Are You Self-Sabotaging Your Relationship? 10 Ways to Prevent It

self sabotaging relationships

Are you in a happy relationship, but you still feel anxious and frustrated? Do you rock the boat and cause conflict when there is no real issue? You might be self-sabotaging your relationship. Let’s dive in and explore how to prevent this from happening.

What is self-sabotaging behavior?

Self-sabotaging behavior often stems from a lack of self-belief or self-esteem. When your underlying core belief is that you aren’t good enough or don’t deserve success and happiness, your behavior will be aligned with these beliefs. You might inadvertently ruin your chances of finding love, maintaining a lasting relationship, or achieving the goals you desire.

Most of the unhelpful behavior originates from early ‘messages’ in our childhood. Perhaps your parents neglected you, or a person repeatedly criticized you. Another possible cause could be that you were bullied at school. Whatever the reason, there is usually a cause that stems from your early life when you were still developing ‘filter’s about the world.

Signs of self-sabotage in a relationship

Do you feel that your relationship is not going smoothly, but you are not sure why? Here are a few examples of the reasons why you might be self-sabotaging your relationship. These behaviors reduce your relationship’s longevity and lead to depression, anxiety, and feelings of powerlessness.

1. Passive-aggressive behavior

Playing mind games with another person is a form of passive-aggressive behavior. You self-sabotage when you are not being assertive and avoid asking for what you want in your relationship. Subtly undermining your partner’s confidence or criticizing your partner will create a toxic relationship dynamic. Showing contempt, judging, silent treatment, or withholding affection are all examples of passive-aggressive behavior. In my work with clients, I have found that passive-aggressive behavior is one of the most common forms of unhealthy self-sabotaging behavior that ends relationships.

You self-sabotage when you are not being assertive and avoid asking for what you want in your relationship. Click To Tweet

2. Jealousy and possessiveness

Insecurities lead us to see things that aren’t there. Psychologists refer to this as confirmation bias. When you display jealousy or try to keep tabs on your partner, this behavior will inevitably get exhausting.

Jealousy puts a strain on relationships and will put them at risk. Ask yourself, why you don’t trust your partner. Are you upset when they go out with their friends? Do you have a feeling that they’ve been flirting with someone else? Do you suspect them of infidelity?

Trust is a vital part of any healthy relationship. It’s best to approach your relationship with the mantra “innocent till proven guilty” if you want to avoid resentment.

3. Not accepting responsibility

man and woman sitting back to back

Part of being in a healthy relationship involves accepting responsibility for your behavior. When you own your behavior, whether it’s good or bad, you show maturity towards your partner. Owning your behavior means that you are willing to look at the reason for your feelings and actions.

A partner who doesn’t accept responsibility for their actions uses deflection, blame-shifting, denial, or projection when addressing their relationship problems. When you don’t take responsibility, you can’t resolve any issues that exist between the two of you.

4. Neglecting the relationship

Fear of commitment, abandonment, or rejection might lead to the self-sabotaging behavior of neglecting your partner in your relationship. You may really care for your partner, but your fear may intercept your chances of that intimacy you really crave with the person you love.

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When you focus on other areas of your life, such as your career or hobbies, you send out a message that the relationship isn’t a priority. Your partner may alsp begin to detach if they feel the relationship isn’t important to you. Think of a relationship as if it was a garden – it needs ongoing maintenance, or the weeds will grow.

Think of a relationship as if it was a garden - it needs ongoing maintenance, or the weeds will grow. Click To Tweet

5. Substance abuse

Substance abuse in a relationship will eventually cause a breakdown in communication. Drinking too much alcohol or usingPutting up emotional barriers may signal that you have a deep-rooted fear of intimacy that prevents you from getting close with your partner. Click To Tweet drugs will create a rift that will only grow wider unless swift action is taken. Substance abuse is an example of self-sabotaging behavior because individuals use alcohol or drugs to escape their unwanted emotions. It’s an unhealthy response because it affects the relationship as a whole and adds to the problems rather than creates a solution.

