I want to say, before I begin this blog, that self-awareness is a difficult task for everyone. I think it’s pretty hard to accept who we are and our own challenges individually but relationships can amplify these challenges if they go unchecked. This entry is dedicated to understanding the behaviors and attitudes we may have in our relationships that might be screwing things up. It is so much easier to notice what another person is doing as opposed to noticing your own sabotaging behaviors and working to change them. Remember: the only person who you have control over changing is you. You cannot change your partner. It is up to them to make their own changes. Here is a list of the top 10 sabotaging behaviors and tips (PART 2) on how to make changes.
Here is a tip to help you through this list. Focus on you first. Do not go through this list the first time connecting it to all the things your partner is doing. Try to be honest with yourself and see if you do any of these things. Your partner may do some of these things too, but, the point is to look at what you do. Pay attention to any of these things you may do with family, friends and co-workers, because they count as relationships too.
1. Insecurity. Insecure people really appreciate being comforted and attract people that are givers and like to feel needed. Often insecure people appear vulnerable and are open to leaning on and sharing things with their partner. In the beginning, this will attract those who like to ‘save’ or ‘rescue’. Over time, if the person’s confidence doesn’t improve and the insecurity remains unchecked many things can happen.
The insecure partner may:
- begin to focus more on how long the relationship will last instead of being in the moment and enjoying the experience
- lead to hyper-vigilance and obsessing about even the slightest changes in their significant other.
- lead to feeling threatened over other relationships your partner may have, even with friends, family and co-workers.
- cause anxiety over your partner leaving and may create a constant need for reassurance.
I have to say that, in my humble opinion, long-term insecurity by one or both partners will definitely cause problems in a relationship. No matter how much two people love each other anxiety, possessiveness, jealousy and the constant need for reassurance can sabotage a relationship.
2. Control Issues. Controlling people are some of the best at paying attention to their partners. Maybe too much attention to every little detail, including how they perform everyday tasks to how long it takes them to get home from work each day. Those that are overbearing or controlling may feel a need to run every aspect of their partner’s life. The idea that they are more competent and obligated to help their partner live their life ‘correctly’ is deeply ingrained within them. They may have seen this growing up in their families or may just be fearful of being controlled themselves. Whatever the reason, controlling behaviors can sabotage a relationship.
The controlling partner may:
- only feel comfortable if they are making the rules and feel resentment when they are told what to do
- have past partners that complain about controlling behaviors
- punish their partner for not doing what they want (passive aggressive behavior or outright punishment like withholding sex or intimacy)
- insist on having their way over the direction of the relationship
People who are controlling often can create problems in their relationships by not allowing their partner to participate fully in the relationship potential for happiness, thus ending any with this person. In the beginning, controlling people may seem like an expert caretaker but over time they create a situation where their partner must rely on them. Controlling people usually do not encourage their partners to be self-sustaining unless it is by the established rules.
3. Fear of Intimacy: At some point, I think we all become a little fearful of intimacy and closeness. Relationships require us to partner with another person and lose some of our personal independence. It’s natural and healthy to feel a little scared especially as we become closer to our partners and begin to become more vulnerable. People with a fear of intimacy that is sabotaging both want the connection and support of a relationship but may also expect disaster or feel trapped. They are often labeled ‘commitment-phobes”and cannot tell the difference between a deepening commitment and feeling trapped.
A person with a fear of intimacy may:
- run hot and cold in the relationship
- retreat from relationships when they get too close
- feel a deep desire to connect but when that is reciprocated they feel trapped
- have partners say that they don’t trust that they are loved anymore
- become an expert at getting their partner to take them back when they have given up
Sometimes a fear of intimacy looks like the pursuit of a relationship to only become cold and distant when the object of your affection returns your advances. Sometimes a fear of intimacy can be demonstrated by only choosing partners that are emotionally unavailable, physically unavailable and distant. We trick ourselves into believing we aren’t scared of being vulnerable by choosing people who do not engage our vulnerability but once they do we often become uninterested or create conflicts. No one wants to be hurt in any relationship but avoiding the experience doesn’t protect us from being hurt, it also stops you from having a deep, meaningful partnership where things might just work out. Those who avoid intimacy may be enticing because they are always just a bit out of reach.
4. Needing to Win Debates and arguments can be healthy parts of relationships. Competitive people can be challenging and fun to interact with. We can learn a lot about compromise by arguing, as long as it doesn’t deteriorate into a yelling match or we stop listening to each other. As people, we naturally have our own opinions and ideas about life, love, health, money and work. We are all different and often it is our deeply held values and beliefs that we share with our partners. People who need to win generally seek out people who are willing to engage in the challenge or those who give in easily. When we need to be right in every conflict, it doesn’t allow our partners to have a say or opinion that can be validated.
A person who needs to win (or be right) may:
- Consistently have to have the last word or prove that their partner is wrong
- risk intimacy and closeness just to prove a point
- will assume a fighting stance when they feel challenged
- be a sore loser
Constant arguments or battles will leave your partner feeling weakened and eventually destroy the love you once had. No one wants to fight and argue all the time but once the argument has begun, a person who needs to win cannot back down, no matter what is at stake. Sometimes the person who needs to win may act like there is nothing wrong after an argument. They expect their partners to fight, accept defeat or leave. It is impossible to be ‘right’ all the time.
5. Pessimism Negative people attract those who love to help. This is a tough one because pessimism is a way that people cope with bad experiences. A person who is pessimistic usually has experienced multiple losses or had many bad experiences in relationships. Pessimism is also a way that families may teach children to deal with disappointment. Children are not pessimistic but adults are. People who are pessimistic are beacons for optimistic and hopeful people like Winnie the Pooh and Eeyore or Cindy Lou-Who and the Grinch.
