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Why Do People Self-Sabotage in Relationships?What it looks like, why we do it, and how to fix it.

Self-sabotaging can be a common reason relationships don’t work out. Sometimes one person in the relationship engages in this behavior, but it can also be both. Could this be a reason why your relationships haven’t worked out or perhaps why your current one is failing? People often choose perhaps subconsciously to end a relationship by sabotaging it. The movie “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days” portrays an extreme example of how one could do it on purpose. You may have found yourself doing or saying things that you know will end a relationship; sometimes we knowingly make these choices but often we don’t recognize the behavior until later or it is pointed out to us.

Here are some examples of how people may self-sabotage:

  • Not discussing your feelings.

  • Poor communication about your needs.

  • Saying yes when you want to say no.

  • Not setting boundaries.

  • Using criticism or contempt.

  • Creating a lot of conflict.

  • Giving the silent treatment.

  • Ghosting the other person.

  • Lying or cheating.

  • Using substances abusively.

  • Talking negatively about yourself to your partner.

  • Withdrawing.

  • Isolating yourself.

  • Being controlling.

  • Extreme jealousy.

  • Looking for a flaw in your partner and focusing on it.

  • Not having any commitment.

Why people may self-sabotage

Trauma. Often past relationships or childhood trauma can affect the way we act in our current relationships. Trauma can cause issues with trust, self-esteem, anxiety, depression, abandonment, and rejection. Unresolved trauma can cause sabotaging behaviors subconsciously but putting in the work to heal won’t make you immune to self-sabotaging.

Fear. Feeling afraid of things getting serious, or fear of being hurt, can bring on the demise of a relationship. It can be hard to be open to love when you’ve built a wall to protect yourself. For a relationship to succeed, there needs to be openness and trust. Fear of rejection is also a common barrier, as people may push others away before they can be rejected. There can also be fear of intimacy which can lead to creating space within the relationship such that there is no opportunity for it.

Self-Esteem. Feeling bad about yourself can lead to pushing a partner away to avoid being hurt or rejected. If you don’t like yourself, your negative self-talk can make it hard for a partner to constantly provide reassurance. Poor self-esteem can also make it hard to meet a potential partner, too.

What you can do about it

If you’re motivated to fix the pattern of self-sabotage, a good place to start is individual therapy. Meeting with a therapist to discuss any of these concerns can help you process why you engage in them and create healthy coping skills and behaviors to move forward. Couples therapy can also be a trigger for change. Having someone help both of you work through your behaviors and teach you to create healthier ones together can repair the relationship.

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