11 Examples Of Self-Sabotaging Behaviors That Ruin Relationships

Being in love and being loved in return is perhaps the most magical feeling in the world. But let’s face it, even the best of relationships go awry due to myriad reasons. While sometimes an external factor is responsible – a third person, financial difficulties, family troubles to name just a few – but have you heard of self-sabotaging relationships? There are occasions when we ourselves end up harming a beautiful relationship with our self-sabotaging behaviors.

There are things we end up doing, not realizing what a drastic effect it is having on the relationship. Sometimes we end up sabotaging a relationship subconsciously by not even realizing what we are doing. In that case when things go wrong, we need to take a long, hard look at ourselves and see what we did wrong. Counseling therapist Kavita Panyam (Masters in Counseling Psychology), helps us works through some causes and examples of self-sabotaging behavior.

Related Reading: How To Avoid Self-Sabotaging Relationships?

What Is Self-Sabotaging Behaviour?

Sabotaging a relationship subconsciously ultimately comes from a harsh inner critic. According to experts, self-sabotaging behavior is often a result of low self-esteem and the inability to free oneself from anxiety. For instance people who suffer from dating anxiety may end up sabotaging their own relationship even before it takes off.

It can be defined as behavioral patterns that create problems in daily life and interferes with your goals, be they in the personal or professional realm. But the most devastating impact of self-sabotaging thoughts can be on your love life.

What is the definition of self-sabotaging potential relationships? Well, for instance you have started dating a man who is nice to you but you are constantly thinking: “Is he cheating or am I being paranoid?” That’s when you end up self-sabotaging your relationship.

“Self-sabotaging behavior is like having an inner critic. It sabotages thought, speech, actions and behavior, and stops you from having meaningful connections, a fulfilling work-life, and eventually affects every area of your life,” says Kavita.

Often, you may not realize that you are inadvertently sabotaging your own relationship. It could be through words or actions, but you simply end up driving away those people who are dear to you and who, whether you believe it or not, actually value you.

The signs of self-sabotaging behaviours:

  • You feel constant insecurity about the relationship and you end up making 20 calls to your partner through the day
  • You suffer from texting anxiety. If your partner doesn’t revert to your text immediately you get upset and feel ignored
  • You are incapable of settling differences amicably. Either you get into ugly fights or you walk away from a situation and keep stonewalling your partner
  • You are into alcohol or substance abuse and your inability to deal with your addiction results in self-sabotaging your relationship
  • You keep moving from one job to another, procrastinate important tasks and you are incapable of adjusting with anyone, be it in your work life or in your personal life
  • You are always indulging in self-defeating thoughts, questioning your own ability and giving in to instant gratification like junk food and constant hook ups
  • You are always thinking that your relationship would end and cause you pain, so you do not want to show your vulnerable side to your partner

What Causes Self-Sabotaging Behaviours?

Self-Sabotaging Behaviours
Self-sabotaging behaviors causes us to destroy relationships

The big question: Why do we do this? Why do we end up destroying the very thing that gives us happiness? It needs no elaboration that a lot of our actions and thoughts can be traced back to our childhood. And the same applies in this case too.

The reasons why we sub-consciously end up in self-sabotaging relationships have often got to do with what goes on within our inner selves.

Low self-esteem, negative self-talk, related negative emotions which are further bolstered by subsequent failures in various realms of life can all lead to people behaving in ways that take them further away from their lover.

Kavita notes that self-sabotage can be a result of self-esteem issues that could have its roots in your childhood. Toxic parents who always criticized, controlled and drilled the fear of failure could be responsible for your self-sabotaging behavior in your adulthood.

“A critical parent, a narcissistic, co-dependent or autocratic parent is often one of the major causes of self-sabotaging behavior. These are people who don’t let you fail, explore or make mistakes. Their expectations damage you, while still expecting you to excel,” Kavita says.

