Following my original post ‘knowing when to bail – red flags’, I realised I need to a deep dive into this subject. When it comes to responding to red flags, time and again, I see that, in these situations, we don’t know what to do and if or when to opt out. Instead, what many of us do is try to be the exception to the rule and have little or no boundaries.

There are behaviours and situations in relationships that signal that you need to opt out or, at minimum, slow down and address the situation before proceeding. These signals – the red flags – are what I refer to as code amber and red issues. Amber means stop, look and listen and then proceed with caution, like with traffic lights. We need to get a sense of what’s happening, what we’re feeling and doing, and then proceed with greater awareness (and boundaries). And code red means stop. It means you’re dealing with major issues that deal a fatal blow to the health and future of the relationship.

Code amber and red issues (red flags) make you incompatible or signal the unhealthiness of the relationship or that you need to address certain things before you can proceed.

Unfortunately, when, if, we pick up on code amber and red issues, we tend to analyse the crapola out of things. We blame ourselves, minimise the extent of the problem, assume we know better (we don’t), or decide that us and our love make us the exception to the rule. Many of us also see red flags as the perfect opportunity to be an emotional airbag or to fix, heal, and help. We wind up putting ourselves on a pedestal.

Even when confronted with code amber behaviour, we don’t process the information, pause, access what it means to us and the relationship that we have in mind or our perception of the other person. We don’t ask questions, clarify information, or assert boundaries — all things that should happen in an amber situation.

It’s time for you to decide what your line is. When you know the line and your limit, other people know them too, either because they’re not crossing it or you bounced them out of your life.

Aside from there now been code red and amber situations, what helps to differentiate between the two or even change the status is context:

  • If you have previously been involved with the same or similar, or their behaviour is similar or the same as a parent or authority figure from childhood, or you actually have the same issue, you must abort mission. No question.
  • If you have not habitually been involved with someone similar or the same, no family history and, whatever the issue is, they state and can show that they’re in the process of dealing with for at least a few months, it’s a code amber.
  • If, for whatever reason, the situation feels familiar to previously unhealthy relationships, it’s code amber.
  • Or if, through your involvement, you’re acting without love, care, trust, or respect to and for yourself, or would need to in order to continue, it’s code red.
  • Some issues are flat-out, full-on code reds, and I’ve indicated these with FOCR.
Addicted to something (FOCR)

If you meet someone and they are addicted to something (gambling, sex, alcohol, drugs, etc) and aren’t aware of and doing something about it, this will impact your life greatly if you continue. This is an especially dangerous situation for Florence Nightingales. Also note that your prioritising your involvement over their need to address their addiction is unhealthy, as is trying to make them choose you over it. Their addiction is part of a bigger system of things in their life. It also tells you about how they do and don’t deal with stuff and their boundaries. You don’t need to make them a ‘bad’ person because of their addiction. They’re a human struggling. Starting a relationship from a place of addiction, though, is a no-no.

Married or Attached (FOCR)

The moment that you opt into one of these situations, you communicate the wrong things about yourself. Anybody trying to pursue you while with someone else is being shady. Decent people get their house in order; they don’t stock up on an emotional airbag. Sometimes you can’t help when you meet someone but you can help how you deal with that. Somebody who is already in a relationship is not available.

Anger and aggression (FOCR)

If they have trouble keeping their anger in check or are physically aggressive, or very intimidating when they want their own way, abort mission.

They play victim (FOCR)

Be careful of anybody that refuses to take any responsibility for their life and blames it on others. Be extra careful of people who when they experience a problem, don’t see their part in it. You will eventually become one of those ‘others’.

Not over the ex (FOCR)

If they say they’re not over their ex, are recently broken up and hurting, excessively angry with their ex (i.e not neutral), hooking up with or secretly trying to get back together with them, or playing you off against each other, bow out, fast.


