This is part one of a blog series journey about using personal development to overcome relationship obstacles and find true happiness in love. This segment addresses relationship sabotage.
When it comes to love, nothing sucks more than heartbreak. Especially when they start racking up in numbers. You can have your heart broken in several separate relationships or have several heartbreaks in the same relationship. Or both, like me.
Of course it’s normal to feel like the unfortunate soul who was wronged by a big dumb ape (no offense to apes).
Here are some questions you might ask at your pity party:
- “Why does this keep happening to me?”
- “Why do I always get stuck with the a-holes?”
- “I gave him everything. I don’t understand how he could do this to me!”
- “He never listens to me. He doesn’t even care.”
I get that. I get all of that. BUT…
“Progress was made at a pity party today…” said no one — ever.
Sure, jerks exist and even good guys say and do shitty things. But if the same old fight/drama/situation results in the same painful outcomes, it’s time to quiet the ego and heed what lessons they’re trying to teach you.
Uncovering a Self-Destructive Pattern
Do you have a relationship trademark? I’ll give you an example…
After a particularly BIG blow up with whoever I was seeing at the time, I’d bail the scene, hop in my car, park in an empty parking lot or side street and lean forward until my forehead met the wheel. Sobbing from whatever we fought over. “I’m here AGAIN!!! SERIOUSLY??” I’d think to myself.
It’s happened in almost every serious relationship I’ve had. It was both depressing and humbling to come to that realization. But sometimes those low’s are the triggers we need to start looking at our destructive patterns.
Sometimes, the guy was a complete ass and I had good reason to be upset.
Other times, fights would escalate from him looking at an attractive woman in public, not saying anything about my haircut or not returning my text within 10 minutes while he was out with his friends. It took work for me to realize we were really fighting over my insecurities, fears and hypersensitivities.
Awareness is the first step to growth and change. So try and identify patterns in your relationships by finding commonalities:
- how quickly do your relationships get serious?
- do you tend to end up with the same type of guy?
- what do you typically find yourself fighting about?
- how do you treat them?
- how do they treat you?
- how do you let them treat you?
- what do you get insecure about?
- how do they usually end?
Do you have your “crying on the steering wheel” moments?
Be real with yourself. Could you be standing between you and your own healthy relationship?
Why We Sabotage Relationships
Why would we do anything to keep ourselves from experiencing romantic bliss?
The reasons for sabotaging relationships are far and wide . But I’ve found them to fall under some general categories.
Maybe it was betrayal or you were lied to in your current or past relationship.
When we open up, we’re vulnerable. At the depths of vulnerability is where the deepest scars are forged.
Have you ever been so upset it feels like your heart is literally breaking? Chest caves in. Lungs gasping for air between breaths. Physically and emotionally, it hurts.
We develop a fear of having that feeling again. So we construct this protective perimeter around our hearts. Play it safe by not trusting anymore. A good ol’ defense mechanism.
It’s much easier to circumnavigate intimacy and push people away than it is to suffer that burn again.
You know when you’re going after something you want. It drives you, motivates you. You know what’s important to you in a mate, in a relationship. You may not always be able to articulate it but you can feel it in your bones. Which means you can also distinguish what you don’t want.
There is a part in your heart that lets you know when you’re settling. It nags at you every time you look his direction. It doesn’t fade. You forego your true happiness because you lack the courage or confidence to tell him. Your relationship continues with one foot in and one foot out.
A torturous sentence.
I was engaged to a decent guy who I had a lot of history with. But he had a dead end job and lacked serious ambition. I was constantly worried about the security of our future and it ate away at me everyday.
We were chin deep in wedding plans. Like the typical chick, I had been dreaming of my wedding day since I was a wee one. Yet I found myself dragging my feet on our save-the-dates. And as I tried on dresses, something dulled my excitement. I felt myself pushing him away, doing things to upset him and ultimately driving a wedge between us.
Deep down, I knew what it was and I knew what had to be done. Although it was difficult and slightly humiliating, we went our separate ways.
Listening to my intuition has paid off in dividends.
When you deem yourself unlovable, it’s impossible to disguise. Always doubting his love for you because you don’t understand how he could love someone like you.
You can’t see it.
If you can’t see it in yourself, how can you believe it? How can you comprehend the concept of love? How can you be fully in? You can’t.
If you ever questioned the meaning behind “you must love yourself first in order to be loved,” there’s your answer.
If your self-esteem is getting in the way of a successful relationship, it’ll continue its destruction until you start cultivating a loving relationship with yourself. I speak confidently about this for good reason.
I highly recommend reading Gay Hendrick’s “The Big Leap.” He talks about how we’ve conditioned ourselves to tolerate only a certain amount of happiness before we create circumstances to deflate it. He refers to it as upper-limiting.
Your relationship with yourself sets the tone for every other relationship you have.
— Robert Holden
Children victim to or regular observers of abuse/violence/abandonment turn into adults who trust no one. They often find themselves in dysfunctional relationships, unable to emotionally connect and unaware of how to carry on normal, healthy relationships.
How We Sabotage Relationships
So how does sabotage show up? Unfortunately, it’s pro at staying under the radar and tends to be an unconscious habit.
So try and dig deep and be brutally honest with yourself.
I didn’t really have to break these down by category because, in my experience, it all goes down the same way…
Put him through tests to prove his love for you
- Push buttons, limits and boundaries
- “What can I get away with?”
- “How much will he do for me?”
- Blow things out of proportion
- Intentionally dig for minor things to get upset over
- He didn’t text you back within the agreed-upon 3-minute response time window? Time to pull out those interrogation tactics you saw on Law & Order to get to the bottom.