She adds, “They give you strict guidelines to live and function, but since you haven’t explored your own capabilities, you can’t excel. This means you have no sense of self-worth or self-esteem. And when you’re not doing well, they blame you for that as well. This is a double-edged sword.”

People who grow up with an abusive parent or witness an abusive relationship often suffer from a fear and insecurity that they cannot express to their partners. So they end up sabotaging their own relationship out of fear.

Sometimes at a young age when people fall in love and it does not go in the way they want it to, it leaves a deep negative impact on their life. Dating someone who self-sabotages is never easy and can lead to deep rifts in the relationship and an eventual breakup.

When they get into the next relationship they always feel that it would go the same way and they start sabotaging the relationship subconsciously.

To get rid of such self-sabotaging thoughts and behaviours, it is first essential to recognise the signs of self-sabotaging relationships so that they can be nipped in the bud.

Related Reading: 12 Signs Of A Control Freak – Can You Identify With Them?

What Are Self-Sabotaging Relationships?

self-sabotaging relationships
Self-sabotaging relationships

Your self-sabotaging behaviour leads to self-sabotaging relationships. When a person is hell bent on self destructing a relationship with the constant fear that it won’t work out and it is doomed from the beginning, that’s when a self-sabotaging relationship takes shape.

Being in a self-sabotaging relationship is extremely stressful and an unhealthy bond for both partners. While one is destroying the relationship with one’s anxiety, insecurity and low self-esteem the other one is at the receiving end of this behavior constantly and it takes a toll on the person’s mental health.

The signs of a self-sabotaging relationship start showing early because self-sabotaging behaviors include jealousy, insecurity, possessiveness and anxiety that start having an impact on the relationship.

“Your inner critic is a strict taskmaster who is hard to please and always looks for perfectionist behavior. This is irrational because humans are imperfect and can improve endlessly. These expectations will often mean you are unable to delegate, have trust issues, insecurity and a tendency to hold onto the past. All of this affects your ability to have healthy relationships,” Kavita explains.

11 Examples Of Self-Sabotaging Behaviours

Self sabotaging relationships
Self-sabotaging behaviours destroy a relationship from within

Clinical psychologist and author Robert Firestone says we always engage with our inner voice whenever we do anything. But when that inner voice becomes the “anti-self” then we turn against our own self and become hyper-critical and self-sabotaging. We end up sabotaging our relationships subconsciously.

We have told you the signs of self-sabotaging behavior and also what causes that kind of behavior. Now, we get to how this subconsciously ruins relationships. We will talk about 11 examples of self-sabotaging behaviors.

Related Reading: 15 Characteristics Of A Healthy Relationship

1. “He was always worried something terrible will happen to me”

Anxiety is an emotion that everyone experiences in some form or the other but some people become more anxious easily and that starts having an impact on their relationship.

Myra and Logan started living together after dating for a year. Myra initially treated Logan’s behavior as new relationship anxiety but she realized how bad it was only after they started living together.

“He was always worried that something would happen to me. If I got half an hour late from work he would think I was in an accident; if I was at a meeting and didn’t pick up his call, he thought something terrible had happened to me. If I went out clubbing with my friends, he was sure I would get raped if I was drunk. I initially explained things to him, but then his anxiety started rubbing off on me. I started getting anxious thinking he was getting anxious and I couldn’t enjoy when I went out with friends,” Myra says.

Myra and Logan broke up a year later when Myra could no longer take Logan’s overwhelming anxiety. This is a classic example of how anxiety could lead to self-sabotaging thoughts and you need to free yourself of anxiety to build your relationship. Dating someone who self-sabotages often causes a partner to grow resentful and distant, causing the relationship to disintegrate.

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2. “I was obsessed with my own body”

Do you constantly criticize yourself? Are you a people pleaser? Do you never praise yourself? Self-sabotage and low self-esteem are perhaps directly co-related. When something is too good to be true, you often fear it may not last and you end up harming it yourself sub consciously before anyone else does.

Violet was always on the plumper side and her mother would starve her often so that she would lose weight. Her mother would body shame her and she grew up with a negative self-image.

