Maddy Anholt shares five red flags to look for in a relationship

Maddy Anholt, author of How to Leave Your Psychopath, is the straight-talking gal pal you need: one who will help you discover whether a prospective partner is actually an arch manipulator.

Are you caught in a trap, where charming lovers swiftly turn to controlling? Comedian and writer Maddy Anholt wants you to know that you're definitely not alone, and that there is plenty you can do to spot these rotters, and conserve your energies in the search for a healthy relationship. Here, as the author of How to Leave Your Psychopath, she outlines five classic red flags to look out and she also defines three behaviours that suggest you're just not ready for a relationship right now, and that enhanced self-worth is required before true love can conquer all.

Consider me the Psycho Sprucer, Bad Boy Buster, the Hot Mess Assessor – ready to leave your love life sparkling.

Ever since I can remember I have loved love. The excitement of meeting someone you’ve shared a handful of flirtatious messages with, the chance of connecting over cocktails, the prospect of passion. A decade on, weathered by toxic twerps and controlling companions, I’ve grown wary. I’d far rather be grounded than whisked off my feet. It’s loyalty over lust. Stability over seduction.

Over the years I learnt the hard way not to ignore the glaringly glowing red flags that whacked me in the face then flew back to wind me. If only I could lift the chin of my twenty-year-old self and show her this list… 

I bring you the top five red flags to look for in a relationship (no matter what stage you’re at).


This is one to watch in the dating stages, or if you’re trying to purge the psycho and they’re intent on winning you back. Love-bombing can manifest as overblown shows of affection – perhaps whisking you on a sudden romantic retreat when you’ve known each other mere days, extravagant gifts that may overwhelm you, but often, it’s just their choice of words. They could say things like, ‘you’re everything I’ve been looking for,’ ‘I want to marry you,’ or, ‘let’s run away to the Outer Hebrides and make babies.’ Love-bombing is designed to make you see stars, get giddy and wonder if your wish has finally been answered. It hasn’t. I’m afraid this phase is momentary and is designed to manipulate and make you worship them. If you stay, it’s likely things are about to get a whole lot worse.


This not-so-lovely little term was coined in the nineties by pickup artists, but the concept has likely been about since the beginning of time. Negging fuses compliments with put-downs. Your prospective, or current beau could say things like: ‘I love you in that dress, the one you wore last week was way too tight,’ or, ‘wow, you’re a journalist! Don’t you have to be quite smart to do that?’ or, ‘it’s great you have dreams but you’re in your thirties now, isn’t it about time you got real?’ If you’re nice like I was, you’ll ignore it or trust them if they tell you, ‘it was a joke.’ Negging erodes your self-esteem and plays right into their controlling hands. The worse you feel about yourself, the more room they have to manoeuvre.


In my book, How to Leave Your Psychopath, I’ll give you the inside track on dampening a gaslighter. Gaslighting occurs when the perpetrator deliberately makes you lose your grip on reality. They may insist you’re seeing things when you’re sure something has been moved, call you ‘paranoid’ if you ask why they hide their phone, or blatantly lie to you when you see them cuddled up to their ex, insisting on another version of events. It’s extremely dangerous and always a mammoth red flag.

Needing to know your every move

I don’t care if you’ve been married for sixty years – independence is your right. Yes, it’s nice to let your spouse know your plans, but when they pressure you to inform them exactly where you are at all times, red flags wave. You don’t owe your partner an explanation for your movements, they don’t need to look through your phone, they certainly do not need to track you. If you feel sick, suffocated and surveyed, then please start packing.

 Friends and family don’t like them

Ultimately, your friends and family love you, they want the best for you, and they genuinely care about your safety. It’s a terrifying tell (and, from personal experience, one that’s difficult to swallow) if the majority of your people do not like your partner. They aren’t trying to be difficult or cause drama. It could be that your partner tries to turn you against them, attempts to convince you that these people don’t have your best interests at heart. This is treacherously treading towards purposefully isolating you – and that is a scary place to be.


Listen, I’m all about accountability. It is never your fault for falling into a toxic relationship – they can happen to anyone, but it’s wise to note these next three red flags.

Three red flags that YOU are not ready for a relationship. . .

You change your plans to fit around theirs

Oh boy, I’ve been here. I’m not talking about compromising to see each other. Nope, this is a one-way street. Are you willing to ditch your dreams the second they say they can squeeze you in? Maybe you’d gladly wake up in the middle of a weeknight if they want to pop over for a fumble? Could it be that you’d cast aside that hair appointment you’ve been eagerly awaiting just because your forever-after is free? These are signs that you care more about them than yourself, and that’s a colossal red flag. It’s good to be choosy: your time is precious, don’t propel them to a pedestal and reshape your reality to fit around theirs.

Post-trauma apologizing

If you’ve survived a toxic relationship, or another kind of trauma, your buzzword could be, ‘sorry.’ Sorry you weren’t enough, sorry you did that, sorry you were paranoid. It was self-defence back then to apologize for something you hadn’t even done to avoid repercussions. If you find there’s still an apology hangover – you’re seeking forgiveness to ‘keep the peace,’ or you’re hasty to repent because that’s what you’ve normalized, then check in. Ask yourself if you’re really strong and stable with soaring self-esteem. If the answer is ‘yes,’ then great, but if you’re still dealing with the after-effects of a toxic relationship by subconsciously flinging yourself into apology mode, then take some time for you.

You feel defensive around them

Here’s another trauma throwback. If you often find yourself defensive, apprehensive and nervous around your partner then read on. If it’s their behaviour that’s causing this, then it’s time to edge toward the exit. However, if your partner is thoroughly lovely but you can’t help feeling scared that they may flare up then this may be a sign that you aren’t ready for a relationship. Whether you’re projecting past trauma, or indeed your partner is making you anxious – both are strong cause to call it quits.

I hope these lists have been useful. I could have written scrolls of red flags, but these five are scarlet signs the size of bedsheets to get you going. Fundamentally, if you can’t scribe this article on your hand, the next best step is your intuition or, as I call her, Lady Gut Instinct. She’ll be there to shout you down and summon you into stability. All you need to do is listen.

How to Leave Your Psychopath

by Maddy Anholt

For some people, relationships and being controlled are synonymous. Comedian Maddy Anholt has plenty of experience of controlling and abusive relationships, and she want you to avoid making the same mistakes. This is the ultimate guide to helping you spot the signs of a controlling partner, or even a potential date. Save yourself time, and pain, by exploring the toxic techniques used by those who definitely don't have your best interests at heart. Maddy's 'psychometer' will help you score potential partner, and allow you decide who to embrace and who to run a mile from. How to Leave Your Psychopath is all about self-discovery, liberation and the path towards happy and fulfilling relationships.