How to Stop Self-Sabotaging in Relationships
Rachel was annoyed with herself. "I am doing it again!" she cried, exasperated. "I am always sabotaging my relationships! Why?"
I looked at her. It seemed as if Rachel was bound to destroy every relationship she was in, even before it fully developed.
Self-sabotaging in relationships is painful, not only for the saboteur but also for their partner, who can end up feeling hurt and confused.
If you end a great relationship because of a fatalistic sense that is it bound to go wrong anyway, you are sabotaging yourself pretty clearly. Rachel, though, was doing the opposite. She was trying too hard to make it work. She was blasting her lover with constant messages, trying to make sure he was having a good time with her all the time, and pushed him to talk about their relationship even when he clearly just wanted to relax together.
Rachel felt very insecure in her romantic relationships. She constantly looked for signs the relationship would not work and since she believed it would fail, she unconsciously tried to make it fail.
The problem was that Rachel saw her relationships in terms of control. In some ways, it all boiled down to a power struggle. She wanted to know what her lover was doing all the time, trying to know what he was thinking, berating him for any sign that might show he was losing interest in her.
In the end, he had become scared of saying or doing anything that might set her off. It was almost as if he was living under a totalitarian regime dictated by his partner.
Sabotaging your relationship can be an unconscious behaviour. Rachel had an insight about what was happening, but this is not always the case. We don't always know what we are doing and usually we don't mean to destroy our romantic relationships.
During my years in private practice, I have worked with many people with this problem, and they all do similar things. So I have compiled a list of 9 self-sabotaging behaviours you should avoid if you want your relationship to last.
Avoid these 9 love-destroying behaviours
No Mind Games
People can play mind games when they find it difficult to believe that someone genuinely wants to be with them. Here are some examples:
No Making your Partner Jealous
Although this is a mind game, it is so important it has its own section. When you try to make your partner jealous, not only you will cause your partner to feel horrible, but you will come across as unreliable, disloyal and untrustworthy. Your partner may either see you as inherently unfaithful or manipulative. This will damage your relationship not only in the present, but even years down the track as resentment can fester.
No trying too hard - Love bombing
Bombarding someone with too much attention, especially early on, and trying to get their approval by constantly trying to sweep them off their feet, can sabotage a relationship from the start. People who are lonely or have had a recent bad break up are particularly vulnerable to this. They may be hooked, but now they will expect this level of attention all the time. If suddenly this stops, they will think the relationship is about to die and may give up on it. Conversely, this kind of behaviour can easily feel overwhelming. It smells of desperation, and this is a big turnoff. Relationships that work are a part of people's lives, not their whole raison d'être.
Barraging your partner with questions such as "what are you thinking?" "Why didn't you seem happy when I suggested we go out?" "Where were you when I called?" "Do you still love me?" feels to them like an ongoing interrogation where every action the take is being analysed and judged. This is no fun. Freedom and spontaneity are important in a relationship. Nobody wants to be grilled about their inner workings 24/7. This behaviour makes the relationship feel heavy and stressful and can send a partner running for the hills so they can have a private moment to themselves.
Of course relationships matter to us, but being overly clingy stems from insecurity and can backfire. The expectation of rejection is often a self-fulfilling prophecy. Worrying and focusing on it can produce the very rejection we fear. If you are constantly doubting your partner, you are not building trust and connection. This will cause your partner to feel emotionally distanced from you. We build intimacy through a sense of trust and togetherness. Doubt and distrust do the opposite. Your insecurity can also make your partner feel restricted and unable to breathe. We all need space and we cannot demand total security in any aspect of our lives.
No trying to Change them
Over our lives, we naturally change (hopefully in good ways) and healthy relationships can help us develop and grow. However, actively trying to mould your partner so they fit your expectations will make them feel like they are not good enough as they are. They may feel you don't value them because you criticize everything they do, and eventually they may orbit towards those who value them for who they are. Of course, it is ok to help a partner change a bad habit, but trying to change what they wear, who they are friends with and what they can and can't do or say is controlling and abusive. Trying to turn them into a version of yourself, rather than letting them be who they are, is toxic. Stop pointing out what is wrong with your partner, even if your intentions are good. Especially avoid criticizing your partner in public, as this is humiliating for both of you and may spell the end of your relationship.
No Being Defensive
Being defensive can stem from having had to defend yourself a lot growing up and ending up doing it even when you are not being attacked. Although understandable, this can be hard to deal with. Nobody wants to tread on eggshells, not being able to relax in case something they say to you offends you. Think about the other side: you are trying to be nice or you are saying something pretty neutral and the other becomes defensive. You would probably feel misunderstood. Feeling misunderstood drives away connection. Intimacy can disappear when someone is being chronically defensive. Stop assuming the worst and biting your lover's head when all they want is to talk to you.
No being Complacent
Don't take your partner for granted. It is easy to stop seeing the person you are with when you spend a lot of time with them. Familiarity breeds indifference, and if this happens, the relationship feels heartless. Regularly remind yourself that you love your partner and want to be with them. Imagine what it would be like to lose them and be grateful this hasn't happened. Express your appreciation outwardly.
No feeling inferior / superior
If you have low self-esteem, you can feel contempt for your partner, because they have chosen to be with such 'damaged goods'. You could also think your partner is doing you a massive favour by being with you and feel that if they left, you would never find anyone else. If this is the case, you need to work on raising your self-esteem so you can be in this relationship not because you need it, but because you want it. If you don't, your partner might start to agree with you, and see themselves as superior, and devalue you in the process. This kind of relationship can quickly turn toxic and even violent. Start by challenging your automatic thinking in this area. Nobody is better or worse than anyone else. We may have unique skills in life, but we are all equally worthy of love.
There is hope!
These are the common ways we can sabotage our relationships. If you spot one of these in your behaviour, start looking at ways to change these patterns.
There is no shame in recognizing that you have engaged in some of these behaviours. We probably all have done so at one point or another. We can change, and so can our relationships.
Even if you have had a string of poor relationships, your past does not have to be your future too. Over time, you can work on your worst tendencies and learn to behave differently, so that your relationship can go from strength to strength.