Is one red flag really ‘enough’ to end a relationship?

Written by Amy Beecham

Is the one-strike rule the key to avoiding a toxic relationship, or should we be assessing red flags with a bit more nuance?

When actor Julia Fox and musician Kanye West began dating at the start of 2022, it’s safe to say the eyes of the world were on them. Their whirlwind romance was one that began in a haze of fashion week dates and Instagram hard-launches but ended just two months later, in February of this year.

Fox has since then gone on to become a cult figure in her own right, regularly appearing on social media and podcasts to discuss topics like the right time to stop dating someone or leave a relationship. In a recent interview with ES Magazine, she explained that while there was a “good amount” of chemistry between her and West, their relationship “wasn’t sustainable” and she “tapped out at the first sign of a red flag”.

“I was just going day by day and seeing where it went,” Fox went on to say. ”It was just like, he still wants to hang out with me today, let’s do it. And then real life set in and the lifestyle wasn’t sustainable.”When asked what that red flag was, Fox responded: “The unresolved issues that he was dealing with,” adding that she was “proud” of her decision to end the relationship.

While it’s clear that coercive behaviour, a lack of trust or feeling scared in a relationship should be treated with the utmost seriousness, determining between red and amber flags (aka traits that are more annoyances than reasons for concern) isn’t always easy.

But just how many ‘red flags’ should we put up with, and is a one-strike approach the best thing for our safety and sanity?

How many red flags is ‘too many’?

Research by dating app Badoo previously found that eight in 10 singletons believe a partner who shows red flags can still be a keeper, and that two red flags is the amount that they will tolerate before ending a romantic relationship.

“As a general rule, any more than two red flags and I’d say bow out, but make sure the red flags are truly scarlet coloured,” eHarmony’s relationship expert Rachael Lloyd tells Stylist. “In the early stages of dating, we can see red flags all over the place, because we’re anxious, or lack faith in the dating process.”

When approaching a potential red flag, Lloyd emphasises the importance of listening to your intuition, trusting your gut instincts and not making overly rash or emotional decisions.

“It’s important to distinguish between major red flags which a non-negotiable, and lesser red flags which might be more forgivable. Big reds include if they are clearly not over their ex, if they are unclear about whether they’re truly single, if they are cold and uncommunicative between dates, or if they have a history of cheating,” she says.

However, lesser ones might be that they’re a bit tight, don’t talk about their family much or they want to race into a relationship. These, Lloyd says, are the kinds of red flagsthat can be modified if you put boundaries in place and challenge them.

International dating and relationship coach Christiana Maxion also agrees that ending a relationship at the very first red flag may be a bit extreme. “‘Deal breaker offences are different and real, red flags leave us wondering, and are bound to pop up at any stage of a relationship, but it’s up to you to address, reflect, and assess if the red flag is a dealbreaker or not,” she says.

As she explains, dealbreaker offences should be anything that questions your safety, whether physical, sexual or emotional, and that of others around you who may be involved in your relationship.

“Assessing the severity of a red flag is very individual and depends on your level of acceptance or tolerance of the offence plus your commitment to this potential partner,” she continues. “It’s also important to understand which category a red flag falls under.”

The 4 types of relationship red flag

According to Maxion, there are four types of relationship red flag.

Personal red flags

These are the red flags that are more specific to your tastes, but can usually be overcome with a direct discussion or subtle suggestions to your partner. For example, cutlery etiquette, venue choices, certain verbiage, etc.

Physical red flags

These can range from height to wardrobe choices. Someone’s height will never change, but a wardrobe upgrade can always be in their future, so decide if this is something you can conquer or not.

Habit red flags

These red flags include sleep schedules, activity levels, investment in wellness and communication. These are red flags that can easily be discussed to see if you can find a way to align or accept the other person’s choices.

Alignment red flags

These are more serious considerations as they will give you insight into whether or not you align on values, such as marriage, children and/or religious practice. 

Do you have to listen to red flags?

As Maxion notes, there are some red flags that can be ironed out and some that are more difficult to overcome, and it all comes down to what you want in a relationship. As red flags are so subjective, what might ring alarm bells for someone else simply might not register for you.

Maxion’s suggestion is to address, reflect, and assess each scenario to see if this person meets what you are seeking in a partner.

“The number one golden rule I lend to every relationship in the assessment process is… be attracted to how the person treats you and makes you feel, rather than a laundry list of attributes and traits. This will help you suss out whether or not it’s worth continuing or starting a relationship,” she explains.

However, as Lloyd reminds, we must take people as we find them, not as we wish them to be, and avoid painting red flags green for someone we’re attracted to. “Do not date ‘potential’, date someone compatible who shares your values and dreams,” she adds.

Images: Getty

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