You’d think that, in our pursuit of happiness, we’d never do anything to jeopardize our chances of having a good relationship. The truth, though, is that we are imperfect beings who are completely capable of dismantling even the best of situations — often without even realizing it.
Whether with counseling clients or my social science students, self-sabotage is a topic that comes up with some regularity. It can be really hard to accept that our unhappiness and failures could be entirely of our own making, but it’s entirely true.
If you keep experiencing the same hardships over and over when trying to make things work with a romantic partner, it’s easy to put the blame on someone else. It’s more worthwhile, however, to sit down and try to consider the ways in which you might be sabotaging your own relationship.
A relationship is at its best when both partners feel healthy and confident within themselves. It’s unfair, therefore, to bring unresolved issues and insecurities into your connection with your significant other.
Do your best to identify any areas where you feel stuck or low and work on it. If they stem from painful experiences in your past, there’s nothing wrong with reaching out to a professional or a support group for help in addressing these wounded parts of yourself.
Pro tip: If your lack of confidence is threatening your relationship, it might be worth asking your partner for a break so that you can do some solo healing. When you feel ready, you can try again.
Moving too fast
You’ve met “the one.” You’re sure of it this time (even though you were pretty sure last time, too)! You’re completing each other’s sentences, silence doesn’t feel awkward, and the sex is off the charts. It’s only been a few months (weeks?!), but it’s okay to start talking about marriage, right?
Probably not. Don’t give in to those feelings of needing to rush. Enjoy those early days of your relationship. Savor everything while it is fresh and new and take the time to explore each other.
Pro tip: Whenever you get the urge to bring up a ring and that big walk down the aisle, remember that you’re already together and that’s all that matters.
Obsessing over their exes
It’s very natural to wonder about the people your partner dated before you. To a certain degree, it’s even normal to compare yourself to these predecessors. Things can become negative pretty quickly, however, if you start obsessing over them.
Were they better looking? More enjoyable as sexual partners? More successful? Does your partner still think about them? When you start asking yourself (or your significant other) these questions over and over again, it will probably do more harm than good.
Pro tip: Even if your partner’s ex seems incredible in every way, remember that you’re together now for a reason and do your best to be confident in that.
Comparing to past partners
You may not be obsessing over your significant other’s exes, but it’s equally damaging to compare them to your own former partners, even if you don’t mean it in a negative way.
No one wants to feel like your thoughts are in the past, so do your best to focus on the here and now — even if your ex could fix a faucet with both eyes closed but your current partner can barely be trusted with a roll of Scotch tape.
Pro tip: If you find yourself mentally sizing them up to your ex, you may want to ask yourself if you are really over your past relationship. If not, you might want to take a breather and sort through some things.
Pretending to be someone you’re not
You may have tested out new interests in the early days of dating in order to seem more open and adventurous, but you can only keep that up for so long. In fact, it’s best to just be upfront about your preferences from the beginning to avoid surprises.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with supporting your partner’s interests, but that doesn’t mean that they have to become yours as well.
Pro tip: Tackle this one sooner than later and be proactive about it. Let your partner know that certain things you’ve been going along with don’t really represent who you are and apologize for being misleading.
Abandoning our own interests
You may not be pretending to like what your partner likes, but you might find yourself suppressing your own passions in order to have more free time or to seem more likable. Never do that.
Continue to invest time in your interests. Support the same causes and movements that you did before this relationship began. Nurture and feed your own soul with things you love — it will lead to your own happiness, and that’s the best thing of all.
Pro tip: Remember that if you are strong and happy, you bring that positivity to your relationship, which ultimately improves your odds of success!
Focusing on the negatives
Life is full of ups and downs, but for a variety of reasons, we tend to dwell on the negatives. This, of course, will only bring us down further.
Whether it’s nitpicking your partner about things that they’ve done while continuously ranting and raving about problems you are having with work, friends, or family, giving into the dark side will only sour both of your moods. Allow yourself a few moments to vent, if need be, and then move on.
Pro tip: Take a moment to think about the last time you and your partner spent time together. How much of it did you spend complaining? No matter what, make a conscious effort to look for the silver linings and your happiness may skyrocket.
Shutting down during important conversations
You’ve likely heard this before, but relationships take work. Virtually every couple is going to argue or experience hardship, but how they deal with these issues makes all of the difference.
If every time the conversation gets serious you clam up, you are single-handedly preventing any possible resolution to your problems. It won’t be long before your partner grows frustrated with this, and they may choose to end the relationship.
Pro tip: If you shut down when things start getting real, ask yourself what’s truly going on. Are you afraid? Do you lack communication skills? Does conflict intimidate you? Talk to your partner about it so that they understand what’s happening and then make a conscious effort to avoid doing this in the future.
Putting your friends and family first
In all likelihood, your friends and family have been there for you a lot longer than your partner. While those connections deserve your attention and respect, you will have to learn how to balance them with your current relationship.
Usually, this will involve creating some boundaries that your loved ones will have to respect. They should not show up unannounced if you live together, for example. If they know you’re out on a date, they should refrain from calling or texting unless there’s a good reason.
Pro tip: Never bail on plans with your partner to do something with or for your friends and/or family unless there is a very good reason. Think about how that would make you feel.
You haven’t tried to learn their love language
In 1995, Dr. Gary Chapman released a book called The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts. Since then, more than 11 million copies have been sold, so he was clearly on to something. His belief is that every person has their own way of showing and receiving messages of love and that to be most successful in our relationships, we need to learn how to speak each other’s “language.”
You don’t have to read a book or take a quiz, however, to start paying attention to the ways in which your partner shows they care. You may quickly realize how many small, beautiful gestures of love you’ve been overlooking.
Pro tip: Sit down with your partner and discuss the things that make you both feel loved and valued.
Needing to be right
Some truly revel in the ultimate validation of being right about something, whether it’s a movie fact, reservation details for dinner, or that our partner’s best friend is secretly a jerk.
That being said, there’s a point where we need to ask ourselves if we want to be right or if we want to be happy. Along with needing to have the last word, it implies a desire to have the upper hand over our partner, and that doesn’t sound very loving, does it?
Pro tip: Before you whip out your phone to defend your honor, ask yourself if being “right” this time is actually worth it. Learn to let some things go and see how that affects your relationship (and your own stress levels!).
Be honest and make changes
If you discover that you are, in fact, sabotaging your relationship in some way, the best thing you can do is be honest with yourself and your partner so that you can focus on making things better.
Of course, this is easier said than done, but it’s entirely worth it if you have a chance of being happy. Get to the bottom of certain behaviors, own up to any mistakes, and commit to breaking unhealthy patterns. Even if your current relationship comes to an end, you will be better off in the future because you invested in your own growth and self-awareness. It just doesn’t get much better than that.