- How to Stop Sabotaging Your Relationship
- Stop letting expectations get in your way.
- Stop caring so much about what other people think.
- Start setting boundaries.
- Stop letting fears cloud your judgment.
- Stop focusing so much on the future.
- Start communicating better with your partner.
- Stop being so negative, even jokingly.
- Stop moving too quickly.
- Start seeing a therapist.
- Start being more selfish.
- How Not to Sabotage a Relationship When It’s Going Well
- How Self-Sabotage and Past Dysfunction Ruin Relationships
- How to Avoid Sabotaging Your Relationship
- Relationships Aren’t Easy, but This Advice Can Help
- 7 Subconscious Ways You Sabotage Your Relationship Without Realizing
- 1. You feel jealous or insecure for no real reason
- 2. You think your partner is causing your feelings of abandonment, instead of looking within
- 3. You blame your partner and accuse them of things they haven’t even done, instead of being open and curious
- 4. You find fault in your partner to escape feeling like you’re not good enough
- 5. You attack your partner’s character
- 6. You attempt to change your partner, fix them, or get them to be more loving towards you
- 7. You threaten to leave to avoid feeling abandoned
- Are You Sabotaging Your Relationship?
- About the Author
- 5 Ways You Subconsciously Close Your Heart To Love
- 1. There are certain things you’re unwilling to share.
- 2. You don’t want to communicate anything negative.
- 3. You’re still seeking elsewhere.
- 4. You use intimacy as a way to make someone love you.
- 5. You have a special relationship with your ex.
- 1. Making Assumptions Instead of Communicating
- 2. Being Needy and Clingy
- 3. Being Overly Guarded With One Foot Out the Door, Instead of Letting Yourself Fall in Love
- 4. Putting Up a Front Instead of Being Yourself
- 5. Believing You’re Not Good Enough, or Doubting the Relationship
- 6. Having Ridiculously High Expectations
- 7. Projecting Your Own Insecurities on to Your Partner
- 8. Cheating or Keeping in Touch With an Ex
- Why we sabotage romantic relationships — and what we can do about it
- By examining our actions and attitude, we can start to break the cycle, says psychology researcher Raquel Peel.
- Stop entering relationships that you know are doomed.
- Get curious about how you act when you’re in a relationship.
- View your relationship as a partnership.
- Be kind to yourself.
- Self-Sabotaging: Why We Get in Our Own Way
- How Self-Sabotage Holds You Back
How to Stop Sabotaging Your Relationship
There are two kinds of humans: a good human and a good human in pain. Most of us fall into the latter.
You pick up pain throughout your life. It’s the way your parents showed you love or didn’t. The hurt you felt the first time someone broke your heart. The betrayal of a lover cheating on you.
When it comes to relationships, what happened to you in the past shapes how you show up for relationships in the present. Those wounds affect your ability to receive and give love. They shape your thoughts on a healthy relationship; your self-worth is affected.
That’s why sabotaging behaviors exist in relationships. We do them because it’s all we know; they’re what we think will keep us safe.
But if you’re in a healthy relationship, these behaviors are obsolete. They might even be causing you to miss out on the love you really deserve.
There are a few behaviors that, if you become aware of them, can help you stop sabotaging your relationships.
Stop letting expectations get in your way.
I’m no saint here. I learned the hard way that my expectations were causing me unnecessary anxiety.
In my romantic relationships, I would have serious conversations and went full-force into them thinking that the person would react a certain way. When they didn’t, I’d be let down and resent my partner.
And then I learned that expectations are premeditated resentments.
You can’t control or predict another human being. People have free will, and a lot of times, they surprise us. That doesn’t mean they’re a bad person or the relationship isn’t meant to be, it just means they’re human.
Let go of the notion that you can predict how your partner will act in situations. Accept that no one is perfect and focus on the present.
Stop caring so much about what other people think.
Your relationship is your own unique haven. It’s yours to spend your mornings with, go to the movies with, and share your biggest dreams with. So why care how it looks to other people?
If you love someone, you love them. I don’t care if they’re bald and short even though you always imagined yourself with a jock type. I don’t care if you fell for the local barista instead of a man on Wall Street.
If someone treats you right and loves you dearly, don’t let other people’s opinions cause you to second guess things.
Start setting boundaries.
Setting boundaries is part of any healthy relationship.
They’re crucial to painting your sense of individuality within the relationship. And if you create boundaries from the get-go, you’re setting yourself and your partner up for a relationship that isn’t just fun but supports both of your individual lives.
A healthy relationship between two human beings is one that respects each other’s individual needs for self-preservation. Maybe that looks like setting time aside each week to see your friends or continuing to invest time in your hobbies.
Setting boundaries with your partner will help you feel more like an equal in the relationship. Without them, you could feel like you’re getting walked all over and begin resenting your partner.
Stop letting fears cloud your judgment.
There are common fears people hold that keep them from finding love.
- Fear of abandonment
- Fear of being alone
- Fear of getting hurt
- Fear of losing yourself in the relationship
- Fear of rejection
And while those fears might’ve kept you safe at one time, they’re no longer serving you.
Luckily, once uncovered, these kinds of fears can be processed and worked through. You deserve healthy relationships; to date and love without fear.
Stop focusing so much on the future.
Your relationship is what’s happening now, not what you hope will happen in the future.
I’ll be the one to break it to you: your endpoint is uncertain. There are a lot of factors that can happen, which means the end of a relationship. All you know for sure is what’s happening right now, at this very moment.
But that’s ok because the present is where the love lies. It’s the butterflies in your stomach; the sound of their laughter.
Don’t keep worrying about what might happen. Focus on what is happening.
Start communicating better with your partner.
Communication skills in a relationship are essential.
Two people romantically interacting with one another involves a lot of communication. You need to speak up about how you feel; let your partner know about your worries or concerns.
Bottling up your emotions will create resentment and pent up feelings. Eventually, they’ll come out, most likely in a way detrimental to your relationship.
Stop being so negative, even jokingly.
Negative emotions aren’t always bad. If you’re going through a shitty break-up, health concern, or lost a loved one, it’s important to feel those emotions. In this case, negativity can be useful.
But negativity has its time and place, and that’s not in a healthy relationship.
Negativity affects both your psyche and your parents.
That includes jokingly, too. Saying, “you’re the worst boyfriend ever!” even if you don’t mean it, will start wear on your partner.
Stop moving too quickly.
I used to date way too quickly. I’d jump to the future, imagine my partner and I walking down the aisle a mere month into our relationship.
It caused me a lot of distress in several ways:
- I ignored red flags
- I didn’t set boundaries
- I wouldn’t let the other person’s feelings develop at their own pace
Rushing the relationship isn’t doing you or your partner any good. Besides, the beginning of the relationship is exciting. Why rush that?
Start seeing a therapist.
Therapy is useful for literally everyone. But even the smallest concern is a reason to start seeing a therapist.
But if you feel like your sabotaging behaviors are getting out of control, then you should definitely seek professional help.
A therapist can help you make sense of why you act the way you do. They can help you uncover those past traumas affecting you today. Most importantly, they can talk to you about healthy ways to act within your relationship.
Start being more selfish.
The number one way to show up as the best partner you can is taking care of yourself.
Think of your happiness as a cup. One with your initials, monogrammed on the side. You’re the only one able to use it, and you’re the only one able to fill it up.
That’s right. Your happiness is your responsibility, not your partners. It’s an inside job that only you are fit for.
So be more selfish in the relationship. Take some alone time to do the things you love. Work on limiting beliefs you think are affecting your self-esteem.
Love yourself, and watch your security in the relationship flourish.
How Not to Sabotage a Relationship When It’s Going Well
I’ll never forget the beginning of the end with my first serious boyfriend.
We were madly in love, and I had no doubt that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him…and then one day I told him he should dump me and leave me now, before he inevitably would at some point in the future. He told me I was being silly and brushed it off. But then every night we spent together, I ended up crying, telling him again and again, “Just leave me now! I know you’re going to at some point.”
Eventually, it (and other things) got to him. He broke up with me, leaving me alone wondering if I’d done it all to myself and I was the reason for my own heartbreak.
How Self-Sabotage and Past Dysfunction Ruin Relationships
Apparently, I’m not the only one who’s good at blowing up a relationships when it’s going well. It’s actually a pretty common form of self-sabotage, and there are plenty of reasons why we do it, both in and out of relationships. In my case, it was my crippling fear of abandonment.
“Some people may fear when things are going well. They may fear being hurt, the other person leaving them, or the possibility of a serious or committed future with their partner,” Talkspace therapist Christine Tolman, LCPC, states. “People may also sabotage out of boredom. Long term, happy relationships might not have as many emotional highs and lows as the beginning of a relationship, and some people may seek out excitement in the form of sabotage.”
Additionally, the environment you grew up in can play a part in whether you’re more likely to blow up your relationship. Talkspace therapist Cynthia Catchings, LCSW-C, explains, “Growing up in a dysfunctional family can create resentment and fear, and it also prevents us from seeing a healthy relationship on a daily basis. The lack of example is what some people mention as being a major issue.”
On top of lack of example from your family, negative experiences in past romantic relationships can stir up fear. Catchings adds, “The emotional baggage that some of us carry can prevent us from enjoying a good relationship. Until we are ready to let go and enjoy, it might affect us in many ways.”
