How to Stop Self Sabotage: 7 Ways to Stop Hurting Your Relationships

by | May 11, 2013 | Self Sabotage

Most people don’t think their relationship failed because of them, or because they should have done something differently.

They are more likely to think: “My partner just isn’t there for me.” “No matter what I say or do, I can’t get through to them.” “There is nobody decent left, so I’ll just compromise.” “No relationships last anymore.”

But what if you are the problem? What if you have had a series of relationship that ended before you wanted them to. Or what if you are in a committed relationship that’s been damaged and you can’t put your finger on what happened?

If you started relationships determined to get the love you wanted, given everything you had, and still couldn’t make it work, maybe self-sabotage is at play.

Self-sabotaging behaviors build toxicity in the relationship and eventually destroy it. What started off as acceptable behavior eventually gets to the point of provoking an allergic reaction in your partner.

It take courage for any of us to hold the mirror up to ourselves and look at this possibility. Saboteurs don’t set out to ruin the relationship, they are not intentionally destructive. But subconscious dynamics set in childhood can take over without awareness.

If you think this could be you, ask yourself these questions:

Would all your significant partners have similar complaints about you?

Do you continue with certain patterns of behavior even though it’s driving your partner away?

Did anyone in your childhood justify hurtful behaviors that happened to you or others?

Do you believe the reason your relationships fail is that you just haven’t found the right person?

If you answered yes to 3 or more of these, you could be dealing with self sabotage.

Dr. Randi Gunther, in her book Relationship Saboteurs, identified 10 common relationship sabotaging behaviors:

Insecurity: Will you love me forever?
This shows up by focusing more on whether the relationship will last  than on enjoying it in the moment.  You  may obsess on small changes that you worry signal a decrease in interest, or constantly need reassurance.

Needing to control: I run the show.
This can come from an underlying fear of being controlled. You may only feel comfortable when making the rules, and are resentful if you partner argues with your decisions.

Fear of intimacy:  I need you, but not that close.
Do you fear that closeness equals a loss of independence? If so, you may feel sincere in your desire to connect but then be surprised when you feel trapped later.

Pessimism: If I don’t expect anything than I won’t be disappointed.
Do you undermine your partner’s commitment to you because you don’t think it will last? Your partners may complain that nothing they say or do can convince you that they care.

Needing to be center stage: Pay attention to me.
You may feel neglected when your partner doesn’t put you first, get bored when the focus is not on you, or verbally monopolize conversations.

Addictions:  I’ve got to have that.
Do your relationships fall apart because of your addictive behavior? Are you unable to stop even though you risk losing your partner?

Martyrdom:  Maybe it’ll be my turn someday.
Martyrs encourage people to take advantage of their generosity, and then suffer in silence over imbalances. They adapt to their partners every need, hoping that someday they will get their reward. People involved with martyrs may feel like they have debts they can never pay off.

Defensiveness: It’s not my fault.
Defensiveness prevents being able to listen or change.  Chronic defenders are unable to consider the source and situation before they react. They always respond with justification  or deflection. If this is you, your partner may feel they are banging their head against the wall.

Trust breakers:  I never really agreed to that.
Do you keep your partner in the dark about information that would cost them options if they knew. If so, you are preventing informed agreements from being made. You may also be consistently doing things that betray trust.

If you recognize these patterns in yourself, don’t despair! Know that there are ways to break out of these bad habits. See the 7 step process below:

How to Stop Self Sabotage: 7 Ways to Stop Hurting Your Relationships

Dr. Randi Gunther outlines a 7 step process for healing from self-destructive relationship dynamics. These steps take time but they really work!

Observe your behavior without judgment.
First just notice it and have compassion for yourself. You may be able to find the roots of your behavior, or you may not. But just noticing is the first, most important step.

Find the roots of your behaviors
Sometimes we adapt to these behaviors as survival in childhood but they no longer work for us. When did you first start acting this way?  What kind of relationships did you observe around you when you were young?

Identify your triggers
These are established in childhood. Retrace your steps and to remember what happened before you began reacting. In what ways are the past and present situations similar? Best clue you are being triggered is the intensity and quality of emotion you feel, disproportionate reactions  are often associated with traumatic childhood experiences.

Examine when you are most susceptible
Maybe you have unconsciously chosen a partner who reminds you of someone in your past. If your emotional reaction to you are partner is similar to what you experienced before, you may automatically behave just as you did back then. Or, you may be most susceptible in a certain location or while experiencing a certain kind of weather. Slow down your reactivity.

Create a new vision and find alternative behavior
Identify what you are leaving behind, have a vision of who you want to become, decide how you can make it happen and ensure that your new behavior will hold. What resources will you use, what will you used to judge your progress, and are you being supportive of yourself?

Find witnesses and support
This is anyone who will support your commitment, stay honest, remain objective, and keep their own needs out of the way.

Stay focused
You may backslide at times. Your most probably barrier could be the reaction of your current partner. In some cases your partners own negative behavior can reinforce yours.   Keep your eye on who you want to become. Reach out to your support system. Don’t let your partner sabotage your efforts for change.

Remember the big picture
Reach for success in small steps. Keep trying. Focus on couples who have overcome similar challenges. Believe in your own capacity to care for the child within you.


The most important thing to keep in mind is that your sabotaging behaviors are not who you are! If you are taking a look at yourself, you are in the minority and are obviously willing and able to make profound changes in your ways of relating. Keep it up!



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