Sabotaging Relationships: Why You Do It, Signs You Do It, How To Stop

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Do you tend to start making bad decisions on purpose at a certain point in a relationship?

Maybe you start pushing your partner away the second you feel like you’re getting close.

Whatever it is, most of us have sabotaged a relationship at some point.

It’s not the healthiest decision, and whether it’s what you intended or not, it can disrupt the relationship and cause some serious issues.

Let’s run through why you sabotage relationships, the signs to look out for, and how to move forward from this behavior – as well as how to keep your partner in the loop, of course! 

Why do you sabotage your relationships?

There’s no single reason why people sabotage relationships, but here are some possible explanations that are worth exploring if you don’t know why you do it.

1. You have low self-esteem.

If you don’t really like yourself, let alone love yourself, you might question how and why anyone else could ever love you.

You may think you’re not good enough for them, and convince yourself that they are not with you for the right reasons. You may tell yourself that they’re just using you until someone better comes along, for example.

And so, because you convince yourself that the relationship is doomed, you decide to accelerate the eventual breakup by displaying some of the signs below.  

2. You’ve been rejected in the past.

If you’ve experienced heartbreak in the past, you’re probably terrified of being rejected again.

This is a form of abandonment issue and it sends you into defence mode from the get-go. You might start putting up walls or pushing people away before they can hurt you.

When things start to get serious, you might panic and worry that it will all end and you’ll be heartbroken again. You push them away so that, if things do end, it was because you decided they should, and not because another person rejected you again.

Your past rejection may not have been a romantic relationship, either. Maybe one or both of your parents treated you poorly, failed to show you the love a child needs, or was absent for all or part of your childhood. This can have a huge impact on how you approach relationships in your adult life. 

3. You fear intimacy.

You might not have been in a serious relationship before, or you might have had a tricky childhood or some intimacy issues with past partners for whatever reason.

If you’re not sure how to cope with affection and love, you might find yourself rejecting it.

That could mean you push your partner away, pick fights for no reason, or just totally shut them out and essentially stop them from showing you attention or affection because you don’t know how to trust or process it.

4. You fear commitment.

For whatever reason, the idea of committing to someone for a long time – possible for life – terrifies you.

You feel claustrophobic when a relationship reaches a certain point, perhaps when you move in together. You feel as though you have lost yourself in the relationship, with your independence and identity taken from you.

And so, you fight back and push away from your partner to get some space. Ultimately, you sabotage things because genuine, loving commitment is just a step too far for you.

5. You’ve grown up with drama as the norm.

Not all childhoods are full of love and stability. If yours was, instead, full of conflict and drama, you might have had to engage in that drama to get the attention you wanted.

After all, if positive attention isn’t forthcoming, negative attention will sometimes have to do.

Now, in your relationships as an adult, you might still go looking for negative attention from your partner because that’s all you know.

And so you lash out, start fights, and cause drama because that’s what you think life and relationships are like. But this, ultimately, risks damaging those relationships beyond repair.  

6. It could be your gut trying to warn you.

Never underestimate the power of your gut instincts! Sometimes, we know that things aren’t quite right in our relationship, but we forge ahead anyway.

That could be because we love the person despite knowing that the relationship isn’t healthy, or it could be because we’re scared to be alone or don’t want to end things for some reason.

We sometimes act out and sabotage things because our subconscious minds are so fiercely trying to find a way out!

If we’re not ready or willing to consciously end things, our subconscious will make us act in a way that will probably end the relationship for us. 

10 signs you’re sabotaging your relationships.

Now that we’ve established the core reasons why you might sabotage a relationship, let’s explore the signs that you definitely are.

1. You pick silly fights.

You might be so frustrated or anxious that you end up fighting over nothing! This can quickly become a regular habit and is your (unfair) way of letting your stress out on your partner. 

2. You shut them out.

You might ignore them, take longer to get back to them, or avoid physical intimacy with them. Whatever it is, if you put walls up to keep them out, you’re sabotaging your relationship with them. 

3. You try to make them jealous.

If you’re chatting to an ex or flirting with someone when you know it’ll make your partner uncomfortable, there’s a strong chance you’re doing it to subconsciously damage your relationship with them. 

4. You cheat on them.

What easier way to end a relationship than by cheating on your partner? Whether you’re scared of them cheating on you first or you’re not ready to commit, sleeping with someone else is a sure-fire way to ruin things! 

5. You belittle them.

Some people sabotage their relationship by making their partner feel bad about themselves. This is an unhealthy, toxic power play and is very unfair on the other person. You might insult them, make jokes about them, or suggest that they’re not good enough for you. 

6. You find reasons/excuses to leave.

If you want to sabotage your relationship, you might make up reasons why it’s not working, lying to yourself (and others) to make it ‘easier’ to up and leave – even if none of it is true! 

7. You end things regularly.

Maybe you’re constantly on and off with your partner – you like to keep them guessing, remind them who’s boss, and make them question your relationship all the time. Again, this is toxic behavior! 

