Gleeful relationships have been short-lived for many reasons, and sometimes, the absence of love is not one of the reasons. For example, some people have been lucky enough to find relationships where their partners or family are patient with them, kind and intentional about understanding them. However, remaining in the relationship is difficult due to some self-sabotaging behaviours. In another instance, some people have been left because they have been frustrated with every effort by their partner, family and friends to make them feel loved.
Self-sabotage can manifest in so many ways. What’s more, many perpetrators of self-sabotage are oblivious of what they are doing and how they are affecting themselves and others. Self-defeating habits are not limited to romantic relationships only. They can be experienced in every type of relationship, including but not limited to professional and family relationships.
The problem with dysfunctional habits in relationships is that, in most cases, both the toxic person and the victim are unaware of what is going on. The toxic person because that’s what they are familiar with, and the victim because they are blinded by love, obligation or have a saviour mentality that gives them relevance when they try to “save” people from themselves. When the toxic person is the first to leave, it is not always because they realise they are toxic but because leaving has formed a habit. When the victim opts out of the romance, friendship, family or professional environment, it’s usually because, after so long, their eyes have been opened to what is playing out.
You may recognise these self-sabotaging behaviours as the following.
Bottling up emotions
It is counter-intuitive to bottle up negative emotions like anger, disappointment, resentment, frustration and anxiety. However, if you do not address these emotions constructively, it could become self-sabotaging because you will start developing reservations for your partner and acting when you should not. Learn to say how you feel but in a respectful manner and at the right time. Sweeping valid opinions under the carpet does not remove the problem but neatly hides them till they turn into a heap, causing tension and conflict.
Lack of trust
Most people go into relationships thinking the worst of people. They believe everyone is out to hurt them, so they build a defensive wall with their lack of trust. So, even when they love their partner and want to believe they are different from those who hurt them in the past or broke their trust with betrayal, they cannot win the battle. They cower to the voice that tells them they cannot trust this relationship. As a result, they find themselves acting out in ways that frustrate the relationship and their partners.
Nagging and criticism
Constructive criticism is a healthy part of every relationship. Your relationship should have a safe space for you and your partner to air your reservations about actions and inactions of each other. However, when constructive criticism becomes borderline and gradually evolves into nagging and disrespect, it’s only a matter of time before one partner wants out. This toxic behaviour can cause damage from staying out late to living in the house as strangers because of frustration. The truth is, no one can win with a person who has a problem with everything you do. Therefore, it will be counter-productive to try and please them.
Squabbles and friction are part of every relationship. Resolving conflicts is a practical way to know what your partner likes or dislikes and at the end of every tension is the reward of bonding and a better understanding of each other. Discussing conflict, forgiving and moving past it is like a workout regimen to keep your relationship fit. Holding grudges and bringing up past offences is a lot for anyone to handle because it gives vibes to a bitter person, and no one wants a bitter person around them.
Lack of integrity
Does your partner stake your promises in a folder of unfulfilled promises and take it as one of those sayings you didn’t mean? Does your yes mean yes, and your no mean no to your lover? The danger of your word not matching your action is that your “I love you”, “I’ll protect you”, and everything you say means nothing to your partner, and they will soon stop feeling secure and safe around you. What happens next is that your lover, whom you got to trust with your words and matching actions, no longer regards you or your comments. You, in turn, feel worthless and disregarded because of your partner’s reaction to your lack of integrity.
Paying attention to intimacy
The lack of physical intimacy has broken some relationships. Physical intimacy is not just romance and sex. It is much more than that. It involves spending quality time with the one you love, holding hands while you walk and being free when in the presence of your lover.
The absence of physical intimacy by one of the couples will stir resentment and cause the breaking of a relationship.
So, why self-sabotage the relationship?
If the goal is to find a relationship where love, care and understanding are part of the equation, then it begs the question, why sabotage is a good thing and something you’ve always wanted? While many dysfunctional persons cannot answer this question, psychologists have come up with several reasons.
Psychologists have monitored similar patterns that could make a person destroy a relationship they love and know makes them happy. They put in double the effort their lover puts in building the relationship to ship-wreck their relationship. The more they are treated with love and respect, the more they feel unworthy of receiving it. Let’s not consider that they got attracted to the relationship because they now feel undeserving of these qualities.
Some of the reasons that can account for self-sabotaging behaviours are highlighted below.
