11 Examples Of Self-Sabotaging Behaviors That Ruin Relationships

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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. Sometimes, this may be caused by external factors – a third person, financial difficulties, or family troubles, to name just a few – but have you heard of self-sabotaging relationships?

Sometimes we end up sabotaging a relationship subconsciously, without realizing what we are doing. In that case, when things go wrong, we need to take a long, hard look at ourselves and recognize our problematic patterns. However, that is often easier said than done. To make sure don’t stay trapped in this unhealthy cycle, we’re here to help you cultivate awareness about self-sabotaging behaviors with insights from counseling therapist Kavita Panyam (Masters in Counseling Psychology), Masters in Psychology and international affiliate with the American Psychological Association), who has been helping couples work through their relationship issues for over two decades.

What Is Self-Sabotaging Behavior?

What leads to self-sabotaging behaviors in relationships? Sabotaging a relationship subconsciously ultimately comes from a harsh inner critic. According to Kavita, self-sabotaging behavior is often a result of low self-esteem and the inability to free oneself from anxiety. For instance, a man may sabotage a relationship as a result of dating anxiety.

Self-sabotaging behaviors in relationships can be defined as patterns that create problems in daily life and interfere with your goals, be it in the personal or professional realm. But the most devastating impact of such behaviors can be on your love life. What could be the example of sabotaging a relationship out of fear? This account of one of Bonobology’s readers from Milwaukee might help put things in perspective. “I sabotaged my relationship and regret it. I was dating a nice man but I was constantly thinking, “Is he cheating or am I being paranoid?” That’s how I ended up pushing him away and ultimately, losing him,” he says.

“Self-sabotaging behavior in relationships 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 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.

Here’s what signs of self-sabotaging behaviors in relationships look like:

  • You’re constantly insecure about the relationship and 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 suffer from alcohol dependence or substance abuse and your inability to deal with your addiction has cost your relationships
  • You keep moving from one job to another, procrastinate important tasks and you are incapable of adjusting with anyone, be it in your professional or personal life
  • You are always indulging in self-defeating thoughts, questioning your own ability and giving in to instant gratification like junk food
  • 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 Behaviors?

The big question: Why do we do this? Why do we end up destroying the very thing that gives us happiness? Often, our behavior as adults can be traced back to our childhood experiences and the same holds in this case too. Here are some reasons for self-sabotaging behaviors in relationships:

  • Low self-esteem and negative self-talk
  • Toxic parents who always criticized, controlled and drilled the fear of failure into you
  • Abusive parents or being witness to abusive relationship
  • Heartbreak at a young age
  • Fear of being abandoned
  • Insecure attachment styles

“A critical parent, a narcissistic, codependent, 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 they continue to expect you to excel.

“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,” says Kavita.

Dating a woman who sabotages a relationship or a man with self-sabotaging tendencies is never easy and can lead to deep rifts and an eventual breakup. When such a person gets into the next relationship, they always feel that it would go the same way and they start sabotaging it subconsciously. To get rid of such self-sabotaging thoughts and behaviors, it is essential to first recognize 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?

What happens when you end up sabotaging a relationship out of fear? Self-sabotaging relationships include:

  • Extremely stressful and unhealthy bond between partners
  • Constant fear that the relationship is doomed and won’t work out
  • Jealousy, insecurity, possessiveness, and anxiety
  • Eating poorly, drinking/smoking excessively
  • Silent treatment or stonewalling
  • Unrealistic expectations and extreme criticism toward the partner

“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. The pressures you put on yourself often render you unable to delegate and leave you riddled with 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 Behaviors

Clinical psychologist and author Robert Firestone says that we always engage with our inner voice whenever we do anything. But when that inner voice becomes the “anti-self”, then we turn against ourselves 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. To understand that, let’s ƒtalk about 11 examples of how saboteurs behave.

Related Reading: 15 Characteristics Of A Healthy Relationship

1. Being paranoid and mistrustful

Anxiety is an emotion that everyone experiences in some form or the other, but for some people, this feeling of anxiousness can become so debilitating and all-consuming that it begins to impact every aspect of their lives. 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 went out clubbing with my friends, he was sure I would get raped if I was drunk. Eventually, his anxiety started rubbing off on me,” 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-destructive thoughts and why you need to learn to manage your anxiety to build your relationship.

Dysfunctional relationships and  more

2. Being too self-conscious

Do you constantly criticize yourself? Are you a people pleaser? Do you never praise yourself? ObstructIng oneself and low self-esteem are perhaps directly correlated. Here’s an example of a woman who sabotages a relationship. 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 even realizing it.

