Signs You're Self-Sabotaging Your Relationship (And How To Cut It Out)

Relationships aren't easy, and even if people aren't satisfied, they will sometimes stick it out regardless for many reasons. Some stay in relationships to avoid being alone or worrying they may not meet anyone better, while others are in it for the long haul because sticking it out, through thick and thin, is what they signed up for and intend to do. But no matter why two people are together, sometimes one partner (or both) will self-sabotage the relationship for reasons they don't even know — because they have no idea that that's what they're doing.


"Self-sabotaging is a set of behaviors that are conscious or unconscious which can result in the ending of a relationship," therapist Bisma Anwar, LMHC tells Talkspace. "Self-sabotage can come from past experiences that cause a person to be mistrustful of others. With it comes a fear of getting hurt, which might happen if someone stays in a relationship. Therapy can help a person identify their behavior as self-sabotaging and help them stop it."

According to a 2010 study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, one of the big reasons for self-sabotage is self-preservation and self-protection. As the research found, it's the risk factor that comes with relationships and wanting intimacy but not being able to manage that want with the fear of rejection. Ultimately, it comes down to being afraid of the negative impact the relationship can have on you. If you're self-sabotaging, it's time to recognize it. It's also time to stop. No matter how your past relationships ended or any trauma that was attached to them, it doesn't mean that every relationship you have will follow the same pattern.


You nitpick about petty things

When protecting ourselves, criticizing others becomes a very easy habit. You look for flaws and easily find them. In your eyes, not only does your partner do everything wrong, but they can't even exist in silence next to you on the couch without you coming up with a whole slew of dealbreakers or, even worse, the ick. Whereas some couples believe their partners can do you no wrong, if you're self-sabotaging, then your partner can do no right. 


Once you see that this is what you're doing, take a step back and give your partner a break. Yes, maybe your partner could be better at doing this or that, but so can you. You're not perfect, so you shouldn't expect your partner to be perfect either. While your self-sabotaging probably stems from past events in your life that are manifesting in the present, when you see that that's the case, it may help you ease up on your partner and the flaws that you're going out of your way to see in them. While they may not be flawless, they're certainly not as flawed as you've convinced yourself they are.

You have unrealistic expectations

Although many of us have had unrealistic expectations about certain things in life, when you take those unrealistic expectations and project them onto your partner, that's when it becomes a problem. It's one thing to believe you're going to be a Broadway star even though you can't sing a note, but it's another thing to hold your partner and relationship up to unreachable and unrealistic standards. It's also very unfair.


"High expectations are a common defense mechanism of those who are afraid to get close to someone for fear of being let down," psychologist and founder and CEO of Couples Learn Dr. Sarah Schewitz tells Bustle.

If you sit with your emotions and try to figure out where these unrealistic expectations are coming from, you may find that they are, indeed, a way of protecting yourself. Or you may find that you're unreasonable when it comes to expectations. Either scenario is a self-sabotaging technique that you need to try to manage if you don't want to lose your partner.

You're emotionally unavailable

Relationships require openness, vulnerability, and the willingness to communicate in an emotional way. These components are not only necessary for building intimacy but keeping it alive. However, if you find that your emotional availability has changed and you've closed yourself off to your partner, then that's absolutely self-sabotage. "If you have difficulty opening up emotionally, it can make it challenging for your partner to connect with you on a deeper level," psychologist David Tzall tells PsychCentral. "This can lead to feelings of loneliness and a lack of intimacy in the relationship."


In healthy relationships, partners shouldn't feel lonely. Instead, they should feel supported, loved, respected, and as if they're a team. While not everyone is capable of being emotionally available at all times, if you're more unavailable than you are available, then you can't just ignore it. You need to discern that it exists and it's an issue. Then you need to begin the process of opening up, within your comfort level, and talk to your partner about what you're thinking and feeling. If you can see you're emotionally unavailable, then they certainly can too.

You avoid conflict

Along the same lines of being emotionally unavailable, you probably avoid conflict as if it were the bubonic plague. People who need to protect themselves avoid situations in which they're forced to express feelings and emotions. Healthy relationships are supposed to include conflict and the partners in that relationship should have the conflict resolution skills to resolve whatever the issue happens to be.


"If you find yourself routinely choosing not to express your thoughts and feelings in order to maintain the peace," psychologist David D. Bowers tells Insider. "[Then] it's very possible that in hindsight you will see this as having accidentally sabotaged the relationship."

Or maybe it wasn't accidental at all. Maybe you knew what you were doing, so you kept doing it. But if you want to keep the relationship, you need to acknowledge why you avoid conflict so much. It could come down to past incidents or having an avoidant attachment style — whatever it happens to be, a therapist can help you unpack your extreme aversion to conflict.

You're always suspicious

Because past betrayals can haunt the relationships that follow, if you've been cheated on or were raised in a family where trust was always an issue, suspicion can also be a method of self-sabotage. You might find yourself always checking up on your partner, not trusting them when they're not with you, or struggling to believe what they tell you. "I have seen clients who suspect their partners of cheating with no evidence to prove it but are so convinced because of their own insecurities," psychotherapist and clinical social worker Madeline Cooper tells Mind Body Green.


Such obsessive thinking and over-analyzing won't only lead to you coming up with fantastical ideas that your partner is cheating, but it can also push them away. People can only be wrongly accused for so long before they become exhausted and leave. The best way to try to navigate your paranoia is to talk to your partner and make your trust issues heard so they can understand where you're coming from. Let them know that your inability to trust isn't a reflection of them, but a challenge you have to work on and overcome.

There's no one reason why someone might be self-sabotaging their relationship, but if you realize that you are, then it's time to figure out why. Is it because of something from your past? Are you scared you're not good enough for your partner? Do you want out of the relationship but don't know how to do it? Whatever it is, a therapist can help you get to the bottom of it before you ruin a good thing you had no intention of ruining.