How to Avoid Sabotaging Your Relationship
So, how do you keep your relationship moving in the right direction instead of tearing it apart? Here are 4 therapist approved tips.
1. Work on your communication skills
First things first, communication is a crucial aspect of any relationship, whether you’ve just started dating somebody or you’ve been together for years.
“Communication is key when the relationship is going well and we do not want to blow it up. Listen to understand, not to respond, and do not let anxious feelings take over,” Catchings recommends.
Always try to understand where your partner is coming from, and hopefully they’ll do the same for you. If you’re feeling a certain kind of way, vocalize it! Don’t expect your partner to be a mind reader.
2. Identify your triggers
It may seem like your self-sabotaging behavior is coming out of the blue, but if you take a moment to be introspective, you’ll probably be able to figure out your motive.
“Try to determine what triggers your sabotaging behaviors. Is it fear? Boredom? Address those underlying emotions with a good therapist,” Christine Tolman advises. “Learn your triggers, and determine how you can meet your emotional needs without sabotaging your relationships.”
By understanding your triggers, you can learn how to better cope with them, and not let your feelings consume you, causing you to act out in ways that can end your relationship.
3. Let go of fear
Remember not every relationship is the same. Just because you and your ex’s relationship went up in flames, it doesn’t mean that your current one will too (but trust me, I know how real that fear is!). It’s all too easy to get caught up in a circle of anxious thoughts and endless “what-ifs.” Try to stay in the moment and focus on the rational facts about your relationship instead of getting caught up in paranoia.
“If you truly want to stay in the relationship, let go of the fear caused by past experiences,” Catchings says. “This time, your partner might be everything you dreamed of.”
4. Listen to your heart
While many who sabotage their own relationships do not want their relationship to end, many also do so because deep down, they don’t want to be in the relationship. Some people go through their partnerships on cruise control. On paper, everything may be going well, but your heart may tell you that the relationship isn’t right for you.
“Subconsciously, we think the relationship is not good enough,” Catchings explains. “Even if it is going well, we have that feeling that tells us that the relationship is not right for us. Listening to our sixth sense can save us from heartbreak.”
It’s your life and you can choose who you do or do not want to be with. In this case, try to communicate openly to end the relationship in a civil way instead of by sabotage.
Relationships Aren’t Easy, but This Advice Can Help
It takes a lot of effort to follow this advice, but it’ll be worth it when you realize how strong and self aware you can be. Plus, when it comes to relationships, things are rarely easy.
By following these steps, you’ll become a better communicator, more in touch with yourself, and less likely to blow up a relationship when it’s going well.
If you’re doing your best to heed this advice, but feel there’s still something missing in your relationship, consider reaching out to a couples counselor or individual therapist. Speaking with someone about your challenges can help you open up important lines of communication with your partner.
7 Subconscious Ways You Sabotage Your Relationship Without Realizing
Subconscious relationship behaviours that push love away
If every relationship you’ve had ended the same way and caused you to become anxious about being left again, this can be a sign that you’re sabotaging your relationships.
If you’re in a relationship but still struggling to find love or feel loved and are afraid of rejection, then your fears could be pushing your partner away.
And, this could be preventing you from forming a healthy relationship with your partner that is fulfilling and lasting.
So, how do you sabotage your relationships — without realizing — and destroy your chances of finding true love?
If you find yourself to be a naturally loving person and cannot understand why someone doesn’t love you back, then there may be a reason for this.
A relationship self-saboteur finds ways to protect themselves from feelings of abandonment or feeling not good enough, in ways that push their partner away.
You can push love away by protecting yourself from feeling rejected and you can sabotage yourself from getting the love you want, preventing you from having healthy relationships.
Here are the 7 ways you subconsciously sabotage your relationship without realizing it.
1. You feel jealous or insecure for no real reason
Maybe deep down, insecurities are controlling your relationship because you do not feel good enough and fear your partner leaving you.
It’s hard to connect with you if you’re anxious about your partner leaving you, fearing that they will find someone better.
If you accuse them of not wanting you, you might be driving them away.
Unknowingly, you may believe you do not deserve to be loved, despite the fact that you want so much to be loved.
You can become threatened by another woman or man who you feel will steal your loved one, because somehow you feel not good enough, waiting for them to leave you.
So, you sabotage your relationship to prevent them from leaving you.
You can accuse them of cheating or wanting someone else, when there is no real evidence, except your own fears of abandonment driving your thought processes.
2. You think your partner is causing your feelings of abandonment, instead of looking within
If you have a fear of abandonment, you blame your partner or accuse them of causing you to feel abandoned when they trigger your feelings deep within yourself.
When these feelings of being not good enough, or feeling abandoned, are outside of your awareness, you think that it is your partner causing you to feel this way.
You end up blaming your partner for how you feel, thinking that they’re abandoning you or rejecting you, by displacing your fears of abandonment onto them.
You think they’re the person rejecting you, by reading into things that are not there, to prevent yourself from feeling abandoned
3. You blame your partner and accuse them of things they haven’t even done, instead of being open and curious
Your fears of losing your partner drive you into reading into things that do not exist when you blame them and accuse them of things they haven’t even done.
You become paranoid or suspicious that they will leave or cheat on you, so you question them or monitor them.
4. You find fault in your partner to escape feeling like you’re not good enough
You can protect yourself from how you feel by finding fault in the other person.
Instead of locating these feelings deep within yourself, which stem from repressed childhood abandonment, you end up blaming them for how you feel.
5. You attack your partner’s character
You accuse them of not caring about you when they forgot to call.
You make your partner responsible for changing how you feel by changing their behavior, instead of identifying your own triggers.
6. You attempt to change your partner, fix them, or get them to be more loving towards you
You can end up projecting your past wounds onto your partner and want them to pay for the hurt that past caregivers have caused you, even hurting them back.
This is an attempt to make them responsible for hurting you and getting them to make up for it, as if they’re responsible for the pain that was done to you.
Putting your unmet needs of love onto your partner is an attempt to get them to make you feel better or feel loved.
But, often this is too much for a partner to deal with, and pushes them away from loving you.
You perceive that it is your partner causing you to feel abandoned or unwanted when they focus on their own lives and don’t focus on you.
If you prevent them from being themselves, they will become pushed away because they can’t be themselves around you or walk on eggshells around your feelings because they have to cater to your needs to avoid you feeling abandoned.
Eventually, they may feel controlled and want out of the relationship.
7. You threaten to leave to avoid feeling abandoned
If you feel abandonment is imminent, you can threaten to leave, as a protest to bid for their attention.
This may be a last attempt to escape feeling abandoned in order to get your partner back.
If the fear of abandonment is so pervasive, you can threaten to leave, before they can leave you.
If you leave the relationship, then you don’t have to worry about them leaving you, so you kill the relationship.
Do you identify with these signs of relationship sabotaging behaviors?
Ask yourself: Is this fear of abandonment real or imagined? Are you sabotaging love because of your fear of abandonment?
Are you looking into things that are not really there and accusing your partner of things they haven’t even done?
Or, do you sabotage the relationship using these self-saboteur tactics, causing them to leave you, or push them away to the point they cheat on you?
Why would you re-create the same destructive pathway all over again?
The more you externalize your feelings as being caused by someone else, by blaming your partner for how you feel, the more you do not address the feelings deep within yourself.
You continue to repeat the pattern of abandonment in relationships.
When the other person feels accused of things or attacked for things they haven’t done, you drive them away.
This self-sabotaging tactic will destroy your relationship, even though you think it protects your feelings or protects your relationship.
These patterns enact the original pain and repeat the pattern of feeling abandoned, until you acknowledge the feelings, deal with the pain and become unstuck from these destructive patterns that push love away.
Overcome the relationship self-saboteur and transform your relationships.
Nancy Carbone is a relationship therapist who trained in relational trauma from the International Masterson Institute in NY. She overcomes stuck relationship patterns. If you want to break the cycle of sabotaging relationships contact Nancy at Counselling Service Melbourne for an appointment.
This article was originally published at counsellingservicemelbourne.com.au. Reprinted with permission from the author.
Romantic relationships offer some of life’s greatest joys. They can also cause great pain. As we open ourselves up to another person, we leave ourselves vulnerable to rejection and abandonment, thus fueling some of our deepest insecurities. For many, especially those who have experienced childhood trauma or unstable familial relationships, such insecurities can lead to self-sabotaging behavior.
Psychotherapist Mercedes Coffman, MFT, refers to the concept of emotional memory for understanding why this occurs. “Although we may not have recall of certain early experiences in life,” Coffman says, “our emotional memory is often what triggers a deepened sense of hurt in romantic relationships, which may seem like an overreaction to others, and sometimes even to ourselves. This can make us self-sabotage a relationship that could have had the potential to grow into something wonderful.”
Fortunately, we have a choice. We can allow ourselves to be flooded with the pain of the past and risk engaging in self-sabotaging behavior, or we can choose to see relationships as opportunities to work on ourselves by repairing old wounds.
Following are a few of the ways you can begin this work, avoid the trap of self-sabotage, and ultimately bring you closer to the loving relationship you deserve.