Addictive behavior such as gambling, overeating, or ignoring your own self-care is also considered a form of self-sabotage.

6. Putting up barriers to intimacy

You may notice that you pick fights over trivial things or are hypercritical of your partner. On the other end of the spectrum is defensiveness and stonewalling (silent treatment), which create emotional distance and hinder your relationship from running smoothly. 

Putting up emotional barriers may signal that you have a deep-rooted fear of intimacy that prevents you from getting close with your partner. This may be coming from your negative relationship experiences in the past, or it may be a subconscious self-defense mechanism trying to prevent yourself from being hurt.

If you keep acting like this, it will erode the goodwill, create a negative dynamic, and eventually cause a relationship to fail unless the self-sabotaging behaviors are addressed.

Putting up emotional barriers may signal that you have a deep-rooted fear of intimacy that prevents you from getting close with your partner. Click To Tweet

Why do I self-destruct my relationships?

The more you engage in self-sabotaging behavior, the further away you push all the things you really want, such as love, care, acceptance, and intimacy. Fear is the underlying emotion that encourages all your self-sabotage. You might possess a core belief that you are undeserving of love and respect. You might also be reacting to trauma from your childhood.

Trauma leaves an ‘imprint’ on our nervous system that comes to the surface in relationships with certain people. It’s unlikely that every partner will trigger self-sabotaging behavior. However, if your partner has similarities to your primary caregiver or authoritative figure from your childhood, you are more likely to get triggered by their behavior. When you are reminded of abandonment, rejection, or neglect, you simulate childlike responses to deal with your adult relationships.

Your adult attachment style is connected to your childhood and depends on how stable your upbringing was. If your parents met your needs consistently, you would have a secure attachment. If there was neglect or abuse, you would be more likely to possess an anxious or ambivalent attachment style in relationships.

How do I stop sabotaging my relationship?

fighting couple sitting on a bench

Every client I have seen with self-sabotaging behavior wanted to find ways to protect their relationships and understand their underlying compulsions. The first step in preventing self-sabotage is awareness of your thinking and behavior. It puts you in the driver’s seat and helps you find healthy alternatives to get your needs met in a way that doesn’t damage your relationship. Here are ten actionable tips on how to avoid self-sabotaging your relationships.

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1. Respect yourself

When you fundamentally like yourself, you will be less likely to engage in self-sabotage. Self-care is essential when you are in a relationship with a person who will, at times, trigger your fears and insecurities. Sustain an inner belief that you are inherently valuable. Maintain your friendships and family connections and keep the interests that you had before you began the relationship. A grounded person is a stable person.

2. Maintain healthy boundaries

Maintaining healthy limits in your relationship is vital to preventing self-sabotage. The more you like and value yourself, the less likely you will be to let your partner ignore or cross your boundaries. Discuss what you both want (and don’t want) in the relationship and define behaviors that you both find acceptable and unacceptable. When you set this out, you both have a mutual understanding of the relationship boundaries.

The more you like and value yourself, the less likely you will be to let your partner ignore or cross your boundaries. Click To Tweet

3. Be assertive

Often people assume that others around them know what they think or what they want, but that’s not always the case. That’s how disappointment creeps in and starts affecting your relationship. Your partner can’t read your mind, so communication is vital when it comes to fulfilling your needs. If you are not getting what you want or feel misunderstood, get it out in the open, and don’t allow problems to fester or grow unmanageable.

4. Understand your triggers

Understanding your triggers will go a long way in helping you prepare for difficult situations. If, for example, you know that fear of abandonment triggers you in a relationship, develop a strategy to deal with this fear. You could speak to your partner and let them know that you might sometimes overreact if you feel they might abandon you.

Try to pinpoint the situations that lead to you feeling vulnerable. Ask yourself what other reasons could be in play. Is your partner distracted? Are they tired? Thinking about alternatives is an excellent way to reduce your intense fears in relationships. We tend to view the world through our fears and insecurities, while the reality may be totally different.

