Why You’re Self-Sabotaging Relationships

What are the consequences of self-sabotaging behavior?
on November 07, 2023
Read time: 10 mins
by Moraya Seeger DeGeare

If you find yourself as the architect of yet another break-up, it could be time to admit that you’re the problem… 

It may be a difficult pill to swallow, but understanding why you’re self-sabotaging relationships is a good place to start. It’s easy to beat yourself up for your negative relationship patterns, especially if you can’t come to terms with why you constantly push the self-destruct button in all your relationships — even if they’re going well. 

However, before you go too hard on yourself, it’s important to look to the future. With our guide, we hope to give you the tools to resolve any underlying issues before moving into your next romantic pairing. Hopefully, you can make this one stick! 

What is self-sabotaging in a relationship?

Self-sabotaging in relationships involves engaging in destructive patterns, either consciously or unconsciously, that lead to the end of your relationship. These self-destructive behaviors can manifest in many different ways, with your actions impacting your partner’s feelings. 

Engaging in these behaviors can be incredibly confusing for your partner, as even though they thought everything was going great — suddenly a switch flips. 

For example, you’re in a new relationship and everything is going well. The sex is good, the conversation is flowing, and you can start to see a real future with this person. However, as you start to find your groove, fears, and insecurities start to creep in to contaminate your once-happy relationship. 

With these negative thoughts, even if everything is perfect, you could start acting out to damage your relationship. This could come from a place of insecurity, past traumas, or a fear of getting hurt by the one you love most. 

How does self-sabotaging behavior affect the relationship?

Relationship sabotage naturally has a huge effect on your love life, as well as on your own well-being and mental health. 

If you’re constantly engaging in self-sabotaging behaviors, it’s impossible to sustain a healthy relationship. Even though your partner can try and understand your past experiences or attachment style and why you’re behaving in this way — it doesn’t make it easier to deal with. It can honestly be rather exhausting.

Without peeling back the layers and understanding why you’re engaging in these self-destructive patterns, you’ll inevitably have another breakup on your hands. 

Even though it may feel like a narrow escape at the time, and what you may have wanted to achieve, it isn’t sustainable long-term. It’s important to understand why you’re behaving this way in the first place. 

Do you believe that you don’t deserve love? Or do you have underlying relationship issues or unresolved childhood trauma you haven’t addressed? Do you have unrealistic expectations about what a relationship should be? If you get to the bottom of the issues, it’s easier to prevent these behaviors in the future. 


What causes self-sabotaging behavior?

Self-sabotaging behaviors stem from many sources, and it can be difficult to identify why you’re stuck in this relationship cycle. 

There are a huge number of reasons why people self-sabotage themselves and their relationships, many of which they may not even comprehend themselves. 

1. Fear of abandonment 

Relationships require a lot of trust as you have to fully let someone in — sharing everything with the one you love most. 

The choice to connect with someone on a deeper level is a big commitment, as it leaves you exposed and vulnerable to another person. While a healthy relationship is the greatest feeling in the world, some people can’t commit to intimate relationships as they can’t authorize this kind of vulnerability. 

Although they may come off as cold or unfeeling, really this self-sabotaging behavior could mask a deeper fear of abandonment. They can’t be exposed in this way because they can’t stand the thought of committing and then being left in the dust. 

2. Self-preservation 

Along the same lines, research shows that self-sabotage can be a form of self-protection and preservation.

If you don’t put yourself out there, you can’t get hurt. While you can dabble in more casual relationships, you refuse to let your romantic partner in so that they can’t hurt you. These self-preservation tactics and relationship patterns may keep you safe in the short term, but they deny you the right to a fulfilling long-term relationship. 

3. Lack of trust 

Experiencing infidelity or toxic patterns of behaviors in your past relationships makes it naturally more difficult to trust a new partner. 

If you suffered mistreatment, it could lead to underlying grudges that you carry into your relationships. This inability to trust means that you naturally keep everyone at arms length, and may engage in self-sabotage to give yourself even more breathing room. 

4. Low self-worth 

Unhealthy relationships can lower your self-esteem and self-worth, haunting your love life with insecurities. These issues naturally put you on the defensive, making it easier to lapse into self-destructive patterns. 

For example, if you experience infidelity, these scenarios can erode your self-worth, making you feel like you don’t deserve a healthy relationship. These bouts of low self-esteem can make it easy to lapse into patterns of self-sabotage as you’re on the defense from the outset. 

5. Attachment style

Insecure attachment styles naturally affect your romantic relationships, as your childhood experiences dictate your behaviors in adult relationships. In this way, your past can rob you of the kind of relationship skills you need to form long-lasting connections. 

For example, if you have an avoidant attachment style, you can find yourself lashing out or stonewalling your partner if they get too close to you. This is due to an uneasiness with emotional intimacy, making it difficult to form and sustain close relationships. 

