Self Sabotage Behavior in Relationships: What It Is & How to Stop

Self sabotage behavior in relationships may manifest in various ways. In this article, you will identify different types of self-sabotaging behavior in relationships. You will…


Self sabotage behavior in relationships may manifest in various ways. In this article, you will identify different types of self-sabotaging behavior in relationships. You will also explore how to stop any sabotaging behaviors you may sometimes act on.

Self-Sabotage Behaviors in Relationships

In relationships, self-sabotage behavior most basically is when you get in your own way preventing you from having what you actually desire.

While there are many nuanced ways this behavior may appear here are common examples of self-sabotage in relationships:

  • Being happy or excited about a relationship but then convincing yourself something is “wrong” and then picking a fight with them,
  • Finding reasons to pull away from a partner such as work or school being too busy right now or family needing you,
  • Telling people too much or acting without boundaries believing they should completely accept you at your worst to have you at your best,
  • Wanting to have a relationship but avoiding dating opportunities,
  • Believing someone is too good to be true and so you end the relationship before they reject or disappoint you,
  • Ghosting someone because you think it’s inevitable the relationship will end or you don’t know how to communicate basic feelings such as fear or your needs,
  • Liking someone yet on a date find yourself letting it “slip” that you’re seeing other people and you’re not sure yet about what you want,
  • Cheating on someone you care about,
  • Being in an on-again, off-again relationship,
  • Fixating on a partner’s (or potential partner’s) flaws and criticizing their looks, job, lifestyle, etc. for things you know deep down don’t really matter to you,
  • Getting drunk or abusing drugs the night before a date you’re excited about, or
  • Wanting a meaningful, committed relationship but settling for something casual

Sabotaging Behavior in Relationships Makes Sense

If you relate to any of the self-sabotaging behaviors, you may feel embarrassed or judgmental of yourself right now. However, please know that any and all self-sabotaging behaviors in relationships (or in general), make sense. You act on these behaviors for a reason.

Somewhere along the way, you learned that you cannot trust others and/or yourself. Therefore, pushing away partners (or potential partners) feels safer.

You Must Be Kind to Yourself to Change

The first step to changing these self-sabotaging behaviors is to practice self-compassion. You must give yourself grace that while these sabotaging behaviors ultimately hurt you that you do them for understandable reasons.

Take a moment to consider why you may find it safer to push others away – or settle for less than you want. Some reasons why this may be true for you include:

  • A part of you may think that it’s inevitable you will be rejected if you really like someone because your self-esteem was injured growing up,
  • You were cheated on in the past and so you don’t trust, deep down, that a relationship can work out or you’re too scared to risk that pain again,
  • You want to protect yourself because a past relationship was abusive,
  • Growing up, you learned that relationships are filled with obligation or a ton of work. For example, maybe you had a parent who suffocated you with their demands or health needs and you’re afraid of this happening again,
  • A past break-up or divorce felt devastating and a part of you is terrified to go through that again, or
  • Struggling with self-love or poor self-esteem due to trauma in your past.

Now validate that you understand that you have sabotaged yourself in the past for a reason and you can change.

You Can Stop Sabotaging Yourself

Now that you’ve validated yourself, it’s important to stay mindful of the fact you do self-sabotage at times to help interrupt this behavior pattern. You must own this truth to change it.

Learning to notice your thoughts and urges and then making new choices for your behaviors is a fundamental component of both Cognitive Behavior Therapy and Dialectical Behavior Therapy – and you can do this for yourself.

The Three Parts of Stopping Self-Sabotaging Behavior

There are three major components to no longer self-sabotaging. These are:

  1. You will want to practice mindfulness i.e., I notice that I want to go out and flirt/maybe hookup with someone new even though I really like the person I’m dating right now.
  2. Getting clear on what really matters to you such as your non-negotiable needs to stop pushing people away for superficial reasons.
  3. You will also need to address the underlying reasons for the sabotaging behavior such as low self-esteem, trauma, and/or avoidant attachment.

Admittedly, the last step takes more time and effort than the first but it’s completely possible – and completely worth it.

You Can Interrupt the Urge to Self-Sabotage Your Relationships

Mindfulness is the practice of turning your full attention to the present moment. If you, for instance, focus on your breath including the sensations of inhaling and exhaling you are practicing mindfulness. When your mind wanders, which it will, you simply return your attention to your breath (or anything else occurring in the present moment) to be mindful.

With this practice, you will learn to pay more attention to your urges to self-sabotage before you act on them. Then, when you’re more aware, you can make conscious choices in your relationships rather than automatically sabotaging yourself.

Getting Clear on What You Want

When you’re uncertain, or ambivalent, about what you want it’s hard to have the type of relationship which will bring you joy. When you don’t know what you want – or aren’t honest about these desires – it’s easy to settle for things which don’t bring you joy or even hurt you. If you aren’t honest, for instance, that you value commitment, it’s hard to find a truly meaningful relationship.