When she went out on dates with guys and they complimented her, she could never believe them and felt they were being fake and never went back on another date. She was self sabotaging relationships without giving them a chance.

“I seriously dated two men but I was so obsessed with my body and always criticizing my looks, my shape, my face that they quickly got fed up of me. I went into therapy and then only learned to love myself,” Violet remembers.

Kavita says, “A healthy connection is one where you’re willing to applaud others, and also not put yourself down. When you don’t feel good enough, when you’re all about negative vibes, this can lead to jealousy and toxic self-criticism, impacting any healthy relationships you might have had.”

3. “He always criticised me cruelly”

He always criticised me
He always criticised me

It’s not just you who is on the radar of your unwarranted criticism – you may end up inadvertently upsetting your partner too with reckless comments and actions. Often, you may say things that you end up regretting later, but by the time, the damage is done. By nitpicking over small issues, showing suspicion and lack of trust, you are sub-consciously ruining a relationship.

Betty and Kevin had been married for two years but Betty realized that criticism gave Kevin a strange sense of control. “I would make pasta and pack it for his lunch. He would actually call me from work to say I forgot the oregano. I could be wrong but it was his urgency to point it out immediately, and in the harshest possible way, that hurt me a lot. This attitude of his led to the death of our relationship,” Betty remembers.

Betty divorced Kevin after two years, realizing that his criticism was getting worse and more cruel, and that it was perhaps too deep-rooted to change completely.

Related Reading: 7 Reasons Why Narcissists Can’t Maintain Intimate Relationships

4. “I was a selfish jerk”

Perhaps your partner is just having a bad day. Perhaps he isn’t as attentive to you as you would expect him to be. Instead of giving him the benefit of the doubt, your imagination runs wild and you end up giving him the short end of the stick. That is ‘self-sabotage’ screaming loud and clear at you.

Marisa agrees that she always made her relationships about herself. She thought she had a selfish boyfriend but she never realized that she was the one who was selfish in the relationship. “When I got married, I always complained of being ignored by my husband. Even after a hard day at work I wanted him to pay me attention, take me out for dinner and go for walks with me. It was always about me. I only realized what I had done when he filed for a divorce,” she mourns.

“The thing about self-sabotaging behavior,” says Kavita, “is that you make connections thinking about what you don’t want and then try to make it into what you want. So, instead of thinking, ‘I want a partner who pays attention to me’, you think ‘I don’t want a partner who doesn’t give me exactly what I want.’ This is a Herculean task and in no way healthy.”

5. “I over-reacted and lost him”

sabotaging a relationship
You create a self-sabotaging relationship when you constantly fear it will end

Do you have a tendency to assign meanings to things where there aren’t any? Do you express less and analyze more? If you do, know that such self-sabotaging thoughts can spell the death knell for your relationship.

Rose hit the roof when she realized her fiancé was into porn. She requested him to not watch porn ever again but she was shocked when she found out he was still watching after marriage.

“I made a big issue out of it because I felt he had deceived me by looking at other women. We divorced but now when I look back I feel I made too much of an issue out of something that is probably a very normal thing. I over analyzed and over thought and finished off what was a good relationship,” Rose says.

6. “I tried to be someone I was not”

The key to a strong bond with your partner is trust and communication. Sometimes, you may end up saying the opposite of what you mean. Or you may pretend to be something you are not. Either way, your man will just be confused if you don’t express yourself clearly.

Women are adept at mixed signals we know but you end up sabotaging a relationship subconsciously when you try to project a different persona of yourself. This is a terrible and true sign you’re self sabotaging relationships.

Ravi was an Indian settled in the US who came from a very conservative family. Veronica fell for him and started projecting herself exactly the way Ravi wanted his girl to be. She was an American who loved solo holiday trips, was a blogger, had a gang of friends, who went pubbing, but to woo Ravi she tried to be a homebird. But it’s hard to project a fake personality for long. Ravi saw through it and called it quits.

