Many of us struggle to make love work, and a common reason for that is self-sabotaging in our relationships. Diane Arbus states, “Love involves a peculiar unfathomable combination of understanding and misunderstanding.”
It can feel deeply distressing and painful to struggle with self-sabotage in relationships because we are relational beings and often want deep intimacy but find ourselves feeling blocked from having that very desire.
The problem, as Dr. Ron Frederick explains in his book “Loving like you mean it,” is that many people’s brains are running on outdated programming.
Bethany Cook, clinical psychologist and health service psychologist, validates Dr. Federick stating that relationship challenges often have deep roots.
This article discusses what self-sabotage in relationships is and why it happens.
You will learn how to spot the signs of self-sabotage and get practical solutions to stop self-sabotaging from destroying your relationship.
The intention is that you get the deeper intimacy and love you desire and deserve.
What is self-sabotaging in relationships?
Self-sabotaging in relationships is when you unconsciously behave in a manner that moves you further away from an intimate connection with your partner.
In many cases, when somebody has self-sabotaging thoughts, behaviors, and actions, it leads to them sabotaging their own happiness in addition to the happiness of those they love.
Self-sabotaging is a destructive behavior in relationships. People experience self-sabotage in both long and short-term relationships. This unhealthy dynamic can take place in an isolated relationship or form part of a collection of multiple relationships (self-sabotaging relationship patterns).
For the sake of our sanity, health, happiness, and wellbeing, it is highly important that we educate ourselves on what to do when somebody is self-sabotaging in a relationship.
We must learn how to stop self-sabotaging behavior before it destroys our relationships.
What causes self-sabotaging behavior in relationships?
Many of us have been there. We have told people things like “it just did not work out, we weren’t aligned, we wanted different things, it was the wrong time,” knowing deep down that the truth was that we pushed the person we once loved away with self-sabotaging behavior.
It’s a story of self-sabotaging relationship patterns that many of us desperately want to escape.
A big influencer of self-sabotaging behavior in relationships is our relationship attachment style.
In their book “Attached,” Amir Levine M.D and Rachel S.F Heller. M.A explains the differences between secure, anxious, and avoidant relationship attachment styles and provides some clarity on why some people self-sabotage in relationships.
Our relationship attachment style is our brain’s blueprint wiring for how we behave, act and think, both in times of joy and stress. It is often set in the early years of our childhood. However, depending on life experiences and choices, our attachment styles can change in adulthood.
What about the other 50%, I hear you ask. Well, you may have guessed that half of our population has either an anxious or avoidant attachment style.
Having an anxious or avoidant attachment style often increases the chances of self-sabotaging thoughts. This is because someone with an anxious attachment style can quite often slip into irrational thinking, mistrust, jealousy at times as they unconsciously don’t feel they have enough information to feel safe.
Someone with an avoidant attachment style, on the other hand, may have an unconscious fear of intimacy and so will find themselves in self-sabotaging relationship patterns.
Beyond our attachment styles, past traumas have a huge impact on how we relate.
There’s a reason why we have the saying “it takes 2 to tango”. Blaming usually creates emotional distance. When somebody focuses on the other person being wrong, not only do they reject their own role in the relationship, but they expose their partner to potential feelings of unworthiness and inadequacy.
Nobody wants to be with someone they feel inadequate with. Be honest, do you share responsibility in times of challenge, or does it usually feel most important that you’re right and they are wrong?
“You’re too sensitive. I don’t remember saying that, so it can’t be true”
Do these phrases come up often? Is there a feeling of regular self-doubt?
Gaslighting is highly destructive and can lead to disbalance in the relationship. It is also one of the toxic traits in the relationship and should be checked in the first place, if one partner resorts to gaslighting to have their way in the relationship.
Do you and your partner let each other speak, or do you speak over one another?
Lack of room to speak can create a ripple effect where one of you feels there’s no space in the relationship. So, take turns in the argument, or even during normal conversations. Listen as much as you talk to keep the conversation balanced.
Do you or your withdraw affection, touch, or sex when triggered? Using sex as bait is a dangerous game to play and can often entangle with one partner committing infidelity. Intimacy is an important aspect of the relationship and should not be turned into a game of manipulations.
Instead, use it to get close to your partner and establish a stronger bond.
Also, watch this video to learn why do we tend to sabotage love:
Why is self-sabotage in relationships a big issue?
Even when people recognize the signs of self-sabotaging in relationships, they may have difficulty making changes. This is due to the neurological wiring of the brain. The brain is designed to keep us safe from the unknown.
For many people’s brains and nervous systems, self-sabotaging relationship patterns are familiar and healthy. Happy relationships are unfamiliar.
