We can both want and fear the same thing. This can lead us to sabotage our relationships. Usually this is not a conscious process, but rather a pattern engaged in over many different relationships. People can fear any number of things in a relationship, such as intimacy, commitment or abandonment, just to name a few.  We also learn strategies throughout our lives to protect ourselves from the things we fear. All too commonly, what might have been adaptive in childhood is now no longer necessary and is actually self-destructive. So what can you do if you fear you are sabotaging your relationships?

  • Look for the pattern. If you examine your history of relationships, you will often find various patterns. There is no end to the number of potentially destructive behaviors you can display (e.g. passive/aggressive, jealousy, lack of trust, isolating yourself, not fighting fair, being too rigid). You get the idea. Once you realize the pattern, then it’s time to:
  • Understand the function of the behavior. As I mentioned previously, this behavior emerged for a reason and it was likely effective. For example, if you had an emotionally abusive parent, you might not have been trusting and you may have put up a lot of walls to protect yourself. You did these things to take care of yourself. Now, if you have a healthy, respectful partner, but you always assume he/she will eventually treat you the same way, then you will sabotage the relationship to avoid this fear. However, the cost is high – you are losing a potentially loving and meaningful relationship.
  • Be gentle with yourself. When you find compassion for yourself, you can begin to heal. If you judge yourself harshly, it is difficult to move forward. So recognize that this behavior was helpful at one time and that it will take time and effort to change.
  • Ask yourself, “Is it me or is it them?” What I mean is, are you choosing bad partners to begin with and thus setting the relationship up for failure, or are you choosing good partners and then doing something to undermine the relationship. If it is the former, then you need to leave that relationship and choose partners who are healthy for you. If you are pushing away someone who is a good fit for you, then you need to slow down and try different ways of relating. You deserve to be with someone who values you and this requires that you first value yourself.
  • Consider therapy. When you are hurt by a past relationship, I often find that the most effective way to heal that hurt is in a therapy relationship. This is a safe place to explore your self-destructive patterns and learn new ways of relating to yourself and others.

If your goal is to have a healthy, positive relationship, then you owe it yourself to figure out what is getting in the way. Everyone deserves loving, connected relationships.