8. You refuse to commit.

If you cancel dates, refuse to meet their family, and regularly avoid any kind of commitment, you’re harming your relationship, either knowingly or not.

9. You gaslight them.

Again, this is very toxic! Gaslighting is essentially trying to make someone question what they feel. They might tell you you’ve hurt their feelings, and you’ll dismiss it and tell them they’re wrong and it’s all their fault. 

10. You’re always dating.

If you’ve never been in a long term relationship before and tend to serially date, it could be because you’ve got a habit of sabotaging every emotional connection you make! 

How to stop sabotaging your relationships. 

As with all self-growth and change, the first step is to realize what you’re doing.

If you’ve made it this far through the article, there’s a strong chance you’ve acknowledged that you sabotage your relationships.

Now, let’s look at the three major steps you can take to move forwards.  

1. Unpack your feelings.

Consider why you do these things. Explore whether this is a one-off or a habit. Think about how it makes other people feel too. 

Self-awareness is key to changing any kind of behavior, so it’s important to understand where this tendency comes from.

We’ve listed some common causes for sabotaging relationships above, but think about what yours could be.

Chat to a close friend whom you trust and ask for their opinion. They might remember something that you don’t – like the person who rejected you when you were younger, or being bullied for how you looked, or even a messy argument your parents had one time!

Seemingly small things like this can stick in our minds and create ‘narratives’ or cycles of thought that we then internalize as ‘truths.’

We start to believe these things and live our lives accordingly:

“My current partner will reject me because I always get rejected.”

“Nobody finds me attractive so I should hurt them before they tell me I’m ugly.”

“If my parents can’t have a happy, healthy relationship, I can never have one!”

You see how easily those little triggers can become values we live by? 

2. Speak to your partner.

This probably sounds terrifying, especially if you’ve identified some unfair behaviors you’ve displayed around/to them.

If you’ve realized that you push them away or insult them, it’s normal to feel very guilty! The most important thing is that you’ve realized this and are eager to make a change.

Talk to your partner, and acknowledge that certain aspects of your behavior have been unacceptable. It’s important to not make excuses for this – if you’ve hurt them, they need to know you’re sorry and won’t do it again.

You can have a separate conversation about why you’ve acted like this, which we’ll go into more detail on below. For now, let them know you’re aware of your actions, that you’re not excusing your behavior, and that you’re genuinely sorry. 

3. Seek professional help.

We recommend speaking to a specialist in this area if you can. We know that therapy isn’t available to everyone, but it’s well worth it.

There are ways to speak to someone online and over the phone if you can’t make it in person.

It can be helpful to have someone who can see your situation objectively and help you through your feelings and fears. And sometimes you need someone to call your behavior out in a way that people who love you might not want to or don’t feel capable of doing!

How to talk to your partner.

Okay, this is the biggie! It’s not a great conversation to have, but that’s half the reason it’s such an important one.

Once you’ve acknowledged and apologized for how you’ve acted, you can start to find a way forwards with them – if you’ve decided that the relationship is actually something you want!

You may have realized, of course, that you’re sabotaging it because you subconsciously want to get out of it. In which case, it’s best to end things now. 

If you’re going to stay, you need to communicate honestly with your partner about where these behaviors come from.

If it’s because you’re scared of rejection, you can take steps together to make sure you both feel comfortable and secure in the relationship.

You can both commit to opening up more, forging a more trusting relationship, and continually checking in with each other to ensure you’re both happy and comfortable with how things are. 

This conversation also offers a great opportunity to discuss your actions. It’s worth letting them know that, while you’re still working toward understanding and adapting your behaviors, you may do some things that come across badly.

It’s important for them to know this for a number of reasons…

Firstly, so that they can make a decision about whether or not they want to stay in the relationship and potentially have to put up with some unfair treatment.

Secondly, so that they understand what’s happening and can work with you to help you stop.

And thirdly, so that they know this isn’t about them, it’s not personal, and it’s not indicative of your relationship with them.

This allows them to make an informed decision and is an honest way of sharing how you feel about your relationship.

They may decide they’re not prepared to sacrifice certain things while they wait for you to work through it all.

They might not want to risk you cheating on them again, for example, or they may feel they are worth more and want someone who is ready to accept them as they are.

This is fair and it is up to them, and them alone, to make that choice. You cannot try to force them to stay or manipulate their feelings. 

If they choose to stay, they may now be aware that you might do things you don’t mean, but it doesn’t mean the hard work is over! You still need to find a way to work toward a healthier, happier relationship – with them, and with yourself.

Still not sure how to stop sabotaging your relationships? Chat online to a relationship expert from Relationship Hero who can help you figure things out. Simply click here to chat.

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About Author

Lucy is a travel and wellness writer currently based in Gili Air, a tiny Indonesian island. After over a year of traveling, she’s settled in paradise and spends her days wandering around barefoot, practicing yoga and exploring new ways to work on her wellbeing.