Are You Sabotaging Your Love Life?

Is your love life falling apart, and could it be your own doing? In 2021, researchers Raquel Peel and Nerina Caltabiano explored this concept by conducting interviews with therapists specializing in relationship issues and analyzing data from volunteers about their relationship history.

How Are We Understanding the Same Thing?

The study on self-sabotage in relationships involved 1,365 English-speaking participants from diverse backgrounds, including different genders, sexual orientations, and social backgrounds.

All participants reported experiencing some form of relationship damage in the past. Using this data, the Relationship Self-Sabotage Scale (RSS) was created, consisting of 12 questions. The scale evaluates three main factors that contribute to the overall score: defensiveness, difficulty trusting others, and poor interpersonal relationship skills.

What Is Relationship Self-Sabotage?

Relationship self-sabotage can be defined as creating barriers or problems for yourself within a romantic relationship that wouldn't exist otherwise.

For example, some people might have unrealistic requirements for a partner that severely limit their pool of potential mates. When working with female heterosexual clients, I often hear about height requirements for men (e.g., at least 6 feet tall). Male clients might express preferences for specific physical traits in women, such as breast or buttock size. Across genders and sexual orientations, the income of a current or future partner is often emphasized as a critical factor.

To be clear, having a preference for a short, redheaded woman with a large income is not self-sabotage. It becomes self-sabotage when you refuse to date anyone who doesn't meet these criteria, thereby limiting your potential partners, or when you end a happy relationship with your current partner just because you always envisioned yourself married to a wealthy spouse.

Essentially, having preferences is completely fine. However, if not having these preferences met in a relationship leaves you unhappy and insecure, that's where self-sabotage comes in.

Relationship Self-Sabotage from a Therapist's Perspective

People who self-sabotage in relationships often do so to protect themselves from pain, disappointment, or repeating a past failed relationship. This desire to protect oneself to the point of self-sabotage is often seen in those with insecure attachment styles.

What Does This Mean?

Those with insecure attachment styles often struggle to trust others and believe that the love they give will be reciprocated by their partner. Because of their insecurity, they might cling too tightly to their partners (out of fear of losing them) or withdraw from their partner to shield themselves from the pain they believe will inevitably occur when their partner leaves them.

How can you tell if your partner is self-sabotaging your relationship? This behavior is often found in these situations:

  • Criticism.
  • Lack of communication.
  • Over-clinginess.
  • Over-defensiveness.
  • Withdrawal.
  • A tendency to control.
  • Defensiveness about one's actions, failure to admit mistakes.
  • Trust issues.

What Did People Who Had Self-Sabotaged Report?

There were two key findings stood out in the survey:

1. People who had self-sabotaged in one relationship tended to have self-sabotaged in multiple relationships throughout their lives.

2. Defensiveness, trust issues with their partner, and poor relationship skills were more common in individuals who had self-sabotaged in a relationship.

On the positive side, there was some awareness among those surveyed. However, the repetition of self-sabotaging behavior raises questions about whether this awareness led to a desire to change or more importantly, the ability to change their self-sabotaging ways.

The Relationship Self-Sabotage Scale

Peel and Caltabiano's 12-question Relationship Self-Sabotage Scale features simple yes-or-no questions, like:

  • I constantly feel criticized by my partner.
  • I believe that to protect my partner, I need to know where my partner is.
  • I will admit to my partner if I know I'm wrong about something.

The 12 questions are divided into three factors that contribute to self-sabotage: defensiveness, difficulty trusting someone, and poor relationship skills.

In Conclusion

All relationships involve struggle, compromise, and figuring out how to blend two lives into one shared experience. But if you start to feel that you are always the bad guy in every situation, it might be time to ask yourself if, on some subconscious level, your past relationships are undermining your current one.

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