1. Understand your attachment style.
When we experience difficulty, it is helpful to understand our attachment style. “People come out of their family of origin with a blueprint of how they attach to others,” says relationship therapist Rhonda Milrad, LCSW. “This attachment style is played out in every one of their relationships. For people who experienced trauma, abandonment, enmeshment, etc., they most often develop insecure attachments as adults where they have trouble trusting relationships.” She explains that the closer someone is to another person, the greater the likelihood that their attachment style can become challenged, and that the strains will bring out their worst qualities, such as jealousy, anger, and enmeshment, often leading to self-sabotaging behavior.
“The way our parents responded to us as infants and children has a deep profound impact on how we develop and grow, particularly in how we see ourselves and view others,” says clinical psychologist Lisa Herman. “A parent’s attention to them in infancy and childhood might have been warm and attentive one moment but cold or aloof at other times. Not knowing what you might get as an infant primes one to possibly feel this way in future relationships.” This can lead to the need for an excessive amount of reassurance, which can exhaust a partner. Milrad acknowledges that this isn’t permanent: Many people can re-work how they attach in adulthood and thrive in romantic relationships.
2. Identify your triggers.
Marriage and family therapist Shadeen Francis suggests journaling about the experiences in your relationship that trigger behavior you experience as self-sabotaging. Ask yourself: What was happening? What did you feel at the time? What were you afraid of? How likely is it that the outcome you feared would happen?
“Asking yourself these questions,” Francis says, “can help you find the pattern in your behavior and begin to explore your vulnerability.” Having an awareness of what triggers these behaviors can prepare us for the inevitable conflicts that arise.
3. Be mindful of your behavior.
Insecurity in relationships is inevitable, “because everybody has issues to work on,” says psychotherapist Marina Lenderman, LCSW. “It’s critical to know what yours are. Awareness comes with behavior. If you frequently pick fights or start blaming your partner, awareness has been lost. Both people have a role in conflict, so it’s important to be aware how much of it is your part.”
Milrad describes the need to develop an “observing ego” that can help you identify when your partner is acting from their feelings of insecurity, even unconsciously. (For example, I recognize that I am feeling insecure about the relationship when I begin to think my partner is cheating on me, or I check their phone.) “With this insight, a person can then stop behaviors, learn to tolerate the discomfort, and engage in alternative and more healthy behavior.”
4. Decipher the past from the present.
There is a saying, “If it’s hysterical, it’s historical,” meaning our strong emotional reactions can be our best clues to unfinished business from our past. The next time you experience a reaction that you suspect may be out of proportion from what you identify as the triggering event, take a moment to pause before responding. Lenderman suggests asking yourself, “How much is my past replaying, and how much is really present day?” We may not always know the answer, but simply by considering the possibility, we move closer to healthy patterns of behavior.
5. Learn to communicate.
If specific themes continue to arise, at some point it could be helpful to speak to your partner, Lenderman advises. They can be an asset, as they can help you point out self-sabotaging behaviors as they arise.
Darren Pierre, author of The Invitation to Love, agrees. He suggests inviting your partner to be patient with you. “All of us have limitations in relationships,” he says, “and a well-defined commitment made upfront offers an understanding that we are dedicated to each other beyond the adversities that are bound to occur.”
6. Practice self-care and self-compassion.
Finally, as most of us already know, without self-love there cannot be true love for another — at least not the kind that leads to healthy, loving relationships. Cultivating self-compassion is essential for those who struggle with low self-esteem, especially when this manifests in relationships. Seeking a therapist as a collaborator is a helpful way to begin healing from past hurts, finding self-acceptance, and moving closer to lasting and fulfilling love.
Are You Sabotaging Your Relationship?
Most of us treat love like an external force. It’s something that happens to us, strikes us like an arrow or overcomes us like a storm. There is a problem with thinking of love this way, and that is that it can slant our focus outward. It overlooks our own sense of power and leaves us to believe that we are victims of our romantic fate.
Over the years, I have heard thousands of reasons offered for why people are either single or pulling out of a relationship.
“No one finds me attractive.”
“Women are so dramatic.”
“Men just want sex.”
“I’m just not good at intimacy.”
“I need to be by myself right now.”
In my experience, these statements are often based on “critical inner voices,” destructive thoughts directed toward oneself and others. Most of this negative self-talk is just plain wrong and can be covering up something else — something deeper. If we want to give ourselves the best chance of finding and maintaining a rich and rewarding relationship, we have to look inside ourselves. There, we are likely to find glass walls we never knew we’d built and steep ledges we never knew we feared. The dating world may be full of obstacles, but our worst enemy is usually in our own heads.
Finding love is, in some ways, the ultimate out-of-body experience in that we feel so attuned and connected to someone else. Yet, it is also a process of adventure and discovery that is entirely internal. Understanding that inner world is vital to letting ourselves get close to someone else. With that in mind, here are a few ways we may be getting in our own way when it comes to intimacy.
1. Avoiding pain:
Love hurts. The saying is both tired and true. Yet, as much as it gets lamented in pop songs or portrayed on movie screens, we don’t really let it sink in. Part of us feels, once we find the right person and make the smart choices, love will be easy — blissful, less complicated than all those other relationships around us. The twisted truth is, the closer the relationship and the better the choice we’ve made, the more pain we can expect to feel. Love doesn’t just wound us, because people disappoint us or because circumstances change. It can hurt most when it is at its best.
I can’t tell you how many people pull back the moment things get close. Caring about another person deeply is a truly painful thing. It makes us value them more, ourselves more and our lives more. Inevitably, it reminds us of time and loss. On another level, love challenges an old and familiar identity. It thrusts us into maturity and forces us to separate from our past. When we get close to someone, it shifts our tectonic plates. It is a poignant and powerful thing that can erupt a dormant volcano of underlying emotions — things we’ve buried and sat on for years. In order to not let these emotions demolish a flourishing relationship, we have to face these deeper scars. We have to recognize the ways we’ve been hurt and understand how those wounds inform our current behavior. This means being willing to feel pain without trying to numb ourselves or gloss over the feelings that come up. We cannot numb pain without numbing joy.
2. Retreating into fantasy:
Once people get scared in their relationship, many couples have a tendency to form a “fantasy bond,” a term coined by my father Dr. Robert Firestone. The fantasy bond is a defense that allows us to feel as if we’ve joined with another person. This illusion of fusion can make us feel safe and secure, but it actually undermines our most vital feelings of love. What happens when people retreat into fantasy is that they let the form of the relationship replace the substance. They start to relate as a unit, presenting themselves as a couple instead of as two individuals who are genuinely drawn to each other. They forego passion for routine. They start to impose restrictions on each other, so neither party feels threatened, yet both feel limited. They begin to narrow their worlds instead of expanding them. They can become critical and demanding toward each other rather than respecting each other’s individuality and independence. Though it may seem like this bond pulls people together, it actually creates a hotbed for resentment and drives them apart.
The fantasy seems to offer a sense of control and security, but it actually generates friction and distance in an intimate relationship. Couples are much better off maintaining a sense of themselves as two separate people with sovereign minds who genuinely care for and appreciate each other. This independence encourages us to respect our partner and treat him or her kindly. Only when we see someone as separate from us, can we genuinely care about how they feel. We are able to see things from their point of view. We experience the joy of knowing how to make them happy. When our partner is not an extension of us, we are also better able to keep our physical attraction alive.
3. Protecting ourselves:
Author James Baldwin wrote, “Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.” We all harbor a brick wall of psychological defenses that we’ve built up since we were born. Everything that hurt us, that convinced us we were insignificant, that scared us or held us back lays the foundation for these defenses. Some adaptations we made to survive painful events may be healthy, but most are no longer adaptive and actually serve to limit us.
I’ve worked with so many men and women who’ve told me how much they wanted to find love, then, once they found it, felt intolerant of being close for various reasons. Some complained of feeling tied down or pulled on. Others become incredibly insecure and jealous. Every single one of these people could trace these reactions back to their early lives: parents who intruded on them or rejected them, caretakers who shamed them or frightened them. In response to painful events in their childhood, these individuals adapted, taking care of themselves or vowing to never trust anyone. These survival mechanisms served a purpose in their past but hurt them in their adult lives, their relationships in particular.
These defenses push our partners away and end up causing those we claim to love a lot of pain. Love challenges our defenses. It takes us out of those safe walls we built, that may make us miserable but are also familiar and help us to shut off feelings or memories. The things we do to cut off from pain or emotion cut us off from intimacy. They separate us from our partners and make us intolerant of closeness. Getting to know our defenses is a key step in learning how we limit ourselves in our relationships.
4. Believing our inner critic:
There is a language that goes along with each of these barriers, which I’ve mentioned above. It’s the internal dialogue referred to as one’s “critical inner voice.” The critical inner voice is an inner enemy that drives us to avoid closeness, to shut off emotions and retreat into fantasy. It puts us down in countless ways, tearing into our appearance, performance, personality and aspirations. It is tricky in the sense that it both soothes and punishes us. Sometimes, it sounds like a mean coach, “You’re so pathetic. No one will ever want you.” Other times it sounds like a comforting parent, “Don’t bother leaving the house. You are just fine on your own.” Both of these self-hating and self-soothing voices lead us to the same, dissatisfying result.
