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How to Stop Self-Sabotaging Your Relationships

How to Stop Self-Sabotaging Your Relationships

Have you ever felt like you’re your own worst enemy when it comes to relationships? Do you find yourself repeatedly engaging in self-defeating behaviors that damage your close connections with others? If so, you may be experiencing a common problem known as relationship self-sabotage.

Relationship self-sabotage refers to unconsciously acting in ways that undermine the development and maintenance of healthy, fulfilling relationships.

Some common forms of self-sabotage in relationships include withdrawing affection, becoming needy or anxious, accusing or criticizing partners, assuming the worst about peoples’ intentions, and pushing loved ones away when they try to get close.

While easy to do, self-sabotage ultimately erodes trust, damages intimacy, and pushes people away over time. If left unaddressed, it can sabotage even the best of relationships. The good news is, with awareness and effort, it is possible to overcome self-sabotaging tendencies and establish secure, stable bonds.

This blog post will explore the root causes of relationship self-sabotage and provide evidence-based strategies to help you stop undermining your relationships and start nurturing them instead.

Let’s begin our discussion by defining what self-sabotage means in close relationships and examining some common forms it may take.

Defining Relationship Self-Sabotage

At its core, relationship self-sabotage refers to behaviors, thoughts, and inner experiences that interfere with developing and maintaining secure attachment bonds with others.

Some technical definitions of self-sabotage in this context include:

  • Unconsciously acting in ways that damage closeness, trust and understanding in important relationships due to underlying fears, insecurities or past hurts.
  • Engaging in friction-causing behaviors stemming from core relationship schemas formed in childhood that cause people to withdraw, lash out or become preoccupied when intimacy increases.
  • Repeatedly putting up inner barriers like distrust, neediness or a perceived lack of self-worth that prevent forming collaborative, interdependent bonds with partners, friends and family.
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In practical terms, some common forms of self-sabotage in close relationships include:

  • Withdrawing or becoming distant when closeness increases to avoid possible rejection or loss.
  • Criticizing, blaming or finding faults in partners to maintain distance or avoid responsibility in the relationship.
  • Becoming clingy, insecure or jealous in ways that smother partners’ independence and drive them away.
  • Pushing partners’ buttons through defiance, angry outbursts or irresponsibility to test their commitment or induce breakups.
  • Assuming the worst of others’ intentions, blowing conflicts out of proportion or perceiving more criticism than was intended.
  • Self-isolating, neglecting the relationship or using substances to self-soothe instead of addressing issues directly with the partner.

This overview touches on some of the major ways people can unconsciously sabotage themselves in relationships through certain dysfunctional thoughts and behaviors. Let’s now explore some of the underlying psychological root causes driving this pattern.

Common Causes of Relationship Self-Sabotage

There are often complex interactions between biological, psychological and social factors that make some people more vulnerable to self-sabotage when it comes to intimacy:

Insecure Attachment Styles

How we were cared for and bonded with caregivers as children heavily influences our adult “attachment style” – how we expect relationships to be and behave within them. People with insecure styles like anxious-preoccupied or dismissive-avoidant may subconsciously self-sabotage to regulate intimacy levels they feel unsafe with.

Abandonment Fears

If a person experienced severe separation, loss or instability with early caregivers, they may carry deep fears of abandonment driving neediness, dependence or distancing when closeness increases with partners.

Low Self-Worth

Seeing oneself as unworthy of love can manifest as relationship-derailing behaviors to “prove” these negative self-beliefs right or avoid perceived inevitable rejection from partners.

Trust Issues

Past experiences like infidelity, abuse or trauma damage trust in others and oneself, sparking hypervigilance, distrust and clinginess that sabotage security with new partners.

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Avoidance of Vulnerability

Fearing the emotional exposure that comes with intimacy, some culprits keep partners and themselves at arm’s length through over-criticism, stoicism or breakup provocation.

Lack of Emotional Regulation

If not taught healthy coping skills as children, high stress levels may overflow into angry outbursts, accusations or substance abuse that poison relationships.

Of course, it’s rarely just one factor but complex interactions between our innate temperament and formative childhood experiences that shape the roots of self-sabotaging behaviors. With self-reflection and targeted therapy, these underlying issues can gradually be addressed.

Now that we’ve reviewed causes, the following section outlines practical strategies to help overcome self-sabotage in present-day close bonds.

Strategies for Overcoming Relationship Self-Sabotage

Becoming aware of your patterns is the first step, but concrete action is required to break these destructive habits. Here are evidenced-based skills and tools to help you stop undermining your relationships:

Develop Self-Compassion

Forgive your past without harsh self-judgment. Accept imperfections while committing to growth. A supportive inner dialogue of self-kindness can replace damaging self-criticism when going through relationship challenges.

Use Mindfulness

Pausing before reacting helps you notice dysfunctional thoughts and rising emotions driving sabotage. This creates space to choose a wiser response aligned with your values through calm self-regulation instead of reactivity.

Communicate Constructively

Practice transparent, vulnerable yet non-accusatory sharing of needs and listening without defensiveness during conflicts. Own your role without blaming others to build trust and find resolutions collaboratively.

Validate Your Partner’s Perspective

Fight the urge to dismiss their viewpoint or experiences as “wrong.” Show genuine interest to understand how they experience issues and validate their feelings to strengthen intimacy.

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Challenge Cognitive Distortions

Learn to recognize when thoughts like “They will leave me” or “I’m not good enough” arise and replace them with balanced, fact-based perspectives through cognitive restructuring techniques.

Set Healthy Boundaries

Express limits assertively while respecting others’ needs through “I feel” statements to navigate intimacy levels you can comfortably handle versus sabotaging through distance or control.

Strengthen Self-Esteem From Within

Appreciate yourself for inherent worth beyond the validation of others through daily affirmations, supportive social circle and inner growth pursuits to reduce clinging patterns.

Address Underlying Issues in Therapy

Work with a mental health professional using evidence-based modalities like CBT, EMDR, schema or attachment-focused therapies tailored to heal core wounds driving your sabotage in a compassionate clinical setting.

While change takes time, making a conscious effort to implement these strategies along with self-awareness can help overwrite old relationship sabotage patterns with new secure attachment habits. The commitment to growth and nurturing intimacy sets the stage for healthier bonds.


Relationship self-sabotage stems from unresolved inner wounds impacting how we perceive and behave within close bonds. But with understanding of the roots and application of adaptive coping skills, it is very possible to overcome this barrier to love.

By developing self-compassion, strengthening communication skills, addressing underlying issues, cultivating self-esteem from within and learning to satisfy intimacy needs securely – anyone can escape this pattern and form lasting, fulfilling relationships. Breaking out of old patterns begins with awareness and a determined choice to nurture both oneself and close connections through honest effort.

With patience and a commitment to continual betterment, past self-sabotage need not define us or future relationships. The decision to stop undermining intimacy and start nurturing it brings us closer to the secure bonds we all deserve.


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