Updated: Apr 6
Caitlin Weese LCSW-C, 200 RYT
Romantic relationships can bring joy, fulfillment, and happiness to our lives. However, they can also trigger feelings of anxiety, insecurity, and fear. At times, we may find ourselves repeating the same patterns in relationships and wondering why. We may unconsciously engage in behaviors that push our partner away and weaken our relationship as a whole. What is self-sabotage? Self-sabotage is a pattern of behavior, usually rooted in fear, that creates problems and interferes with our ability to have healthy, long-lasting relationships. In romantic relationships, self-sabotage can lead to distrust, conflict, and ultimately, the end of a relationship.
What Does Self-Sabotage Look Like?
Self-sabotage can take many forms in romantic relationships. Some people may push away their partners by constantly criticizing or nitpicking their behavior. Others may engage in infidelity or emotionally withdraw from the relationship. As we touched on above, in many cases, self-sabotage is a natural response to attachment trauma and underlying fears, such as a fear of intimacy, abandonment, or rejection. These fears can lead us to act in ways that undermine the very thing we want most – a loving, supportive relationship.
Being Emotionally Unavailable
One common form of self-sabotage in romantic relationships is the inability to be emotionally vulnerable. When we open ourselves up to another person, we risk being hurt or rejected. As a result, some people may build walls around themselves to protect against these perceived threats. They may avoid expressing their feelings with, or committing to, their partners, which can lead to a lack of emotional intimacy and the dreaded "situationship."
Criticism and Nagging
As noted above constant criticism and nagging can be another form of self-sabotage. This pattern often comes as the result of a deep-seated fear of rejection. Similar to above, this can also be the result of previous negative experiences in relationships or attachment trauma. As a result of this fear, partners criticize and nag at each other in an attempt to feel in control and avoid being hurt.
Insecurity in Your Relationship
Another form of self-sabotage in romantic relationships is jealousy and insecurity. This too often results from previous negative experiences in romantic relationships or with our primary caregivers (are you seeing the pattern?). People who struggle with this fear may become clingy, distrusting or possessive in their relationships. They may constantly check in with their partners, become jealous of their partner's friends or activities, or demand constant reassurance of their partner's love and commitment. These behaviors can create tension and conflict in the relationship and may ultimately drive the partner away.
Lastly, self-sabotage can manifest in the form of self-destructive behaviors, such as substance abuse, compulsive gambling or cheating on one's partner. These behaviors can serve as a coping skill to manage underlying feelings of anxiety and stress; however, they can also pause long-term harm to all involved. These behaviors not only harm the individual but can also have a negative impact on their relationship. They may lead to financial strain, emotional turmoil, and trust issues between partners. Furthermore, specifically with addictions, this often puts one partner in the position of being the "caretaker" which can lead to codependency.
How to Avoid Engage in Self-Sabotage
It's important to recognize the signs of self-sabotage in our romantic relationships and take steps to address them. One way to do this is to identify the underlying fears or insecurities that are driving our behavior. Here it is critical to treat yourself with compassion and kindness as you do this work. You didn't develop these patterns for no reason, and lumping judgement onto it won't make things better. Once we understand the root cause of our self-sabotage, we can work to address these issues through therapy, self-reflection, or other forms of personal growth.
Another way to combat self-sabotage is to practice mindfulness and self-awareness. By staying present in the moment and observing our thoughts and feelings without judgment, we can become more aware of when we are engaging in self-sabotaging behaviors. In doing this we develop what is called the "sacred pause" allowing us to choose to respond in a more constructive way, such as by expressing our feelings honestly and openly or setting healthy boundaries in the relationship.
It's also important to communicate openly and honestly with our partners about our feelings and concerns. By expressing our needs and desires in a respectful and compassionate way, we can build trust and intimacy in the relationship. We can also work together with our partners to identify areas where we may be engaging in self-sabotaging behaviors and develop strategies to overcome them.
Ultimately, overcoming self-sabotage in romantic relationships requires a willingness to be vulnerable, honest, and open to change. It may involve facing difficult truths about ourselves and our past experiences, but the rewards can be well worth the effort. By taking responsibility for our behavior and working to address the underlying issues, we can build stronger, more fulfilling relationships that bring joy, love, and happiness to our lives.