Self-sabotaging Relationships: Reasons, Signs, And How to Deal with It

Self-sabotaging relationships can damage your emotional and mental well-being. Learn the causes, signs to look out for, and how to stop this destructive behavior.

Anubhuti Mishra
Written by Anubhuti Mishra , Relationship Expert
Published on Jun 07, 2024 | 04:39 PM IST | 38.8K

Self-sabotaging is a common behavior among people of all ages. It can manifest in several ways, like procrastination, avoiding responsibility, and self-intoxicating thoughts. You may self-sabotage to protect yourself from potential failure or rejection. However, it can actually be more harmful in the long run. The reason is that your self-defeating thoughts prevent you from achieving your goals and reaching your full potential — be it in your life, career, or relationship. In self-sabotaging relationships, one or both partners engage in behaviors that undermine your connection.

These behaviors can have long-term negative consequences on the relationship. They can also lead to feelings of distrust, resentment, and insecurity amongst the couple. So, understanding the causes of self-sabotage behavior in relationships is the first step to learning how to break this cycle. Read on to learn what are self-sabotaging relationships, their reasons, and their signs. Also, find ways to overcome and break free from this harmful habit to create a beautiful relationship.

What Is Self-sabotaging in a Relationship?


Self-sabotaging relationships are those where either (or both) of the couple actively engage in negative behavior that damages the relationship. For example, avoiding communication, engaging in negative self-talk, dishonesty, manipulation, procrastination, perfectionism, overthinking, self-doubt, and showing damaging behaviors are some of the signs you or your partner are self-sabotaging the relationship. 

This also puts a strain on the relationship and can emotionally and mentally damage the couple, leading to feelings of guilt, shame, and regret.


Now, that you understand the meaning of self-sabotaging relationships, let us learn the reasons that lead to such destructive behavior.

Self-sabotaging Relationships: Reasons Explained


If you are wondering, "Why do I self-sabotage my relationships?" remember that it is not always intentional. In fact, it may happen when you feel the need to protect yourself from future harm. You can indulge in it either consciously or subconsciously because of multiple reasons.

Some familiar reasons why you may self-sabotage your relationships include fear of long-term commitment, unrealistic expectations, lack of trust, poor relationship skills, and low self-esteem. Additionally, many of you may also use self-sabotaging behaviors as a means to cope with unresolved issues from your past relationships or trauma. Below are some signs of self-sabotaging in a relationship. 

14 Signs the Relationship Is Being Self-sabotaged

1. Lack of Communication


Effective communication serves as the foundation of a strong and long-lasting relationship. However, self-sabotaging people often struggle with open and honest communication. They may avoid difficult conversations, fail to express their needs and concerns, and find it challenging to actively listen to their partner's perspective.


2. Fear of Being Vulnerable 

Negative behavior in a relationship often stems from a deep-rooted fear of vulnerability. People who ruin their intimate relationships often find it difficult to open their hearts out, share their life experiences and feelings, and allow their partners to see their real selves. They want to shield themselves from any pain that can harm them and thus start sabotaging their relationship.  

3. Trust Issues

Without trust, no romantic relationship in this world can survive. If you are in a relationship wherein your partner doubts you constantly or wants to know about your whereabouts always, know this is a sign of toxic behavior in a relationship

4. Unrealistic Expectations


People who sabotage their relationships themselves often create unrealistic expectations for their partners — this makes their partners feel burdened, which eventually ruins the relationship in most cases. 

5. Fear of Intimacy

Fear of intimacy can be a significant obstacle in maintaining a healthy relationship. You or your partner who self-sabotage may fear being too close to each other or avoid physical and emotional intimacy. You may also find it challenging to form deep connections with each other due to your fear of getting hurt.


6. Jealousy And Insecurity

Jealousy and insecurity are common signs of self-sabotage in relationships. Insecure people constantly compare themselves to others and feel insecure about their partner's loyalty. As a result, they may even show excessive possessiveness and controlling behavior.

