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The Screening List for Women Selecting Prospective Male Partners

I’ve been a psychotherapist for over 30 years, and over those years I’ve worked with hundreds of wonderful women that find themselves in problematic relationships. I’ve collected a set of “danger signs” from the women I’ve seen that they’ve encountered when men really start to show who they are and how they will treat them. Sometimes, these danger signs are there from the beginning, but women overlook them because the men’s other, positive characteristics. Sometimes, women with histories of childhood trauma and parental neglect feel they’re lucky to get anyone to love them, and they overlook these danger signs, and then regret it later because they’re now in a relationship and it’s hard to leave. Frequently, I’ve seen even strong, confident, accomplished women blame themselves for the man’s behavior: They worry that they sent too strong a text about something, shared some aspect of their history that the man had a hard time understanding or accepting, challenged them about their ideas about all manner of things, and so on. And then I work with them to restore their sense of worth and self-esteem, which has plummeted due to the man’s behavior and the woman’s self-blame.

Unfortunately, unless the guy is in therapy or willing to go to therapy around these issues, he is not likely to change. If he’s doing the sorts of things listed below three or more times – because three makes a pattern – there’s a problem that you can’t solve for him! So it’s important if you are entering or reentering the dating world to keep an eye out for these behaviors, and address them as soon as possible. If the guy is not receptive to your concerns, that’s not a good sign. If the behaviors are severe enough, end the relationship. Trust me on this – it only gets worse!

Here's my list drawn from hundreds of women, all based on real-life experiences.

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  1. One-way yelling: verbally beating you down

  2. Arguments about past fights that get into micro detail to blame you and that engage in score-keeping – claiming you have been meaner and more inappropriate than he has been to you

  3. Obvious, easily-documented lying and denials of the truth when confronted

  4. Defensiveness when critiqued – whether “justly” or not

  5. Denying your perspective: he has the only fix on reality

  6. Projection: saying you’re doing something that he’s actually doing, or feeling something he’s actually feeling: “You’re so filled with hate,” “you have a lot of pain in your heart”

  7. Claims that you are gaslighting him whereas he’s actually gaslighting you: Making up “facts” that distort reality

  8. Expressions of disdain, contempt, and disgust -- about your personality and behavior, or about your face, body or sexuality – “you’re ugly, sexless, etc”

  9. Apologizing after saying negative things by saying, “Sorry, but I didn’t MEAN it.” Or not even naming the behavior he’s apologizing for, or saying it in a defensive tone: “Sorry!” Demonstrates a complete unwillingness take responsibility

  10. Tearful apologies in which he shares his vulnerable feelings, which draw you in as a caretaker and lead you to forgive him

  11. Blaming irresponsible or bad interpersonal behavior on psychological problems -- depression, anxiety, stress, etc. If these conditions really impair him, he needs to seek help, not use as an excuse. Ok to use this as explanation, but not as excuse – but not repeatedly

  12. Constant apologizing – if this is happening, need to change behavior, not just keep doing it and apologizing

  13. Watch out for promises! Does the person follow through or not? If not TWICE, that’s a pattern. A triangle is really solid!

  14. Putting off your requests to talk about problems in the relationship:

  15. Responding to your concerns and complaints by immediately saying “You need to think about your side,” “it’s your fault, not mine”

  16. Claims that you’re being “unfair” when you’re pointing out problems in his behavior

  17. Defending his time schedule while critiquing, constraining and constricting yours

  18. You doing all the relationship maintenance work – trying to bring up problems, doing all the apologizing, the soothing

  19. When you find yourself hoping things will change, they usually won’t – at least, without professional assistance

  20. When you try to get physical distance, following you – e.g., you want to go to another room to calm down, and he pursues you. Or you leave and go to work, or a café, or whatever, and he stalks you

  21. His refusal to get help

  22. Desperate neediness expressed as unreasonable demands for time, sex, listening. “I have to have sex!” Scheduling sex in rigid manner (it’s OK to set up a regular rhythm/time for sexual intimacy, but shouldn’t be rigid – take into account your present readiness. Making you initiate it always to show you are interested, instead of him lovingly seducing you. Mutual seduction is fine too!

  23. Not having a job and not looking for one; relying on you economically with no effort to get on his feet financially

  24. His needs much more important than yours

  25. If you are in FLIGHT FIGHT FREEZE mode much of the time, that’s the sympathetic part of the ANS and doesn’t belong in intimacy; rather, there should be calm, sleepiness, relaxation, PARASYMPATHETIC activity of the nervous system. Oxytocin should be flowing – the cuddle hormone!

  26. Guys who wear their “feminism” and “social justice” beliefs on their sleeves, in an almost grandiose way, rather than as an imperfect person who aspires to adhere to and embody these values. Be able to admit your flaws and mistakes. Be wary of potential “wolves in sheep’s clothing.”