The critical inner voice can seriously undermine our romantic desires. It turns against us and our partner or potential partner in ways that make it even harder to achieve real intimacy. It tells us to give in to our defenses, to keep a safe distance or to watch our partner closely, because we’re bound to get hurt. It’s helpful to remember that this voice is a phantom from our past. It does not represent reality or our real point of view. It is a destructive filter through which we see the world that tries to keep us in an old, familiar, even painful place. At every stage of a relationship, when the critical inner voice tries to exert its influence, we must confront it as a third-party threat. Make sure to identify it and separate it from your real point of view. There are useful exercises and techniques to help you do this. This process of standing up to your inner critic will help you to uncover and maintain your true thoughts and feelings toward yourself and your partner.
Considering how these defenses may be impacting your ability to develop and sustain loving intimate relationships is part of an ongoing journey of self-discovery. It will bring you closer to becoming your truest, most loving self. Along the way, it is important to have a sense of patience and self-compassion. Be wary of voices telling you that you’re messing up again or that everything is your fault. Recognizing you have power in your relationship by challenging your defenses doesn’t mean hating or blaming yourself. However, it allows you to work on the only thing you have any real control over in your relationship, you. When you’re able to maintain a sense of yourself as an independent, vulnerable and loving individual, then no matter what anyone else does or what happens, you can feel your own sense of power and stay open to real love in your life.
Learn more in Dr. Lisa Firestone’s upcoming Webinar, “6 Reasons Most People are Afraid of Love.”
About the Author
Lisa Firestone, Ph.D. Dr. Lisa Firestone is the Director of Research and Education at The Glendon Association. An accomplished and much requested lecturer, Dr. Firestone speaks at national and international conferences in the areas of couple relations, parenting, and suicide and violence prevention. Dr. Firestone has published numerous professional articles, and most recently was the co-author of Sex and Love in Intimate Relationships (APA Books, 2006), Conquer Your Critical Inner Voice (New Harbinger, 2002), Creating a Life of Meaning and Compassion: The Wisdom of Psychotherapy (APA Books, 2003) and The Self Under Siege (Routledge, 2012).Follow Dr. Firestone on Twitter or Google. Tags: failed relationship, fear of intimacy, intimacy issues, learn to love, relationship issues, relationship problems, self-sabotage, self-sabotaging
So true and if people could only experience the results that overcoming this challenging and life changing journey before they go through it well the world would be a happier place all around……I can’t imagine how anyone would not want to be in a place where they love and believe in their self ….. It is the most peaceful and free place a person can be…great write on such a complexed subject..perfect infact….thanks for a great read
Thank you for your powerfull insight about being able too become close to someone. At 61 i am more than a bit aprehensive in trying to help my partner she can truely feel the blissfull love she has been unable to due to so many negative outside forces in her lifr.
This perfectly describes what I’m experiencing. I push the guy I know I love away because I am afraid to truly trust and let him love me. It feels safer to keep the walls up but it’s actually quite miserable knowing my heart loves and wants him but I feel so vulnerable letting him get close. Thank you so much for this article that brings me great insight! Hopefully I can let myself be loved by this man who I know truly loves me.
Wow.. this is really deep and I think has helped me so much.. I was dating a guy for over year we had been friends for a few years and he would always tell me how much in love he was with me and how head over heels he was he was constantly trying to take me out calling and texting me all the time begging me to just give him a chance.. I had broken up with my boyfriend of over 10 years and was by myself for the first time…I was single for nine months and this guy kept trying so I finally went on a date with him.. and immediately felt something We got into a deep relationship and within two months we were seeing each other all the time going on trips together we introduced each other to our families and he had already told me he was going to marry me…. he was such an amazing person to me he did so many sweet things from sending roses to my job… and teddy bears to my house.. and then about eight or nine months in I felt a shift like he was pulling back and I didn’t understand why he would find all of these reasons to not come visit me or call me as much.. and then one day he just completely stopped picking up the phone or returning any text… I was literally crushed and didn’t understand why if you loved me so much would he leave me for no reason there wasn’t a fight or argument or anything he just stopped… so about three months go by and then he starts to messaging me through social media then he would send me random text saying that he loves me and when I would ask what happen he wouldn’t respond… it’s been over year since I’ve seen him he text me every so often acting like he wants to talk about what happened but never shows up… he had a very tough upbringing both of his parents got murdered when he was very young… so after reading this article it seems like this may be some of the reason why he just left me the way he did my heart still aches to this very minute because I honestly don’t have real closure… but this helped a little bit do you guys think I’m on the right track?
So much pain
From personal experience guys “ghosted” me to be with another woman. You will probably never get closure from this situation BUT don’t let that stop you from dating, like I have. I have a really nice man in my life right now and I can feel myself pushing him away. Im here to get help with not doing so. WE both will love again we just have to LOVE ourselves first and not let others dictate how we live or love.
I too have this phenomenal man in my life and I can’t even explain the countless ways if disrespected him and our relationship. I truly see him as the completion of my soul. Only problem is I have hurt him more, lied and been unfaithful, the list goes on. I have no explanation why Im seemingly unable to show him the love he deserves. I’ve had a lot of childhood pain and stuffed the emotions around it. Now every time I try to really open my heat and give it to this man I hurt him, repeatedly!! I’m heart broken over the pain I’ve caused him but can’t comprehend what drives me to throw away the love I’ve always wanted and never had.
OK, I’ll admit it: I’m a former bad boy addict.
I’m not talking about the motorcycle-riding, cigarette-smoking, edge-walking rebels-without-a-cause. I’m talking about the type that didn’t treat me very well. They didn’t call when they said they would; they weren’t forthright with their feelings and liked to keep me guessing; they made me feel like my feelings for them were my mistake, and not a product of their mixed signals.
I used to be repelled by nice men, those who wanted to honor me and adore me. I always chalked it up to an absence of chemistry. I thought I just didn’t have physical chemistry with the nice ones. But I wasn’t really stopping to take real inventory on the men I did feel chemistry with compared to those I didn’t.
When I finally followed the trail of relationship crumbs to find out why my love life had been so filled with frustration, I felt embarrassed that I had allowed myself to be treated this way. I had to get curious, and tap into my courage, in order to step outside of myself. I had to dig deep to see why I had always been drawn to unavailable men and see (and accept) that it was, really uncomfortably, all about ME.
A few years into bad-boy recovery, I now have nothing but gratitude for this period in my life. These men taught me of my deeper fears of love and insecurities about my worthiness. And they taught me of my own “darkness.” They brought a wholeness — an acceptance of all parts of myself —into my life that I wouldn’t have been able to reach as quickly without them.
By allowing them to just be, these men became my teachers. It took some time for me to get here — to begin to receive the love and affection that I deserve — because my unconscious mind was still fighting it.
Do you find yourself doing the same? Do you blame the downfall of your relationships with people who actually treat you right on the absence of a “spark”?
Well, in reality, this lack of attraction might point to something deeper: a fear or belief driven by your unconscious.
Our superego is the part of our consciousness that constantly whispers to us about our “mistakes” and the reasons why we’re just-not-good-enough. When the super ego’s whispers are convincing enough, it keeps us clenched in its claws. Right where it wants us: stuck.
But it’s actually not the whispers of the superego that are truly in charge. Instead, it’s the silent screams of our unconscious mind. This part of our mind reads the world as if it were one giant inkblot, projecting all sorts of meanings into neutral events, changing our perception.
If your unconscious mind carries a fear of vulnerability, a resistance to loss of control, a belief about being unlovable (or any myriad of other unconscious reasons to take pause), then you will likely feel repelled on some level by those who seek your connection and love. When a partner who shows up who’s present and ready for love, your mind will read the inkblot of his or her actions from a space of disbelief or fear of connection.
If this part of you remains unseen, there’s a good chance you will sabotage relationships with these fully available people because your unconscious just isn’t ready for it. You might sabotage by pulling back or pushing too hard, both subtle ways to challenge the person to leave you so that your unconscious can feel safe again.
This was why I was so attracted to the bad boy archetype: they allowed my unconscious mind to stay safe by making sure I was always right about the dangers of love.
But by moving toward these parts of myself, facing them, understanding and processing the emotion, I was freed of the fear. And don’t get me wrong: just because I’m a love coach doesn’t mean I have love all figured out. Despite the fact that the nine-year-old me was convinced that one day I would wake up as Wonder Woman, I woke up human yet again today, just like I do every day.
I still make plenty of love “blunders” and get nervous when I’m really falling for someone. I feel insecure and sometimes unsure of how to act around said person, constantly convinced that I’m doing it all wrong.
But what has changed for me — and can for you, too — is that I now have toe-curling chemistry with men who treat me right. I no longer want to sabotage these relationships because I’m no longer afraid of this kind of love.
And you don’t have to be afraid either. You deserve to be cherished. Get quiet and ask yourself: Am I ready for that? Reach out and share your answers!
5 Ways You Subconsciously Close Your Heart To Love
The signs are easy to miss.
One of the most surprising revelations I had is when the still, small voice inside of me said that I was using makeup as a way of not allowing myself to be vulnerable. What? Like, my foundation is keeping my partner away?