Understanding your triggers will go a long way in helping you prepare for difficult situations. Click To Tweet

5. Communicate openly and regularly

Consider the relationship as a whole rather than getting stuck on one particular problem related to your partner. If you’ve been let down by your partner, instead of being passive or passive-aggressive, open up the communication and let them know how you feel. They may not even realize that they have upset you.

Be careful not to let molehills become mountains by talking openly and regularly. Communication that solves problems is an excellent way to reset emotions that might be building up. Honest and collaborative conversations stop situations from being blown out of proportion.

6. Embrace uncertainty

couples hands

Embrace love, trust your partner and try to see the best in them. Focus on the good aspects of the person you are with and learn to accept uncertainty.

Sometimes you might assume that your partner wants to hurt you. Try not to let those paranoid thoughts get between the two of you. It is easy to let that destructive narrative take over your thoughts, so try to stop it before it’s too late. If you don’t ask your partner, you can’t be sure what is really on their mind.

7. Make an effort

Accept your part in the relationship and aim to find solutions to avoid future problems. Try to be aware of when you self-sabotage and why this is happening in your interpersonal relationships.

Consider your love languages and make an effort to meet each other’s needs. Think of what your partner appreciates the most when you make an effort to show you care. A person who feels loved will always be happy to do more for you in the relationship.

Try to be aware of when you self-sabotage and why this is happening in your interpersonal relationships. Click To Tweet

8. Be self-aware

Being self-aware is not that easy, but you will gradually notice the improvement if you start practicing it. Stop rationalizing your own actions and try to think from the other person’s perspective. How do they see you? What are your qualities that attract the wrong type of partners or cause a particular response?

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If you are drawn to relationships with selfish individuals who ignore you or make you feel inadequate, examine the reasons for this. If you are trying to improve your existing relationship, having a conversation with your partner and admitting your weaknesses is a good starting point. Try to change your mindset and take more control of your interactions with people.

9. Monitor your self-talk

Monitor your thinking patterns as well as your inner dialogue. Self-sabotaging relationships can lead to self-doubt and anxiety related to assumptions about what your partner is thinking of you. Consider whether you catastrophize, fear the worst, or demonize your partner.

Be realistic and think about whether your thinking is rational or based on emotional reasoning “I feel this way; therefore, it must be true.” Are your thoughts based on your insecurities or past experiences of relationships? Try to see your partner as different from previous partners. It’s irrational to believe that your boyfriend or girlfriend will hurt you in the same way as someone from your past did. Give them the benefit of the doubt and remind yourself that every relationship is unique. Start with a clean slate to give yourself the best possible chance.

Self-sabotaging relationships can lead to self-doubt and anxiety related to assumptions about what your partner is thinking of you. Click To Tweet

10. Consider therapy

If you feel that some of your self-sabotage is too ingrained or fixed, consider couples therapy. It can do wonders to understanding your relationship dynamics. You can explore where your fears come from as well as the reasons for your thoughts, feelings, and behavior. Therapy encourages open communication and supports you in finding more effective ways to talk to your partner.

An assertive script is a simple yet effective way to get your point across without causing your partner to become defensive. If your partner feels attacked, they are less likely to listen to you, and they may put their emotional walls up to protect themselves.

Use this format: I feel ______ (insert emotion here, e.g., sad) when you ______ (insert behavior here, e.g., don’t eat dinner with me), so what I would like you to do is ______ (insert suggestion here, e.g., spend half an hour with me every evening at 7 pm).

Using the words “you always” or “you never” can come across as aggressive. Try an assertive script to improve your communication with your partner and get the most out of your relationship.

Self-sabotaging relationships can be overcome. Be willing to take positive steps to pull back from your typical reactions by inserting a pause before responding to your partner. Taking a short time-out allows your reasoning to kick in and increases your chances of avoiding saying something you later regret.

When you have insight into your underlying core beliefs, insecurities, and fears, you will have taken the first step towards more fulfilling relationships.

Mandy is a psychologist and cognitive-behavioral therapist from Surrey, UK. On her blog Thoughts On Life And Love, she shares her experiences and insights into humans’ psychology, covering life, love, and relationships topics.


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