Do you have a love life that's a roller coaster at best and a total snooze-fest at worst? You could just have a string of mediocre partners, but you could be guilty of love life sabotage in ways you’re not aware of. But what is a self-sabotaging relationship, exactly?
People are often their own worst enemies. It's fine when you realize it, because at least you can take steps to fix things. But when you don't know that you’re sabotaging your relationships, you can go deep into bad ones and make big mistakes. Or, you can never get past yourself long enough to even enter relationships.
Maybe it stems from past hurt. Trust issues. Low self-esteem. There are tons of reasons people self-sabotage their relationships. Realizing you’re doing it is step one — and getting to the root of why you’re doing it and changing your behaviors, either alone or with a therapist, is the way to move past it.
You might be surprised to know how common self-sabotage is in relationships, especially the ones with the potential to be really happy. If you do any of these things, it might be time to ask yourself: Why do I sabotage my relationships? Read on for the signs you’re doing it, according to experts.
1. You Keep Dating Unavailable People
Maybe you’re hooked on pursuing unavailable people — the kind that can hurt you in the end. “The pattern repeats so often that after a while, you might even start believing that there are just no available prospects in [your city],” says Amy Chan, founder of Renew Breakup Bootcamp and author of Breakup Bootcamp: The Science of Rewiring Your Heart. “But the truth is, you keep picking them unconsciously because unavailable people provide a convenient way to avoid true intimacy.” In this scenario, you’re not actually building a relationship, she explains, but a deeper level of vulnerability in yourself.
2. You Don’t Let People In
You can't be an island unto yourself if you want to be in a relationship. People say you can't help who you fall in love with, but that's not true for everyone. Some people have the ability to lock down their feelings and to keep people at a distance. “This is a common defense mechanism for people who have been let down by loved ones in their lives, whether it be family, friends, romantic love partners, or all of the above,” says Dr. Sarah Schewitz, psychologist and founder and CEO of Couples Learn. “If you find it hard to let people in, you may have some healing to do around those past relationships that have let you down.” Seeking out a way to start this healing, whether it be therapy or support from loved ones, can be a good way to start opening up in your love life.
3. You’re Addicted To The Butterflies
Getting those fluttery feelings when you meet someone new can make anyone swoon — but don’t take those as a sign someone’s totally right for you. “Just because you have chemistry with someone it doesn’t mean they’re a suitable partner,” Chan tells Bustle. “You could feel intense sparks with someone due to a trauma bond, and subconsciously you can feel drawn to people who can wound you in familiar ways of the past.” Always looking for the butterfly feeling in a new connection can end up being detrimental to your ability to build genuine, lasting partnerships with others. “Chemistry alone will not carry the relationship through the ups and down,” Chan adds.
4. You Don’t Trust
All of the ways people have abused your trust in the past have nothing to do with your partner, so you have to understand that it's not really fair to your partner if you distrust them by default. You also can't constantly ask where your partner is going, who they're talking to, and if they're cheating on you.
On the other hand, Dr. Schewitz explains that you may be subconsciously drawn to people who you shouldn’t put your trust in, because it’s an all-too-familiar feeling. “If you find yourself repeatedly choosing partners that are not trustworthy, there may be some betrayal from your past that needs healing,” she says.
5. You Don’t Have High Self-Esteem
Your self-esteem and the way you feel about yourself, treat yourself, and talk about yourself are all absolutely critical to a relationship. “Those with low self-esteem tend to self-sabotage happy relationships because, unconsciously, they don’t feel worthy of being with someone who treats them well,” Dr. Schewitz says. “They might pick fights, feel unloved, or be an ungrateful and challenging partner which results in pushing the healthy partner away.”
If you don't have high self-esteem, you don't ask for or expect the kind of treatment you deserve. It can also make you guarded, or have you looking for security and stability in all the wrong places. Working on yourself should be the top priority, even if you're not looking for a relationship.
6. You Don’t Have Realistic Expectations
Do you automatically think the person you went on one date with is going to break your heart? Or do you think they're going to be your knight in shining armor? Do you expect big romantic gestures for your birthday when you haven't communicated about what you want? Sometimes you get in your own way with unrealistic expectations, so you have an excuse when things go wrong. “High expectations are a common defense mechanism of those who are afraid to get close to someone for fear of being let down,” says Dr. Schewitz.
When you have a checklist of multiple things you want in a partner — so much so that no one fits your criteria — you may be missing viable partners right in front of you, adds Chan. “You’re so consumed with finding someone to fit your type and checklist that you don’t realize that the right person for you might come in a very different package than what you expected,” she says.
7. You Don’t Communicate
Communication is another one of the pillars of a healthy relationship. If something is on your mind, you have to learn how to tell your partner in a healthy way — but this can be hard when you didn’t have those behaviors modeled for you in the past. “If you grew up in a home that didn’t encourage or allow open communication of your feelings, it makes complete sense that you may find it intimidating to share your inner world and trust that others will receive it well,” Dr. Schewitz explains. But, in order to have a good partnership, both will need to communicate what’s going on with them, she notes.
8. You’re A Jerk
Are you ever just mean to your partner sometimes and you don't really understand why? Are you argumentative, short, distant, or snappy? You may be self-sabotaging your relationship. “To have a healthy relationship, it's important to be kind, loving, and respectful to one another,” says Dr. Schewitz. “If you find this hard to do, it might be linked to a harsh inner critic. Learn how to speak kindly and lovingly to yourself first and you may notice that you are kinder to others too.”
9. You Avoid Conflict
Fighting for no reason and being mean is bad, but avoiding conflict altogether is just as unhealthy when it comes to self-sabotaging your relationships. “When done well, conflict can actually bring you closer together,” Dr. Schewitz explains. “Many problems are not solvable and will come up again and again for a couple. In those instances, it’s crucial you have the skills to handle conflict in a loving way that helps you understand each other and respect your differences.” If you find that you and your partner struggle with having healthy disagreements, couples (or individual) therapy might be beneficial.
10. You Overthink
Every time your partner texts you, do you read it a hundred times to see what the real, hidden meaning might be? Do you wonder what they're doing when you're not together, to the point of worry? “This is a common issue for those who experienced love as being inconsistent growing up,” says Dr. Schewitz. “You might have had a parent who was emotionally available and loving at times and then completely checked out or even hostile at other times.” This inconsistency can lead to distrust in love, and may lead you to obsess about the connection with your romantic partner at all times.
One way to start figuring this out in yourself would be to look at your attachment style; if you notice that you’re constantly overthinking and worrying in your relationships, you might have an anxious attachment style, so learning how to overcome that is key.
11. You Don’t Want To Put In The Work
Once the honeymoon phase of the relationship is over, Chan notes that you move into the companionate stage. “This is when the brain transitions from future-oriented dopamine to present-oriented chemicals, namely oxytocin and serotonin,” she says. “This is when you have gotten to know the person, gave gotten into a routine, and feel stable.” This is healthy and normal — unless you think it’s time to end the relationship. “Sometimes this is when people think there’s something wrong with the relationship because they don’t feel ‘butterflies’ anymore,” says Chan. “When the honeymoon phase ends, some relationships can end as partners jump ship once they realize how much work it actually takes to maintain a relationship.”
Of course, all healthy relationships require work — but knowing the signs of self-sabotage in a relationship can help you move past the obstacles holding you back from love.
Amy Chan, founder of Renew Breakup Bootcamp and author of Breakup Bootcamp: The Science of Rewiring Your Heart
Dr. Sarah Schewitz, psychologist and founder/CEO of Couples Learn
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