On the other hand, if you’re overly picky, it’s important to get clear on your non-negotiable needs to ensure you aren’t pushing away or rejecting potential partners that may bring you long-term joy. For example, someone may meet all your non-negotiables but not be your usual type. Knowing your non-negotiables helps you stay in the relationship by staying focused on what really makes you happy.

For assistance identifying your non-negotiables you may download the free worksheet here:

You Can Heal the Parts of You Which are Insecure or Afraid

You may understandably think that to heal trauma, low self-esteem, or attachment styles, you must go to therapy. Of course, if you have the ability to do so, therapy will help you heal. And finding the right therapist greatly assists with your healing asap.

Yet if you can’t go to therapy or afford it right now, there are many ways you can begin to heal on your own. The first step is honoring that you do self-sabotage at times while practicing mindfulness. Then you can go deeper to not only interrupt these behaviors but heal the root causes – and there are many free resources for this.

Developing Healthier Attachment Styles

Commonly, people self-sabotage out of fear which may manifest as anxious, anxious-avoidant, or avoidant attachment. All of these attachment styles look at relationships with heightened fear. For anxious (or anxious-avoidant) types, they fear abandonment and rejection in their relationships above all else. Therefore, they tend to be people pleasers or have codependent qualities. To heal, it’s helpful to develop better boundaries and address codependency symptoms.

If a person’s avoidant (or anxious-avoidant), they are afraid of being suffocated by others. To help heal this, it’s important to be honest that you desire closeness but in a healthy way. Boundaries work allows you to have close relationships without losing yourself in others.

For guidance to have better boundaries, you may read the following articles:

Setting Relationship Boundaries: 4: Important Limits When You’re Dating

How to Know Your Boundaries in a Relationship: 3 Essential Tips from a Couples Therapist

How to Set Healthy Boundaries in a Relationship

Accepting the Love You Think You Deserve

Often, people self-sabotage because deep down, they are afraid that they are not “good enough” and rejection is inevitable.

They may push away people they really like because of a lack of self-worth. Or they may settle for relationships which hurt them out of a belief that “something is better than nothing” because they don’t trust they are worth more. They may even date people they don’t like or aren’t attracted to out of the belief that this person won’t reject them.

All of these self-sabotaging behaviors related to low self-esteem are painful and unfortunately, reinforce a lack of self-love. Fortunately, you may learn to love yourself more. The first step here is to practice self-care because you must act like you love yourself to eventually feel this way.

For assistance in developing a sustainable self-care practice, please read How to Take Care of Yourself – 6 Simple Self-Care Strategies.

Developing Greater Self-Love

You can learn to love yourself more step by step by practicing self-care and other loving exercises. This blog is filled with articles to help you love yourself more which include:

How to Like Yourself Better: 3 Practical Tips from a Therapist

Why Do I Feel Like I Don’t Know Myself Anymore

What Makes You Empowered as a Woman: 5 Free (or Low Cost) Strategies

How Do You Love Yourself? 3 Tips to Start Today

How to Be Your Authentic Self

How to Stop Judging Emotions for Better Relationships

For more support, please also check out our healing books page for low-cost resources to help you heal.

You Deserve the Relationship You Want

When you heal your self-sabotaging behaviors, you connect with the truth that there is no perfect person – or time – to be in a relationship. You clear away unhelpful thoughts that you or someone else needs to be perfect to have a viable, healthy relationship.

Instead, as you heal, you connect with the fact that you may absolutely have the relationship you really want and value. Additionally, as you do this healing work, you notice that you are already worthy of the love you desire.

You stop self-sabotaging in baby steps. Every time you interrupt a self-sabotaging urge rather than acting on it – you have been successful! It’s all about progress not perfection but in time, you will look back with relief and surprise over how you used to get in your own way as you will have become your own best support and advocate. You got this!

About The Author

Krystal Mazzola Wood, LMFT is a practicing relationship therapist with over a decade of experience. Currently, Krystal sees clients at her private practice, The Healthy Relationship Foundation. She has dedicated her entire career to empowering people to heal from unhealthy relationship processes. She does this by teaching the skills and tools necessary to have a life filled with healthy and loving relationships.

This passion led her to write her best-selling books and create courses. Her books, The Codependency Recovery Plan: A 5-Step Guide to Understand, Accept, and Break Free from the Codependent Cycle and The Codependency Workbook: Simple Practices for Developing and Maintaining Your Independence have helped many people heal.

She is currently working on her book, Self-Love Made Possible: The 5-Step Guide to Stop Being Your Own Worst Enemy and Become Your Own Best Friend. To be notified of its release, please join the waitlist here.

If you have any personal dating or relationship questions, Krystal is happy to provide advice using her expertise and compassion. If you feel comfortable, feel free to leave any questions in the comments of this post. Otherwise, you may send an email to or DM her on Instagram.

Note: This site uses affiliate links at times. If you purchase an item through an affiliate link, this website earns a small payment. This support allows for the continued free support available in this blog. Thank you!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *