Why You Self-Sabotage Your Relationships (And How To Break The Cycle)

"It's not you, it's me." The age-old cliche makes most people roll their eyes, but for people who self-sabotage, there is some truth to the phrase. According to Psychology Today, "Behavior is said to be self-sabotaging when it creates problems in daily life and interferes with long-standing goals." This behavior can range from something seemingly harmless like procrastinating on tasks, to life threatening habits and behaviors. Having a tendency to self-sabotage can negatively impact all aspects of your life including your job, your mental and physical health, and your relationships.

You might be self-sabotaging your relationship without even realizing it. Whether you have trust issues or struggle with low self-esteem, your insecurities are manifested and magnified in a relationship that can cause an unhealthy relationship dynamic and eventually a break-up. For people with a tendency to self-sabotage, this pattern can lead to emotional walls, and possibly pushing people away, no matter how much they might love them. Luckily, there are ways to identify self-sabotaging behaviors and break the cycle –- so that when the right person comes along, you are ready to welcome them in with loving arms.

Signs that you are self-sabotaging

Most people who self-sabotage their relationships aren't doing it on purpose –- after all, you're most likely in a relationship with someone because you really like them and want to be around them. For those with self-sabotaging tendencies, one of their biggest triggers is a healthy relationship. When they can't actively identify problems and cracks in their partner, they will begin digging for them and inevitably create them. If you feel yourself beginning to make an exit strategy "just in case" something bad happens, you're probably at the beginning stages of self-sabotaging your relationship.

Being overly critical of your partner, feeling extreme jealousy, avoiding conflict and even infidelity are all big signs that you have some growing to do. Commitment avoidance is another huge factor that many struggle with –- if you only date casually and don't ever commit to one person, they don't ever have a chance of hurting you. For those who have been hurt in the past, by others or by their own tendencies, this may seem like a great option. But you also limit yourself from the possibility of having deep, meaningful relationships, and you'll often end up hurting people that do want the chance to be in your life for the long run.

Reasons you might be getting in your own way

So, you've recognized the signs that you might be self-sabotaging your relationships. The natural next step is to ask yourself, "Why?" Most people don't actively want to hurt themselves or others, but subconscious patterns of behavior don't occur for no reason. There are many explanations as to why people might become self-destructive, ranging from a lack of experience in relationships to deep rooted childhood trauma. Per Marriage, "The Cambridge Journal of Relationships Research found that negative past experiences could cause low self-esteem and feeling afraid of being hurt or rejected." All of these behaviors lead to relationship insecurity and patterns of self-sabotaging.

Some people are so afraid of losing their loved one that their fear ends up pushing them away thanks to their attachment style. It is reported that 50% of people have an attachment style that causes problems in their relationship, according to the Washington Post. People with anxious and avoidant attachment styles commonly experience self-sabotaging behaviors, since they are more prone to being critical of themselves and experience heavy amounts of anxiety that are difficult to cope with.

Others self-sabotage before they can even enter a relationship because of their poor self-image. In order to be successful in the dating pool these days, you have to carry a certain confidence that others will find attractive, especially amongst dating apps and social media. Your inner critic might be so loud that people won't see all of your wonderful qualities, because you can't even see them yourself.

Know the difference between self-sabotaging and a bad relationship

Working through your tendency to self-sabotage is a great way to promote better, healthier relationships with others and with yourself. But on your healing journey, remember that not every conflict is your fault. There are still plenty of relationship red flags to watch out for that have nothing to do with your tendency to be self-critical, although the difference might be hard to distinguish. TikTok creator and therapist @therapyjeff made a video comparing the difference between self-sabotaging tendencies and a bad relationship.

He clarifies that you are self-sabotaging if you find yourself being avoidant and not wanting to address major issues, but if you are actively attempting to resolve things and you cannot come to a resolution together, it's a "bad match." According to Jeff, "self-sabotaging is caused when you're overcome with fear." An unmatched relationship is easy to identify if you notice things about your relationship that are harmful while you are thinking clearly and rationally. One commenter asked the question we all have on our minds, "Can it be both?" Therapy Jeff responded by simply confirming, "Yep." Identifying the difference is a challenge, but you don't have to do it alone – experts recommend navigating your self-sabotaging tendencies and relationship difficulties with the help of a mental health professional.

How to break the cycle if you are single

If you are looking for love as a serial self-sabotager, there are ways to break the cycle and ensure that you give your next relationship a fair chance. As a single person, one of the best ways to combat self-sabotaging behavior is by building your own self-confidence. If your tendency to ruin relationships stems from deeply rooted insecurities and poor self-image, it is important to take time rebuilding the love you have for yourself. Getting started can be as simple as saying positive affirmations in the mirror each morning or creating a mindful morning routine that focuses on gratitude and wellness. When you love yourself the way you deserve, the right person will enter your life and learn to love you that way, too.

While romantic love is important, it's not the only form of love you need in your life. If you have a tendency to self-sabotage your romantic relationships, you're probably projecting the same behaviors towards your family and friends. Receiving love is hard, especially when you have trust issues, past trauma, and are overly critical of yourself. But healing does not happen alone, and letting your community of people know what you're going through might actually help you break the cycle of self-sabotage. Let yourself be open to receiving platonic and familial love first, and prove to your inner-saboteur that you are capable of being loved for who you are.

How to break the cycle if you're in a relationship

While relationships between two people can bring out the best in one another, it also magnifies the ways that each person is different –- even the smallest of conflicts can become large problems for those who self-sabotage. If you find yourself being hyper critical or your honey or battling the urge to flee every time you get into a disagreement, it's time to take responsibility for your behavior. Having an open dialogue with your partner will begin to break the cycle of conflict and avoidance that you are most likely used to. No one enjoys confrontation, but many of the strongest relationships have developed healthy fight language and ways to resolve their conflicts is a respectful way. Being open to a dialogue about what is bothering you and what might be bothering your partner might save your relationship.

It is also crucial for you and your partner's sanity that you develop a strong foundation of trust. When there is a lack of trust in the relationship, the fear of infidelity (or a tendency to be unfaithful, for those who struggle with commitment) is just the tip of the iceberg. You have to trust that your partner has your best interest at heart as well as their own, and that they are willing to grow with you on your healing journey. If you find that your partner doesn't have these qualities after establishing trust, maybe they just aren't the right match.