5 Reasons People Sabotage Their Own Relationships, According To A Harvard Psychologist

Researchers studied self-sabotaging behaviors in almost 700 individuals, and discovered some deeper reasons why we do this.

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Most of us want meaningful romantic partnerships in our lives. Yet, even when we meet someone we really want to date more seriously, there are ways we intentionally and unintentionally can sabotage our romantic relationships.

Romantic self-sabotage is a pattern of self-destructive behaviors in relationships that interfere with healthy connection and justify a breakup. Ironically, we often sabotage relationships to protect ourselves from getting too close or connected to others because when we really care breaking up hurts a lot more.


According to findings from a recent study by researchers Raquel Peel and Nerina Catabiano that explored self-sabotaging behaviors in 696 individuals, there are five primary reasons you may sabotage your romantic relationships. If you notice these, pause and take notice because you may want to work on changing them.



RELATED: 7 Bad Signs You're A Chronic Self-Sabotager


5 Reasons People Sabotage Their Own Relationships

1. They may be afraid.

The most common reason we sabotage our romantic relationships is because of fear. This includes fear of being hurt, rejected, or abandoned by someone we care for deeply — or — a more general fear of commitment.

Based on fear, you may say things that sabotage your relationships like:

  • “I’m afraid of having my heart broken again, so I'm leaving before they do.”
  • “I don’t want to get too attached because it will only hurt later.”
  • “I don’t want to give all of myself to someone because it’ll be devastating when they leave.”

2. They may have low self-esteem.

Self-sabotaging behaviors are often motivated by a negative self-concept and low self-esteem. If you don't feel deserving of a healthy, connected partner or successful relationship, you may thwart its development.

Based on low self-esteem<, you may say things like:

  • “I’m not good enough or worthy of love.”
  • “I don’t feel confident anymore.”
  • “I find reasons to leave before they realize I'm broken and don’t deserve them.”

3. They may have had their trust broken in the past.

Having previous relationships that ended because of infidelity, dishonesty, and distrust often leads to self-sabotage. It comes from an internal assumption that no one can be trusted, so there is no point in allowing yourself to get close.

Based on broken trust, you may say things like:

  • “I never trust anyone 100 percent anymore.”
  • “Commitment seems impossible nowadays.”
  • “I don’t know if I can really give a new person the chance to earn my trust because I’m always looking for them to break it.”

RELATED: What I Actually Mean When I Say I'm Afraid Of Commitment

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4. They may have unrealistically high expectations.

Having unrealistically high expectations for romantic relationships — like holding highly perfectionist views of how a romantic partner should be or believing in romantic destiny — can lead you to reject partners who exhibit any unideal qualities.

Based on unrealistic expectations, you may say things like:

  • “My relationships never measure up to what I want.”
  • “Since I can’t have the fairytale, why even bother.”
  • “Everyone I date ends up disappointing me.”

5. They may lack relationship skills.

People often sabotage relationships because they don't know what it really takes to have a healthy, successful romantic relationship. This includes behaviors that hurt a relationship because you lack experience, are inflexible, immature, or have learned that you're helpless to make a relationship work.

Based purely on a lack of relationship skills, you may say things like:

  • “I’m not sure how to really date — I have no idea what I’m doing.”
  • “I can’t find the motivation or desire to find a good mate.”
  • “I only want a relationship if it suits my needs — it has to be my way.”

The good news about understanding these relationship-sabotaging motivations is that once you admit you do them, you can take steps to change. Recognizing that you have a tendency to hurt your relationships in characteristic ways can help you understand why you’re doing it and stop before it creates so much relationship discord that a breakup is inevitable.

RELATED: 4 Deep Psychological Reasons Smart Women Get Stuck In Unhealthy Relationships

Dr. Cortney Warren is a Board Certified Clinical Psychologist and expert on addictions, eating disorders, self-deception, and the practice of psychotherapy from a cross-cultural perspective.