move forward may not be ready for the relationship you want or may be an unreliable partner. A healthy partner is clear about what they are looking for, and is willing to adjust expectations if you both want the same things but feel uncomfortable with how fast you’re getting there.

  • They are kind to you and others.

How they treat you is important, but when looking for green flags, how they treat/talk about others is even more reliable information since it’s possible they are on their best behavior with you. If they treat others with hostility – whether those be waiters, peers, family members, etc. – their kindness toward you may be temporary or a tactic. It’s a green flag when your partner treats others respectfully and speaks kindly of people they know, even and especially people they have a complicated history with such as exes.

  • They are an active participant in their own personal growth.

Everyone has things to work on. A partner who makes the effort to work on those things – whether they do that work with you, a therapist, or on their own (for example, by making positive changes in their life that lift their mood and help them be a better partner) – is showing you they are invested in becoming the best version of themselves, and they don’t expect you to do this work for them.

  • They listen to your boundaries.

A healthy partner does not tease you about your boundaries, push on them, nor ignore them. They want you to feel safe and they invite you to say no to them. Setting boundaries can be a great way to find out whether someone will be a safe, trustworthy partner.

  • They value autonomy.

In a healthy relationship, the two people live separate lives that come together in varying ways. A partner who values your & their own autonomy is a healthy partner who is unlikely to pull you into codependence. You should feel supported by your partner in becoming the best version of yourself.

  • You feel good about yourself with them.

A healthy partner likes you for you and makes you feel good about who you are. Noticing whether your feelings about yourself have changed in a positive or negative way since you’ve been with them can help you determine whether the relationship is good for you.

We all deserve to feel safe and valued in our relationships. When meeting someone new, it is a good idea to look out for signs that the person is emotionally healthy/mature and will treat you with respect. And if you like the person but you are noticing more red flags than green, it’s okay to listen to your gut and prioritize your health and safety.