We all relish a good love story about the couple who “just knew” within minutes of meeting each other that they were meant to be together. They moved in and got married quickly. Years later, they’re still holding hands and eating off each other’s plates. But most of us also know that’s not how love usually shows up in real life. Most healthy romances develop over time – sometimes awkwardly in fits and starts – in a slow dance of revelations and realizations.
Yet the “too good to be true” narrative is dangerous for another reason: You get so swept up in infatuation that it’s easy to miss the warning signs that your new favorite person might not be so great – or mentally stable – after all. That’s the message Bill Eddy, a San Diego divorce lawyer who specializes in dealing with “high-conflict people,” wants to get out. “I can’t tell you how many people I’ve represented in messy divorces who wouldn’t be in these situations if they had taken their time to get to know someone and knew the warning signs,” says Eddy, co-author of “Dating Radar: Why Your Brain Says ‘Yes’ to ‘The One’ Who Will Make Your Life Hell.”
Dating advice columnists have long warned people about classic “red flags,” such as being rude to servers or talking trash about their exes. But Eddy urges daters to go a little deeper and be on the lookout for four personality types that spell trouble.
Here are the four he recommends putting on your radar:
The National Institutes of Health estimates that 6 percent of U.S. adults have this disorder. They’re oh-so-charming at first and then blame you for all their problems. Narcissists are driven by a deep fear of inferiority and will demean or control their partners to keep the balance of power in their favor. They’re self-obsessed, see people as good or bad and can be extremely hurtful when they later turn on you.
Borderlines are terrified of being abandoned and perceive even basic slights as rejection. They also have a difficult time regulating their emotions and are subject to extreme mood swings. “They’re good at hiding the disorder, but it will come out in a sudden and inappropriate emotional outburst,” says Eddy. “They get really upset over something minor and then blame you. Later, they’re trying to make up because they’re terrified of losing you.” You feel as if you’re constantly walking on eggshells.
These can be the hardest to spot because they’re so good at deception. They’re also the most dangerous because they can con you into giving up your life savings or damage your health and sanity. They deeply fear being dominated and will actively work to keep you off-kilter while they manipulate your weaknesses. They’re able to lie and hurt people without remorse.
Histrionics hate being ignored and do their best to keep all the attention on them. They’re your classic “drama kings or queens.” They often have a tale of woe, which sucks you in. They’re also fun and exciting – often sexually – until they make you the villain in their sob story. Never mind them paying attention to your own needs.
Although these four disorders have different characteristics, they share some common traits. “These personalities tend to be intensely caring and affectionate at the beginning. That’s how people get thrown off,” says Eddy.
Eddy shares some tips on how to recognize them:
1) Watch out for the person who’s too self-promoting
“If the person is always saying how wonderful they are, they’re trying to form your impressions rather than simply being a person with imperfections. Watch out for someone who thinks he or she is a 10. Trust the seven or eight because they’re more real.”
2) Notice how you see them
“Do you feel relaxed around this person or in awe of them? Do you get extremely positive or extremely negative impressions of them? The extremely positive is often a sign there’s an extremely negative side that’s counter-balancing it. It’s just one that you haven’t seen before.”
3) Take your time getting to know someone before making a commitment
“A lot of high-conflict people push to get married quickly. I know of a clients who got married within three months. Then she learned her husband owed $30,000 in child support and had used her credit card for repairs on his car. If she’d waited a year, this might have all come out.
Our research has found that a lot of these high-conflict patterns, including domestic violence, emerge within six months to a year. Everything seems to be going so well, but it’s after you commit that these high-conflict personalities turn on you. A good person for you will be okay with you wanting to take your time.”
4) Be wary of someone who seems like a “perfect fit”
“We naturally look for evidence that supports our hopes about someone, but that can jam our radar. That’s the case with instant compatibility, such as when your romantic interest says, ‘You’re into bird-watching? I’m into bird-watching, too.’ Then you marry them and learn they never liked bird-watching. It was part of a strategy to hook you.”
5) Don’t get involved sexually too quickly
“Sex triggers hormones in our body that make it hard to see someone objectively. I’m not saying that people shouldn’t get involved sexually while dating. But if someone seems to be overly pushing for it, that’s a sign something is off.”
6) Know your blind spots
“Are you still grieving a past relationship? Did a particularly painful breakup deal a blow to your self-esteem? You might be vulnerable and less discriminating.”
7) Never, ever think you can change someone
“I know so many clients who say, ‘I saw some signs of trouble, but I thought that time and love could change them.’ One thing we’ve learned about humans is that people don’t change people’s personalities. It’s human nature to get swept off our feet emotionally, but we can prevent a lot of heartache by being smarter from the start.”
About the Author:
Sarah Elizabeth Richards is a journalist and the author of Motherhood, Rescheduled: The New Frontier of Egg Freezing and the Women Who Tried It. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Marie Claire, Elle, Cosmopolitan, Slate, and Salon.