Do you always seem to wreck your relationships before they’ve had a chance to develop? Are you so jealous and controlling that you end up pushing your partner away? Have you ever wondered why you only have short-term relationships?
If any of the above sound familiar, you could be self-sabotaging your relationship without knowing it.
Relationship self-sabotage is the act of preventing a romantic connection from growing and maturing into a loving partnership.
So how can you tell if you are self-sabotaging your love life? Why are you prone to this behaviour and can you stop it? First, let’s identify the signs.
You can actively or passively self-sabotage your relationship. For example, an active way to sabotage a relationship is to cheat on your partner. A passive way is a simple lack of commitment or a refusal to talk about important issues.
Active ways of self-sabotaging your relationship
1. Constant criticism
One way to push away a partner is to look for character flaws and use this to undermine them. Constant criticism works two ways; it makes life so intolerable for them they leave you, or it gives you an excuse to go yourself.
2. Serial cheating
Ask any couple what’s the worse thing their partner could do to them. Undoubtedly, they’ll say cheat with another person. It is the ultimate betrayal. Being intimate with someone else conjures up the most hurtful images and feelings.
3. Causing arguments
I had an ex once that would cause an argument over nothing. In the end, I had to leave, it became unbearable; I was young and just wanted to have fun. I saw him decades later and asked him why he did it. He replied that he was afraid that I would leave him, so he pre-empted it by being argumentative.
4. Control and jealousy issues
Some people are naturally controlling. This stems from a lack of self-esteem. Their jealous nature works against them as their constant checking up on partners and restrictive behaviour eventually becomes self-sabotaging.
The very thing they feared (their partner leaving) is now a reality because of their actions.
5. Not letting go of past disagreements
Well-balanced people discuss and debate a disagreement, come to a compromise or conclusion, then move forward. One way to guarantee you’ll self-sabotage your relationship is to bring up old beefs every time you disagree in the future.
Passive ways of self-sabotaging your relationship
6. Refusing to communicate
It’s difficult to move forward healthily if your partner is stuck in a rut and won’t talk to you. This is a passive-aggressive way of sabotaging a relationship.
You might fail to communicate or avoid the issue because you have convinced yourself everything is perfect, and if you talk about it, there’s a chance things will change.
7. Always putting yourself down
Of course, there are psychological reasons why people self-sabotage their relationships, and a common factor is a lack of confidence and self-esteem. Feeling that you are not good enough or that you don’t deserve to be happy will eventually get on your partner’s nerves.
8. You become cold and emotionless
Refusing sex or shutting down intimacy are particularly insidious ways to sabotage your relationship. By rejecting your partner this way, you lower their self-esteem.
They’ll begin to wonder what has changed or question whether they are good enough for you. Manipulators such as narcissists and sociopaths use this gaslighting technique.
9. Avoidance tactics
Relationships tend to follow similar paths or milestones. You date, you see more of one another, you move in together, you meet the parents, you commit to each other, and settle down into a serious relationship.
If you refuse any of these stages, it could be a sign that you want an easy escape. You never let things get too serious.
Why do people sabotage their relationships?
I believe the attachments we make with our primary caregivers are key to understanding why some of us self-sabotage relationships as adults.
Of course, some may say that factors such as abandonment issues, low self-esteem, fear of intimacy, or childhood trauma are to blame, and no doubt this is true. However, we are talking specifically about relationships, and the most important relationship we all have is with our parents or primary caregivers.
I do accept that subsequent relationships, such as first loves, coercive controlling, or abusive relationships play a part in why some of us self-sabotage relationships. But I think you have to go back to the beginning.
Whether you feel like you don’t deserve to be loved, you can’t trust what others tell you, or you believe everything will end badly no matter what you do, it all comes back to our childhood attachments.
Our most important relationships start with our primary caregivers. If, as a child, our experiences are regularly met with love, warmth, and caring, we feel reassured and grow with a secure attachment.
However, some caregivers are inconsistent, neglectful, or even abusive. As a result, we do not form a secure attachment.
There are four attachment types:
Avoidant attachment: The caregiver is consistently unresponsive to the child’s needs. The child learns that voicing their emotions angers or irritates the caregiver. They are either punished or ignored. The child learns to distance themselves and repress their emotions.
Adults with avoidant attachment:
- Cold and detached
- Fiercely independent
- Show no emotion
- End relationships quickly and move on
- Tendency to flee when problems arise
Ambivalent attachment: The caregiver is inconsistently responsive to the child’s needs. The child learns that love and affection are given chaotically and with no reason behind them. They grow up teetering on an emotional see-saw, not knowing which way it will tip.
Adults with ambivalent attachment:
- Desperate for attention
- Exhibit clingy behaviour
- Push/pull tendency when problems arise
Disorganised attachment: The caregiver responds inappropriately (frightening/unavailable) to the child’s needs.
The caregiver is the reason for the child’s distress, but they are the only person the child can approach for security. Children with a disorganised attachment have no template for adult relationships.
Adults with disorganised attachment:
- Behave chaotically
- Exhibit odd behaviour
- Dissociative personality
- Don’t know how to act in a relationship
- Tend to freeze when problems arise
What to do if you keep self-sabotaging your relationship?
I’m no expert on relationships, but I understand that I have an ambivalent attachment personality. An ex once said of me: “She’s either hostile or clingy.” And he was exactly right. Now I know why I react in a certain way, it helps me control my emotions and understand relationships more.
Here are three ways to stop your self-sabotaging behaviour:
1. Find your attachment style
Identifying your attachment style gives you insight into how you react within relationships. I promise you, it will all start to make sense once you explore your childhood experiences.
2. Distance yourself to identify the problem
During the messy grips of a relationship, it is hard to see the bigger picture. Imagine you are giving a friend advice about their relationships.
Do they keep making the same mistake again and again? Do they tend to pursue the same kind of partners (married, unavailable)? What advice would you give them?
3. Communicate calmly
Whatever attachment style you have, communication suffers because avoidants tend to flee their problems, ambivalents over-react, and disorganiseds freeze.
Learning to talk to your partner honestly, calmly, and with a degree of self-awareness is the healthy way to deal with relationship issues.
Everyone deserves to find someone that loves, cares, and brings out the best in them (perhaps not serial killers), but you know what I mean. Just because your parents messed up their relationship with you, it doesn’t mean that you have to keep sabotaging your relationships.
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