Ethical Nonmonogamy | Polyamory, Love & Relationships

Thoughts on the “Green Flags” in relationships meme

There’s a new meme going around, and I like a LOT of what it has to say. In case you haven’t seen it, it’s the one that suggests a more positive approach to evaluating your relationship(s). Instead of looking for “red flags,” it invites people to look at the “green flags.”

(Image Text)
Everyone warns you about red flags in a relationship but I want to hear about green flags
So here’s some. Add your own if you’d like!
* listens to you talk when you have issues and supports you through them
* stops doing things you tell them make you uncomfortable
* compromises when necessary
* never puts you down deliberately, especially not publically [sic]
* supports your ambitions
* uses a calm rational tone during arguments
* is able to apologise when they’re in the wrong
* aids your growth process

Some of the “green flags” are great indicators of a relationship that is based on trust, respect, and open communication, like:

  • Listens to you talk when you have issues and supports you through them
  • Never puts you down deliberately, especially not publicly
  • Supports your ambitions
  • Uses a calm, rational tone during arguments

But there are a couple of the “green flags” listed that, if I’m honest (and I usually am), I think can lead to some unconsciously manipulative and/or toxic behaviors in relationships.

Here’s the big one:

  • Stops doing things you tell them make you uncomfortable

and the less obvious one:

  • compromises when necessary

On the surface, sure – if I tell someone that something they are doing makes me uncomfortable – like, for example when I told my former male colleague that referring to three professional, adult women in his department as “girls” made me uncomfortable – it’s nice if they stop.

It’s especially nice if they stop without rolling their eyes and adding extra ironic emphasis to the word “colleague” every time they refer to you in a professional setting over the next two years of their employment.

And in a more personal relationship example, it’s awesome if you tell your partner “I’m uncomfortable with hearing all the intimate details of your dates with your other partner(s),” and they spare you those details. Another example would be “I’m not comfortable with you sharing the details of our sexual activities with your other partners,” and that would also be super awesome of them to comply with.

But there’s a line somewhere, and I’m not exactly sure where it is, where the idea of “being comfortable” becomes a gateway to controlling someone else’s behavior.

“I’m not comfortable with you taking dates to the same restaurants we go to.”

“I’m not comfortable with you meeting your other partner’s family or friends.”

“I’m not comfortable with you having sex with your other partner when you and I have unresolved issues.”

“I’m not comfortable with you putting your phone on silent and not responding to my texts right away when you’re on a date with someone else.”

“I’m not comfortable with you dating someone else who shares this same hobby or interest as I do.”

Comfort in our relationships, or in our lives, is not something we’re entitled to. In fact, very often, the most profound growth comes from getting really well acquainted with discomfort and determining what drives it. (6)

The above examples are ones I often see people identify as their “boundaries” with their polyamorous partners, but seem a lot more like “rules” to me.(7) People “do” ethical nonmonogamy in myriad ways, but in my opinion – the most ethical way to practice these types of relationships is to honor every individual’s autonomy and resist the urge to interfere in relationships that you’re not a part of. (4)

But, some people have really good reasons for not wanting their partners to take dates to the same restaurant they go to. For example, if someone works in a field that is more conservative, and many of their colleagues and/or clients frequent that restaurant, it would make sense that they wouldn’t want to have to answer questions at work the next day when their partner was spotted having a romantic meal with someone else.

In the case of polyamorous parents, it might make sense for a partner to feel ill at ease with the idea of not being able to reach their partner in case of an emergency with the child, so their discomfort with having the phone on silent is more about knowing that they can be reached in extreme circumstances.

But let’s not pretend there aren’t people who are less than clear about what does and does not constitute an “emergency” situation that would require an immediate response, nor those who’s discomfort about where and how their partner interacts with another partner is rooted in insecurity and fear (or jealousy) rather than logic or rationality.

And that brings me to the second not-so-green-to-me flag, which is “Compromises when necessary.”