  27. Watch out for guys that put down other men to put themselves up by contrast, or to convince you that they are special and different.

  28. Watch out for the “peacocks” – hipsters who are trying really hard to look hip.

  29. Look for humility – someone who lets you discover who they are, rather than tell you who they are.

  30. If a guy says he’s great at handiwork, see the results. Do the shelves stay on the wall? If not, busted!

  31. If you feel that you can’t ask usefully critical questions – like, “Did you put anchors in the walls for those shelves?” or some other version of “are you sure that’s how to do it?” – that’s a problem! Men who can’t take influence from women are bad for relationships.

  32. Look to see if the guy is fairly emotionally self-sufficient: can calm and soothe himself, not rely on you to constantly make him feel good, strong, nice, etc. And is able to soothe and comfort you, doesn’t resent being asked to do so, or resent hearing about your emotional issues and day.

  33. Doesn’t resent your independence in behavior, life, attitudes, and feelings. Doesn’t want you to be his mirror!!

  34. No active substance users PLEASE!!

  35. Guys who make the same amazingly dumb and insensitive errors over and over, always apologizing with lots of shame. Note that shame is a more primitive and self-centered feeling than guilt. Shame is about feeling you’ve been a bad boy. Guilt is about feeling badly that you’ve hurt someone else.

  36. Guys who admit mistakes, and then get angry with you when you want to talk further about what they did because you are, understandably, still upset. And they make YOU feel bad for “rubbing it in their faces”.

  37. Guys who talk about their feelings, or about what they did wrong, with their hands covering their eyes, looking away, coughing nervously, rather than calmly and maturely looking at YOUR face to see your reactions and let you have them. All those gestures of covering and coughing are at least unconscious strategies to keep you from saying anything in response, because the guy is showing you how distressed he feels (with the nonverbal message being, “so, please don’t challenge me any further!!”)

  38. Guys who say they’re sorry but in an angry, petulant, defensive, feeling-sorry-for-themselves kind of way. “I’m sorry, OK? Geez! I already said I’m sorry! Why do you have to rub it in!”

  39. Guys who get the great idea of tattooing a female friend’s name on themselves and agree to have their names tattooed on the female friend.

  40. Guys who say over and over how they are sorry they hurt you, and feel so remorseful, and then do it again.

  41. Guys who do therapy on themselves, and talk about mastering their various “parts”.

  42. Guys who turn you into a policewoman, FBI or CIA agent, detective – you are checking their phones, their emails, their behavior on social media. If it’s at that point, you better depart.

  43. Guys who think they can behave any way they want and if they apologize, they get a fresh start with you. They don’t understand how their behavior erodes safety and trust in you over time, and are irritated when you feel upset after multiple egregious actions. Kinda of a Mick Mulvaney approach to bad behavior: “Get over it!” They think anything can be fixed. Wrong.

  44. Guys who break up with you in a seemingly insightful way about their own failings, then later ask to be taken back, then do another hurtful thing

  45. Guys who say admiring positive things about you, but say that your “too intense” or otherwise “too much” for them; believe them, and move on! Don’t take it personally or blame yourself. They are saving you a lot of heartache and you shouldn’t change yourself (too much anyway) for a man.

  46. Guys who are in the midst of a divorce after a long marriage, especially with kids in tow. Generally, Stay Away!

  47. Guys who take you on many dates and never “make a move”

  48. Guys who have never married or had children and are in their 40s or beyond: exercise extreme care. These are what I call “humidor men”: they are like cigars in a humidor, need to maintain a steady emotional and relational state (which is why they are so distant). If wealthy, the often have their own boats, elaborate man caves (or their entire apartment is basically a man cave, designed for their pleasure – superb stereo system, large flatscreen tv, etc., collection fast sports cars, country houses where they spend their time alone...they are loners because they can’t take the “messiness” of emotional intimacy and having to adjust their schedules and availability to a woman. If they hang out a beaches, they are called the Boys of Summer, as in the Don Henley (from the Eagles) song. There was a great NYT Magazine article about this cohort several years ago. They never grow up.

  49. Love Bombers: The latest trend in online dating. Men who immediately declare that you are the most magnificent creature on the planet, text you incessantly, take you to Paris, Dubai, Vegas, or a Caribbean island, shower you with gifts….and then suddenly disappear. Don’t forget – texting a lot during a day as a way to get to know someone is no substitute for getting to know them over time, through some ups and downs. Meeting someone and falling in love should not be approached as a triathlon where you confuse speed in a short amount of time with real development of a love relationship. The Love Bombers often are also guys in the midst of a divorce (see #43) or humidor men venturing into the world of passion temporarily for a love fix, and then they disappear (see #45).