7. Self-doubt And Low Self-esteem

Self-sabotaging people often struggle with self-doubt and low self-esteem. This, in turn, undermines their own worthiness of love and happiness. They engage in negative self-talk, constantly question their value, and may inadvertently sabotage their relationship due to their inner insecurities.

8. Pushing Away Love

Fear of commitment or getting hurt often leads self-sabotaging people to push away love when their relationship becomes too serious. They may create unnecessary conflicts as a way to distance themselves emotionally. They may also actively sabotage the relationship to protect themselves from potential pain in the future.

9. Neglecting Personal Growth

Self-sabotage in relationships can manifest when you focus only on your relationship while neglecting your individual goals and aspirations. By not investing in personal growth and development, you fail to cultivate your own happiness and independence. This, in turn, leads to an imbalance and a negative impact on your relationship.

10. Lack of Boundaries

Setting and implementing personal boundaries is essential for maintaining a healthy relationship. However, negative people repeatedly struggle with establishing and upholding boundaries. As such, you may find it difficult to say no, allow others to take advantage of you, and feel overwhelmed and bitter afterward.


11. Self-sabotaging Patterns from Past Relationships

Unresolved issues from your past relationships can also infiltrate current ones and contribute to self-sabotaging behaviors. You or your partner may unknowingly repeat destructive relationship dynamics, harbor unhealed wounds, and carry a fear of repeating past mistakes.

12. Escaping through Substances Or Distractions

When faced with relationship issues, a self-sabotaging person may resort to unhealthy coping mechanisms, including alcohol, drugs, or other vices. You may also use work or hobbies as distractions, avoiding emotional intimacy and the need to address underlying problems.

13. Constant Criticism

You may concentrate only on your partner's flaws and mistakes, fuss about insignificant issues, and create unnecessary tension and conflict within the relationship, thereby ruining the relationship. 

Read More: How to Forget About Your Ex? Essential Tips to Get over the Past

14. Sabotaging Opportunities for Growth And Change

Self-sabotaging people often resist mutual growth and change within the relationship. For example, you may reject constructive feedback, resist compromise, and hamper the natural progress of the relationship. This, in turn, also tends to pull down your partner, hindering the potential for personal and relational growth.

How to Deal with a Self-sabotaging Relationship?

Remember, breaking free from self-sabotaging patterns takes time and effort. Be patient with yourself, seek support when needed, and focus on creating a positive and fulfilling life for yourself. You can also follow the below steps to stop a self-sabotaging relationship and create harmony.

  • Recognize the Pattern

Self-sabotaging relationships often follow certain patterns and behaviors that negatively impact your well-being. Take some time to reflect on the dynamics of your relationship. Also, identify how you (or the person you are dating) contribute to ruining the relationship. 

  • Acknowledge Your Role

Accept responsibility for your part in the destructive behavior. This does not mean blaming yourself entirely. Instead, recognize the patterns and choices you make that contribute to the unhealthy dynamics in your relationship. Be honest with yourself and take ownership of your actions.

  • Understand Your Motivation

Explore the reasons why you engage in negative behaviors within the relationship. It could be due to low self-esteem, fear of intimacy, past traumas, or a need for control. Understanding your motivations can help you address the root causes of your behavior.

  • Set Boundaries

Establish clear boundaries within the relationship to protect your emotional and mental well-being. Communicate your needs and expectations to your partner. Also, make sure they understand the importance of respecting those boundaries. If your partner is unwilling to respect your boundaries, it may be a sign that your relationship is unhealthy.

  • Prioritize Self-care

Focus on self-care activities that promote your overall well-being. For example, exercising, practicing mindfulness, spending time with loved ones, pursuing hobbies, and practicing self-compassion can help you feel good. 

  • Take a Break Or End the Relationship

If the negative patterns persist and impact your happiness and growth, you may need to take a break or consider ending the relationship. It is important to prioritize your well-being and surround yourself with supportive and healthy relationships.

