I suspect authors who write successful stories involving relationships tend to be people watchers or amateur phycologists—the kind of person who tries to figure out what factors shape people or as the cliché says, what makes them tick. Or what makes them tick in a certain way.

Our relationships with others shape who we are.  Take marriage for example. Two people get together and marry, and it’s a good bet that ten years later each person from that marriage will be a different person from who they were before they met their spouse—even if the marriage dissolves before the ten-year mark—different from how they might have been had they married someone else.

I can see it in my own children. I see ways my daughter is a slightly different person because of her relationship with our son-in-law, and the same is true of our son and his wife. I am sure their spouses have also changed, yet from my viewpoint it’s impossible to say how.

What we hope for is that the spouses complement each other—or bring out the best traits in their mate. Unfortunately, some couple combinations are toxic, and they bring out the worse in each other—like Bonnie and Clyde.

When young and in-love we don’t always see the potential for a toxic relationship—such as one that might turn abusive down the road—yet those signs are probably there.

When I dated one of my first boyfriends I remember him saying, “A girlfriend of my will never own her own car.”  I was about 14 at the time and remember thinking to myself, “Well, I guess we won’t be dating in two years when I get my license.” I didn’t argue with him or debate the subject. I simply kept quiet and figured when that time came, we would not be together anyway.

However, an older and wiser me realizes that was a major red flag. This was a person who wanted to control his girlfriend. Had I foolishly fallen hopelessly in love with him (or imagined I had as girls do at that age) could I have allowed him to shape me into a submissive version of myself?

There was another red flag in that relationship. I remember once he overheard a conversation I’d had with one of my parent’s friends. The friend had asked me about my plans for the future. I went on to tell how I was going to college and spoke of all the things I wanted to do—none of which included this boyfriend or any relationship for that matter.

Later, my boyfriend scolded me for what I had said, telling me I was too boastful—over confident. I will admit I felt embarrassed and asked myself, “Had I spoken out of turn? Spoken too freely of my dreams?”

Fortunately, we broke up by the end of that school year, and the next year I changed high schools.

Had I married someone like that, I suspect I would be a very different person today. Although, I would like to think I wouldn’t have stayed with a controlling man. Yet, can I really say that? Can anyone?  Other circumstances surrounding us at the time we come to that road might have more to say about the outcome or how we respond than what’s in our hearts.

I never thought about it when I was a young girl, but I do believe we should be diligent in our close relationships. We need to look for those red flags and avoid going down a road we may later regret.

The man I married is worlds apart from my first boyfriend.  I married a man whose ego does not require me to be less so he can feel like more. And for that, I am every day grateful.

The writer in me probably thinks about these things a little more than the non-writer, because I am always mindful of what shapes those characters chattering away in my head. But, it might be a good idea for teenagers to be more aware of those red flags in potential relationships. It might save them a world of heartache. Of course, that probably won’t happen, because teenagers—and adults alike—like to imagine they can change someone. Yet they forget, in the process they too change.

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