- Create narratives —“He’s with another woman.” “He doesn’t love me as much as I love him.” “He’s not happy with me.”
- Go through emails, texts, browser history without good reason or permission.
Focus on Negativity
- Constantly bring up or dwell on their screwups
- Demasculinizing talk or insults
- Amplify their insecurities
Lack of gratitude
- Fail to acknowledge good things or express gratitude
- Fishing for reassurance
- Unconsciously trying to convince him whatever you’re saying about yourself is true
- Changing yourself into a different person than when you met
- Stop taking care of yourself physically, mentally, hygienically to appear unattractive
When you try hard enough to push people away, it works.
It’s not a fair game when someone wants to love you but make yourself impossible to love.
Assess your reason for sabotaging and do some soul searching. Figure out if you see yourself finding true happiness in the relationship and if it’s worth investing in.
Take a deep breath and find the courage to start steering in the right direction.
When I saw my relationship heading down an old familiar road, I knew it was time to step up and operate. I was determined not to let this one become another casualty of my dark side.
Overcoming Relationship Sabotage
It’s possible, but it’s a task. And somewhere along the journey, you’ll slip and won’t wanna get back up again. But if you never lose sight of your why, you’ll do what it takes to keep on truckin’. These steps are the backbone of overcoming relationship sabotage.
Be upfront with your partner.
Let them know you’re doing some self-work because you love them and care about the relationship. You need them to be strong while you figure shit out. Ask them to be patient. If they love you, they’ll understand and support you. And absolutely take precautions not to abuse that.
Telling your sig other can also take stress off your relationship. By not leaving them in the dark about your behavior, they’re less likely to blame themselves and more likely to handle you with grace. Who knows. Maybe it’ll inspire them to do some personal development work too. Stranger things have happened.
2. Sharpen your self-awareness.
Awareness helps in two ways:
- To identify your sabotage-like patterns (see above exercise)
- To notice the thoughts that trigger those behaviors
The end goal is to flip the switch on those thoughts before they have a chance to control your actions. But since you’re conditioned to immediately act on your thoughts — most are — it won’t happen overnight and without Rocky-like determination.
Meditation is my tried and true way of cultivating self-awareness. If you’re new to meditation and you’re a fan of free, download the Insight Timer app. They have a section devoted to new meditators.
With enough practice, you’ll start noticing when you’re inching toward irrational thoughts and self-destructive behavior.
4. Investigate your emotions.
This step is crucial to the overall process and where you’ll do some massive personal development work. When you’re triggered, investigate the imprint, meaning, get curious about where that feeling stemmed from. Bring it to light. Charis Branson from PersonalityHacker.com did a vlog on purging emotions and listed a few coping strategies that work well in this situation:
- Ask yourself: Have you experienced the emotion before?
- Ask yourself: Can you remember when you experienced it the first time? May require tracing it back to childhood.
- Journal about it. Describe the situation as it originally happened and how it’s manifested itself throughout your life and in the present. Where is the fear is coming from? Old programming or a past relationship? Maybe a relationship with a family member or lack thereof? When you uncover and acknowledge your fear, it’s easier to make peace with it and thrive.
- Youtube a guided meditation on healing.
- Exercise or mellow out with a yoga vid.
Fair warning, this can turn into a prickly situation. Sometimes our emotions root deeper than we ever thought possible. I highly encourage a visit to a well-qualified therapist who’s trained in cognitive-behavioral therapy to help you work through issues.
We’re not just talking relationship improvement here. This is life-changing improvement. It’s transformation.
5. Talk it out and breathe.
When you’re able to get to a point where you catch yourself in the heat of saying or doing something destructive, acknowledge what’s happening and talk yourself through it with your partner. Even if you can’t quite pinpoint where the emotion is coming from, keep talking as calmly as you can and allow yourself to feel everything in a constructive manner.
It may take more than a few times. I can promise you that. But eventually, the layers will start to peel and you’ll have the ah-ha moment you’ve been waiting for. You’ll start fitting puzzle pieces together and the haze will clear. If you seek out the answers, you’ll find them.
These steps are a formula to developing emotional intelligence which is vital to our success as individuals and as partners.
Other Things to Keep in Mind
Every time you commit to a relationship, you sign a metaphorical release waiver.
You relinquish full control and certainty. Essentially, you agree to hurt and be hurt in one aspect or another. It’s inevitable.
They’ll say/do something stupid to hurt your feelings. And so will you. Don’t mistaken his absence of emotion as impenetrability. He’s more likely to act in anger or shut down rather than cry or express his hurt.
But the worst thing you can do is life your life as a prisoner of your own fear.
Being in a relationship takes courage. On both ends. Always.
“I see courage in myself when I’m willing to risk being vulnerable and disappointed.”-Brené Brown
We crave ambiguity.
Tony Robbins lists uncertainty as one of our six human needs. Be good with it. Embrace it.
Embrace the lesson in pain.
If you do end up suffering hurt again, try and practice gratitude instead of attitude. Gather your strength and try not to get discouraged. Be grateful for the experience and reflect on what you learned and how it’ll help you personally evolve.
Relationships are one of the greatest catalysts for self-discovery. Once you perceive their painful lessons as an opportunity to grow, you learn to appreciate them.
Don’t stand in your own way.
If you’re determined to start working toward your happiness instead of against it, it’s time to take the first steps in the right direction.
Download my free quick start guide that lists the highlights and takeaways of this post and packages them into bite sized actionable steps.
Passing the Mic
Have you broken the cycle of sabotage in your life? What steps did you take to succeed?