It was the start of summer, and I was walking along the ocean, praying for guidance as far as how to release the blocks in my relationship. The still, small voice responded, You think you need to look perfect. You think that if you look perfect, someone will love you. You’re unwilling to show the real you. You think you need to earn love.
The truth was that I was a perfectionist, and I did rush to apply makeup after getting out of the shower. Thinking I needed to look and be perfect in order to be worthy of love was an unconscious script that I was unaware of up until that moment.
When you are in a relationship, or dating, there are two scripts running in tandem: the conscious thoughts you’re aware of, and the unconscious thoughts and fears that drive you, but you don’t realize this until you get quiet and look inward.
In other words: You’re closing your heart to potential partners in ways that you can’t even imagine and self-sabotaging relationships. Your inability to be vulnerable and let people in manifests in quirky ways that are easy to miss if you’re not present.
That being said, here are 5 surprising ways you might be closing your heart:
Your past. Your family. Your dreams. The list goes on an on.
You expect your parter, or date, to be open and honest, but there are certain topics that are off the table, as far as you’re concerned. You’ll open up about work, or your friendships, but when your date asks about your family, you say it’s complicated. You have a secret dream of being a singer, but you don’t trust your partner enough to tell him. You had a horrible day, but when your partner calls, you fake a pleasant tone and tell him that everything is fine.
Every time you are unwilling to share something with your partner, or potential partner, it creates distance in your relationship. If you want an emotionally mature relationship, you have to be willing to open your heart, which means sharing your truths.
This is not to say you should turn your first date into a confession, but rather, that when the instinct to close your heart and shut down arises, ask yourself if not sharing that thing will bring you closer to this person, or create even more distance.
2. You don’t want to communicate anything negative.
It’s easy to tell your partner how great he is, but it requires a whole other level of spiritual and emotional maturity to tell him that you’re experiencing feelings of frustration or anger because of something that he did or said. It can feel unsafe to share negative emotions, and while it’s easy to talk to other people — your mom, best friend, or co-worker — it takes a lot more maturity to discuss issues with your date, or partner.
Out of habit, you don’t share when you’re upset, and because of this, resentment starts to build within you. You close your heart. Your partner reaches over to hug you and you pull away. You send a curt text. He asks if anything is bothering you, and you reply, No. I’m fine.
Here’s the key: the moment you want to shut down and withhold your feelings is the exact moment that you need to become aware of this pattern and break it. Speak up, and do it in a loving, calm way; this is how you can deepen the connection you have with your partner.
3. You’re still seeking elsewhere.
A cute coworker passes by your desk, and you bat your eyelashes and wonder why you chose to wear cement-colored slacks and an ill-fitting sweater. You put out flirtatious energy because people say it’s not only harmless, it’s natural.
You don’t think about the fact that most people are in unhappy relationships, and maybe you should stop doing what most people do. You say you want a committed relationship, but you still have your feelers out; not in an overt way, but in subtle ways.
You look around the bar on Friday evening, when your partner’s not there, and some voice in your mind whispers, He’s cute. This is not to say that you’re never going to find other people attractive, but rather, that it would serve your relationship to become aware of the energy you’re putting out.
Are you sending out messages to other people that you’re interested? Do you enjoy when other people flirt with you because it boosts your confidence? Does some part of you still want to leave your options open?
If there’s an energy in you that’s seeking elsewhere, it is creating distance in your relationship in subtle ways. Don’t think that because your partner doesn’t know that it’s “innocent” or “harmless.” The energy you put out comes right back to you.
4. You use intimacy as a way to make someone love you.
Part of you believes that physical intimacy will make someone love you. You’re unaware of the fear that drives you to be intimate so quickly, and you think it’s normal because all of your friends are just as quick to get physical.
You need to check your intentions: Are you being intimate, because you’re afraid of losing the person? Are you doing it to please your partner and because you think it’s normal to get physical by a certain number date, or after a certain amount of time?
If you’re getting closer to someone physically, because you’re trying to fit in or please the other person, you’re actually not experiencing true intimacy. When two people are truly intimate, they share a deep connection that goes beyond the physical, but that can be expressed physically.
Real intimacy takes time and trust. If you’re intimate before you’re ready, you’ll unconsciously resent your partner, and you won’t feel safe or loved.
5. You have a special relationship with your ex.
You’re only willing to partially open your heart to someone new because you are still connected to your ex. You feel that you have a close bond, and you turn to your ex to discuss problems, share a laugh, or celebrate good news that you’ve received. You’re unwilling to completely let go of your ex, and so there’s no space for a new partner.
In order to manifest an emotionally healthy and mature relationship, you must release your past. This doesn’t mean that you can never communicate with your ex, but rather, that you should honor what’s in your present, and that might mean spending less time and energy with your ex.
Once you become aware of the ways you might be closing your heart, you can catch yourself as you fall into negative patterns, and you can begin to shift. It only requires the tiniest amount of self-awareness and the decision to make a change to open your heart. With these two things, you can shift your dating and romantic life and manifest a connected, mature relationship.
Jessie Leon writes about mindful living, relationships, and spirit on Rebel Hippie Soul. Follow her on Instagram.
This article was originally published at Rebel Hippie Soul. Reprinted with permission from the author.
The best thing about a new relationship is that it’s a clean slate. (Shout-out to Sex and the City for hitting the nail on the head with that interpretation.) A brand-new relationship is full of promise and potential. You may have screwed up the last one, but you’re not going to repeat the same mistakes this time — or are you?
Unfortunately, the self-love that is required for a successful relationship is often replaced by a destructive anti-self, formed by a deep-seated, critical inner voice that causes you to sabotage potential relationships. The anti-self casts doubt on your worthiness of love and fosters self-criticism, which manifests as self-sabotaging actions. A real “clean slate” happens when you’ve bettered your relationship with yourself and have stopped listening to that critical inner voice, thus entering the new relationship in a healthier and more secure state of mind. Those who have yet to conquer their self-loathing habits won’t think they deserve love, and they’ll assume their partner will leave them, so they’ll push their partner away to beat them to the punch. In essence, this protects your ego, allowing you to reject them before you’re rejected.
Until you truly love yourself, you’ll subconsciously want to sabotage any chance at love that comes your way out of fear that if you don’t, you’ll become vulnerable to an inevitable failure. Another reason we sabotage is due to a psychological phenomenon where we are familiar with and seek out rejection and failure. Mike Bundrant, licensed professional counsellor, co-founder at the iNLP Centre, and author of Your Achilles Heel: Discover and Overcome the Hidden Cause of Negative Emotions, Bad Decisions and Self-Sabotage, explains that this type of psychological attachment to rejection or failure has been identified as one of the biggest reasons for self-sabotage. “Self-sabotage involves consciously or unconsciously acting against your own best interest, and long-term patterns of self-sabotage are caused by negative psychological attachments.” There are several different ways we do this and ruin promising relationships. Here are eight ways you could be sabotaging your new relationship.
1. Making Assumptions Instead of Communicating
Millennials seem to be terrible at directly communicating their feelings, wants, needs, and concerns. Being direct is a communication skill that can progress a new relationship in a very beneficial way. It’s unfortunate that we often act in this passive and nonchalant manner that fails to promote or facilitate our actual desires. Your partner can’t read your mind, so don’t ascribe ill intent to their actions or assume that they’re acting a certain way to slight you. It’s a form of self-sabotage to assume the worst instead of openly communicating, and it’s also sabotage if you expect them to presume your needs without offering a little guidance.
2. Being Needy and Clingy
You’re aware that suffocating your partner with your neediness could push them away, but you do it anyway. Your boyfriend or girlfriend will naturally want to escape the relationship if he or she feels too much pressure from it. Being overly dependent on them and relying on them too much (instead of being happy independent from the relationship) will cause them to feel trapped.
Matthew Hussey, a renowned dating expert, founder of Get the Guy, and author of the New York Times bestseller Get the Guy: Learn Secrets of the Male Mind to Find the Man You Want and the Love You Deserve, explains that neediness stems from an inner fear of failed relationships. “Fear is one of the biggest reasons we self-sabotage in relationships,” he says. “Fear that we’re not enough, fear that they’ll find someone better, and a fear of being abandoned if someone’s feelings change. When we give into fear, we become needy, we over-analyse everything, and we end up suffocating our partner with our controlling and clingy behaviour.”
If you find that you’re overly clingy or needy in relationships, the best thing to do is try letting your partner take the lead for a change. Hussey explains, “The key is to always focus on being as great as you can possibly be and to accept that you cannot control the relationship or its progress. If someone leaves you, it’s simply because they’re not right for you.” Being needy is you attempting to control the relationship and steer it in the direction you’re hoping it will go in. By accepting that you cannot control these things, you’ll become less needy and more laid-back.
3. Being Overly Guarded With One Foot Out the Door, Instead of Letting Yourself Fall in Love
As cliche as it is to say “love like you’ve never been hurt,” it is crucial to let your guard down if you want a new relationship to stand a chance. Let yourself fall in love. Maybe the last time you
fell in love, you got hurt. There’s obviously a chance that you’ll get hurt again, but keeping your guard up will only keep you from incredible experiences. By letting go of your fears, being brave, and going all in, you’re much closer to finding something real than you would be if you insisted on self-sabotaging by keeping one foot out the door. Jumping in with both feet requires bravery, but your relationship will benefit from that bravery.