  • Learn from the Experience

Reflect on the negative aspects of the relationship and use it as an opportunity for personal growth. Consider what you have learned about yourself, your needs, and your boundaries. Use these insights to make better choices in future relationships.

  • Seek Professional Help

Seeking individual therapy can be a safe space to explore your feelings and gain a fresh perspective. So, consider reaching out to a mental health professional or a relationship counselor. They can provide valuable insights to help you work through underlying issues. They also offer guidance on how to break free from self-sabotaging behavior in relationships.

When Should You Seek Professional Help?


Seeking professional help in a self-sabotaging relationship can be beneficial in various situations. Here are some signs that you or your partner should seek assistance from a therapist or counselor.

  • Continued Self-sabotaging Patterns

If you consistently engage in self-destructive behaviors in your relationship despite your efforts to change, it could be helpful to seek professional guidance. This is especially true if these patterns of behavior are taking a toll on your mental health, self-esteem, and general well-being.

  • Difficulty Identifying And Addressing Underlying Issues

Self-sabotage often stems from deeper emotional or psychological issues that may be challenging to identify and address on your own. A therapist can help you explore these underlying issues, including past traumas, attachment styles, or unresolved conflicts, and work towards healthily resolving them.

  • Lack of Progress Or Repeated Relationship Issues

If you have been actively trying to improve your relationship but in vain, consider going for couples therapy. It can help offer fresh perspectives and strategies to break the cycle of self-defeating behaviors and lead to a happy relationship. A therapist can provide you with tools and techniques to enhance communication, emotional regulation, and conflict-resolution skills.

  • Negative Impact on Your Well-being

If the self-sabotaging dynamics in your relationship are significantly affecting your overall happiness, it is crucial to seek support. Professional help can assist you in rebuilding your self-worth, setting healthy boundaries, and developing strategies to promote your well-being.

  • Lack of Support from Your Partner

If your partner is unwilling to acknowledge or work on the relationship, it may be beneficial to seek external support. A therapist can help you navigate this situation and guide you to effectively communicate with each other. They may also help both of you to make better decisions regarding the future of your relationship.

  • Safety Concerns

If you are experiencing any form of abuse or your safety is at risk, it is crucial to seek professional help immediately. A therapist can assist you in developing a safety plan and accessing the appropriate resources to ensure your well-being.

Remember, seeking professional help does not mean you have failed or that your relationship is doomed. It is a proactive step towards personal growth, self-awareness, and creating healthier relationship dynamics. A trained professional can offer guidance, validation, and support as you navigate the complexities of self-sabotaging relationships.


Self-sabotaging relationships can be emotionally draining and hinder personal growth and happiness. The reasons can vary, including low self-esteem, fear of intimacy, past traumas, negative childhood experiences, lack of relationship skills, or a need for control. Remember, breaking free from self-sabotage takes time and effort. It is your journey of self-discovery and personal growth. By addressing the root causes, seeking support, and making conscious choices, you can create healthier relationships and live a more fulfilling life. Also, it is essential to prioritize your own happiness and surround yourself with healthy and supportive relationships.



Is self-sabotaging a toxic trait?
Since self-sabotage is a form of protecting yourself from any harm, it is not really a toxic trait. However, it may negatively affect your relationship in the long run if not taken care of.

Is self-sabotaging because of a trauma?
Yes, self-destructive behaviors in a relationship can be due to a past trauma that isn’t healed.

How do trauma and insecurity cause us to sabotage a relationship?
People with unresolved trauma and insecurity may have low self-esteem, which may make us feel that their relationship will be doomed — hence, this may lead them to self-sabotage their relationship.

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About The Author
Anubhuti Mishra
Anubhuti Mishra
Relationship Expert

A marked inclination toward understanding human emotions and relationships led Anubhuti to become a certified Relationship Expert. With dual



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