When things go awry — anything from a broken relationship to a career setback — the mature and responsible thing to do is reflect on what the heck went wrong. After all, we learn a lot more when something goes wrong than we do when something goes right.
But a complicating factor emerges at this point. Typically, we look around for outside forces as the problem. He/she should have told me about that past relationship! My boss had it out for me! If we could only identify the source of the problem, then next time around we could anticipate trouble coming.
Well, maybe it’s time to look in the mirror. What if the root problem is your behavior? Writing for PsychCentral.com, Hope Gilette says, “When you can’t seem to maintain relationships, it’s easy to chalk it up to excuses like ‘no good ones are left.’ But the truth is that sometimes relationships with potential get squashed by your own behaviors. When this self-sabotage happens, it often comes from challenges related to insecurity, communication, and trust. And it’s likely something you’ve been working through for a very long time.”
Gilette identifies a number of ways you might be sabotaging your relationships. They warrant some self-reflection to see if you’re guilty of any of these less-than-constructive behaviors.
Lack of commitment. Words are powerful. Are you willing and enthusiastic about defining your relationship by describing it in words. Are you “boyfriend/girlfriend” or not? Being unwilling to describe your relationship is a subtle sign of a lack of commitment.
Holding grudges. Partners often hurt each other, most times unintentionally. If your partner has hurt you, then apologized, it’s time to move on. Forgiveness is powerful. If you can’t forgive, you’re on track to sabotaging your relationship.
Withholding gratitude. Expressing gratitude is a sign of respect. Respect is foundational to a deep and healthy relationship. On the flip side, withholding gratitude is a sign that you’re taking your partner for granted.
Unrealistic expectations. This one is really all on you. If you have expectations that literally no one could live up to, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment and frustration.
If you can step back and look at yourself objectively, and recognize any of these behaviors in yourself, then the next question is why? Why am I sabotaging my relationships? Start by reflecting on how you were raised. Did your parents or caregivers model this behavior? Is this your individual attachment style? Read more about attachment styles here, and the power they have over your behavior as an adult.
Or is there an experience in your past — anything from bullying to a negative past relationship — that you cannot move beyond?
There are no easy answers here, but Gilette lists a few possible solutions that are worth thinking about:
- Take ownership of self-sabotaging behaviors
- Admit and apologize for mistakes
- Practice empathy
- Build communication skills
- Set and respect boundaries
- Improve personal wellness
The source of the problem is not necessarily within, but the possibility is there — and that’s worth thinking about.