Self-Sabotage in Relationships: Stop Yourself From Ruining Your Own Happiness
You’ve dreamt of this moment since the first time you watched Titanic (you were Rose, obviously), when you’d find the young Leo DiCaprio of your dreams. Here you are in a beautiful relationship full of fun, hope, and possibility, and you’re… sabotaging it? WTF?
He seems so nice, and he hasn’t given you any reason to think he’d do you dirty, but there’s that voice in the back of your head whispering things like: He’s dating other people. He’s getting bored with me. He’ll only put up with my shit for so long.
Even if the message doesn’t come through that clearly, there’s some mysterious, destructive force beyond your control compelling you to tear up the relationship before it tears you up.
Have you heard the one that goes, “Our brains will choose a familiar hell over an unfamiliar heaven?”? Or our personal favorite, “Your brain is an asshole”? That’s self-sabotage in a nutshell.
It’s hard to notice when we’re self-sabotaging in relationships and even harder to stop it. But it’s absolutely possible, and understanding why you do it can help you stop breaking your own heart.
Why do I self-sabotage?
It’s all about those damn hypothamalusses… hypothalamuses… hypothalami, whatever. You know, the little chunk of your brain that wants to keep you alive: the hypothalamus.
Blame the early homo(sapiens)
Way back when that part of the human brain evolved, life’s unknowns were like there could be a saber-toothed tiger hiding around the corner, and I don’t know if this berry would nourish me or kill me horribly.
In the 21st century, that part of your brain knows you can survive another day even if you break up with your boyfriend because it’s seen you do it before. But it isn’t as convinced that you’ll survive the long list of looming unknowns in the commitment of a relationship.
Blame the rest of your ancestors, too
Modern generations have access to mind-blowing therapeutic modalities that didn’t exist for our parents or anyone else in the family tree. Unfortunately, that means we all were raised by people who hadn’t healed from their own shit before they started passing it along to us.
So, at some point in your life, you probably experienced the hurt of childhood trauma, fear, or abandonment from people who should’ve been protecting you. And now you live with this haunting sense that if anything is going well for you, the other shoe will inevitably drop and eff it all up.
And every time you get into a new relationship, instead of living in fear, wondering when that might happen again, your brain takes control of the situation by subconsciously self-sabotaging until the relationship ends predictably.
We want a refund from whoever designed these brains.
So, what do we do now?
The bummer is that these self-sabotaging behaviors are as destructive to the relationship as they are to your partner on the receiving end, which isn’t something we probably want to admit about ourselves.
But the good news is you are not doomed to repeat this cycle forever. We’re all just out here doing the best we can with the tools we have at the time; learning about this relationship cycle gives you a new tool.
What was unconscious can now be conscious, but what you do with that new consciousness is up to you.
8 signs of self-sabotage in relationships
Step one is catching the signs. Do you find yourself doing any of the following in your relationships?
1. Eyeing the exit
Commitment makes you itchy, and you’re always thinking about how the relationship will end. He wants you to meet his family, and suddenly you’re suuuper busy at work. He mentions thoughts of your future together, and you aren’t sure why, but you just aren’t as attracted to him anymore.
Hate to break it to you, but you catch the ick so that you don’t have to catch the big, scary feelings.
2. Once a cheater…
You don’t know why you do it. You really thought you could stay faithful this time. You had a good thing going, so why did you cheat?
Because it’s the perfect way to end a relationship before it ends you.
But “once a cheater, always a cheater” is bullshit. You are not destined to cheat forever if you can tackle the root causes behind the self-sabotage.
3. Always the critic, never the bride, er, groom
Setting unrealistic expectations for a partner guarantees that you’ll always be disappointed and you’ll always have an excuse for why the relationship didn’t work out. You wind up serial dating, seeking perfection that doesn’t exist, and preventing yourself from losing control of the situation.
You also prevent yourself from experiencing emotional intimacy, safety, and true connection.
Things are going well in your life. Dating is fine, casual sex is great, and you don’t see why people always want to get emotionally involved, so you call it off whenever someone tries to dig deeper — the perfect recipe for an avoidant attachment style.
Or maybe you avoid discussing problems in the relationship, preferring to pretend everything is perfect and hoping problems will disappear on their own. Either way, avoidance might indicate you have an insecure attachment style, and you aren’t comfortable with intimacy or intimate relationships at this point in your life.
5. Jealousy and trust issues
You wear your distrust like a badge of honor. Too many people have done you wrong, and it’s just a matter of time before it happens again.
But your badge of honor is actually a wall you subconsciously put up to hide insecurity, low self-esteem, and low self-worth. Romantic relationships leave you vulnerable to rejection, so you try to stay ready by keeping an eye out for it (even when it definitely isn’t there).
6. The king of holding grudges
If your partner hurt you in the past, you can’t forgive and you won’t forget. You stay mad and push the other person away to protect yourself from further hurt. You also prevent the emotional vulnerability of further connection.
This one is hard to clock because it’s so deeply ingrained in some folks; you feel so justified in defending yourself when you’re being attacked — except that your partner isn’t attacking you when he asks if you took the trash out or wants a little accountability from you when you slip up.
Defensiveness is an anxious need to shift blame or avoid criticism, and it usually crops up when there’s some amount of truth in the thing we’re arguing against.
8. Manipulation station
Some dangerously manipulative behaviors tread the line between self-destructive relationship sabotage and outright abuse. Gaslighting, stonewalling, ignoring your partner’s boundaries, and giving constant ultimatums are glaring red flags.
No matter how tough, cold, or closed off you might appear, the root of these behaviors comes down to insecurity, fear of rejection or abandonment, and unconsciously believing that you aren’t worthy or capable of maintaining a healthy relationship.
But the simple truth is that with a little self-compassion, you can break these patterns and find the peace and safety you deserve in this life. And you do deserve it, by the way. Truly.
How do I avoid self-sabotaging relationships?
Are you ready to pump the breaks on the self-fulfilling prophecy where your fear of abandonment tries to protect you from abandonment by creating a scenario where you feel abandoned? Did we mention we want a refund?
Rather than asking yourself things like, “Why do I self-sabotage,” focus on turning your red flags into green ones. Lucky for you and your current or future partners, any decent therapist, psychologist, or licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) can help you work on healing your attachment style by processing the trauma that formed these coping mechanisms in the first place.
Start with self-awareness. Which of these signs is your main objective? Look at yourself with an honest, compassionate, and critical eye and get serious about not doing them anymore.
Make a list and stick to it. Ask trusted friends, family, or your therapist to help keep you accountable until you can do it yourself. You really can improve your mental health, boost your self-esteem and self-compassion, and work toward developing secure attachments in your life!
Try working in couples therapy or with an individual therapist or LCSW to learn how to apologize, take responsibility, and manage your triggers so you can find comfort in the intimacy of healthy relationships. You deserve it, and so do the people who love you.
Flex that heart muscle
You don’t have to be your own worst enemy. Grindr will be here when you’re ready to look for your next shot at love, lust, or whatever else might come your way.
Download the Grindr app when the time is right. We — and all the boys — be waiting for you!