Group photo of friends posing on a mountain in front of a sunset.

While many of us have cultivated new relationships on campus, maintaining those relationships can present new challenges. These relationships can vary from person to person (think friends, partners, family members, boss, coworkers, etc.), but healthy relationships all share a few core traits. 

Under each section, you will find a quick guide for ‘red’ and ‘green’ flags in relationships. Green flags are behaviors that promote healthy, strong relationships. Red flags, on the other hand, will help you identify behaviors, patterns or dynamics that may be unhealthy or abusive.

Learn more about healthy, unhealthy and abusive behaviors

Communication

Good communication often starts with listening. Try to focus your full attention on listening to the other person, and resist the urge to plan out your response while they’re speaking. Allow the other person to share their thoughts uninterrupted, and encourage them to do the same for you. 

When people feel heard and validated, they are more likely to open up in a conversation. This can also help you both feel more comfortable bringing up issues or expressing yourself. While not every conversation will be easy, both people should feel safe when bringing up potentially difficult topics. 

If it’s difficult to share your feelings with another person, this may be a signal that it’s time to build more trust within the relationship. 

Communication red flags

  • Holding back feelings out of fear of judgment or the other person’s response
  • Responses feel sarcastic, condescending, hurtful or insulting
  • One person dominates the conversation or utilizes the ‘silent treatment’
  • Using tactics like gaslighting or manipulation to steer the conversation or outcome a particular way

Communication green flags

  • You can disagree without feeling attacked or belittled
  • Discussing your feelings openly without fear of judgement or consequence
  • Willingness to acknowledge and accept different perspectives
  • Feeling heard by the other person
  • Conversations feel balanced between both people (each person has a chance to share)

Boundaries

Boundaries represent the limits, rules or expectations that we set in order to protect our own well-being. Setting healthy boundaries can help you navigate relationships in a more positive way and avoid feelings of anger, resentment or burnout. Here are some examples of boundaries you may set within different relationships.

Physical boundaries refer to your personal space, including:

  • Touching (handshakes, hugs, kissing, unwanted sexual advances, etc.)
  • Privacy (personal files, email, texts, etc.)
  • Personal space (knocking before entering, closed door policies, etc.)

Emotional boundaries refer to your feelings, including:

  • Personal information (how and when to share, etc.)
  • Topics of discussion (politics, climate change, academics, etc.)
  • Respect for ideas and thoughts

Sexual boundaries refer to consent regarding sexual activities, including:

  • Physical touch (kissing, touching, sex, etc.)
  • Health (sexually transmitted infections, using protection, birth control, etc.)
  • Privacy (sharing photos or details of sexual encounters, etc.)

Material boundaries refer to your money and/or physical possessions, including:

  • Sharing (what, with who, when, permission, etc.)
  • Spending (budget, means, gifts, lending, etc.)

Time boundaries refer to your personal time and commitments, including:

  • Personal (friends, hobbies, family, etc.)
  • School (studying, projects, group work, etc.)
  • Work (after-hours contact, email, weekly hours, overtime, etc.)

When setting (and enforcing) boundaries, communication is key, especially if someone in your life tends to ignore or overstep your boundaries. For instance, if you have a partner or friend who constantly texts you or expects immediate responses, you can say something like, “I enjoy talking to you, and I need time to study. Drop me a message and I’ll get back to you when I can.”

If you ever feel guilty about setting or enforcing boundaries with others, remember that personal boundaries represent an essential part of self-care. It may take some time and practice to figure out which boundaries are most important to you and how to best implement them in your life. 

Boundary red flags

  • Ignoring or overstepping boundaries after multiple reminders or conversations
  • Pressuring someone to change or compromise their personal boundaries
  • Feeling deprived of time, patience, energy or finances
  • Interpreting boundaries as an attack or insult

Boundary green flags

  • Feeling comfortable communicating about and enforcing boundaries
  • Respecting boundaries for yourself and others
  • Feeling comfortable saying “no” to things that you may not have the time, energy or finances to do

Conflict

Disagreements and conflict are normal in any relationship. It’s common to have different opinions, preferences, beliefs and values from friends, significant others or family members. In some cases, conflict can be a sign that something needs to change within a relationship. Many times, people who ignore or avoid conflict risk facing increased tensions and unmet needs. However, the way we respond to conflict is oftentimes more important than the conflict itself.

Working through a disagreement in a healthy way by talking respectfully and listening to understand each other is an important component of any relationship. If disagreements turn into fights more often than not, it may be time to evaluate how you’re communicating with one another. Try using “I” statements to soften language and use assertive communication. For example, “I would like you to stop doing that,” is a healthier way to say “you need to stop doing that.” You can download a free PDF for examples of active listening and “I” statements from Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution (SCCR).

Conflict red flags

  • Conflicts escalate or feel difficult to resolve
  • Avoid disagreeing with the other person out of fear (retaliation, anger, abuse, etc.)
  • Belittling the other person during disagreements
  • Conflict is interpreted as a personal attack

Conflict green flags

  • Comfortable working through disagreements and bringing up issues as they arise
  • Feel respected and heard, even if the disagreement doesn’t get resolved
  • Willingness to keep trying or come back to the conversation another time

Resources

Here are a few resources available to CU Boulder students to support strong relationships and conflict.

Let’s Talk

Drop in for a free and confidential consultation with a CAPS counselor. These sessions are available to help you address concerns related to depression, anxiety, relationships, stress, academic performance, family issues, financial struggles and more.

Group therapy

Process group therapy provides a supportive space for students to explore relationships, interpersonal skills, feedback and strategies to feel more connected with others. 

Office of Victim Assistance (OVA)

OVA provides free and confidential support for students, staff and faculty around various traumatic experiences, including intimate partner abuse and domestic violence. Please call 303-492-8855 to talk to an advocacy counselor. After hours support is also available at 303-492-8855, press menu option 2. 

Don’t ignore it

Don't Ignore It is a free online resource to help students, staff, faculty and community members navigate reporting options and get help for themselves or others. If it feels wrong, it probably is. Don't ignore it. 

Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution (SCCR)

SCCR offers free conflict coaching and other resources for working through disagreements. They’re here to help you build stronger relationships with friends, roommates, professors and other people in your life.

Feel Better Fast

This free three-part workshop is designed to help students make positive changes through mindfulness techniques. You will learn how to make balanced decisions, self-soothe, take a step back from your thoughts and learn to live by your values.

Kognito

Kognito is an avatar-based digital experience that prepares you for the conversations that matter most. Students can access the program for free through their IdentiKey login.