Watch Out for these Green Flags in Your Relationship

Do you want more positivity in your relationship?

The solution might be easier than you think. There is so much talk circulating right now about warnings to stay away from toxic behaviors and watch out for red flags. While it is important to work on the challenges in your relationship, it’s crucial not to focus so much on the problems that you forget to focus attention on what you love about each other.

It is very common for couples not to see green flags that are right in front of them. Shakespeare was the first person to say that “Love is blind,” but I believe he was referring to the times when we are so head over heels that we only see the positive traits, while the negative qualities seem small and inconsequential. Unfortunately, over time, this can happen in the opposite direction, and love can become blind to the good stuff. Even couples who are deeply in love can lose sight of the things that caused them to fall in love in the first place. 

When couples find themselves in a negative head space, they only see what they are looking for. If you are looking for beauty, you will find it, and if you are looking for evidence that your partner is letting you down, you will find that too. Sometimes green flags are small and subtle, and you might not see them unless someone else to points it out. I do this all the time in my couples therapy office.

Behind the Scenes of a Couples Therapy Session

Let’s take an example with an imaginary couple, Carson and Jamie. 

Therapist encourages Carson and Jamie to turn and face each other to talk about how they want to use the session. 

Jamie: I think you should start. I really want you to talk to me about your feelings. I feel like I’m always the one bringing things up and trying to discuss important issues. I can’t do all the heavy lifting in this relationship. 

Carson: It’s true; you are definitely better at talking about your feelings than me. It’s hard for me to speak up sometimes because I feel criticized a lot. It’s easier to just stay quiet and not get into an argument.

Jamie: I’m not trying to criticize you. You’re not wrong or bad, I’m just telling you how I feel and what I need. 

Therapist: Really great start you guys! I just want to point out something. Jamie, you started this conversation beautifully by giving Carson the floor to speak up, and you were very clear about what you needed. Then, Carson, you offered Jamie the emotional vulnerability that was being requested by sharing how it’s hard for you to talk about your feelings and that you sometimes feel criticized. I know there is more for us to tease out here, but I just wanted to stop you because I’m not sure if you noticed how much progress you guys are making. 

Note: If the therapist hadn’t jumped in here, they may have missed the green flags that were right in front of them. One green flag that Carson missed was Jamie being emotionally vulnerable and expressive (exactly what Carson wants more of).

Relationship Green Flags

As you look out for more positivity, here are three specific examples of green flags that can positively impact a partner’s life. 

  1. Vulnerability and transparency. Happy couples are honest with each other, even when that requires admitting to things that are hard to talk about. Emotional intimacy results from couples sharing their emotions, and physical intimacy results from sharing their bodies in a way that feels safe and pleasurable. There is no way to experience intimacy without taking small risks. Closeness results when you risk feeling rejected or misunderstood. Those risks are rewarded with acceptance and connection. 
  1. Interdependence. Both parties deserve to live their best lives and reach their dreams. In order for this to happen, it requires each individual to stay clear about their own individual values and aspirations while also supporting their partner. Interdependence comes when couples also talk to each other about their joint dreams so they can create rituals together and enjoy the ways their lives intertwine.
  2. More positivity than negativity. The research shows that couples with high levels of relationship satisfaction have a 20:1 positive-to-negative ratio. This can be something as simple as the squeeze of a hand, a supportive text, or thanking someone for doing the dishes. The more positivity you have in your day-to-day life, the easier it will be to manage the difficulties that will undoubtedly arise. 

Here is a game you can play if you’d like to work toward having more gratitude in your relationship and less focus on imperfection.

Appreciation Ping-Pong

Directions: Take turns going back and forth saying something you appreciate about your partner and an example of a time that you particularly noticed that positive quality. I recommend at least five rounds and you might even want to have a competition to see how long you can keep going.

Pro tip: Try to accept the appreciation your partner offers you even if you wish they chose a different thing to appreciate. Think of it like a gift that was given with generous intentions, not a deliberate intention NOT to mention something else.

Take Home Message

It is important to expect your partner to let you down from time to time. All humans are imperfect, and they will forget to do things they promise to do, and they will make mistakes. Try not to confuse these imperfections as signs that your partner doesn’t love or respect you. Long-term relationships can last a lifetime when couples want each other to thrive, care about what’s in each other’s best interest, and are willing to be there for each other during dark times. True love is not a series of completed (or incompleted) to-do lists. 


Laura Silverstein, LCSW

Laura Silverstein is a Certified Gottman Couples Therapist, and author of Love Is An Action Verb.  She has thirty years of clinical experience and is the founder and co-owner of Main Line Counseling Partners, based in Bryn Mawr, PA. Laura is a frequent contributor to The Gottman Relationship Blog and has appeared as a relationship expert in media outlets such as the New York Times, ABC, and Today. She helps couples find more happiness as a research clinician, speaker, trainer, and writer with a positive, action-oriented style.

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