I am a HUGE fan of diplomacy. Picard is still my favorite captain (though Anson Mount’s Captain Pike in Discovery is making me consider polycaptainry.) I think diplomatic compromises are definitely called for sometimes, but the idea of “compromise” has a couple different connotations depending on how it’s used, and I think that’s where the gray area lives with this particular statement.

I compromised a LOT in my marriage. Now, listen – I loved my husband. I really did. The version of me that existed then will always love him (though I freely admit that the person I am today would have found him to be incompatible as a partner, albeit brilliant and undeniably attractive). But that was NOT a healthy relationship, and in order to maintain the peace and harmony in it – in order to keep him feeling comfortable – I compromised on so many things. I compromised on having space for myself, I compromised on going to social events with my partner, and I compromised on having sex. Ever. Because of his childhood trauma and mental illnesses, I compromised on living in a clean home or having any say in his spending habits that left me deep in debt and digging out of the hoard for three months after he passed away.

All of those compromises were necessary in order to keep from tapping out of that relationship, and I was one of those “I will never leave him no matter what” types. (1)

And I didn’t. I never did leave him and I don’t know that I ever would have, because I was willing to do anything *necessary* to stay in that relationship, rather than anything necessary to make that relationship a healthy one.

Hell, at the time I didn’t even know what “healthy” relationships looked like. We never fought. We declared our love for each other constantly. We enjoyed each other’s company immensely. I loved him more than anything in the world.

Problem is, I loved him more than I loved me – and that’s where the not-so-great kinds of compromises kicked in.

So, yeah, I’m not talking about compromising on paint colors for the master bathroom or compromising on whose house we go to for Thanksgiving or compromising on selecting our next vacation destination. Compromising on those things are part of blending your life with someone else’s, and being with someone that is willing to successfully evaluate that what they want isn’t more important than what you need is definitely a “green flag.”

But being on the other side of that – where you are willing to sacrifice what you need for what they want, or being willing to make the sacrifice every time…that’s not so green.

Again, I don’t think there’s a very clear line of demarcation as to when these ideas make the jump from “green flag” to “warning flag,” but I think it’s worth noting that memes often lack the benefit of effectively communicating a holistic approach to relationship advice.

And I think it’s also really important to point out that in abusive situations, many of these “green flag” statements might be used to twist things around and gaslight someone into thinking they’re in a healthy relationship when they’re not. Then again, abusive situations render most solid relationship advice moot, because abusers aren’t playing by the same set of rules as the rest of society.

This brings me to the question of wondering what I would include in my list of relationship “green flags.” I think my list would look something like this:

  • I feel loved, respected, and valued by my partner.
  • My partner acknowledges and validates my feelings and doesn’t try to “fix” them for me.
  • My partner is willing to make adjustments when they are appropriate to prioritize my wants and/or needs. (2)
  • My partner is willing to tell me nice things when I’m feeling down and ask for it.
  • My partner supports and encourages my growth process, and offers aid when I have asked for it.
  • I am comfortable asking for what I need from my partner.
  • I feel confident that if my relationship needs are not being met with my partner, I will not be blamed for electing to end it. (5)
  • I am comfortable asking for what I want from my partner.
  • When my partner is unable or unwilling to provide me with what I am asking for, the news is delivered with kindness and honesty. (3)
  • I choose to be with my partner every day. Our relationship is bound by mutual desire to be in it, rather than a sense of need or dependency.

Related blog posts:

  1. The Consequences of Consequence Free Devotion
  2. The Distance between Want and Need
  3. The Honesty Exchange
  4. Addressing the Needs of each Relationship
  5. The Mono + Poly Bill of Rights and Responsibilities
  6. How to handle feelings you don’t want to be feeling
  7. The one that explains how I think boundaries work

Polyammering is written by Phoebe “Phi” Philips. Like what you’ve read here? Please share! Like it so much you want to do more? Consider supporting Polyammering on patreon

3 thoughts on “Thoughts on the “Green Flags” in relationships meme”

  1. Reading this post made me feel more thoughtful, as if I had somehow come up with the language to parse out the nuances of relationship flags myself. You make complicated issues seem easy to see and understand, as if they are obvious. Thanks 😊


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