This behavior can be especially jarring if your partner has a secure attachment style and may not understand why you’re sabotaging the relationship in this way. 

“Attachment styles are not fixed or permanent, in healthy loving relationships, we can shift to more secure attachment,” says Moraya Seeger DeGeare, a licensed marriage and family therapist and In-House Expert at Paired.

Additionally, it is worth keeping in mind that your attachment style can fluctuate from relationship to relationship.” 

6. Fear of intimacy 

If you struggle with a fear of intimacy, you could engage in self-sabotage as a form of protection. 

Romantic relationships require many different types of intimacy to survive and thrive. If your romantic partner is getting too close, or crossing the invisible/restrictive or overly ridged boundaries that you’ve put in place, it could trigger these behaviors instantly. 

How do you know if you’re sabotaging your relationship?

Relationship sabotage is a very complex business, especially due to the wide range of underlying causes that can trigger these behaviors. 

In many cases, self-sabotage is a knee-jerk reaction that you may not even comprehend until it’s too late. If you constantly take everything out on your partner, with no explanation, it’s a very slippery slope to crawl back from. 

This is why it’s important to recognize your signs of self-sabotaging, so you can peel back these layers and try to deal with the issues head-on. 

Signs that you’re sabotaging your relationship

Gaslighting: If you’re acting out in your relationship, likely, your partner will likely eventually call you up on your misbehavior. Instead of admitting your insecurities or faults, it’s easier to go on the defense — pointing the finger in the other direction. Gaslighting tendencies are completely unacceptable in any relationship, no matter the reasoning behind your actions. This behavior lends a toxicity to the relationship, that can be very difficult to reverse.
Constant critique: Even though your partner is fulfilling all your needs, you find yourself picking them apart over the smallest things. This preference for critique could be your brain’s way of looking for an easy escape route, blaming your partner for the relationship's fault rather than accepting any responsibility or fault.
Avoidant behavior: Whether or not you have an insecure attachment style, avoidant behavior is a common way to squirm out tricky relationships or situations. For example, your partner may allow you to express why you have a tendency for self-sabotage but you simply run the other way. These avoidant behaviors can manifest as a total lack of communication (or ghosting), or stonewalling as they try and get through to you.
Infidelity: If you’re starting to feel the walls close in on your relationship, infidelity is the biggest self-destruct button you can lunge for. Cheating on your partner is usually an irreversible sabotage, as this kind of behavior is completely unwarranted and unacceptable in romantic relationships.
Trust issues: On the other end of the spectrum, if you’re prone to self-sabotage, you may find yourself constantly accusing your partner of infidelity. These unfounded accusations and jealous tendencies indicate underlying issues in your self-esteem and self-worth. Even if these fears are untrue, you end up driving your partner away by this obvious lack of trust in your relationship.

How to stop self-sabotaging relationships

If you’re constantly self-sabotaging your relationships, it can be a very isolating and frustrating path to take. Even if you’re aware of your patterns, it feels impossible to break such a negative cycle. 

However, with the help of a mental health professional or couples therapy, it’s possible to get to the bottom of these issues and work towards a brighter future. To get you started, our in-house expert Moraya Seeger DeGeare has some advice to share. 

  1. Start with building your self-awareness: Write yourself a letter on how you wish you would show up in your relationship. Now sit down and be honest with yourself. What could you change today to move you towards that goal of who you want to be in relationships? The bigger question is. What is the number one fear that comes up when you think about what is standing in your way in letting go of some of those self-sabotaging behaviors?” 

  2. Talk to your trusted people: Most of the time we feel shame about how we behave in relationships, especially when our close friends have called out these patterns in the past. So the best thing to do is trust that you have at least one safe and trusted in your life to talk to you about what is going on. Often the biggest step we make is just getting out of our head and in turn we get out of our way.

  3. Seek relationship therapy: When you see these patterns are linked or if you need help even seeing how they connect, this is a perfect thing to work on with a relationship therapist. Yes, you can see a therapist to work on who you are in relationships without going to couples therapy. One of the biggest things I have found in couples therapy is great progress is made when one or both partners are also doing individual therapy or introspective work.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Am I unhappy or self-sabotaging in my relationship?

    “First off, it could be both! Two things can exist,” says Seeger DeGeare. “You could be unhappy and self-sabotaging, you also could be self-sabotaging because you are scared of really committing to this relationship. So the best thing to do is to ask yourself these questions: Do I see myself in this relationship and satisfied in ten years? If this relationship ended today, what would immediately feel better in my life? These questions can help you identify what might feel scary and what you might be holding on to that you are ready to let go of. Fear can stop us in our tracks. To interrupt fear, we have to find our ability to be curious again. So first look inward to be curious about yourself.”
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