7 Relationship Pink Flags That May Be Good to Talk About in Couples Therapy if You're a Parent
While these issues might not be a recipe for a split, they might be worth bringing up in order to preempt bigger issues, according to experts.
You've heard about relationship red flags—actions or patterns that are likely signs it's time to get professional help or possibly even move toward a split. But pink flags—which could be precursors to more severe issues—are just as important to be on the lookout for and to bring up in couples therapy.
"While they don't necessarily lead to divorce or separation, they can lead to a lack of connection, resentment, depression, or frustration," says Alyza Berman, LCSW, RRT-P, founder of Berman Psychotherapy in Atlanta.
And once you've identified your pink flags, you'll want to take speedy action. Stephanie Macadaan, a licensed marriage and family therapist in the San Francisco Bay Area, adds, "Staying aware of interactions or differences that trigger anger or resentment and addressing those issues early is important. Ignoring pink flags and just pushing them under the rug, tends to make them grow bigger and harder to work through."
Here are seven of the most common pink flags therapists see among couples who have kids and how you can tackle them.
You can't agree on a parenting style.
Disagreement over parenting strategies is normal and to be expected. Parenting styles are bound to vary at least slightly between partners because very rarely do people grow up the same exact way. But failure to address these issues is where some couples get into trouble.
"What you experienced with your parents is typically the guiding light in regard to what you want to emulate or avoid," says Macadaan. "Having these conversations with your partner is really helpful because it creates a deeper understanding of each other versus just a power struggle with no context. This understanding makes it easier to work through conflicts and differences."
It's important to acknowledge when one parent is OK with a child's behavior and the other is not—and the reasons for their feelings. While some parents might look at their kids and think, "He's just like I was when I was younger," the other parent might think, "He's just like his father in this regard, and that drives me nuts!" or "This child is completely unlike me when I was a child and it is so hard for me to understand them," notes Melanie Pearl, Ph.D., a licensed and nationally-certified school psychologist in Ridgefield, Connecticut.
This can make it difficult to parent as a team, leading to conflict over parenting strategies, behavior management strategies, and even the relative importance of a specific behavior. "For instance, a child might exhibit behavior the mom really wants to get rid of, but the dad says he used to do that all the time when he was a kid and he turned out fine," says Dr. Pearl.
You aren't seeing eye-to-eye on the big picture financially.
Maybe you want to save a ton to retire early or your partner is insistent on putting any cash toward college savings while you'd prefer a vacation fund. Either way, when one person in a relationship feels strongly about the way finances should be handled, and the other feels differently, it can often create tension or resentment, points out Berman.
Compounding the issue is the fact we tend to want to avoid tough conversations about money. "I've also seen this is typically the most uncomfortable topic for couples and parents to address, especially if a family is on a tight budget or dealing with a loss of a job or other unforeseen circumstance," says Berman. "Financial issues are never fun to talk about, but it's essential to have these hard conversation especially when children and other people are involved or affected by those decisions."
She recommends parents adopt a proactive approach that includes tracking finances, set a budget, and speaking with a financial advisor. "Kids bring unforeseen costs, changes, and lifelong responsibility—if parents don't prepare appropriately, financial issues will come up as issues long-term," says Berman.
- RELATED: 5 Ways to Stop Arguing Over Money
You or your partner are struggling to truly hear one another.
This communication-related pink flag could look like you or your partner disrespecting the other's viewpoint, diminishing the other's experience, ignoring the other's requests, or disregarding their emotions. "All these signs can point to an unwillingness to make room for another person in your life," notes Tom Jones, APC, MAMFT, a clinician at Berman Psychotherapy.
To tackle pink flags like these, he recommends practicing reflective listening techniques. Say you're debating whether your child should return to in-person learning. You're all for it, and they're not. After stating your case, rather than jumping straight to your counterpoint, reflect that you hear and understand their experience, suggests Jones. You can say something like, "I hear you saying X" or "I hear that you are feeling X."
These techniques demonstrate that understanding your partner is more important than being right, he explains. "One of my teachers once said to me that when you are arguing with your partner, if you win, then the relationship loses," says Jones.
Your partner shows a lack of interest in communicating with you in your desired language.
Most of us have heard of the five love languages, a concept originated by author Gary Chapman. The languages include acts of service, words of affirmation, physical touch, gift giving, and quality time. "We can also add on various other means of connection such as core interests, passions, beliefs, activities, etc.," says Jones.
Say your chief love language is words of affirmation, but your partner's is acts of service—that is not a problem in and of itself. "In fact, it can help us value things we would have never considered had we been in a relationship with someone who shared our exact ideals," says Jones. Instead, it becomes a pink flag when one partner is unwilling to hear what the other's language is or attempts to connect in languages the other doesn't prefer.
"Relationships are about sacrifice, stretching yourself into uncomfortable territory for the benefit of another," says Jones. Couples struggling with this can benefit from practicing all five love languages. "Try to start with the one you are most resistant to," recommends Jones. "If you have a hard time with words of affirmation, start practicing complimenting those around you. If it's gift giving, try spontaneously buying something for a friend. By stretching ourself in this way we become more well-rounded, open and flexible when our partner asks us for it."
One partner is feeling rejected or neglected when more time is spent on a child and/or less time is spent on intimacy.
Having kids generally creates a huge shift in a relationship, notes Macadaan. "There can be a lot of pressure, guilt, sadness, and worry around being a good parent and a good partner," she notes. One partner might feel rejected and neglected because their partner is devoting time to child care. Then, they could withdraw or store up anger and resentment, leading to disconnection.
"Don't lose sight of being a team in this new endeavor, and catch it early if it feels more like you are working against each other," advises Macadaan.
Feelings of rejection and neglect could also come up in regard to sex. "Without the ability to communicate, it can become a vicious cycle that makes sex even more of a stuck place," says Macadaan. "Many couples find it helpful to start small with some form of daily physical contact, even if it's just a kiss, back rub, or makeout session. This can take the pressure off and lead to a more natural progression. It does require patience and understanding."
You're avoiding communication out of fear of conflict.
"Couples develop strategies to protect the relationship, most commonly withdrawing from their partner and not communicating or trying to force conversations," says Macadaan. But this dynamic can slowly lead to disconnection and a lack of trust.
"It's important to feel that you can go to your partner and feel heard and understood," she points out. And if that's not happening, it's a pink flag to seek support from a couples therapist and to work on communication before it can morph into anger and resentment.
You're not sharing your concerns due to apathy.
If you're feeling yourself pull away from your partner and not express your concerns, especially because you don't feel invested, that's a pink flag, says Lauren Cook, Psy.D., MMFT, a therapist, speaker, and author. "Emotional apathy can be more of a pink flag issue than fighting," says Dr. Cook. "When a couple reaches a state of not caring, that's something to pay attention to."
She explains the best way to address this issue is to lean into conversations vulnerably, and share when you're feeling removed. "This helps call in your partner rather than further isolate or confuse them," says Dr. Cook. "When we're honest with each other, we can actually do something about it and repair the relationship."
The Bottom Line
Ultimately, in every relationship, two people are both bringing a complex mix of personality, life experience, beliefs, trauma, and countless other variables to the table. The fact of the matter is all of these variables are going to clash and mix with each other at some point. But identifying the pink flags and then talking them out is key to a healthy relationship, especially while taking on the challenge of raising a child. "The trick here isn't attempting to avoid this uncomfortable truth," says Jones. "It's to develop skills in order to best navigate it."