Relationship therapist and professor Shadeen Francis explains that an unwillingness to be vulnerable is a sure way to sabotage a new relationship. “A new relationship requires openness and transparent communication to have a shot at succeeding,” she says. “Many people have learned to approach dating by being guarded, coy, or disengaged to protect themselves from getting hurt. The avoidance of vulnerability in new relationships can look like trying not to be too eager, pretending nothing bothers you in the relationship, or not telling your partner how much you care for them. True intimacy and a genuine connection requires vulnerability and for you to let your guard down.”
4. Putting Up a Front Instead of Being Yourself
Being yourself is crucial for any healthy and long-lasting relationship because if someone falls for your contrived act, they haven’t fallen for you. Many people sabotage relationships by pretending to be something they’re not, lying about their job, covering up significant character flaws, or pretending to have the same interests as their partner. Relationship expert April Masini says that any dishonesty in a relationship is major self-sabotage. “If you’re putting up a front and pretending to be someone you’re not, you’re being dishonest,” she says. “The truth always comes out, and when it does, your partner may feel they’ve been duped because you’ve tried to manipulate their perception of you. Plus, you’ll be overly anxious in a relationship built on lies where you can’t be yourself while waiting for the bomb to drop.”
5. Believing You’re Not Good Enough, or Doubting the Relationship
If you enter into a new relationship knowing that you struggle with low self-esteem, you’ll need to have blind faith when it comes to believing that someone is super into you. Self-sabotage happens when you believe you’re not good enough, no matter how much your new beau tries to show you that you are. Licensed therapist Katie Krimer explains that carrying negative beliefs about yourself into the relationship can cause the relationship’s demise. “Engaging in a self-fulfilling prophecy can sabotage a new relationship. A self-fulfilling prophecy is the cycle where our negative beliefs about ourselves impact our actions toward others, which consequently damages their view of us, therefore confirming our original negative beliefs we had about ourselves. For example, you might believe that you’re unlovable — a belief that was perhaps picked up from a previous failed relationship — and you might therefore assume that your partner’s love for you won’t last, causing you to act in a way that sabotages the relationship.”
In other words, believing that you’re not good enough or being overly self-critical causes you to assume things are going downhill in the relationship, so you’ll push them away to beat them to the punch and protect your ego. If you generally have a negative attitude about dating and about yourself, you’ll consistently have doubts about the relationship which will sabotage it. The key is to better yourself and invalidate negative attitudes about dating before you enter a relationship.
6. Having Ridiculously High Expectations
It’s smart to be picky and to have high standards, but there is such a thing as taking it too far and having expectations of your partner that are way too high. If you find that you’re nit-picking and finding trivial things wrong with everyone you date, you’re probably subconsciously sabotaging your relationships by having expectations nobody could ever meet. In order to write my dating tell-all book Aren’t You Glad You Read This?, I had to dig deep to figure out that the reason my expectations were so unrealistic was because I wanted to use my high standards as an excuse to guarantee that no relationship would work for me, so that when it didn’t work out, I could blame my “high standards” instead of attributing the failed relationship to a flaw within myself. This is a classic defense mechanism, but it’s also a form of sabotage since nobody could live up to the ideals I’d manufactured.
7. Projecting Your Own Insecurities on to Your Partner
You’re projecting your own insecurities anytime you ascribe ill intent to your partner’s innocent mistakes, or when you assume that they believe the same critical thoughts that you have about yourself. For example, if a past partner hurt you, and your current partner says or does something that reminds you of that past hurt, you might project your insecurities onto them by overreacting to whatever they did that triggered you.
Dr. Michele Leno, licensed psychologist and founder of DML Psychological Services, points out that insecurities are often the root of self-sabotage, which is why a “clean slate” in the form of a brand-new relationship won’t necessarily break your self-sabotaging patterns. “Women tend to carry over resentments or fears from previous relationships into new relationships,” she says. “Although the intent is to start fresh, it’s common to use a past, troublesome relationship as a frame of reference. Insecurities are generally at the root of a woman’s self sabotage, but if she becomes aware of her sabotaging ways, there’s hope.”
8. Cheating or Keeping in Touch With an Ex
Cheating or keeping in touch with an ex are both extremely common ways people sabotage relationships. Kali Rogers, life coach and author of Conquering Your Quarter Life Crisis: How to Get Your Sh*t Together in Your 20s, explains that cheating often occurs due to a fear of being vulnerable. When you’re all in, loyal, and faithful, you’re extremely open and vulnerable. “With self-sabotage such as cheating, women can identify that this is why the relationship ended and protect their ego while keeping their pride,” says Rogers. “Yes, they cheated — but at least they weren’t rejected. Rejection would validate the notion that they’re not worthy of love — and that’s why they’d rather sabotage the relationship altogether than risk being vulnerable to rejection.” Perhaps this ties in with another common way we sabotage relationships, which is allowing ourselves to get distracted by other options instead of focusing on the one we’re with. It requires a brave vulnerability to see where things go with one person, but bravery gets you everywhere when it comes to relationships.
Image Source: StockSnap / Toa Heftiba
Why we sabotage romantic relationships — and what we can do about it
By examining our actions and attitude, we can start to break the cycle, says psychology researcher Raquel Peel.
This post is part of TED’s “How to Be a Better Human” series, each of which contains a piece of helpful advice from someone in the TED community; browse through all the posts here.
Before she met the love of her life, psychology researcher Raquel Peel says that she was a “romantic self-saboteur.” Her early experiences had affected her attitude and behavior towards love. In her TEDxJCUCairns talk, she recalls, “I assumed that people in my relationships would eventually leave me; I also assumed that all my relationships would fail.” Driven by these feelings of impending doom, Peel — a graduate student at James Cook University in Australia — would invariably “pull the plug” on romances whenever things got the least bit difficult.
She knew many other people who acted in deliberately self-destructive ways in relationships, so she decided to learn more about this behavior. She did it in two ways: by interviewing Australian psychologists who specialize in relationship counseling “to understand what self-sabotage looks like in practice” and by surveying more than 600 self-confessed saboteurs worldwide to find out what they did and why they did it.
“My participants varied in age, cultural background, and sexual orientation,” Peel says, “Yet they answered in very similar ways.” They exhibited one or more of what US psychologist and researcher John Gottman (watch his TEDx talk) calls “the four horsemen of the apocalypse,” or what he has identified as the primary behaviors that can lead to the end of a relationship: criticism, defensiveness, contempt and stonewalling. And while the particular form that these take are as unique as the people surveyed, the people surveyed, according to Peel, “sabotage relationships for one main reason: to protect themselves.”
Of course, while self-protection is the reason given by most of her participants, the actual causes of sabotaging behaviors are complex, varied and deep-rooted. Still, Peel has this advice to share with any self-identified romantic saboteurs out there:
Stop entering relationships that you know are doomed.
One form of romantic self-sabotage is choosing partners that are just plain wrong for you. “We should not be pursuing every relationship that comes our way,” says Peel. “Pursue those relationships that have the potential to work.”
Get curious about how you act when you’re in a relationship.
Peel suggests: “Take a really good look at yourself and your behaviors in relationships and ask yourself, Are you someone who needs a lot of reassurance from your partner? Are you someone who gets nervous when things get too close?”
Think about those four horsemen — criticism, defensiveness, contempt and stonewalling. How often do you exhibit any of them? Which are your go-tos? And what are the beliefs you hold about yourself or your partner when you act in these ways? Try to observe your actions — or think back to what you’ve done in the past — and strive to understand the reasons behind them.
View your relationship as a partnership.
“We need to figure out how to collaborate with our partners, and how, even, to be vulnerable together,” says Peel. “Are you and your partner on the same team? Do you talk to your partner about your relationship goals?”
Obviously, this isn’t appropriate in the early days when you’re getting to know each other. But when you’re in a committed relationship, writer Mandy Len Catron (watch her TED talk about the reality of love) says — borrowing from linguists Mark Johnson and George Lakoff — it helps to view it as a “work of art” that you two are co-creating together, in real time. Adopting this attitude can make you more excited about the future you’re both building, rather than seeing love, and therefore your relationship, as something that is happening to you beyond your control or input and likely to end in heartbreak.
Many romantic saboteurs mention the dispiriting sensation they have when they’re in a relationship knowing it’s just a matter of time before it will end. As Peel puts it, “it’s like staring into a crystal ball knowing exactly what’s going to happen.” However, the work-of-art mindset can help counter that pessimistic self-narrative. Instead, “you get to stop thinking about yourself and what you’re gaining or losing in your relationship, and you get to start thinking about what you have to offer,” says Catron.
Be kind to yourself.
Your reasons for developing self-sabotaging behaviors most likely spring from an understandable and human place. “It’s natural to want to protect yourself,” says Peel, “but the way out of it is to have insight into who you are in a relationship … and how best to collaborate with them. After all, if you know who you are in a relationship, your partner will also have a chance to get to know you, and together you can break the pattern to sabotage.” She adds, “Love will never be easy, but without self-sabotage, it is a lot more reachable.”
