Self-Sabotaging Behaviors Can Destroy Your Relationships

Do not sabotage your new relationship with your last relationship’s poison.”
― Steve Maraboli, Unapologetically You: Reflections on Life and the Human Experience.

Self-sabotage in romantic relationships generally refers to patterns of destructive behaviors that impair a healthy connection and justify ending the bond (Peel, Caltabiano, Buckby, and McBain, 2019; Peel and Caltabiano, 2021). When done consistently over time, these often unconscious behaviors will lead to relationship tension and breakups.

5 Self-Sabotaging Behaviors That Can Destroy Your Relationships

  1. Staying Emotionally Unavailable.
    When you avoid getting close to someone for fear of getting hurt, you make it impossible to develop an intimate relationship with someone new. These are the moments when you catch yourself saying, “I can’t go through a heartbreak again, so I don’t get too close.” This emotional unavailability will keep new mates at arm’s length, unable to really connect and attach to you.
  2. Threatening to Leave.
    Frequently threatening to leave a relationship—like communicating that you want a divorce or are finally fed up—or physically storming out of a room in times of conflict can sabotage your relationships by creating instability and insecurity. In general, you only want to threaten to leave when you mean it and intend to follow through. In times of intense conflict, physically leaving your partner’s space if you feel unsafe or need a moment to regroup may be healthy in the short term. However, doing it habitually without other conflict resolution strategies rarely helps relationships survive in the long run.
  3. Passive-Aggressive Communication.
    When someone shows they’re upset through their nonverbal body language or words but avoids discussing it directly, it’s called passive-aggressive communication. For example, a passive-aggressive response after a fight might be, “I’m fine. Everything is good,” even though it’s clear that you’re angry, sad, or generally upset. This kind of behavior can sabotage relationships. It makes it very difficult to resolve conflict and understand the true perspective of your partner because nothing is directly addressed. It’s left up to your partner to figure out how you feel and why, which they may or may not be able to do.
  4. Belittling Your Partner.
    Directly belittling your partner by calling them names or assuming an air of superiority is problematic because it creates a highly judgmental, often contentious dynamic with your partner. It also assumes they are worth less than you, wrong, or insignificant, which isn’t going to make your partner feel cared about or respected.
  5. Silence.
    Sometimes, the most cutting way to sabotage a relationship is by cutting off contact or not responding to a partner’s communication attempts. Literally, to be silent and stop engaging in communication entirely. Stonewalling or refusing to engage with a partner makes resolving conflict and understanding the other very difficult.

According to a recent research study by Peel and Caltabiano, 2021, the most common reasons participants sabotaged their relationships were:

  • Fear—primarily of being hurt or rejected, but also of commitment
  • Low self-esteem and negative self-concept
  • Difficulty trusting partners
  • High expectations for the relationship were not being met, and there was general disappointment that the connection was not as good as it should have been
  • Lack of relationship skills or tools to do it differently

The Naked Truth Is This:

We can all bring baggage from past relationships and experiences into new romantic relationships in ways that harm them. Often, tendencies to put up emotional walls, threaten to leave, passive-aggressively communicate, belittle a partner, or stay silent can secretly destroy relationships.

If you notice you’re doing any self-sabotaging behaviors, pause. Notice your thoughts, feelings, and how you want to act before you do anything. Just sit with the experience without doing anything. Try not to act impulsively and explore why you’re sabotaging your relationship this way. Are you afraid? Insecure about getting close to people? Are you struggling to trust or holding unrealistic expectations for your new mate?

As you recognize your motivation, actively work to stop sabotaging yourself.


Image Source: Dotshock / Shutterstock

Dr. Cortney S. Warren, PhD, ABPP

Exposed to a diversity of cultures and lifestyles from an early age, Dr. Cortney was intrigued by the ways cultural and environmental conditions affected the psychological well-being of individuals, groups, and even whole societies.


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