Are You Sabotaging Your Relationships?

  1. Why We Sabotage Relationships With People Who Treat Us Well
  2. Why we self-sabotage our relationships.
  3. 1. Not addressing negative emotions.
  4. 3. Criticism toward your partner.
  5. 4. Engaging in unhealthy behavior.
  6. 6. Putting energy into everything except your relationship.
  7. 7. Having unrealistic expectations.
  8. 8. Not keeping small promises.
  9. 9. Focusing on your and your partner's imperfections.
  10. 11. Using the «silent treatment.»
  11. 1. Understand both partners' attachment styles.
  12. 2. Have an honest discussion.
  13. Sabotaging Relationships: Why You Do It, Signs You Do It, How To Stop
  14. Why do you sabotage your relationships?
  15. 1. You have low self-esteem
  16. 2. You’ve been rejected in the past
  17. 3. You fear intimacy
  18. 4. You fear commitment
  19. 5. You’ve grown up with drama as the norm
  20. 6. It could be your gut trying to warn you
  21. 10 signs you’re sabotaging your relationships
  22. 1. You pick silly fights
  23. 2. You shut them out
  24. 3. You try to make them jealous
  25. 4. You cheat on them
  26. 5. You belittle them
  27. 6. You find reasons/excuses to leave
  28. 7. You end things regularly
  29. 8. You refuse to commit
  30. 9. You gaslight them
  31. 10. You’re always dating
  32. How to stop sabotaging your relationships. 
  33. 1. Unpack your feelings
  34. 2. Speak to your partner
  35. 3. Seek professional help
  36. How to talk to your partner
  37. Self sabotaging — Self sabotaging relationships
  38. Are you self-sabotaging your relationships?
  39. You avoid pain
  40. You live in a fantasy land
  41. You listen to your inner critic
  42. You can't back down
  43. You care too much about what other people think
  44. You forget that you're not the same

Why We Sabotage Relationships With People Who Treat Us Well

Are You Sabotaging Your Relationships?

Last updated on January 28, 2020

Sometimes the only thing standing between us and a happier relationship is ourselves. Many psychologists call this self-sabotaging behavior, which is broadly defined as behavior that creates problems in your own daily life and interferes with your long-standing goals.

In relationships, self-sabotage is when you're actively trying to ruin your own relationship or make it fall apart, whether consciously or subconsciously. For some people, this is such an ingrained behavior that it can be hard to even recognize, let alone stop it.

Why we self-sabotage our relationships.

Although often subconscious, there are several reasons someone might want to sabotage a perfectly healthy relationship. One big reason is low self-esteem and self-worth, according to clinical psychologist Maggie Dancel, Psy.D.

If you're worried your partner may you enough, you might subconsciously act out or push them away so you don't have to feel the sting of rejection.

Stirring up relationship drama can also be a way to keep your partner interested, Dancel tells mbg: «Individuals may not feel that they can get better, so they settle for any attention, affection, and connection, negative or positive.»

On the other side of the spectrum, some individuals might fear commitment due to what the relationship will mean for their independence, leading them to self-sabotage the relationship in order to keep their distance and maintain a sense of freedom.

«Much of the reasoning behind someone self-sabotaging a relationship has to do with an individual's attachment style,» Madeline Cooper, a psychotherapist and clinical social worker specializing in sexuality and relationships, tells mbg.

Your attachment style is the way you deal with relationships, which is learned from our earliest childhood relationships with caregivers.

Individuals with anxious attachment styles often desire intimacy and fear rejection because of experiences of abandonment in childhood, which can lead them to project these negative outcomes of the relationship onto their partner.

Individuals with avoidant attachment styles often avoid closeness and intimacy because their childhood taught them to be self-sufficient, which may lead them to delay commitment or demonstrate a dismissive nature.

Because the desire to self-sabotage is so linked to our attachment style, people can often self-sabotage relationships subconsciously by repeating the relational patterns that we learned as children. «We repeat behaviors over and over again because the negative cycle is familiar,» Dancel says.

1. Not addressing negative emotions.

A big red flag for self-sabotage is having negative emotions about your partner or relationship but refusing to address them.

Feeling anxiety, anger, frustration, or doubt in any relationship, romantic or not, is totally normal—but refusing to speak to your partner about these fears signals that you're not interested in fixing the problems you're seeing or keeping your relationship alive.

«I have seen clients who suspect their partners of cheating with no evidence to prove it but are so convinced because of their own insecurities,» Cooper says, describing this as an example of self-sabotaging a relationship.

It's hard not to get paranoid sometimes in relationships, but if you are constantly worried that your partner is cheating or wants to leave you, this could be a projection of your own fears and anxieties about the relationship.

3. Criticism toward your partner.

The best partnerships involve at least some constructive criticism, but if you are always criticizing your partner for small behaviors, this could also be a sign of self-sabotage. Critiquing your partner when they do not deserve it could mean that you are subconsciously trying to create a wedge between you two or drive them away.

4. Engaging in unhealthy behavior.

While it might not seem it, eating poorly, drinking or smoking excessively, and overall not taking care of yourself can be a sign of self-sabotage in a relationship.

These negative behaviors can function as a coping mechanism for individuals who are unhappy in a relationship but do not know how to fix it.

These unhealthy patterns can also be a scapegoat for the issues in a relationship—if someone is focused on their excessive smoking, for example, they can blame their relationship troubles on that rather than looking for deeper problems. 

Everyone holds a grudge once in a while, but if you are constantly annoyed by small things your partner does and can't seem to let go of that anger, this may be a sign of self-sabotage.

Often, holding grudges in a relationship can lead to poor communication and delayed anger and fighting, which can greatly hurt any partnership.

You may be subconsciously holding a grudge to avoid talking to your partner about the issues in your relationship.

6. Putting energy into everything except your relationship.

A big sign of self-sabotage is if you are concerned about the state of your relationship but also not putting time into mending it.

If you have suddenly become hyper-focused on work, your hobbies, or the other people in your life and are ignoring your partner completely, you might be trying to convince yourself you don't have time to fix the issues in your relationship, when really you are just prioritizing other things.

7. Having unrealistic expectations.

Intimate relationships can be difficult to manage, and it's hard to always have a perfect set of expectations for what you and your partner owe each other.

That being said, if you are regularly upset that your partner is not meeting your expectations and are not communicating your disappointment to them, this could also be a sign that you have already deemed your partner unfit for you in your head and don't think the relationship is worth fighting for.

8. Not keeping small promises.

Small things add up. If you regularly break promises regarding what time you will be home or when you and your partner will be spending quality time, this could mean that you are training your partner to resent you.

9. Focusing on your and your partner's imperfections.

Another red flag is if you are unable to see the good in your partner or relationship and can instead only focus on small imperfections on both sides. This negative pattern is often a sign that you are trying to drive a wedge between yourself and your partner. 

It's normal for couples to go through phrases of lackluster sex (or no sex at all), but Cooper says it's telling when one person has given up and accepted the unfulfilling sexual relationship.

«Because many people are uncomfortable talking about sexuality and intimacy, they will not tell their partner if they are unsatisfied in the sexual relationship.

This can lead to frustration, resentment, or even 'the grass is greener' syndrome, where someone wonders if something else is better,» she says.

11. Using the «silent treatment.»

One of the biggest signs of self-sabotage is poor communication or a lack thereof. The «silent treatment,» or refusing to speak to someone in your life anger or to teach them a lesson, is an extremely toxic form of communication that can be very harmful to any relationship.

1. Understand both partners' attachment styles.

Understanding both your own and your partner's attachment styles can help you both learn how to better provide for each other's needs. There are easy tests online that allow people to quickly discover their attachment style and give helpful tips on what individuals with each style desire most a relationship.

«Knowing your and your partner's attachment style will help each person understand why they act in a certain way within the relationship and can help reframe the action from sabotaging to a pattern created a relationship and family history,» said Cooper.

«By becoming more self-aware of these patterns, people can start to intentionally work to create new patterns by confronting and being honest about their feelings surrounding intimacy, developing direct communication skills with their partner, and working to let go of any fears surrounding relationships and commitment.» 

2. Have an honest discussion.

If you are feeling anxious or having doubts in any relationship, it is important that you initiate an open discussion about these fears.

You and your partner should speak openly about what problems you're having and what the best next steps for your relationship could be.

If you feel you have some growing up to do before the relationship can change, taking a temporary break might be a move to consider.

If you feel you and your partner cannot solve these issues on your own, counseling can be a great next step. Both individual and couples' therapy provide a great outlet to discuss your relationship fears in a supportive, nonjudgmental, and empathetic environment.

If you feel your issues are only surrounding your relationship, couples' therapy is probably the route to try.

However, if you feel your relationship troubles are stemming from bigger issues in your own life, it might be time to try individualized therapy to unpack some of your own life experiences that might be affecting how you're showing up in your relationships.

Relationships are never easy, and it's important to be patient while you are putting in all this hard work.

Remember that you have a support system to help you through rough times and that you should be proud of yourself for recognizing unhealthy behavior and taking the necessary steps to fix it. «Life is hard!» Dancel lamented.

«We are all just trying to make it in this world. It's important for people to be understanding and patient with themselves.»


Sabotaging Relationships: Why You Do It, Signs You Do It, How To Stop

Are You Sabotaging Your Relationships?

Get expert help dealing with self-sabotage of your relationships. Click here to chat online to someone right now.

Do you tend to start making bad decisions on purpose at a certain point in a relationship?

Maybe you start pushing your partner away the second you feel you’re getting close.

Whatever it is, most of us have sabotaged a relationship at some point.

It’s not the healthiest decision, and whether it’s what you intended or not, it can disrupt the relationship and cause some serious issues.

Let’s run through why you sabotage relationships, the signs to look out for, and how to move forward from this behavior – as well as how to keep your partner in the loop, of course! 

Why do you sabotage your relationships?

There’s no single reason why people sabotage relationships, but here are some possible explanations that are worth exploring if you don’t know why you do it.

1. You have low self-esteem

If you don’t really yourself, let alone love yourself, you might question how and why anyone else could ever love you.

You may think you’re not good enough for them, and convince yourself that they are not with you for the right reasons. You may tell yourself that they’re just using you until someone better comes along, for example.

And so, because you convince yourself that the relationship is doomed, you decide to accelerate the eventual breakup by displaying some of the signs below.  

2. You’ve been rejected in the past

If you’ve experienced heartbreak in the past, you’re probably terrified of being rejected again.

This is a form of abandonment issue and it sends you into defence mode from the get-go. You might start putting up walls or pushing people away before they can hurt you.

When things start to get serious, you might panic and worry that it will all end and you’ll be heartbroken again. You push them away so that, if things do end, it was because you decided they should, and not because another person rejected you again.

Your past rejection may not have been a romantic relationship, either. Maybe one or both of your parents treated you poorly, failed to show you the love a child needs, or was absent for all or part of your childhood. This can have a huge impact on how you approach relationships in your adult life. 

3. You fear intimacy

You might not have been in a serious relationship before, or you might have had a tricky childhood or some intimacy issues with past partners for whatever reason.

If you’re not sure how to cope with affection and love, you might find yourself rejecting it.

That could mean you push your partner away, pick fights for no reason, or just totally shut them out and essentially stop them from showing you attention or affection because you don’t know how to trust or process it.

4. You fear commitment

For whatever reason, the idea of committing to someone for a long time – possible for life – terrifies you.

You feel claustrophobic when a relationship reaches a certain point, perhaps when you move in together. You feel as though you have lost yourself in the relationship, with your independence and identity taken from you.

And so, you fight back and push away from your partner to get some space. Ultimately, you sabotage things because genuine, loving commitment is just a step too far for you.

5. You’ve grown up with drama as the norm

Not all childhoods are full of love and stability. If yours was, instead, full of conflict and drama, you might have had to engage in that drama to get the attention you wanted.

After all, if positive attention isn’t forthcoming, negative attention will sometimes have to do.

Now, in your relationships as an adult, you might still go looking for negative attention from your partner because that’s all you know.

And so you lash out, start fights, and cause drama because that’s what you think life and relationships are . But this, ultimately, risks damaging those relationships beyond repair.  

6. It could be your gut trying to warn you

Never underestimate the power of your gut instincts! Sometimes, we know that things aren’t quite right in our relationship, but we forge ahead anyway.

That could be because we love the person despite knowing that the relationship isn’t healthy, or it could be because we’re scared to be alone or don’t want to end things for some reason.

We sometimes act out and sabotage things because our subconscious minds are so fiercely trying to find a way out!

If we’re not ready or willing to consciously end things, our subconscious will make us act in a way that will probably end the relationship for us. 

10 signs you’re sabotaging your relationships

Now that we’ve established the core reasons why you might sabotage a relationship, let’s explore the signs that you definitely are.

1. You pick silly fights

You might be so frustrated or anxious that you end up fighting over nothing! This can quickly become a regular habit and is your (unfair) way of letting your stress out on your partner. 