“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 with me. I went into therapy and then only learned to love myself,” Violet remembers. On this, 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 filled with negative vibes, it can lead to jealousy and toxic self-criticism.”

3. Being highly critical

It’s not just you who is on the radar of your unwarranted criticism, you may inadvertently end up attacking your partner with reckless comments and actions too. 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 subconsciously ruining a relationship.

Betty and Kevin had been married for two years, and over time, Betty began to realize that criticism gave Kevin a strange sense of control. “If I made pasta and packed it for his lunch, he would actually call me from work to say I forgot the oregano. It was his urgency to point it out immediately, and in the harshest possible way, that hurt me a lot,” Betty remembers. Betty divorced Kevin after two years, realizing that his criticism was getting worse and that it was perhaps too deep-rooted to change completely.

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

4. Acting selfishly

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

“The thing about self-sabotaging behaviors in relationships is that you make connections thinking about what you don’t want and then try to make it into what you want,” says Kavita, “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 can be a tall order for any partner to put up with and is in no way healthy.”

5. Blowing things out of proportion

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

Do you have a tendency to assign meaning to things where there aren’t any? Do you express less and analyze more? If you do, know that such destructive thoughts can spell the death knell for your relationship. Rose blew her top when she realized her fiancé was into porn.

She requested him to not watch porn ever again but was shocked when she found out he still resorted to it even after they were married. “I made a huge 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 realize that I made a mountain out of a molehill. I overanalyzed and overthought and that cost me my marriage,” says Rose.

6. Trying to be someone you’re not

Women are adept at mixed signals and men can be hard to read, but when you take these tendencies a stretch too far and project yourself to be someone you’re not, you may end up sabotaging a relationship subconsciously. Ravi, an Indian settled in the US, came from a very conservative family. When Veronica fell for him, she started projecting herself as exactly the kind of girl Ravi’s family would approve of.

She was a free-spirited person, who loved solo holiday trips as much as she loved partying away the weekends with her friends, but to woo Ravi she tried to be a home bird. 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 and self-sabotaging behaviors go hand-in-hand

He stood you up on Thanksgiving? Maybe it was because he got stuck in traffic or something urgent came up at work and not because he was flirting with Nancy from his office. She went out drinking with her college buddies? Well, it could just be a fun evening with friends without anyone trying to get in anyone’s pants.

If the simple answer always seems like the wrong one and you’re convinced that your partner is betraying you or is out to hurt you one way or the other, you’re clearly dealing with deep-seated trust issues, which often go hand-in-hand with self-sabotaging behaviors. “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,” warns Kavita.

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

8. Unhealthy jealousy

People end up ruining their relationships when they cannot share in the happiness of 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 find themselves in the throes of unhealthy jealousy. This is one of the worst examples 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 procrastinate. 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.”

9. The need to always be 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 getting the last word.

While there is no denying that different political viewpoints can create issues in relationships, in the case of Pia and Patrick, it was just an example of his controlling ways. “He was a nice guy, I trusted him but I couldn’t deal with his need for control. 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. Harmless flirting is not harmless

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 do not care if their partner feels humiliated or hurt as a result of it. This can eventually drive a wedge between the partners and cost them their relationships. In fact, it is not unheard of for people with destructive tendencies to cheat on their partners and ruin a good thing they’ve got going.

11. Not being able to let go of past

self sabotage ourselves
Let go of your past

“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 will get in the way of your ability to forge a real connection with them. 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 before and don’t want it to happen again. They become commitment phobes and are unable to build a relationship because they keep clinging to past mistakes. This happens often and this is the worst example of self-sabotaging behaviors in relationships.

How To Stop Self-Sabotaging Your Relationships

As we said above, awareness is the first step toward dealing with and rectifying your behavior. All of us have the right to have fulfilling relationships that make us enriched, happy, and secure. Of course, life is rarely smooth and every love story comes with its own emotional baggage but there are ways you can deal with your self-sabotaging tendencies.

How to avoid self-sabotaging behaviors in relationships, you ask? Here are some things you can try:

  • 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 hurts
  • Stop blaming yourself. Too much 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 the 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. Breaking patterns that are so deep-rooted in your psyche and can be traced all the way to your childhood can be extremely challenging. Working with a trained mental health professional can be immensely helpful in breaking these patterns and replacing them with healthier choices

Key Pointers

  • Self sabotaging behaviors are a result of dysfunctional upbringing and low self-esteem
  • They lead to extreme paranoia, insecurity, and stress in relationships
  • They also lead to trust issues and the need to control
  • To avoid such behaviors, start journaling, let go of the past and seek therapy

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


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

Your self-sabotaging behavior leads to damaging your 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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