But Veronica, who is still in love with him, feels she should have been herself in the relationship, instead of trying to project a fake persona.

7. “Trust issues ruined it all”

self sabotaging behavior
Trust issues are a major sign of self-sabotaging behavior

He stood you up on Thanksgiving? Maybe it was because he was delayed at work and not because he was flirting with Nancy from his office. He gave you the same gift on your anniversary this year as he did a few months ago? Perhaps he genuinely forgot you already had the latest eye palette from Huda Beauty. Will you be hauling him over the coals for his ‘mistakes’ or will you laugh it off and handle his forgetfulness smartly? Will you immediately think, ‘my boyfriend is self-sabotaging our relationship?’

“People with a strong inner critic always feel they’re not good enough. They’re afraid of people using them, harming them or always having an agenda. This leads to serious trust issues in all relationships, romantic, platonic and professional,” Kavita warns.

Trust issues are the worst way of ruining a relationship. It is like cancer that eats into a relationship gradually till it becomes hollow from the inside.

If you don’t have trust in your partner then you are sabotaging your own relationship terribly. Jumping to conclusions that your partner is untrustworthy without knowing the truth could have adverse effects on a relationship.

Related Reading: He Has Broken My Trust But I Still Love Him And Want To Help Him Out

8. “I wasn’t happy when she got promoted”

Agreed, working from home is tough. You have tons of stress. Your career is not perhaps going the way it should. But do you ask your lover how she is coping? What his stresses are? How does he plan to steer his career? It can’t always be all about yourself. Don’t make your worries bigger than your relationship.

People also end up self-sabotaging relationships when they cannot feel happiness at their partner’s achievements. Sometimes they end up feeling left behind when a partner achieves more and instead of supporting the partner or looking at their success as a team effort, they could become jealous of a promotion or a raise. This is the worst example of self-sabotaging a relationship.

“Jealousy is not healthy,” Kavita says, adding, “It manifests as a form of toxic self-criticism where you’re never happy with what you’re doing.”

“Worse, it could get to a point where your self-doubt makes you start procrastinating. You tell yourself that nothing matters because everyone else is better. You tell yourself you’ll do something productive and healthy when the days get better. But there is no perfect day. You’ll always be going through something or the other, and your inner critic will remain loud.”

Meanwhile, your relationships continue to suffer.

9. “He had to be right all the time”

sabotaging your relationships
If you are jealous of your partner you are ruining your relationship

Yes, you may know Money Heist better than he does. He may know Ronaldo’s moves better than you do. But in an argument do you always insist on having the last word? Do you debate as if you are on Fox News because it gives you a kick to be proven right?

This could be because you always have a need to control and you end up being the controlling one in a relationship.
Patrick and Pia had different political ideologies but instead of having a healthy debate about it they would get into ugly fights and Patrick would insist on having the last word.

While there is no denying the fact that different political viewpoints do create issues in relationships but Pia said that this was just an example of Patrick’s controlling nature. “He was a nice guy, I trusted him but I couldn’t take his controlling nature, so I moved out of this controlling relationship. I couldn’t help but constantly think, ‘my boyfriend is self-sabotaging our relationship,’” said Pia.

Related Reading: 22 Signs A Married Man Is Flirting With You

10. “Flirting can hurt more than you think”

So Joey from the office party caught your eye! It’s okay, it happens. Relationship manuals have also said, a bit of jealousy might keep the spark alive. But hello, it doesn’t mean you confess your shenanigans and naughty thoughts to him. Even if you do, know where to stop. Else, your partner will think, ‘these are signs she is sabotaging the relationship.’

Harmless flirting could be healthy for relationships but it does get murky when you cross the line. Some people have this uncontrollable need to flirt and in the process if their partners are feeling humiliated or hurt, they do not care.

Many relationships break up because of a partner’s flirting habits. Flirting is a way of self-sabotaging a relationship. Instead of giving the time and energy to give attention to the partner people flirt to get attention elsewhere and this spells disaster for a relationship.