2. You shut them out

You might ignore them, take longer to get back to them, or avoid physical intimacy with them. Whatever it is, if you put walls up to keep them out, you’re sabotaging your relationship with them. 

3. You try to make them jealous

If you’re chatting to an ex or flirting with someone when you know it’ll make your partner uncomfortable, there’s a strong chance you’re doing it to subconsciously damage your relationship with them. 

4. You cheat on them

What easier way to end a relationship than by cheating on your partner? Whether you’re scared of them cheating on you first or you’re not ready to commit, sleeping with someone else is a sure-fire way to ruin things! 

5. You belittle them

Some people sabotage their relationship by making their partner feel bad about themselves. This is an unhealthy, toxic power play and is very unfair on the other person. You might insult them, make jokes about them, or suggest that they’re not good enough for you. 

6. You find reasons/excuses to leave

If you want to sabotage your relationship, you might make up reasons why it’s not working, lying to yourself (and others) to make it ‘easier’ to up and leave – even if none of it is true! 

7. You end things regularly

Maybe you’re constantly on and off with your partner – you to keep them guessing, remind them who’s boss, and make them question your relationship all the time. Again, this is toxic behavior! 

8. You refuse to commit

If you cancel dates, refuse to meet their family, and regularly avoid any kind of commitment, you’re harming your relationship, either knowingly or not.

9. You gaslight them

Again, this is very toxic! Gaslighting is essentially trying to make someone question what they feel. They might tell you you’ve hurt their feelings, and you’ll dismiss it and tell them they’re wrong and it’s all their fault. 

10. You’re always dating

If you’ve never been in a long term relationship before and tend to serially date, it could be because you’ve got a habit of sabotaging every emotional connection you make! 

How to stop sabotaging your relationships. 

As with all self-growth and change, the first step is to realize what you’re doing.

If you’ve made it this far through the article, there’s a strong chance you’ve acknowledged that you sabotage your relationships.

Now, let’s look at the three major steps you can take to move forwards.  

1. Unpack your feelings

Consider why you do these things. Explore whether this is a one-off or a habit. Think about how it makes other people feel too. 

Self-awareness is key to changing any kind of behavior, so it’s important to understand where this tendency comes from.

We’ve listed some common causes for sabotaging relationships above, but think about what yours could be.

Chat to a close friend whom you trust and ask for their opinion. They might remember something that you don’t – the person who rejected you when you were younger, or being bullied for how you looked, or even a messy argument your parents had one time!

Seemingly small things this can stick in our minds and create ‘narratives’ or cycles of thought that we then internalize as ‘truths.’

We start to believe these things and live our lives accordingly:

“My current partner will reject me because I always get rejected.”

“Nobody finds me attractive so I should hurt them before they tell me I’m ugly.”

“If my parents can’t have a happy, healthy relationship, I can never have one!”

You see how easily those little triggers can become values we live by? 

2. Speak to your partner

This probably sounds terrifying, especially if you’ve identified some unfair behaviors you’ve displayed around/to them.

If you’ve realized that you push them away or insult them, it’s normal to feel very guilty! The most important thing is that you’ve realized this and are eager to make a change.

Talk to your partner, and acknowledge that certain aspects of your behavior have been unacceptable. It’s important to not make excuses for this – if you’ve hurt them, they need to know you’re sorry and won’t do it again.

You can have a separate conversation about why you’ve acted this, which we’ll go into more detail on below. For now, let them know you’re aware of your actions, that you’re not excusing your behavior, and that you’re genuinely sorry. 

3. Seek professional help

We recommend speaking to a specialist in this area if you can. We know that therapy isn’t available to everyone, but it’s well worth it.

There are ways to speak to someone online and over the phone if you can’t make it in person.

It can be helpful to have someone who can see your situation objectively and help you through your feelings and fears. And sometimes you need someone to call your behavior out in a way that people who love you might not want to or don’t feel capable of doing!

How to talk to your partner

Okay, this is the biggie! It’s not a great conversation to have, but that’s half the reason it’s such an important one.

Once you’ve acknowledged and apologized for how you’ve acted, you can start to find a way forwards with them – if you’ve decided that the relationship is actually something you want!

You may have realized, of course, that you’re sabotaging it because you subconsciously want to get it. In which case, it’s best to end things now. 

If you’re going to stay, you need to communicate honestly with your partner about where these behaviors come from.

If it’s because you’re scared of rejection, you can take steps together to make sure you both feel comfortable and secure in the relationship.

