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How to stop self-sabotaging your relationships

Tired of relationships that blow up in your face? This article will help you break self-destructive, self-sabotaging behaviors and build the relationship you dream of.

Ed Latimore
Ed Latimore
Writer, retired boxer, self-improvement enthusiast

Bad romantic relationships can make your life real stupid, real fast.

Whenever I step into a new phase of life, I often like to reflect on my past experiences. I note what worked well and any mistakes I made so I can chart a better course forward.

I look back at times when I didn’t know what I was doing with women and felt like I was failing at life in general.

Now, I’m newly engaged to my girlfriend of 6+ years, surrounded by friends, and living a life I couldn’t have dreamed of when I was a kid growing up in the hood.

The thing I learned that kept me from going the way of so many others, was regular self-reflection, evaluation, and correction. Through these habits, I learned to end the self-destructive patterns that kept me broke, depressed, and addicted to alcohol and porn.

Ending self-sabotage is not an overnight fix, nor is it simple.

You have to hone your self-awareness and be willing to face uncomfortable realities. But the truth is, self-sabotage is within your control. All it takes is deciding to face it.

And a great place to start is with your romantic relationships. Intimate relationships can be the most rewarding, uplifting, and positively challenging experiences of your life. When well-developed, relationships can even improve your quality of life.

Signs of self-sabotage

Self-sabotage is a personal issue with common signs. This is probably you if you:

  • Avoid conversations around the future
  • Gaslight/argue to be right rather than to make progress
  • Are always looking for a way out
  • Constantly cheating
  • Accusing the other person of cheating without proof
  • Always need to know where the other person is or refuse to let them hang out with friends and family
  • Are controlling
  • Refuse emotional closeness
  • You’re a serial dater or always finding yourself in a ‘situationship’
  • Are always jealous

You can still have a happy relationship even if you have a tendency to self-sabotage. But the key is to become aware of your behavior. Mostly self-self-sabotage comes down to how your mindset has developed.

So before we can get into how to stop self-sabotaging your relationships, you first need to diagnose why you’re doing it in the first place.

Low-self esteem

All humans have a need to feel like they belong.1 Low self-esteem occurs when we feel incapable or unworthy of belonging. In romantic relationships, this can show up as choosing the wrong partner, desperate behavior, or even abuse. Insecurities stemming from how you feel about yourself drive how you interact and cope with difficulty.

Fear

Fear is a driving force for most human action. It triggers our fight or flight response. For some, fear can be a driving force for personal improvement. For others, fear keeps you feeling isolated and seeking a means to cope. Fear also drives our insecurities.

Any of the following can stem from childhood trauma, a lack of healthy, happy relationship models, and poor past experiences:

  • Fear of emotional intimacy
  • Fear of physical intimacy
  • Fear of abandonment
  • Fear of vulnerability—being seen as weak or exposing yourself to being let down
  • Fear of commitment or losing yourself in the relationship

Fear of intimacy isn’t simply a fear of sharing your thoughts, it’s also a fear of sharing your excitement, happiness, and experiences with others. This might look like always wanting to do things alone even if you’re in a relationship. For example, taking trips or participating in an activity.

A need for instant gratification and ‘butterflies’

This is you if you’re constantly looking for a way out or you nitpick everything about your significant other. You have no space for less than perfect. Those that can delay gratification are more likely to experience success in life.2

In relationships, being unable to delay gratification looks like the inability to face discomfort. You place unrealistic expectations on the other person which leads to insecurity, dishonesty, and ultimately a breakup.

How to stop self-sabotage and finally have a happy relationship

Self-improvement falls under the old adage: nothing worth having comes easy. I’ll add to this by saying, once you build momentum in the right direction, it feels easy even if it isn’t. The following section will help you stop self-sabotaging your intimate relationships.

Talk to an impartial third party

An impartial third party includes a clinical social worker, a psychotherapist, or a psychologist.

Most people have unresolved childhood trauma. Log on to Twitter if you need proof. While it may not be your fault for whatever happened, it is your responsibility to work through it.

An impartial third party can help you develop the mindset and tools to overcome the hidden trauma causing you to self-destruct.

Make honesty non-negotiable

Honesty must be integral to success in any life endeavor. You don’t want to delude yourself into thinking the world is one way when it’s really the other. Romantic relationships are no different.

Plus, honesty is also the only way to have good communication. Once you learn how to have honest communication you discover that you argue less. Self-sabotage often shows up as stonewalling, defensiveness, and refusing to talk through problems.

I recently wrote a relationship series on arguing. Read how to stop arguing in relationships to learn specific techniques for communication.