11. “Couldn’t let go of past mistakes”

sabotage ourselves
Let go of your past

Often we allow our past mistakes to govern our current relationships. Often, we sabotage our selves because we want to be in control of the narrative. ‘Let me dump my partner before I get dumped’, ‘I will hurt him/her before s/he hurts me’ – these are some of the negative sub-conscious thoughts that may lead a person to destroy their love life unknowingly.

“Imagine this,” Kavita says. You meet somebody, you try to become friends, and see if you’re a good fit. But if you’re a child of dysfunctional parents, your dysfunctional traits would be more pronounced. So, if a friend is doing well, you could be jealous and insecure. You’ll start questioning the relationship, wondering if you’re giving too much. You let toxicity pile up and this becomes a benchmark for the next relationship, and the next.”

“You accumulate experiences from the past and use them as a benchmark for what you don’t want. Remember. functional people let excess baggage go and focus on what they want,” she adds.

This is mostly done by people who have been hurt in the past and they do not want it to happen to them again. They become commitment-phobes and are unable to build a relationship because they keep clinging on to the past mistakes. This happens often and this is the worst example of self-sabotaging a relationship.

How To Stop Self-Sabotaging Your Relationships

As we said above, awareness is the first step towards dealing and rectifying your behavior. All of us have the right to have fulfilling relationships that make us enriched, happy and secure. Of course, no life is smooth and every love story comes with its own emotional baggage but there are ways you can deal with your self-sabotaging tendencies.

Adjustments and compromises are necessary and these might prove to be rather difficult but in the process you have to ensure that you do not end harming your own cause.

Take steps every day to get rid of negative behavioural patterns. Over a period of time, your inherent insecurities and low self-esteem and anxiety issues will be taken care of which go a long way in building strong relationships. Here are a few steps.

  • Develop self love
  • Start journaling as often as possible
  • Think before you say or act. Be mindful of every moment
  • Let go of your past. If you have been too deeply attached in the past, or you have not received adequate love and respect, it can reflect on your current relationships too
  • Stop blaming yourself. Too much of self-criticism and self-pity, bordering on masochist behavior can be self-sabotaging. Initially, you might win sympathy from your partner but it can soon turn to disgust. And then it’s a downhill journey
  • Step out of your comfort zone. Be it in professional or personal realm of life, try and do something different to break the pattern. Begin with small steps. Didn’t like his snarky, reckless comment on your outfit? Tell him that instead of criticizing him on his choice of perfume, the way you used to earlier. Tackle problems differently
  • Seek a counselor’s help. Write down all that is going wrong, note down your emotions and then express them to a counselor who can help you decode the pattern. Do not struggle with your emotions. Here is one way to deal with your relationship issues

“When you’re caught up in self-sabotaging behavior, you put people under a microscope, which means you’re left with no functional relationships or anchor,” Kavita says.

“Just remember, you can’t love everybody. Neither can you be happy if you’re judging and labeling people all the time, criticizing yourself and them for not being perfect. Once you come out of perfectionist mode, you’ll be able to become functional and have a good life, both professionally and personally,” she concludes.

*Names changed to protect identities


1. How do you know if you are self-sabotaging your relationship?

Your self-sabotaging behaviour leads to self-sabotaging relationships. When you are hell bent on self destructing a relationship with the constant fear that it won’t work out and it is doomed from the beginning, that’s when a self-sabotaging relationship takes shape.

2. What causes self-sabotaging behavior?

Counselors and relationship experts note that self-sabotage can be a result of self-esteem issues that could have its roots in your childhood. Toxic parents who always criticized, controlled and drilled the fear of failure could be responsible for your self-sabotaging behavior in your adulthood.

3. How do I stop self-sabotaging my relationship?

There are some steps that you can take to stop self-sabotaging your relationships. You need to develop self-love, start journaling as often as possible, think before you say or act, be mindful of every moment or let go of your past.

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