Therefore, self-sabotaging in relationships is a huge issue because, even if somebody recognizes the signs of self-destructive behavior in relationships and understands what to do when someone is sabotaging a relationship, they can remain stuck in self-sabotaging relationship patterns.
Without deciding to stop self-sabotaging and doing the necessary things for it to happen, people destroy their own happiness repeatedly. As time goes on, they may become lonely through the lack of ability to maintain healthy, secure, loving relationships.
If people have a desire to have children, this can add additional emotional pressure to their lives. This is because conceiving children is usually considered a time-sensitive life experience that requires consistency, clarity, and definitely intimate connection.
If people have children, then their inability to stop self-sabotaging behavior can have negative consequences on the child’s development.
If you know deep down you are self-sabotaging in your relationships, now is the time to stop self-sabotaging behavior and to find out what to do when someone is sabotaging the relationship. This will allow you to reclaim the relationship happiness that you deserve.
10 Ways on How to stop sabotaging your relationship
Now you’ve learned how and why people self-sabotage, here are ten practical ways to kick self-sabotaging in relationships to the curb and gain deeper intimacy.
1. Admit it
Take responsibility, and develop an attitude in your relationship where improvement is normal and okay. There is nothing wrong with you; in love, the best thing we can hope for in love is two imperfect people coming together and continually trying our best.
As Kate Stewart says in her book “Loving the white liar”. The perfect marriage is just two imperfect people who refuse to give up on each other”
It’s okay to admit you have been self-sabotaging, but it’s not okay to let it destroy your life. You deserve so much more!
2. Observe yourself
Know your triggers, learn about your attachment style and what your behavioral patterns are, especially when things become uncomfortable.
Marriage and family therapist Shadeen Francis suggests journaling about the experiences in your relationship. Ask yourself: What did I feel? What was I afraid of? What do I want/need? What would be helpful?
Meditation helps rewire the brain’s patterns. It can help you to replace destructive thoughts with healthy ones that serve your relationship.
Many people find guided meditations like this one by Jason Stephenson really helpful. Doing a regular meditation practice can also help you communicate in a calmer way.
Love languages are the way both you and your partner give and receive love. When we understand this, we can create safety in relationships. When we feel safe, we are less likely to engage in destructive behavior.
Take a good look in the mirror, and speak positive words.
Building your self-esteem is an important part of developing your self-care and self-compassion. It is from this place of self-love you can feel safer in your relationships and reduce sabotaging behavior.
Here’s a video to help you get started with mirror work.
8. Work out your non-negotiables
In the words of Meatloaf, “I will do anything for love, but I just won’t do that”. We all have things that we simply won’t do or can’t stand. Take time to learn what is really important to you.
Occasionally choose something to do or somewhere to go alone to explore the more hidden parts of yourself. Understanding your and your partner’s non-negotiables is critical for deeper intimacy. It provides an understanding of what will create relationship satisfaction.
9. Connection before correction
Connection creates openness. Lecturing/nagging can lead to a stress response.
One of my favorite examples of “connection before correction” is, “I love you, and the answer is no.” If blaming or criticism is a regular theme for you, try to find ways to connect as a priority.
Remember, this is about shared responsibility and moving away from sabotage and towards intimacy.
10. Ditch expectations
“Assumptions are the termites of relationships.”—Henry Winkler.
Make agreements with your partner, don’t expect them to act how you want or read your mind. Make agreement talks a regular habit. Perhaps set up a regular date night to discuss agreements on how you will add even more joy into your relationship, how you will commit to developing yourselves.
Relationships are not always easy, so be patient. Feel proud of yourself for reading this article and taking a step towards developing greater intimacy in your relationship.
Self-sabotage is fixable with self-reflection, therapy, and tools, but it’s important to remember you don’t have to do everything alone. In fact, in most cases, professional support is hugely beneficial as it can offer an objective view.
Watch out for common signs of self-destructive behavior in your relationships, and ask yourself if you’re throwing blocks in the way to avoid discomfort.
Remember, if you or your partner has been deeply traumatized, abused, or noticed a decline in health, it’s good to prioritize seeking professional treatment for yourselves individually.
Whether you are single, dating, in a new or mature relationship, talking with a professional coach or therapist can help stop you from sabotaging your own happiness.
If you feel disconnected or frustrated about the state of your marriage but want to avoid separation and/or divorce, the marriage.com course meant for married couples is an excellent resource to help you overcome the most challenging aspects of being married.
Sylvia Smith loves to share insights on how couples can revitalize their love lives in and out of the bedroom. As a writer at Marriage.com, she is a big believer in living consciously and encourages couples to adopt this principle in their lives too. Sylvia believes that every couple can transform their relationship into a happier, healthier one by taking purposeful and wholehearted action.