For most of my life, I was clueless about why I avoided relationships that were good for me and clung to toxic ones. In my case, I’ve avoided commitment to partners who could be a good match for me by demonstrating sabotaging behaviors such as starting arguments or threatening to leave. It wasn’t until after my divorce that I came to terms with how my negative view of myself caused me to walk on eggshells, be a people pleaser, and sabotage most of my intimate relationships.
In hindsight, I’ve sabotaged relationships largely because I lacked confidence in my ability to make a long-term commitment to a partner. Truth be told, I’m fearful my intimate relationships will collapse like my parents’ marriage did when I was a young child. Likewise, my fear of loss causes me to jump headlong into relationships with men who are wrong for me – without considering what I need and deserve from a partner.
However, becoming more aware of red flags that may signal problems has helped me to make better choices and to pick a partner who is capable of sustaining a loving, romantic relationship. The secrets to healing from the past are to make a decision to stop pouring energy into saving a negative relationship, recognizing the role we play, and making a decision to change self-defeating behaviors.
8 things I’ve done to sabotage relationships:
1. Had unrealistic or rigid expectations of how others should treat me which leads me to feel easily disappointed. Then when a partner treats me badly, my suspicions are confirmed.
2. Failed to set healthy boundaries from the beginning. At times, I was my own worst enemy and let my partners take advantage of my easy-going personality – making decisions for me.
3. I tend to fall for men who are passive or emotionally distant like my father. For instance, I’ve been a pursuer (craving intense closeness) and chosen to be in relationships with partners who are distancers (who can be remote and shut down when stressed) and can’t meet my needs.
4. When I date someone that might be a good match for me, I’ve ruined things by being overly needy or possessive.
5. I’ve held onto negative beliefs about myself and my ability to find long-lasting love. Consequently, I’ve told myself “I’m not good enough” or “There will never be anyone who is right for me.”
6. I’m a people pleaser and don’t want to make waves. As a result, I tend to avoid conflict and may not share my true feelings with partners – at times to the detriment of honest communication. I believe that people may reject me unless I make them happy and I’m in a good mood.
7. I’m prone towards feeling resentful when my needs are overlooked. Yet I don’t always assert myself to others due to fear of rejection and because I’m a people pleaser.
8. I convinced myself the problem I have being intimate and trusting my partner is mostly because of them. Therefore, I spend too much time analyzing others rather than taking responsibility for my role in my relationship problems.
As you can see, there are many ways my baggage has gotten in the way of how I relate to intimate partners. Many of my self-defeating relationships have matched my negative view of myself and been an obstacle to finding authentic love. But with self-awareness and the help of a seasoned therapist, I’ve gained the insight to break self-defeating patterns of relating to intimate partners. These are seven lessons I’ve learned in my journey toward self-love.
7 ways to avoid sabotaging relationships:
1. Gain awareness of your personal history and identify your patterns of relating. For instance, learn more about how your parents’ unhealthy patterns or breakup may have impacted your choices in partners.
2. Examine your expectations about intimate relationships. You might be focused on your dream of how a relationship should be rather than the reality of how it is – leading to disappointment. There is no such thing as a soul mate or perfect partner.
3. Accept responsibility for your part in the relationship dynamics. For instance if you’ve experienced a pursuer-distancer pattern, you may realize that you have a tendency to avoid intimacy (distancer) or fear abandonment (pursuer).
4. Let go of being a victim and positive things will start to happen. When you see yourself as a victim, your actions will confirm a negative view of yourself. Instead, focus on the strengths that helped you cope so far in life. Don’t obsess about past choices in partners but learn from them.
5. Don’t rush into a romantic relationship. Make sure you’ve dated someone for at least two years before you make a life-long commitment to reduce your chance of divorce.
6. Make sure that you have common values with people you date. Pinpoint destructive traits in some of the partners you are attracted to. Finding a good match may require that you choose a new “type” in the future.
7. Be confident in who you are and your ability to sustain a long-lasting successful relationship. Use positive intentions such as “I am capable of creating loving, trusting relationships.” Recognize the newness in each day and believe that you have the power to make positive changes in your life.
One of my clients, Kelsey, struggled through a series of unhealthy, short-term relationships until she met her boyfriend, Robert, at age thirty-three. Prior to meeting Robert, she hadn’t allowed herself the joy of a healthy, balanced relationship. Kelsey began to come to terms with fear of failure in relationships and became a better observer of her own pattern.
Kelsey describes her fear of failure: “I’m very pessimistic. I’m looking for the worst in the men I meet and they have to prove me wrong.” What Kelsey most wants from a partner – love, commitment, and the comfort of a permanent relationship – is what she most fears. Since her father left her mother suddenly when she was nine years old, she’s wired to expect loss and waiting for the other shoe to drop in most of her adult relationships.
Fortunately, Robert has earned Kelsey’s trust by being consistent with his words and actions over a period of several years. Kelsey is working on her fear of being vulnerable and not holding in her feelings with Robert – allowing them to reach a deeper level of intimacy. After all, there aren’t any guarantees in a relationship and she’s learning that vulnerability is the key to a successful intimate relationship.
Fortunately, you can write a new narrative or story for your life – one that includes taking your time selecting a partner who is trustworthy and willing to work on a committed relationship if that’s your desire. You don’t have to let your past dictate the decisions you make today. You have an opportunity to learn from your experience and build the kind of relationships that eluded you in the past. Remember to be gentle with yourself and others on your journey.
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