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Identifying 6 Subtle Signs Of Self-Sabotage In Your Relationship

how to stop self-sabotaging relationships

When we self-sabotage, we set ourselves up for failure without ever giving ourselves the chance to succeed. People can self-sabotage in all sorts of ways: in work, hobbies, finances, and more. But there’s a certain pain that comes with self-sabotaging relationships. 

People who self-sabotage relationships might truly love the person they are with and want a future with them. They might not even be aware of their self-sabotaging behaviors. 

Identifying self-sabotage is the first step to healing and creating healthier habits. This article will go over why we self-sabotage relationships, the types of self-sabotage, signs of self-sabotage, and how to stop self-sabotaging relationships.

Why do we self-sabotage?

When we truly connect with someone, we give up a little of our independence to lean on them. In ways that can vary from small to very large, we become dependent on the people we love for our emotional, physical, mental, and relational help. Because of this, the people we love have the power to hurt us. When faced with the risk of this pain, some people resort to self-sabotage. 

There are three main reasons why people self-sabotage relationships.

1. To protect yourself from pain.

Self-sabotage in relationships is at its core a self-protective technique. One study found that “people cope with threats to their romantic relationships by prioritizing self-protection goals over connectedness goals.” To avoid the threat of pain, we choose to push away those we love so they can’t hurt us. 

When there’s a threat to your relationship, people either become approach-motivated or avoidance-motivated. Approach motivated brings you closer to your goals of a loving relationship and belonging—you push in toward your partner in an attempt to heal and solve the issue at hand. Avoidance motivation prioritizes protecting the self by withdrawing—you pull away (or cause the other person to pull away) in an attempt to protect yourself from potential upcoming harm.

2. Your attachment style has unmet needs.

Researchers believe that the root of self-sabotage is your attachment style. Attachment styles are informed by parent-child relationships growing up. As an adult, they help define how you interact and form relationships with others. There are 4 types of attachment styles. Of those 4, avoidant attachment is most linked with relationship self-sabotage. 

When you have an avoidant attachment, you want freedom and independence. You become threatened by interdependence and intimacy, and as a result, will pull away when a relationship becomes too intimate. 

Remember that self-sabotage is just a way to protect yourself, so finding a less destructive way to meet your needs can help you stop self-sabotaging.

3. Previous bad experiences.

Our previous experiences affect our relationship beliefs. If you’ve been burned by a relationship in the past, it’s natural to lean away from relationships in the future. Trauma, neglect, cheating, emotional abuse, and even a bad breakup in past relationships can make you self-sabotage to protect yourself. 

However, our future is not determined by our past; new relationships don’t have to follow the same patterns. By identifying what your needs are, your attachment style, and what past trauma you might need to heal from, you can stop yourself from self-sabotaging a good relationship. 


Do You Self-Sabotage?

Now that we know why someone self-sabotages relationships, let’s find out if you self-sabotage. Dr. Raquel Peel, a psychology researcher at the University of Southern Queensland, has studied self-sabotage extensively. She has found 3 main types of self-sabotagers and 12 main areas of self-sabotage. Using these findings, she constructed the Relationship Sabotage Scale (RSS), which is the first tool developed to try and measure self-sabotage in a relationship.

What Type of Self-Sabotager Are You?

The three types of self-sabotagers Dr. Raquel Peel found are: 

  1. The Avoidant: Refuses to be in a relationship at all. Even if they want a long-term partner or even a family, they will stave off dating out of fear of being hurt. 
  2. The Searcher: Cycles through relationships in search for “the one”, but leaves at the first sign of trouble. This is the classic serial dater. They may date people for upwards of a year or two, but when the first big conflict occurs, they flee in search for that one “perfect” relationship. 
  3. The Withdrawn: Becomes checked-out and withdrawn when unhappy in relationships instead of working through issues. This type of self-sabotager won’t take the steps to leave themselves, instead, they will stop trying and pull away from their partner. Usually, this results in their partner breaking up with them.

12 Behaviors of Self-Sabotage

How do you know if you self-sabotage? Look for these 12 signs of self-sabotage in relationships: 

  1. Partner attack: Criticism, lack of communication skills, blaming
  2. Partner pursuit: Clinginess, codependency
  3. Partner withdrawal: Stonewalling, silent treatment
  4. Defensiveness: Turning blame towards a partner, righteous indignation, or forced victimhood. 
  5. Contempt: Holding mistakes against them, no forgiveness, resentment
  6. Self-esteem Issues: Feel unworthy of the relationship 
  7. Controlling tendency: Controlling friends, time, or finances
  8. Lack of relationship skills: Inflexibility, immaturity, and learned helplessness
  9. Trust difficulty: Needing to know where they are at all times, jealousy, thinking they are cheating
  10. Destructive tendency: Excessive drinking or risk-taking  
  11. Having affairs: Flirting with others or cheating on your partner
  12. Relationship belief: Believing your relationship is doomed to fail.  

Of these twelve the three biggest categories are defensiveness, trust difficulty, and lack of relationship skills. 

You will likely not experience every single one of these behaviors. However, just a small handful of them can break a relationship. 

Sometimes, when you’re up close and personal to the problem, it can be hard to diagnose the behavior as self-sabotaging. Therefore, let's look at some more subtle signs of self-sabotage. You can even ask a friend or family member if they recognize these signs in you.

6 Subtle Signs You’re Self-Sabotaging

Signs of self-sabotage include:

  1. Not getting into a relationship in the first place.
  2. Being unable to commit long-term: cycling through relationships quickly in the search for “the one”.
  3. Harshly judging and denying romantic relationships after just a few dates.
  4. Are unhappy in a relationship and become checked-out and withdrawn, unwilling to work through the issues and therefore guaranteeing the relationship’s demise. 
  5. You hold grudges and bring them up in arguments later 
  6. Withholding gratitude, even when it’s deserved. 

These are just a few signs of self-sabotage. Depending on your situation you might experience different symptoms and behaviors.

How to Stop Self-Sabotaging Relationships

Step 1: Understand your relationship needs: Self-sabotaging is linked to our attachment styles. If we can learn what our attachment style needs out of a relationship, we can meet that need in a healthy, nondestructive way.  

Step 2: Understand your triggers (including past traumas): How we react to current events stems from what happened in our past. If you’ve been hurt in relationships before, you’re more likely to exhibit self-sabotaging behaviors. Make a list of what triggers your self-sabotaging behavior. 

Step 3: Communicate with your partner: Tell them that you’ve recognized self-sabotaging behaviors and would like their help in working through them. By working together, you can create a healthy relationship where you feel wholly safe. 

Step 4: Improve self-esteem and self-worth: Self-sabotaging behaviors are also closely linked to low self-esteem and self-worth. When you don’t believe in your ability to handle challenges and create self-love for yourself, then you are more likely to engage in the self-protective behaviors of self-sabotage. By improving how you see yourself, you’re decreasing your need to rely on these destructive behaviors.

When to Seek Help

Self-sabotage is common and perfectly understandable. With the right understanding, self-awareness, compassion, and work, you can stop engaging in self-sabotaging behaviors and learn to embrace relationships completely. 

However, some self-sabotaging behaviors are persistent and dangerous. If you find yourself stuck in a cycle of broken relationships (or feel unable to pursue a committed relationship to begin with), counseling can help. Many people find healing from their self-sabotaging behaviors through licensed therapy. Through counseling, you can learn to heal from your past, strengthen your self-worth, and hold relationships lovingly.

Lifebulb has relationship counselors who can help you find peace and healing today.

Frequently Asked Questions

 Self-sabotage in relationships refers to the patterns of behavior and actions that undermine the success and growth of a romantic partnership. It involves unconsciously or consciously engaging in behaviors that hinder the development of a healthy and fulfilling relationship. Self-sabotage can manifest in various ways, such as pushing away a partner who is caring and supportive, creating unnecessary conflicts, or sabotaging opportunities for emotional intimacy.

 Recognizing the signs of self-sabotage is an essential step in addressing this pattern of behavior. Some common signs of self-sabotage in relationships include excessive fear of intimacy or commitment, regularly picking fights over minor issues, feeling unworthy of love and sabotaging relationships as a result, having a tendency to attract emotionally unavailable partners, and engaging in self-destructive behaviors like cheating or excessive jealousy. These signs may vary from person to person, but they often indicate underlying patterns of self-sabotage.

 Self-sabotage in relationships can stem from a variety of factors. It might be rooted in past traumatic experiences or dysfunctional relationship patterns learned during childhood. Sometimes, individuals self-sabotage out of a deep fear of rejection or abandonment, or a belief that they are unworthy of love and happiness. Low self-esteem and a lack of self-awareness can also contribute to self-sabotaging behaviors. Understanding the underlying reasons behind your self-sabotage can help you address and overcome it.

 There are proactive steps you can take to stop self-sabotaging relationships and foster healthier connections:

  • Cultivate self-awareness: Reflect on your past behaviors and patterns in relationships. Identify the negative patterns that lead to self-sabotage.

  • Challenge negative beliefs: Recognize and challenge any negative beliefs you may have about yourself and relationships. Replace them with more positive and empowering thoughts.

  • Practice self-love and self-care: Prioritize your emotional well-being and engage in activities that nurture your self-esteem and self-worth. Practice self-compassion and treat yourself with kindness.

  • Seek therapy or counseling: Professional therapists can guide and support you through the process of understanding and overcoming self-sabotage. They can assist in uncovering deep-rooted issues and provide strategies to develop healthier relationship patterns.

  • Communication and vulnerability: Learn to communicate your needs, fears, and emotions openly and honestly with your partner. Practice vulnerability, trust, and active listening to foster a deeper connection.

  •  Dealing with a self-sabotaging partner can be challenging, but there are ways to navigate this situation:

  • Encourage self-reflection: Gently encourage your partner to reflect on their behaviors and patterns without judgment. Help them explore their underlying fears and insecurities.

  • Set healthy boundaries: Establish clear boundaries to protect your emotional well-being. Communicate your needs and expectations in a respectful manner.

  • Offer support and understanding: Show empathy and compassion for your partner's struggles. Offer support, while being mindful of your own boundaries and needs.

  • Encourage therapy: Suggest therapy or counseling for your partner as a supportive gesture. Professional help can provide them with the tools and guidance needed to address their self-sabotaging behaviors.

  • Absolutely! Therapy can be an invaluable resource for individuals seeking to overcome self-sabotaging behaviors in relationships. Skilled therapists can help you explore underlying issues, identify patterns, and develop healthier coping mechanisms. Through therapy, you can gain a deeper understanding of yourself, heal past wounds, and learn practical strategies to build and maintain fulfilling relationships. With the guidance and support of a therapist, you can break the cycle of self-sabotage and create healthier, more satisfying connections.

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