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  • Writer's pictureJamie Ratowski, LMFT

How To Stop Sabotaging Your Relationship

What Is Sabotage In A Relationship?

Self-sabotaging is when someone is displaying a pattern of behaviors that are creating a negative effect on one’s life. These behaviors can come from both the conscious or unconscious state and result in unfortunate consequences.

In relationship terms, these behaviors result in conflict, arguments, and additional unhealthy dynamics including a relationship coming to an end. Being able to understand not only if you are self-sabotaging but what it looks like, why, and how to change these patterns is an essential part of growing and maturing both for yourself and your relationships.

What Can It Look Like?

Sabotaging relationships is something that can look different for many people as the reasons leading to the sabotaging are based on people’s experiences, personalities, mental health, and more. A relationship focused therapist can help you determine some of the reasons you may be self-sabotaging your relationship but may not fully understand why. However, there are some common patterns of what sabotaging relationships can look like.

Here are a few common self-sabotage patterns:

Four Horseman:

There’s a theory that's been highly studied and discussed in the therapy world coined by famous couples therapists, The Gottman’s. It’s called The Four Horsemen. The four horsemen in this context are toxic relationship behaviors that can essentially doom a relationship if not corrected. They are criticism, contempt, stonewalling, and defensiveness.

These behaviors are unhealthy patterns that can often be used in self-sabotage. It’s best to keep an eye out for any of the four horsemen if they are repeating themselves as they could be used as a way to push your partner away or put your partner down unnecessarily.


A common way people push their partners away through sabotage is being unfaithful. Stepping outside the relationship whether emotionally or physically is often thought of as a sure-fire way to end a monogamous relationship, which explains why it is often used as a form of self-sabotage in this case.


Oftentimes a relationship sabotager will jump to conclusions and make false assumptions about their partner. It could be displayed as assuming how they feel or why they did or didn't do something. It could also present itself in a way of assuming your partner is doing something they are not and creating this into your own reality. By doing so, you are leaving no room for mutual discussion and understanding. This is a common tactic used to push a partner away.


When we set expectations for someone we love and trust, they need to be communicated to give the person the opportunity to be able to fulfill these expectations. Or at the very least give them the chance to find a compromise about them.

Relationship sabotagers often set expectations that were not discussed or are not clear to the partner leaving them with little chance to be successful. These unfulfilled expectations are then used as a way to push your partner away by saying they are not happy, don't get what they deserve, want and need, and eventually use this as a reason to leave the relationship.


Gaslighting is a term you have inevitably heard in today’s society. It is however a very common and unhealthy practice in relationships, and one that is often used by relationship sabotagers. A good example of how this is done is blame shifting.

Not taking accountability for your own actions or flaws but shifting the blame to your partner is a common gaslighting tactic. “I only did this because you did that…” or “It wouldn't be this way if you only did this…” are common examples of gaslighting and blame shifting. This type of behavior on repeat is a dangerous game most likely leading to relationship turmoil and termination.

Why Does It Happen?

As stated earlier, no one’s life and experiences are the same. However, healthy relationships are built through love, affection, trust, quality communication, and mutual respect/support. Life is full of experiences that may throw off our ability to demonstrate these attributes effectively in relationships and translate to self-sabotage.

Below are some of the most common reasons you may be sabotaging your relationship:

Fear - Commitment, Abandonment:

Fear of commitment and abandonment are common reasons for sabotage behaviors in a relationship. Fear is a powerful emotion that has the potential to create unhealthy responses to such feelings. When someone fears being left they may take actions to leave first, even if this was never going to be the case. Similarly, when someone fears stable commitment, they may engage in behaviors that prevent commitment from being possible such as cheating or becoming emotionally and physically unavailable.


Poor self-esteem and deep insecurities are frequently an underlying cause of sabotage behaviors. When someone feels insecure and lacks self-assurance and esteem, they may push people away for feeling undeserving of the love and affection attempted by their partner.

In addition, it is not uncommon for individuals with insecurity struggles to lack trust and confidence that these acts of love are genuine. This may lead to accusations and assumptions of lying and projection of fears such as their partner having affection for someone else or even cheating.