You can both commit to opening up more, forging a more trusting relationship, and continually checking in with each other to ensure you’re both happy and comfortable with how things are. 

This conversation also offers a great opportunity to discuss your actions. It’s worth letting them know that, while you’re still working toward understanding and adapting your behaviors, you may do some things that come across badly.

It’s important for them to know this for a number of reasons…

Firstly, so that they can make a decision about whether or not they want to stay in the relationship and potentially have to put up with some unfair treatment.

Secondly, so that they understand what’s happening and can work with you to help you stop.

And thirdly, so that they know this isn’t about them, it’s not personal, and it’s not indicative of your relationship with them.

This allows them to make an informed decision and is an honest way of sharing how you feel about your relationship.

They may decide they’re not prepared to sacrifice certain things while they wait for you to work through it all.

They might not want to risk you cheating on them again, for example, or they may feel they are worth more and want someone who is ready to accept them as they are.

This is fair and it is up to them, and them alone, to make that choice. You cannot try to force them to stay or manipulate their feelings. 

If they choose to stay, they may now be aware that you might do things you don’t mean, but it doesn’t mean the hard work is over! You still need to find a way to work toward a healthier, happier relationship – with them, and with yourself.

Still not sure how to stop sabotaging your relationships? Chat online to a relationship expert from Relationship Hero who can help you figure things out. Simply click here to chat.

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Self sabotaging — Self sabotaging relationships

Are You Sabotaging Your Relationships?


Healthy relationships take a lot of work, and often that can mean taking a good hard look at your own dating behaviours. There are many ways we can screw up our romantic relationships without even realising it — not that this is always our fault — including self-sabotaging.

We have rubbish/no relationships education in this country, after all! As well as getting to know our attachment styles, love languages and abandonment issues, (which can really help us learn more about our relationship behaviour), it's also important to think about how we could be actively sabotaging our relationships.

Are you self-sabotaging your relationships?

Sex and relationships expert for ONE Condoms, and certified couples' counsellor Annabelle Knight explains this behaviour is really common, and many of us can be guilty of self-sabotaging our relationships without even realising it. Here's how to know if you're doing just that.

You avoid pain

This is when you allow yourself to get to a certain point in a relationship before pulling back. Maybe you’ve seen too many sad films or really took to heart the saying ‘love hurts’…

whatever the reason, avoiding pain is the outcome.

This can manifest in a number of ways, from creating ‘bottom line’ issues nothing, to convincing yourself that this person isn’t 'the one' (if you believe in that in the first place) so you should move on.

Meddy Harjanto / EyeEm

You live in a fantasy land

So many people manage to avoid falling for someone because they adhere to a strict code.

This is a list of ‘must haves,’ usually created in a much younger, more immature psychological state that leads that person to sabotage any and all future relationships — the skewed notion that the person they're with isn’t worthy of their affection.

Fantasy land behaviour often occurs within the first six months of a relationship and offers a sense of control and power that might have to be relinquished if you allow yourself to be vulnerable with another person.

You listen to your inner critic

We all have one, you know that little voice that goes on at you, telling you to hope for the best but prepare for the worst. Yup, that’s the one. Well it’s our inner critic that, more often than not, is responsible for self-sabotaging our relationships.

Convincing ourselves that we’re 'not worthy' or that 'it’ll all end in tears anyway so what’s the point?' is the main reason a lot of relationships can fail.

We don’t allow ourselves the chance at happiness because deep down we don’t feel we deserve it.

You can't back down

Some people would rather be right, than be in a relationship.

Most couples argue, it’s a healthy way to vent our issues and if done correctly (yes there is a right way to argue) can lead to a stronger, healthier partnership.

However, its when we let ego get in the way that we self sabotage. The need to be right, rather than to compromise is one of the biggest relationship killers and can occur during any stage in a relationship.


You care too much about what other people think

For some people, the opinions of others far outweigh that of their partners. This can be hugely damaging to a relationship. If you’ve ever ignored your partner to reply to a non-urgent text, cancelled plans with them for frivolous plans with friends or feel the need to tend to other people's needs rather than theirs on a regular basis, then you may be guilty of this.

You forget that you're not the same

Expecting your partner to think, feel and act in the same way as you do is another form of self sabotage. Rigid thinking is an unhealthy way to live and can cause great stress and upset to your relationship.

Accepting and appreciating that your partner’s experiences, understandings and ultimately the way in which they identify the world are different is the only way you can truly co-exist happily with one another.

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