Common Warning Signs

It can be difficult to tell when changes in a loved one’s behavior or relationships indicate a potentially serious problem and when they are just signs of a personal evolution or a phase that is nothing to worry about. In either case, the first thing to remember when anything changes is that there’s no need to panic. Challenging periods in family life are not only completely normal, they are also an opportunity for everyone to grow and improve their communication skills.

While change in and of itself is not necessarily cause for concern, certain patterns of behavioral or other changes in combination with a decline in the quality of your communication and overall relationship typically indicate a situation that warrants your attention.

Relationships are complicated, and family relationships some of the most complicated. One of my most valuable skills is the ability to competently assess such situations and help you figure out if it is simply a phase, a potential issue, or a real concern that needs immediate attention.

The best way to determine what’s really happening with a loved one is to call me to begin a dialog about the specifics of what your family is experiencing. I have also compiled the following list of common warning signs associated with cases of undue influence. While the language and examples in this list focus on the influence of controlling romantic partners, these same scenarios can also be applicable to close associates or advisors.

Changes in Behavior and Appearance

  • Your loved one’s appearance — style of dress, grooming, hair, etc. — has changed dramatically since becoming involved with their new partner.
  • Your loved one’s speech patterns are different. They consistently use buzzwords, phrases, and jargon that is out of character for them. Often, these changes make your loved one sound more like their partner in terms of what they are saying and how they are saying it.
  • Your loved one has altered their diet and/or exercise program significantly.
  • Your loved one no longer gets regular medical or dental care and may have stopped taking necessary medication.
  • Your loved one seems tired all the time. Often, this is the result of their normal sleep pattern being disrupted by excessive calls, texts, and other messaging late into the night, or because your loved one is rising at an unusually early hour to exercise or meditate.
  • Though formerly active on social media, using it to stay in touch with friends and family, your loved one no longer posts or has deleted social media accounts completely. They make vague excuses about this shift, saying they are too busy or that the Internet is a waste of time or unsafe. They now devote almost all of their online activity to communicating with their partner.
  • When your loved one does come home to visit they don’t seem as social as they have been in the past, choosing to spend an inordinate amount of time in their room or out of the house (either alone, with their partner, or communicating with their partner).
  • Your loved one is exhibiting general personality changes. For instance, someone who has always been warm, gentle, and kind has become cold and hostile since becoming involved with their partner. Or, perhaps a formerly vibrant and assertive person now seems much more subdued or nervous and constantly defers to their partner.
  • Sometimes, a loved one’s behavioral or personality change can be for the better, but still indicate a problem. For example, in some cases, a person who used to regularly overindulge in alcohol might become a teetotaler.

Changes in Independence

  • Your loved one’s partner takes on a dominant role in their relationship and is now advising your loved one on everything, even topics they may not be qualified to advise on such as health, nutrition, or financial matters.
  • Your loved one exhibits signs of dependency such as needing to check in with their partner before making even small, everyday decisions. Further, if your loved one does make an independent decision, they may revise it significantly after talking with their partner.
  • Your loved one seems unusually anxious to gain approval from their partner, avoids disagreeing with them on anything, and has changed their opinions on notable issues since meeting them. For example, switching from being politically liberal to being suddenly conservative. A dramatic change of religious beliefs is also a common sign that something is amiss.
  • When your loved one is separated from their partner they are constantly communicating with them via phone or computer and seem anxious if circumstances prevent them being able to do this frequently (for example if there is no cell signal or they can’t get on a wireless network). Further, while their communication used to be with a variety of people, now it seems exclusive to their partner and, in some cases, the partner’s family.
  • You sometimes get the feeling that your loved one’s partner is listening in on their phone conversations with you. You might even hear them in the background, prompting your loved one to provide certain responses.
  • When you communicate in writing you sometimes notice that replies don’t sound like your loved one. The style, language, and phrasing sound more like their partner’s. They used to sign off with love and kisses; now they don’t.
  • Your loved one has simple, rote answers for everything, which sound suspiciously similar to their partner’s typical responses and opinions. In addition, your loved one seems to have ceased asking questions or engaging in critical thinking. If challenged about this change, your loved one may make an excuse such as they need to “learn to trust” or indicate that they don’t feel it’s their place to ask questions.

Changes in Self-perception

  • Your loved one has become critical of their ‘old self’ and their former lifestyle and life choices. Even though you were unaware of any prior issue, your loved one may indicate that they used to have a serious behavioral problem such as an addiction or other physical or mental health condition. They believe that they are better now because their partner helped them. In these cases, the person being influenced is adamant that their old self was bad and that their partner “saved” them. They are intensely fearful that leaving their partner, or even failing to follow their partner’s instructions, would mean relapsing into their old and supposedly unhealthy life.
  • Your loved one’s partner calls them by a new name, nickname, or 'spiritual name', and your loved one has asked you not to use their real name or a long-used nickname anymore.

Changes in Relationships

  • Your relationship with your loved one used to be strong, but now they seem secretive and defensive so your conversations feel strained. The closeness you once shared is diminished and has been replaced by mistrust, increasing tension, and escalating arguments.
  • Your loved one is increasingly isolated from family and friends. This pulling away often begins with with the people who were once your loved one’s closest confidants. Frequently, the loved one will be newly judgmental of family members and old friends.
  • Your loved one has expressed that your family does not pay enough attention to, respect, or treat their partner fairly.
  • Your loved one has reduced their attendance at family gatherings, life cycle events, and holiday celebrations. They no longer acknowledge significant milestone events, annual celebrations, or religious holidays that used to be important to them.
  • Your loved one has told you they need space and wish to limit the frequency of communication with you. When you do talk with them they often seem tense and are easily irritated or annoyed. You feel like you are walking on eggshells when communicating with them. In some cases, you may have received a letter or email listing all the reasons why they feel this break in communication is necessary.

Changes in Perception of Past and Plans for the Future

  • Though it has never been an issue before, your loved one now accuses you (or others in the family) of being controlling, disrespectful, negative, abusive, or toxic. When you ask for specific example of things that bother them, they have a hard time providing examples, and those they do give blow the events in question out of all proportion.
  • Your loved one is requesting old photo albums and childhood scrapbooks and seems to be hyper-focused on the past. Though you thought your loved one had a normal, happy childhood, they have reframed growing up as fraught with difficulty or traumatic.
  • Your loved one’s memories of the past no longer match those of other family members, such as siblings and parents, who shared the same experiences. Your loved one’s memories no longer reflect the smiling face of their counterpart in old family photographs.
  • Your loved one's life ambitions and career plans have changed dramatically since they met their partner and no longer reflect their former interests and values. Sometimes a new goal or course of study either reflects their partner’s values or is a something from which the partner might derive some tangible benefit.
  • Your loved one suddenly abandons hobbies or activities that they were once passionate about. For example, midway through the season, they quit the college track team and now say running is a waste of time.
  • Your loved one is spending unusual amounts of money, loaning money to a partner they haven’t known for very long or investing in a high-risk business venture presented by that partner. In extreme cases, your loved one’s partner is encouraging them to spend their nest egg, inheritance, or IRA.
  • Similarly, your loved one may have recently – and with their partner’s encouragement – taken out a significant loan or defaulted on one.
  • Your loved one is spending a substantial amount of money on a new spiritual practice by paying for classes, coaching, or to make donations.

If you just have concerns or questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out

Phone: 617-415-8339