Fear is a learned response we pick up from growth and experience. Chances are that if you grew up in a stable home, you were very much eager for that crush to ask you out or for you to ask them out. Then after your first, second, and other breakups, fear becomes your most trusted emotion because it protects you from experiencing hurt. For others, fear is not learned from personal traumatic experiences but from the experiences of loved ones like parents, friends, and siblings. When you fear getting hurt because of a shield to one party, you start seeing habits like baseless suspicions, lack of trust, and serial dating due to lack of commitment. People who fear getting hurt have a big problem with vulnerability, affecting intimacy in the long run.
Thinking lowly of yourself is part of the reasons why you will never feel deserving of love and respect. It’s like you’re shocked your lover can even see you in your ghost mood and like you. So, half the time, you’re expecting they will leave you for another person. So, jealousy sets in and you create a hypothetical lover for your partner or insinuate romantic relationships where there is nothing. Low self-esteem can also look like disregarding yourself so much that your words don’t mean anything to you and others. It because easy to lie and make promises you don’t intend to keep because you don’t value yourself in the first place.
Low conflict threshold
Poor conflict management can result from setting unrealistic goals or having little experience in the school of life where all resolve, patience and determination are tested. Whichever the case may be, conflict is a part of everyday life, and your relationship is not immune from it. Resolving misunderstandings helps the relationship grow stronger. Still, if you run from it and manage it poorly, negative patterns like malice, gaslighting and bringing up old offences will keep coming up.
Wrong orientation about relationships
So many people enter relationships after building castles in the air and wonder why their partner has no access to the foundation to build on further. You can’t always expect your relationship to be an Instagram couple goals-themed relationship and be upset if your partner cannot keep up. Whether your partner promised they could deliver on the type of lifestyle you want, or they categorically stated it’s beyond their means, an Instagram fake life is too much pressure to put on anyone. Another wrong mentality is to think your relationship will be perfect without putting in the work. This route ends with unmet expectations and disappointments.
Upbringing plays a role in the habits and convictions we develop in life. For instance, people that grew up with absentee parents tend to have abandonment issues even in adulthood. Likewise, those who had to do something to earn their parent’s love or endure comparisons between themselves and their siblings or friends develop coping mechanisms that open the gate for toxicity and self-sabotage. Without dealing with these childhood traumas, partners become competitive, have low self-esteem, become too clingy and needy, develop disregard, and so on.
Since commitment and vulnerability is one way to make us susceptible to hurt, some people have decided to close that part of their lives to avoid stories that touch. You find them in multiple relationships or jumping from one potentially deep relationship to another. The need to control their life doesn’t allow them to trust anyone with their heart, so no matter how great a partner they meet, they’ll always be on the move.
How to end self-sabotage
A lot of relationship self-sabotage is done unconsciously, but at some point, the circle gets tiring, even for the toxic partner. It is only until a person puts one and one together and concludes they are the constant threat that the change will be welcomed. If you’re at the point of embracing change, here are some tips on stopping your self-destructive habits and improving your relationship.
Identify and admit your self-sabotaging habits
The first step in developing healthy habits in your relationship is by taking a deep dive and realising you are the common factor in all the relationship problems you are experiencing. Then you admit you need help and allow people to help you. Recognising most of the things you’ve known all your life are flawed and losing control for other people to help you is no easy feat. It takes courage and bravery to admit you need help and to look for help. However, you can channel strength from your love for your partner and their love for you to make the journey of self-discovery and change.
Learn to manage your expectations
Be aware of the things you can control, like your emotions, decisions and expectations and focus on making them positive and beneficial to all your relationships. You cannot control how people act or react around you, but you can control how you behave. Instead of responding to childhood traumas, conflict, betrayal, and hurt with toxicity, you can learn to handle them with grace and not with walls of self-sabotage.
Work on communication
Communicating with clarity is your most trusted ally on the journey of change. If you have expectations, say it; if you are hurt, voice out; if the action triggers a trauma, talk about how it makes you feel. Communication is clarity, while bitterness is making assumptions and nagging. When you communicate clearly, you give your partner the chance to correct any misunderstanding or apologise where they are wrong. For communication to be effective, you must have an open mind to your partner’s response to your communication.
Go for therapy
Some professionals are trained to help people identify underlying issues that make them behave the way they do. But, as I have reiterated, you will need all the help you can get to stop self-sabotaging. Your partner may help you realise you need help and give you all the support you need, but they cannot be the only help you rely on because they may also need help to get over the scares your toxicity caused. Seek professional help.
You should know that two people can go through the same experience but turn out differently. The traumas and experiences that pushed you to destructive patterns are valid, but you always have a choice. No matter how deep you think you’ve sunk into dysfunctionality, you always have another option. Choice better and do better.
Self-Sabotaging Behaviours In Relationships: Why Do We Do It?