Watch her TEDxJCUCairns talk now:
Daniella Balarezo is a Media Fellow at TEDx. She is also a writer and comedian based in NYC.
- how to be a better human
- raquel peel
Self-Sabotaging: Why We Get in Our Own Way
The expression “you are your own worst enemy” rings true for most of us. How many times have we acted against our self-interest, then asked ourselves why did we self-destruct? Why did we say that to a loved one? Why did we procrastinate on that project? Why have we stopped doing that one thing that makes us feel great? Self sabotaging thoughts and behaviors are perpetuated by an inner critic we all possess, which psychologist and author Robert Firestone, calls the “critical inner voice.”
The critical inner voice doesn’t represent a positive sense of self that you can entrust in. Rather, it epitomizes a cruel “anti-self,” a part inside us that is turned against us. It casts doubt on our abilities, undermines our desires, and convinces us to be paranoid and suspicious toward ourselves and those close to us. This anti-self fills our mind with critical self-analysis and self-sabotaging thoughts that lead us to hold back or steer away from our true goals.
Watch a Whiteboard Video on The Critical Inner Voice
Where Self Sabotaging Thoughts Come From
Our critical inner voice is formed from our early life experiences. Without realizing it, we tend to internalize attitudes that were directed toward us by parents or influential caretakers throughout our development. For example, if our parent saw us as lazy, we may grow up feeling useless or ineffective. We may then engage in a self sabotaging thoughts that tell us not to try, i.e.“Why bother? You’ll never succeed anyway. You just don’t have the energy to get anything done”
In a similar manner, children can internalize negative thoughts that their parents or early caretakers have toward themselves. If we grew up with a self-hating parent, who often viewed themselves as weak or a failure, we may grow up with similar self sabotaging attitudes toward ourselves. For instance, if our parent felt critical of their appearance, we may take on similar insecurities without realizing it. We may feel easily self-conscious and less sure of ourselves in social or public situations.
We can’t change the past. Yet, as adults, we can identify the self sabotaging thoughts that we’ve internalized and consciously choose to act against them. When we fall victim to our critical inner voice and listen to its directives, we often engage in self limiting or self sabotaging behaviors that hurt us in our daily lives. As author Elizabeth Gilbert put it, “You need to learn how to select your thoughts just the same way you select your clothes every day. This is a power you can cultivate. If you want to control things in your life so bad, work on the mind. That’s the only thing you should be trying to control.”
How to Stop Engaging in Self Sabotaging Behavior
Once we know where our self sabotaging thoughts come from, we can start to differentiate from the negative identity we have cast upon ourselves. We can familiarize ourselves with our critical inner voice and notice when it starts to seep in to our thought process. As we do this, we can start to recognize ways we act that we don’t like or respect. For example, if we often feel embarrassed or ashamed and, as a consequence, hold ourselves back socially, we can start to push ourselves to be more outward and open.
Changing these self sabotaging behaviors will make us anxious, because it means challenging deeply engrained, old and familiar attitudes that we’ve long held about ourselves. Differentiating from these behaviors is essential to leading happy lives. In their book The Self under Siege: A Therapeutic Model for Differentiation, co-authored by Dr. Robert Firestone, Dr. Lisa Firestone and Joyce Catlett, we describe the four steps involved in differentiation.
Step one involves separating from the destructive attitudes (critical inner voices) we internalized based on painful early life experiences. The second step requires us to separate from the negative traits in our parents or influential caretakers that we’ve taken on as our own. The third step involves challenging the destructive defenses or adaptations we made to the pain we experienced growing up. These adaptations may have helped us in childhood but, very often, hurt us as adults. For instance, if we were used to being let down or rejected as children, we may have formed a defense that shuts us off from wanting or expecting much from others. Though this lowering our expectations may seemed to help cushion us from getting hurt as kids, this same defense can keep us from trusting or getting close to someone as adults.
The fourth and final step of differentiation asks us to develop our very own sense of our unique values, ideals and beliefs. Once we have separated from the negative overlays from our past, we can uncover who we really are. We can stop self sabotaging behaviors and choose the person we want to be.
How We Wind Up in Self Sabotaging Relationships
The defenses and critical inner voices that we carry over time often lead us to recreate dynamics from our early life in our adult life. We tend to play out negative, old behavior patterns with the people we get close to. We often form self sabotaging relationships by indulging in our critical inner voices and failing to challenge our core defenses.
For example, if we felt abandoned as a child, we may have the tendency to become insecure in our adult relationships. We may hear “voices” toward ourselves like, “How can you trust her? She is just going to leave you. Be careful and don’t let yourself get close to her.” If we had a parent who acted overbearing or intrusive, we may feel easily suffocated by our romantic partner. We may hear voices like, “He is too needy. Can’t he just leave you alone? You’re better off on your own. You just can’t handle being close.”
Our critical inner voices encourage us to act out our defenses in all areas of our lives, but most often in our closest relationships. They often hold us back from getting what we really want, instilling fears in us that we will be hurt in the same ways we were hurt as children. We may even choose partners who play into these old dynamics, recreating past scenarios that help us maintain a negative identity we’ve long held.
Getting to know our patterns can help us to avoid self sabotaging relationships. We can start to act against our inner critic and break from defenses that no longer serve us well today. Facing our past is an important part of this process. Once we familiarize ourselves with our defenses, we can differentiate from self sabotaging behaviors and live a more liberated life, in which we are more powerful and much more in control of our destiny.
Stop Self-Sabotage by Conquering Your Inner Critic
PsychAlive PsychAlive is a free, nonprofit resource created by the Glendon Association. Help support our effort to bring psychological information to the public by making a donation. Tags: critical inner voice, self-destructive behavior, self-limiting behavior, self-sabotage, self-sabotaging
Really really awesome reading. Everything rang true.
Very informative, thank you for writing this information.
Wow! I knew there was something going on but I could never figure it out. Thank you.
Why some of us have this very strong compulsion, when we know it will cause us intense emotional pain, makes no sense.
Just because we can’t control our feelings and fears, Jim, doesn’t mean that there aren’t many positive emotions that can coexist with them.
because we think we kinda deserve it and also the pain and frustration which we feel become more and more comfortable to deal with, if we are used to something and know how to react and live with it, everything becomes comfortable and usual as like our daily lives starting from the thoughts and habits right after waking up..
I have serious issues with self-sabotaging relationships. I am the cool girlfriend, age 30, bouncy blonde who loves to have fun. Yep, that’s about as deep as it gets. In every relationship, I craved novelty–the exciting phase at the beginning. And then once reality set in because the novelty began to fade, especially when it started to get serious, I began picking apart the relationship. Why I was not worth staying in the relationship long-term. Because my value was centered around being fun and interesting. So, I bailed. Over and over. The fitness guru pro-ball player. The CPA from my hometown. The friend who was a therapist. All of them, I bailed on. All of them guys that had staying power. Except for me. And then I would leave. And now, I am with an incredible guy. He’s emotionally, cognitively, and physically the absolute best guy I have ever had the privy to meet. And now I am doing the same thing. Beginning to pick apart the relationship. Because I am not perfect, I am not worthy of being in this relationship. That’s the negative thought process. And he has the insight to point this out to me, even after I had figured it out. By the way, he is an incredible doctor. He’s insightful, intuitive, sexy, handsome, intellectual, and faithful. I would and could not ask for more. But here I go again–sabotaging this. I need to conquer my fears of intimacy and the need for perfection. OR I will lose the best relationship I have ever been in. And my work starts on the inside.
Rose, I hear your pattern, as I have been there myself many times for different reasons. Our biggest challenge and frankly the only challenge worth transforming… Is to truly love ourselves. It is cliche, absolutely. And cliche for a reason, because it is real.
What have you associated with a fun girl that knows only about having a good time? Who in your past reminds you of what you don’t think you want to be? What about you do you think is “necessary” in order to be a worthwhile partner? And what do you believe is necessary that your partner be in order for him to be worthwhile? When we truly love ourselves, we don’t even think twice about what we are doing that is right or wrong. We only know that if it feels like we are in the flow, if it feels like our genuine light is shining (not a perceived object considered as fun), then we are doing what we need to be doing.
I am working on this myself, trust me. And I’ve had some loving-myself experiences lately that I never believed were possible. And it is amazing. I wish you the very best in your transformation! 🙂
Rose, just wondering how you are doing. I just read this article and I hope what I learned can help me. I’m going to do more work on this and see if I can improve the happiness in my life. I hope all if well with you. I am open to any tips/insight you might have that you’ve learned. I’m not sure I even hear a little voice talking to me so that’s my first step.
I meant to respond to Meghan! But, hello to Rose too!
