How to Avoid Self-Sabotage in Your Relationships

Some people think that loving another person produces unmanageable suffering. This leads them to self-sabotage. In other words, they boycott their relationships to remove the possibility of experiencing pain.
How to Avoid Self-Sabotage in Your Relationships
Gema Sánchez Cuevas

Written and verified by the psychologist Gema Sánchez Cuevas.

Last update: 14 June, 2022

Self-sabotage in love occurs when, without realizing it, you assume certain attitudes and behaviors that hinder the smooth running of your relationship. It’s not that you want to finish or damage it. In fact, quite the opposite: you’d love it to succeed. However, you often act as if you want it to end.

Another form of self-sabotage in love occurs when, also without realizing it, you start looking for or inventing reasons to devalue your relationship or you find fault with it that doesn’t exist. You feel love for your partner and want everything to go well, but you also experience ideas of rejection or discomfort regarding the relationship.

Self-sabotage makes us believe, without realizing it, that it’s better not to move forward and not make changes but to stay in the position we already know and in which we experience the fallacy of control.”

-Silvia Sanz-

The same thing happens repeatedly. The relationships you get involved in tend to fail to move toward true commitment and you regret this fact. Furthermore, you don’t really understand why. So how can you avoid it?

sad woman thinking
Self-sabotage in love prevents you from evolving as a couple and toward a more stable bond.

Self-sabotage in love

Self-sabotage in love occurs when your relationship is going well, your partner is giving their best yet, despite this, you annoy them or begin to adopt behaviors and attitudes that generate distance or conflict. In effect, you boycott your own well-being and happiness as well as that of your partner. Consequently, without meaning to, you end up damaging your relationship.

This happens because self-sabotage operates as a defense mechanism. You’re defending yourself against the wonderfully disturbing presence of love as you don’t want to get out of your comfort zone. You don’t want change.

Deep down, you feel fear and insecurity. After all, in love, there’s always some component of pain, because nothing is ever perfect. Maybe you miss your partner when they’re not with you. Or, they don’t always respond to you in the way you’d like. Perhaps you’re even afraid that they don’t love you enough and will leave you. 

Therefore, unconsciously, you’re defending yourself from the possibility of suffering, changing, and asking for something for yourself. There’s an ambiguous desire in you. You want with all your heart that your relationship will grow and flourish but, at the same time, you’re terrified that it won’t. The risk and your feelings of uncertainty seem extremely high to you. Hence, self-sabotage in love is a way of protecting yourself.

Other causes

To understand self-sabotage in love and overcome it, we need to examine its causes. As we said earlier, the main one is fear, which is expressed as a feeling of threat and translates into defensive behaviors. In these cases, you experience happiness and anxiety at the same time, within the framework of your relationship.

Other possible reasons for self-sabotage in love are the following:

  • Anxiety due to uncertainty about the future.
  • Feeling of lack of control over the situation.
  • Low self-esteem.
  • Bewilderment in the face of change.
  • Desire for self-punishment, due to feelings of unconscious guilt.
Woman thinking
The main drawback of people who self-sabotage in love is that they don’t accept that they’re afraid.

How to solve it?

When you self-sabotage, you can’t enjoy your relationship, even if it gives you what you were looking for. Suddenly, you feel more vulnerable than usual and this causes concern to grow within you that transforms into fear. The problem is that you don’t admit that you’re afraid.

To solve this situation, firstly you must admit and tolerate those feelings of vulnerability and fear. No reasonable person wants to suffer, so it’s normal to feel some apprehension. The important thing is not to allow this feeling to invade your emotions and lead you to sabotage a relationship that you value.

It’s extremely common for this type of behavior to appear in people who’ve had childhoods with emotional deficiencies, are part of dysfunctional families, or who’ve had previous negative love experiences that have scarred them. In these cases, the way out isn’t in denying love, but in resolving and working through the past.

Love enriches life and also causes some margin of pain, but it contributes to growth much more. You must remember that you’re capable of experiencing pain and processing it. If you haven’t succeeded so far, perhaps it’s because you haven’t found the right way to do it. Either way, depriving yourself of a partner also causes you suffering. If your fear is extremely great, a psychotherapist can help you.


All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • De Albacete, C. P. G. (2013). Evitando el Auto-Sabotaje: El arte de conseguir lo que te propones. Editorial AMAT.
  • Santos, B. D. S. (2016). La incertidumbre: entre el miedo y la esperanza. América Latina: la democracia en la encrucijada, 161-169.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.