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  • Michael Philp

Are you self-sabotaging your relationships?

Do you unconsciously "test" your partner to see their commitment to you? Do you find yourself in "push/pull" relationships where you want your partner emotionally close to you, but then push them away because it's uncomfortable? When you start dating someone, do you find after a period of time that you close off from them, looking for faults, or engaging in behaviour that in hindsight would end the relationship? If you answered yes to any of these questions, perhaps you are engaging in self-sabotaging behaviour that tends to either end relationships earlier than they should, or your relationship doesn't live up to it's full potential.

The potential reasons for this self-sabotaging behaviour are varied, but I see a common reason regularly in therapy. Often, those that engage in self-sabotaging behaviour have had early attachments with significant caregivers that are insecure. Again, the reasons for these insecure attachments are varied; however, the child develops a framework (called a 'schema') that their emotional needs will not be met. As such, as the child grows up and has more experiences, they tend to expect that their emotional needs will not be met by others. This framework becomes more evident in close, intimate relationships, because those relationships most closely resemble our early attachments - we let our partners see sides of our personality that our friends may not see.

So for someone who has difficulty trusting that others will meet their emotional needs, it is completely understandable then that they would have difficulty trusting their partner to be there for them in times of need, or to show their deep, 'true' self for fear of rejection. And often, these beliefs are unconscious and go against what the person knows logically. Many times I have heard my client say "logically, I know this is not true. I know they love me and are there for me". But in times of high emotional stress, logic often goes out the window and old patterns re-emerge.

What to do if you self sabotage relationships?

The first step is recognising that you tend to behave this way, and what are the potential triggers for your response. Do you self-sabotage when you feel you are not being listened to? Or you feel let down by your partner? Or when a new partner wants more emotional connection than you have been giving? Once you identify some of the triggers you can start to make changes to your responses. It will be tough. Change is hard. You may also need to engage in psychological therapy if you find it difficult to make those changes, and work with a psychologist to identify the blocks.

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