I feel the exact same way
Why do I see exactly where you’re going with that I have done it over and over I have just done it I don’t know how to get past all this crap you need to figure this out so I can live a decent life
That was a good read. Growing up my father was not present, mum did her best. She did say some horrible things when stressed and under pressure the one that I clearly remember is “if your own father left you what makes you think any man would want you?” This was after she found out a boy From school had walked me home. I have also been cheated on in past relationships. I’m always paranoid something is going on I can not bear the thought of a guy having close female friends or being in touch with exes. Late last year a long time friend asked me out and we started going out but I was going through highs and lows. I made the decision to end it as it was not a pleasant thing having to feel the way I did and it was not fair on his part. I’m seeing a professional now and do believe it will get better.
been here before. You’re worried that you’ll fall foul to temptation, as you’ve done so many times
Interesting read I think I may have this pattern I was in a situation at work got a new job about two years ago probably a really good one, one that I wanted they were a bit behind in terms of development I had issues with how I felt like I couldn’t go to the toilet. To how I was spoken to I did try to address this which was denied I informed management who answer was to have it out with coworker, which was attempted before with old management. Anyway I became a walking depressive and went back to management we tried to sort it I ended up contacting the union going off with stress and have been moved. On top of all that was going on I was asking myself if I needed a change in careers I was successful in getting a new job but never took the path which is probably me self sabotaging again as I have now moved locations and still feel unhappy as I didn’t resolve the issue/conflict properly and now need to start from scratch. Feel I reacted so badly and could have enjoyed me work if I didn’t look at things so negatively I feel like I blamed my coworker when it does take two and I reacted badly back too badly. I feel I could have seen things for her point of view more and not let things get to me. Looked after myself mentally too as I wasn’t exercising to lift my mood and didn’t realise how bad I had become. Anyway I have lost my confidence and feel like I am in a new place and don’t know my job, also wishing I had taken a new path. Also feel as though I am in a midlife crisis and acted so irrationally and literally run away from my last post. I went off with stress and never returned but as I am in the same sector of work it makes things harder. Getting out would have been the most sensible thing or recognising and having gratitude for everything would have left me feeling better in general. My behaviour has been detrimental to myself so not sure why I was continuing to act the way I did even though the voice in my head was probably saying what are you doing? Am I crazy?
You’re not. You probably suffer from anxiety. Look it up and everything will make more sense.
Great read! Despite being in therapy, I have this issue with self-sabotaging myself. I constantly second-guess what I do, why I am doing it, whom I am doing it for. It’s maddening, truly.
As you wrote in one of the comments, unfortunately, the only way to put an end to this maddening thought process is loving yourself. There’s nothing more trivial, and more difficult than that.
I’m still working on it, to be honest. Therapy has helped me a great deal (honestly, EVERYONE should do therapy. There are very, very few people who love themselves), but I’m still struggling, sometimes.
Let’s hope we all achieve our inner light!
I find this very helpful but I have a question, what can I do if I don’t remember things at all? I just remember my feelings rather than the event. Also there were a lot of people that shaped my “Self-Sabotaging” inner voice and I don’t know where to start. Right now I am at a stage where my anxiety isn’t out of nowhere, I embrass myself a lot which proves my anxiety that it is right.
When I gave Juliane, a girl I like, chocolate, she was delighted. She offered ‘I will get you a gift too!’. ‘You don’t have to..’ I blurted. This response seems to be a subtle self sabotage. I should have welcomed the offer, with an ‘Oow, that’s sweet.. ‘ or ‘that’s sweet’ or ‘feel free’ with a smile. I am afraid to open up to intimacy.
I failed to conceive her gratitude. I should have responded ‘I am happy you like it..’.I did not acknowledge her thankfulness and delight because I did not expect it, and I had no planned response to her response. In a few words, I was not mindful. I should have kept in mind that when someone says thank you, respond by ‘you are welcome’ and ‘i am glad you like it’. Or at the very least, I should have asked her whether she liked it or not.
The most important things here, is you. The thing that absolutely does NOT work is the blame game. Cliches are not facts, although they can be, they’re simple analogies aka excuses at times. You, being the most important thing, are worth love, loving, and to be loved. And yes, you need to love yourself ~ simply because no matter who you are ~ you are ‘good enough’ just the way you are. …and you are loved!
Wow, this hit me. I don’t know where to start, I am a singer/performer who is afraid to release music yet alone ask my peers to play for me or form a band around my material. I feel like I have “imposter syndrome” and that no one REALLY wants to collaborate with me even though they tell me they WANT to play, it’s absolutely depressing, If I get a compliment on my singing I always deflect with “Eh it was ok” or “Im not that great” some deflection that always picks apart at myself, but I don’t REALLY believe that I’m that bad at singing, but my inner voice doesn’t let me have small victories. I feel like I’m crazy or something, like I’m wasting my time and talent. I feel massive amounts of guilt for not really going for it as hard as my friends who play their original material and that I’m just a parody, a guy who has the “talent” but is afraid to move, a failure to launch of sorts. I’ve written songs 5 years ago that I endlessly pore over and rewrite but do nothing with it, well that’s not true, I’m working on my first EP right now, but I still have fear that no one will want to play or even worst, no one shows up to the show. I know I sound manic in this but here I am, typing “Self Sabotage” into google. The funny thing is when I do sing I get nothing but love and support and praise etc, but it doesn’t matter. I feel hollow. I don’t know where it came from, it’s like the older I got the less I believe in my abilities and still I play in a great cover band right in Times Square every weekend. I don’t know how to get out of my head and live vibrantly and abundantly with my own music. I used to do it in my early twenties, me and my best friend played all the time had bands and recorded with some of our favorite artists, but that friendship ended and now it’s like I was never prepared to be a solo artist. I know I’m rambling but I had to get it out.
How Self-Sabotage Holds You Back
You can sabotage yourself in a number of ways. Some are obvious, but others are a bit harder to recognize.
Blaming others when things go wrong
Sometimes, bad things just happen without anyone being at fault. Sure, some misfortunes might be solely the fault of someone else, but that’s not always the case.
If you tend to find fault elsewhere whenever you face difficulties, it may be worth taking a closer look at the part you played in what happened.
Say your partner has some relationship behaviors that affect you both. You decide they won’t change and break up with them. You feel good about the breakup, since their unwillingness to change kept you from moving forward together. Your friends agree you did the right thing.
But if you don’t take time to explore how you might have contributed to some of the issues in that relationship, says Maury Joseph, PsyD, you sabotage your chance to learn and grow from the experience.
Choosing to walk away when things don’t go smoothly
There’s nothing wrong with moving on from situations that don’t meet your needs. This might be the best option sometimes. But it’s usually wise to take a quick step back and ask yourself first if you really made an effort.
Maybe you can’t seem to stay in any job for very long. You left one job because your supervisor treated you unfairly. You were let go from a second because of overstaffing. You left your next job because of toxic coworkers, and so on.
These are valid reasons, but such a pervasive pattern could have something more to it. Doubts about your own ability to succeed or hold a steady job could lead you to do things that disrupt your performance or keep you from thriving at work. Maybe you’re afraid of conflict or criticism.
It’s tough, but working through challenges and problems helps you grow. When you give up before you’ve put in much effort, you may not learn how to make different choices in the future.
Have you ever found yourself stalled or stuck when faced with an important task? You’re far from alone in this.
You’ve prepared, done all your research, and sat down to get started, only to find you just can’t begin. Your motivation has completely disappeared. So you avoid the task by cleaning out the refrigerator, organizing your junk drawer, or starting a movie marathon.
Procrastination can happen for no apparent reason, but it typically has an underlying cause, such as:
- feeling overwhelmed by what you need to do
- trouble managing time
- doubting your ability or skills
Picking fights with friends or partners
You can subtly undermine yourself (and harm your relationships) in a number of ways.
Maybe you’re always ready to argue, even over things that don’t really matter, like who chose the last restaurant you went to. Or you do things to provoke reactions, like leave a mess in the kitchen or purposely “forget” important dates.
On the flip side, you might get offended easily or take things personally, whether they’re directed at you or not.
Or perhaps you have a hard time talking about your feelings, especially when upset. So you resort to snark and passive aggression instead of more effective communication methods.
Dating people who aren’t right for you
Self-sabotaging behaviors often appear in relationships. Dating people who don’t check all your boxes is one common type of relationship self-sabotage.
- keep dating a similar type of person although your relationships keep ending badly
- try to make things work with a partner who has very different goals for the future
- stay in a relationship that’s going nowhere
Maybe you’re monogamous but keep developing attractions to non-monogamous people. You give non-monogamy a try, more than once, but end up frustrated and hurt each time.
Or you want kids but your partner doesn’t. Everything else is working, so you stay in the relationship, secretly hoping they’ll change their mind.
By falling into these patterns, you’re preventing yourself from finding someone who’s a better match long term.
Trouble stating your needs
If you have a hard time speaking up for yourself, you may have a hard time getting all of your needs met.
This can happen in:
- family situations
- among friends
- at work
- in romantic relationships
- in everyday interactions
Imagine you’re in line at the supermarket with a sandwich when someone with a full cart of groceries cuts in front of you. You’re in a hurry to get back to work, but you can’t bring yourself to say anything. You let them go ahead and end up late for a meeting that you really couldn’t afford to miss.
Putting yourself down
People often set much higher standards for themselves than they do for others. When you fail to meet these standards, you might give yourself some pretty harsh feedback:
- “I can’t do anything right.”
- “I won’t make it, so why should I bother?”
- “Wow, I really messed up. I’m terrible at this.”
Whether you criticize yourself in front of others or have a habit of negative self-talk, the same thing can happen: Your words may eventually be taken as truth. Believing these criticisms can promote an attitude of self-defeat and keep you from wanting to try again. Eventually, you might give up before you even begin.