Another addition to that series is How often do couples fight. Every couple, even happy relationships, has unsolvable perpetual arguments that stem from our cognitive-communication style.3 This article helps you identify yours and any red flags that may pop up.

Find someone to grow with

Always choosing the wrong person is a form of self-sabotage. We all seem to know that one person that’s always with someone who cheats on or belittles them. When you begin to understand the pattern of toxic relationships you can start to avoid this pattern.

What you want is to find someone you can grow and build a healthy relationship with. Start by determining what type of relationship you want and working to build it. Keep a journal about these intentions and set them with your significant other as well.

Setting an intention will help you identify when you’re off course. Plus, you build a healthy relationship that grows as you grow.

Take responsibility

When the topic of self-sabotage comes up, there is a lot of information about attachment styles that serves to answer the question: why do we self-sabotage?

The psychology behind attachment styles is based on the work of John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth.4

Basically, it’s how you were nurtured and developed trust as an infant. This nurturing is offered by some as an answer to why we have trouble connecting in adult relationships. Learning your attachment style can be a gateway to self-awareness but it can’t be the full solution.

Unless you take responsibility for how your past experiences have shaped you, you’ll continue to exhibit the same destructive patterns. Recognizing that you have control over your life helps you to see any new information as a key for transformation and not simply another pathogenic crutch.

Own up to your behavior, your desires, and your mindset. Only then can you work to change them for the better.

Don’t be so hard on yourself

When taking responsibility for your life, you need self-compassion in equal measure.

Self-defeating behaviors are often perpetuated by our refusal to forgive ourselves for mistakes, bad decisions, or shortcomings. And that shame leads you to self-medicate, seek toxic forms of comfort, and addiction.5

In romantic relationships, this shows up as allowing poor behavior to persist. For example, if you are ashamed of your past experiences you may intentionally choose the wrong person because you feel you don’t deserve better. That insecurity and shame work like a magnet for other people also looking to avoid coping.

Self-compassion or self-forgiveness is an act of defiance and a way to overcome any real or perceived shortcomings.

Be mindful of what goes into your brain

Advertisers are better hustlers than you. They know if they show you an ad eleven times, you’ll buy it on the twelfth. And everyone is advertising to you. It’s okay to want an ideal relationship but the stuff you see on TV, in movies, and online isn’t the full story at best and is divisive at worst.

The endless reels of relationship content give you the impression that good relationships don’t require any work. This leads you to develop unrealistic expectations—like expecting sex to be like porn. Or that you can act any way you want and your partner will still be around waiting.

The reality is people have limits. And a good woman is not going to wade through your intimacy issues while you learn to stop belittling or cheating.

You may find something on social media that helps you in your relationship but don’t rely on random, wrongly attributed quotes to help you build a lasting connection.

Instead, stand guard at the gateway of your mind. Train it with new activities, challenges, and philosophies. And always remember that you have control over your thoughts and reactions.

Final thoughts on dealing with self-sabotage

To stop self-sabotaging your relationships:

  1. Talk to an impartial third party to help you work through unresolved trauma
  2. Practice honesty with yourself and others
  3. Learn to recognize toxic relationships
  4. Take responsibility for your future
  5. Don’t be so hard on yourself
  6. Stand guard at the gateway of your mind

References:

  1. Walther, Lena, Jacobsen Jannes, Fuchs Lukas Rediscovering the sense of belonging in social research: A new survey measure. _Biomedical Central. _March 5, 2021. https://blogs.biomedcentral.com/on-society/2021/03/05/rediscovering-the-sense-of-belonging-in-social-research-a-new-survey-measure/ (accessed June 2022) 

  2. Clear, James. 40 Years of Stanford Research Found That People With This One Quality Are More Likely to Succeed. _James Clear. _https://jamesclear.com/delayed-gratification). (accessed June 2022) 

  3. Dashnow, D. “The Neuroscience of Perpetual Arguments.” Couples Therapy Inc. https://www.couplestherapyinc.com/the-neuroscience-of-perpetual-marital-problems/ (accessed June 2022) 

  4. Cherry, Kendra. Medically reviewed by Gans, Steven MD. What Is Attachment Theory? The Importance of Early Emotional Bonds. Verywell Mind. (May 2, 2022) https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-attachment-theory-2795337 (accessed June 2022) 

  5. Gaba, Sherry LCSW. The Link Between Addiction and Shame. _Psychology Today. _April 2, 2019. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/addiction-and-recovery/201904/the-link-between-addiction-and-shame (accessed June 2022) 

Ed Latimore
About the author

Ed Latimore

I’m a writer, competitive chess player, Army veteran, physicist, and former professional heavyweight boxer. My work focuses on self-development, realizing your potential, and sobriety—speaking from personal experience, having overcome both poverty and addiction.

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