Your dating history can have a huge impact on the way you behave in your current relationship. Whether you have a history of unhealthy/toxic relationships or you don't have a lot of relationship experience at all, both can lead to poorly handled emotions leading to self-sabotage. Some people call this “baggage” we carry from our past relationships.

It's important to self-reflect on these matters and take action to grow and improve as an individual. Individual and couples therapy can be a great resource to learn how to break unhealthy habits we may have adopted from our past.

Unresolved Trauma:

Having any form of a traumatic experience in your life can have a significant impact on how we engage in relationships. Trauma is defined as an incident or series of events that creates a deep emotional reaction and has lasting effects/impacts on the one who experienced this trauma. Examples of trauma that can affect a relationship are being cheated on, verbally or physically abused, sexual assault, and manipulation.

Additionally, traumas that took place in adolescence can have lasting impacts on your ability to connect and form healthy relationships as an adult. Experiencing neglect, abuse, or even a withholding of love/affection from a caregiver as a child can all lead to self-sabotaging behaviors in relationships. Again, therapy can be a vital tool to help process and heal traumas and allow you the opportunity to create the healthy loving relationships you deserve in your life.

So How Do I Stop Sabotaging My Relationship?

After understanding the how and why sabotage may present itself, the most important step to stop sabotaging your relationships is by admitting you may be doing so. You can identify these behaviors through self-reflection and processing, ideally with professional guidance in therapy. Once you do so, you're then able to begin learning the antidotes to your behaviors and implementing healthy relationship behaviors. These changes will not only stop your sabotaging but even strengthen your relationship to reach new healthy/stable grounds.

Below I have compiled some of the most useful skills to begin changing your sabotage patterns.

Authentic Communication:

Learning to lean in to your true feelings is an important part of communicating authentically. You must be able to identify your emotions in order to be honest when communicating these feelings to your partner. Doing so not only enables healthy conflict resolution but is essential to getting your wants and needs met which avoids possible resentment down the line. By communicating authentically you are being your true self and that's exactly what you need and deserve to be in a healthy relationship.

Practice Gratitude:

Gratitude work is an excellent way to get your focus shifting from sabotage patterns to the positive, healthy dynamics of your relationship. If you take time everyday to identify the things in your relationship or about your partner that you are grateful for/proud of, you are creating a healthy pattern of expressing admiration and validation. These are relationship attributes that not only do we want and crave in loving relationships, but are needed to create lasting connection.

Identify Triggers:

Being able to understand the dynamics in your relationship or behaviors from your partner that are potentially triggering to your sabotage actions is an important step in working to eliminate them. If you know your triggers, you can communicate these clearly to your partner and work together to minimize or eliminate these things from the relationship altogether.

Set Clear Expectations:

As discussed earlier, it is so important to make sure you are clear and concise in communicating your expectations of your partner WITH your partner. Give them the opportunity to work with you and fulfill your needs and the chance to negotiate if they believe these expectations can not be met. This practice allows both partners an equal chance to work together to create happiness and fulfillment in the relationship.

Learn About Your Attachment Style:

Lastly, learning your attachment style is a great way to learn more about yourself and how you bond and connect with others. It can help you to better practice the above antidotes and learn how to navigate some instinctual triggers and patterns that may be sabotaging your relationship.

The goal is to achieve a “secure” attachment style where both partners are able to reach healthy independence, trust, an openness to giving/receiving emotional support, and seek to fulfill each other's needs and wants. Therapy is an incredible resource to help you reflect on your childhood and life to further explore your attachment style and strengthen adult relationships.

More About Me & My Relational Therapeutic Approach

Although I am a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, I work with individuals in addition to couples in relationships. I have extensive experience focusing on areas such as attachment styles, communication, conflict resolution, intimacy, trust building, and of course, helping those to create happy, healthy, and secure relationships

If you or someone you know may need any form of relationship support, or specifically want help to work on how to stop sabotaging your relationship, please don't hesitate to contact Bayview Therapy today at 954-391-5305 for a complimentary phone consultation to discuss your therapy needs.

I offer counseling for adults and couples at our beautiful office located in Plantation, Florida that can accommodate all your relationship needs.

I also accommodate most online therapy requests through a secure telehealth platform to accommodate the busy hard workers with complex schedules.

For more information about my approach or my services, visit my bio here.

I look forward to speaking with you!


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