Are You Sabotaging Your Relationships?

You meet someone new and happily date for a little while. The connection is great, there is chemistry, and sex is fun. You start spending more and more time together and begin considering becoming a couple.

But then, you stop replying to their texts right away. You cancel dates. You avoid talking about taking things to the next level. Your partner expresses frustration, disappointment, or even anger about your behavior. Not long after, the partner breaks up the relationship.

Does this sound like something that happens to you? If so, you might be self-sabotaging your relationships.

Sometimes the only thing standing between us and a happier relationship is ourselves. Many psychologists call this self-sabotaging behavior; which is broadly defined as behavior that creates problems in your own daily life and interferes with your long-standing goals. In relationships, self-sabotage is when you’re actively trying to ruin your own relationship or make it fall apart, whether consciously or subconsciously. For some people, this is such an ingrained behavior that it can be hard to even recognize, let alone stop it.

Why we self-sabotage our relationships.

self sabotaging our relationships with our partner

Although often subconscious, there are several reasons someone might want to sabotage a perfectly healthy relationships. One big reason is low self-esteem and self-worth, according to clinical psychologist Maggie Dancel, Psy.D. If you’re worried your partner may like you enough, you might subconsciously act out or push them away so you don’t have to feel the sting of rejection. Stirring up relationship drama can also be a way to keep your partner interested, “Individuals may not feel that they can get better, so they settle for any attention, affection, and connection, negative or positive.”

On the other side of the spectrum, some individuals might fear commitment due to what the relationship will mean for their independence, leading them to self-sabotage the relationship in order to keep their distance and maintain a sense of freedom.

“Much of the reasoning behind someone self-sabotaging a relationship has to do with an individual’s attachment style,” Madeline Cooper, a psychotherapist and clinical social worker specializing in sexuality and relationships. Your attachment style is the way you deal with relationships, which is learned from our earliest childhood relationships with caregivers. Individuals with anxious attachment styles often desire intimacy and fear rejection because of experiences of abandonment in childhood, which can lead them to project these negative outcomes of the relationship onto their partner. Individuals with avoidant attachment styles often avoid closeness and intimacy because their childhood taught them to be self-sufficient, which may lead them to delay commitment or demonstrate a dismissive nature.

Because the desire to self-sabotage is so linked to our attachment style, people can often self-sabotage relationships subconsciously by repeating the relational patterns that we learned as children. “We repeat behaviors over and over again because the negative cycle is familiar,” Dancel says.

Signs of self-sabotage in a relationship

There are many signs that you might have a tendency to self-sabotage even the best of relationships. Here are some of the most common.

Looking for an Exit

You avoid anything that leads to bigger commitment: meeting parents, moving in together, etc. You’re always wondering, “If it goes wrong, how can I extricate myself easily from this relationship?”

You might start pulling back from the relationship or start to become distant. In some cases, you might start avoiding spending time with the other person.

Serial Dating

Your friends often ask you why you break up with potential partners so often or lament the fact that you never seem to “settle down” with anyone. You break up with partners on the slightest of issues, only to start dating another person right away and repeat the cycle. You don’t want to be seen as a “player” but you can’t seem to find someone who you can commit to.


You always worry that your partner might be seeing someone else behind your back. You demand control over every aspect of their life and require constant contact. When they spend time with other people without you, you fret, text constantly, experience jealousy, and ask for proof that they’re being faithful. They break up with you because they find you controlling.


You constantly look for perfection in a partner, even though you know perfection is impossible. You find fault with every little thing they do, from the way they cook to the clothes they wear. You are impossible to please, and your partner eventually gives up trying and breaks up with you.


You spend a lot of time trying to convince yourself that the relationship is perfect, even when it’s not. When your partner wants to address a problem, you avoid the topic or simply say: “I don’t think we’re having an issue; it’s going to go away.” Your partner grows resentful of your inability to face problems together and leaves.


Holding a grudge against your partner means that your anger never really goes away. It takes a lot of energy to stay mad. Regardless of what else your partner does, you will always come back to those grudges. It’s a way of protecting yourself by pushing away the other person. As long as you are mad, no one can really get close to you.


While in some cases having sex with other people is okay when both people agree to non-monogamy, in general, going from affair to affair can be a sign of self-sabotage. You’re doing one of the most hurtful things you can do to a romantic partner in the hopes that they’ll find out and leave you.

Low Self-Esteem

You always talk about yourself in self-deprecating ways: “I’m not as smart as you.” “I’m just an idiot, why are you with me?” “You’re just with me because you pity me,” etc. This is a sign of low self-esteem, and most people do not enjoy being told that they love someone who is worthless. When, despite their constant reassurance that you are a good person, you keep tearing yourself down, they give up and break up.

How to stop sabotaging your relationships

“Knowing your and your partner’s attachment style will help each person understand why they act in a certain way within the relationship; and can help reframe the action from sabotaging to a pattern created based on a relationship and family history,”. “By becoming more self-aware of these patterns, people can start to intentionally work to create new patterns by confronting and being honest about their feelings surrounding intimacy; developing direct communication skills with their partner, and working to let go of any fears surrounding relationships and commitment.”

Have an honest discussion

If you are feeling anxious or having doubts in any relationship, it is important that you initiate an open discussion about these fears. You and your partner should speak openly about what problems you’re having and what the best next steps for your relationship could be. If you feel like you have some growing up to do before the relationship can change, taking a temporary break might be a move to consider.

Be patient

Relationships are never easy, and it’s important to be patient while you are putting in all this hard work. Remember that you have a support system to help you through rough times and that you should be proud of yourself for recognizing unhealthy behavior and taking the necessary steps to fix it. “Life is hard!” Dancel lamented. “We are all just trying to make it in this world. It’s important for people to be understanding and patient with themselves.”

Taking Responsibility

In order to overcome self-sabotage in relationships, you need to be able to acknowledge your role in damaging your relationships. No relationship is perfect, but you are always going to feel disappointed if you keep setting yourself and your partner up for failure. Tackling these problems means that you need to be willing to be vulnerable and recognize your own issues with abandonment and rejection.

Get The Help You Need

If you feel like you and your partner cannot solve these issues on your own, counseling can be a great next step. Both individual and couples’ therapy provide a great outlet to discuss your relationship fears in a supportive, nonjudgmental, and empathetic environment. If you feel like your issues are only surrounding your relationship, couples’ therapy is probably the route to try.