Key Takeaways

  • Self-sabotage isn’t typically a conscious choice. It involves a set of involuntary thoughts and behaviors that can undermine the strength of your relationship.
  • Self-sabotage often stems from trauma or negative past experiences that make it difficult for a person to feel worthy of love or safe in relationships.
  • The first step in overcoming self-sabotage is learning to identify it. From there, you can work to change your thoughts and behaviors so that you can foster healthy relationships.

Romantic relationships end for all sorts of reasons. But if you’re struggling to maintain healthy, long-term connections, it might be time to take a closer look at your relationship dynamics. 

 Research indicates that a substantial percentage of individuals subconsciously engage in self-sabotaging behavior. According to one study, about 63.3% of people report at least one instance of self-sabotage, actions that may gravely undermine the foundation of their relationships. 

This doesn’t necessarily mean their actions are intentional or that they must bear all the responsibility for the problems in the relationship. It’s usually due to some underlying causes or past experiences that make it difficult to demonstrate trust and vulnerability with their partners. 

If you’re experiencing self-sabotage, you can work to change your thoughts and behaviors. With time, practice, and the right support, you can learn to build healthy, fulfilling, and lasting relationships.

What is self-sabotage?

Self-sabotage involves unintentional, unconscious thoughts and actions that compromise the strength of romantic relationships. It can lead to negative outcomes both for the individual and their partners and take a variety of forms. 

Some common examples of self-sabotage include the following.

  • Perfectionist tendencies or unrealistic expectations can leave your partner feeling like they’re not enough, creating tension and dissatisfaction in the relationship.
  • Withdrawing emotionally or pushing your partner away can create distance in your relationship that can result in growing apart.
  • Chronic feelings of jealousy or possessiveness can damage trust between you and your partner.
  • Being dishonest or keeping secrets from your partner can create conflict that can erode the foundation of your relationship.
  • Failing to communicate or avoiding difficult conversations can make it difficult to resolve conflict and grow in the relationship.
  • Constantly comparing your partner to past partners or other people can take a toll on their self-esteem and undermine your connection.
  • Failing to set and maintain healthy boundaries can leave both partners feeling a lack of personal space, leading to resentment and frustration.
  • Ignoring warning signs or “red flag” behavior in your partner may prolong unhealthy relationship dynamics without creating space to address them.
  • Letting insecurities or negative thoughts interrupt otherwise good moments can make it hard to make positive memories and enjoy each other’s company.
  • Neglecting your own self-care or making it difficult for your partner to prioritize theirs can lead to burnout that can negatively affect the relationship.

Why does self-sabotage happen in relationships?

Self-sabotage happens for many reasons. But there are usually some underlying factors and past experiences that contribute to it. Often, these stem from past traumas or relationship dynamics that leave a person feeling unworthy of love, afraid to commit, or unable to fully trust and be vulnerable with someone else

Sometimes these feelings are based on negative childhood experiences. For example, if you grew up in a home where your caregivers were unable to demonstrate warmth or meet your basic needs, you might develop an insecure attachment style. Left unaddressed, this can make it difficult for you to develop healthy romantic partnerships later in life. 

Low self-esteem may also contribute to self-sabotage. People who struggle with their self-worth often have a hard time seeing themselves as worthy of a healthy and committed partnership. They may unconsciously undermine their relationships with self-sabotaging behavior in order to “confirm” what they believe to be true about their self-image. 

Signs you’re sabotaging your relationship 

One of the first and most important steps in overcoming self-sabotage is to learn to recognize when you’re doing it. The following signs may indicate that you’re at risk of harming your relationship with self-sabotaging behaviors and thoughts.

  • Creating conflict or drama 
  • Fixating on your partner’s flaws or constantly criticizing them
  • Avoiding spending quality time with your partner
  • Withdrawing emotionally or failing to communicate your needs
  • Ignoring problems even when they’re negatively affecting the relationship
  • Avoiding intimacy (emotional or physical) in ways that hurt your partner and create distance
  • Failing to take responsibility for your shortcomings and, instead, always shifting the blame to your partner
  • Making unfounded, negative predictions about the future of the relationship

Breaking the cycle of self-sabotage in relationships

If you or your partner is engaging in self-sabotage and it’s negatively affecting your relationship, know that with some patience and practice, you can repair your connection. While there are times when it might be best to seek professional help for self-sabotage, here are some steps you can take toward self-improvement.

  1. Self-reflection and self-awareness: The first step in changing your thoughts and behaviors is becoming more aware of them. Start to notice when you’re engaging in self-sabotaging behaviors and thoughts.
  2. Identifying triggers and patterns: As you increase your self-awareness around self-sabotage, see if you can pinpoint triggers and identify patterns. Knowing what might set your self-sabotage off can help you intervene and choose a different path before things escalate.
  3. Building self-esteem and self-confidence: Sometimes, a negative self-image is at the root of self-sabotage. Be sure to make time for activities that help you feel like the best version of yourself.
  4. Effective communication skills: Learn how to discuss relationship-sabotaging behavior with your partner and practice asking for what you need to feel more secure in your relationship.
  5. Setting boundaries: In order to maintain a healthy relationship, all partners need to maintain a strong sense of self and uphold a clear framework for interactions and expectations.

How therapy can help address self-sabotage

If you’re worried about how self-sabotage is affecting your relationship, know that you’re not alone and that help is available. Self-sabotage is usually an unconscious process. But once you begin to notice it, the next step is finding the support you need to change your thoughts and behaviors. 

At Rula, we’re here to make it easier to find a therapist to help you overcome self-sabotage or any other emotional challenges you’re currently facing. In about 30 seconds, we can match you with a therapist who takes your insurance so that you can begin receiving care in as little as two days. Whether you need individual or couples therapy (or both), we’re here to help you find the support you need to build a healthier, more fulfilling relationship with yourself and your partner.

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