Steer clear of anyone that wants to control you. They start out with small stuff and then bit by bit increase their level of input. Also known as being a Chopper. Jealousy and possessiveness are control, not love. Especially when experienced early on or they increase bit by bit where you feel like you have to justify, explain yourself, and let them keep track of you, um no. Hard pass. If you are unsure of what you’re experiencing, it’s code amber. Make sure you’re not being gaslighted. Evaluate the situation, throw some icy water over your feelings and plans, 100% eyes and ears open, and try to have a conversation with them about it. But if this is within days or weeks (certainly within the first 3 months), code red.

Problems with past/childhood

Pasts can be overcome (I have), and we all have emotional baggage. However, if issues from their past impact their ability to healthily engage, it’s code amber if they’re prepared to go to and stick to therapy. It’s code red if they’re not prepared to address issues or they deny, or play them down, or what they’re doing is coupled with other code red and code amber behaviour.

Dodgy attitude towards sex

This is about very different sexual values, particularly when coupled with a coercive nature. If they’re into shady stuff in the bedroom, it’s at the very least a code amber, or depending on the nature of it, a code red. Don’t try and revolutionise the wheel. If you don’t want to have three-ways, be watched by your neighbours, beaten, etc., opt out. If they try to control you with sex or force or exploit you, also opt out. At the end of the day, if you’re not in mutual agreement about what you’re both doing sexually, it’s a major problem.


Are they irresponsible with life in general, i.e. bills, rent, job, maybe borrowing money from you? Do they want to move in after you’ve known them a wet week? Acts like a recycled teenager? Code amber depending on the level of discomfort. Not being good with money and having a weakness for shoes isn’t a code red but not being good with money and gambling it, their house, or whatever away is. Same goes for using you for money.

Sleeping with other people

If you’re okay with being part of a casual ‘relationship’ or an open one, this is code amber as you still need to proceed with caution and ensure your own emotional and physical safety. Once that’s established and it’s genuinely mutual, crack on. However, if you’re emotionally invested or think you’re in a relationship, it’s code red.

Nasty and spiteful

Mean-spirited people don’t stop being so in a relationship. They might attack your self-esteem by latching on to what they think are flaws in you. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that they’ll be this way with everyone else but you. Nasty and spiteful behaviour, including putdowns, is code red. This issue also covers narcissists. While narcissists will charm you and disarm you, when they turn, they turn.

Emotionally Unavailable

Emotionally unavailable means unavailable for a mutually fulfilling, healthy relationship. It means unavailable for intimacy. Unavailable people give limited relationships because they have limits on what they are able to give. If you don’t see the signs [of unavailability] and recognise the disconnect, use this as a code red to check your own availability.

Bulk of communication by text and email etc

These lazy forms of communication are code amber.

They’re an assclown

There’s ten very key signs that you’re with someone who means you and the relationship no good. People who act with love, care, trust, and respect don’t do stuff like pressing the Reset Button, the Outrageous Principle, sneakily changing the goalposts of the relationship, the Drip-feed Manouver and telling lies/misrepresenting themselves. This also covers off anyone who is a narcissist.

If you’re experiencing more than one of these ‘issues’, that’s a code red in and of itself. This is especially so if you have only recently become involved with this person. Ignoring, dismissing and overriding yourself is self-abandonment. What could be so special about this person that it warrants abandoning yourself?

Understanding code amber and red issues allows you to be self-aware and know and set your limits. It’s crucial to recognise what has made you uncomfortable in the past and why. Know your values, and ensure that actions match words and that what you’re doing is congruent with who you profess to be. If you want to know if you’re in code amber territory due to how you’re feeling, use these questions.

Knowing your limits leaves you free to be available for healthy relationships. Knowing what’s shady keeps you emotionally safe and healthy.

Your thoughts?

Are you ready to stop silencing and hiding yourself in an attempt to ‘please’ or protect yourself from others? My book, The Joy of Saying No: A Simple Plan to Stop People Pleasing, Reclaim Boundaries, and Say Yes to the Life You Want (Harper Horizon), is out now.

The Joy of Saying No by Natalie Lue book cover. Subtitle: A simple plan to stop people pleasing, reclaim boundaries, and say yes to the life you want.

Check out my ebooks the No Contact Rule and Mr Unavailable & The Fallback Girl and more in my bookshop.

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