People who are pessimistic may:
- invalidate their partner’s devotion because they don’t think it will last or it’s untrue
- have past partners who have said nothing makes them happy.
- reject hopeful outcomes because they don’t think that happens to them
- feel uncomfortable when they are too happy
- attract partners who are more hopeful or optimistic
Pessimistic people can be tough for even the greatest optimist to deal with. Long-term pessimism can erode and destroy a relationship. Often this is especially hard to overcome for people who are pessimistic and depressed but it is not insurmountable.
6. Needing to be the Center of Attention People who need to be the center of attention often love to be center-stage. All conversations become about them regardless of how they began. People who have been neglected or overindulged as kids may fall into this category. Often they talk too much and do not see or acknowledge social cues that they are overloading people. These people may not intend to be overly demanding but they can’t stop the desire to be the center of attention.
People who need to be the center of attention may:
- get bored when attention is taken away from them
- have a hard time being interested in conversations if it’s not about them
- Verbally monopolize situations and love to have an audience
- make jokes or diminish the subject of the conversation
- withdraw or have tantrums if they can’t have their way
- feel neglected or unloved if a partner doesn’t put them first
If you do this, it is probably hard to accept. We don’t like to perceive ourselves as attention seekers. We may not even realize we are doing this until someone points it out.
7. Addiction This is a big topic that I will only be able to cover briefly in this blog. People with addictive personalities make their lovers feel exciting and desirable. People can be addicted to almost anything, if you think about it. The things we are addicted to become a third partner in the relationship that competes for attention. We can be addicted to love, sex, drugs, alcohol, work, reassurance, helping, a belief, etc. The list is limitless and really depends on each of us. Addictions cause us to have intense cravings that cause us to do or say things we later regret.
Addicted people may:
- hide their behavior when they feel cravings
- get defensive when their partners hold them accountable for their choices
- give in to desires that keep them from being the person they want to be
- have self-destructive behaviors and lose relationships over this behavior
- be unable to stop destructive behaviors even if their relationship is at stake
- cause others heartbreak but can’t seem to stop
Addictions distract people from having healthy relationships. Addictions contribute to many relationships falling apart. People with extreme addictions to drugs, alcohol or other things may also attract people who are codependent or have a history of family problems with addiction. If you have a severe addiction and are willing to acknowledge it, seek help.
8. Martyrdom Martyred victims make their new partners feel treasured by anticipating their every need. I read that being with a martyr is like having a credit card you can never pay off. Martyrs encourage their partners to take advantage of their generosity while they grow resentful and suffer silently. Often martyrs were taken advantage of in childhood by their caretakers. They are amazing at causing self-inflicting wounds and begin relationships with a sense of defeat. Martyrs don’t think they can ever do enough to meet their partner’s needs but also fear their needs will not be reciprocated.
A martyr may:
- feel used and discarded when a relationship ends
- have a hard time asking for their needs to be met
- be proud for asking for so little in the relationship
- avoid conflict at any cost
- consistently attract selfish or self-centered partners
- think they will never be taken care of
Someone who is a martyr eventually will feel resentful and make demands of their partners using guilt and manipulation. They have a tendency to give away their personal power in a relationship and will often let their partner know how much they have given them. Martyrs often feel used and don’t acknowledge that they have put themselves in their current situation.
9. Defensiveness Defensive people are attractive to people who like to escalate arguments. Each and every one of us can be defensive. Defensiveness makes it hard to listen, learn of change. Most people may feel uncomfortable after an accusation but they will also consider the source and look at the situation objectively or try to. People who are chronically defensive will not acknowledge things that may be considered faults or behaviors that are hurtful. People who are defensive may reverse blame, insult another person’s intelligence, make excuses, make dramatic exaggerations, cite exceptions, argue by picking people’s opinions apart or just withdraw completely.
Defensive people may:
- find fault in their partner when they feel accused
- not be able to listen to a complaint without invalidating their partner
- cannot see themselves through their partners eyes or acknowledge problems within the relationship
- not be able to stop from defending their actions no matter how they are approached.
Defensiveness can be very tough to deal with and will definitely sabotage a relationship. Does this sound like something you do? Not every complaint or accusation is true or accurate but it is important to be able to listen and take responsibility for your actions.
10. Breaking Trust Betraying people can be the biggest relationship saboteur out of anything else on this list. Trust is one of the most important factors in a relationship. Trust breakers often will do anything to avoid responsibility for their actions. They do not adhere to the agreed rules of the relationship. Many people continue to love a trust breaker even if they know that more deception and betrayal lie ahead. The trust breaker will debate the validity of the action that broke the trust and convince their partner to believe in them again.
A trust breaker may:
- blame their partner when they are clearly responsible for the relationship problem
- withhold information that may cause their partner to move in another direction
- consistently choose to do things to betray their partners trust
- take advantage of their partners trust by telling them things that aren’t true.
- stay with someone else that is a trust breaker too
I can say from my own experience that this is the ultimate relationship destroyer. Cheating, lying and shifting blame are an integral part of a relationship with a trust breaker. Often they will tell you not to trust your own intuition but to trust them instead. Trust breakers attract people who expect to be disappointed but still hope to find the one person that won’t betray them.
So if you do these things, how can you undo it? Well, like many things in life you cannot change overnight and it is very unreasonable to expect to see a major long-lasting change in a short period of time. I can’t say that at various points in my life I haven’t been guilty of almost all of these. Whatever reason is the cause of these behaviors, we are each capable of great change. We have it in us to recognize our limitations and challenges with honor and validation instead of criticism and disdain. We are all a mess at one point or another. It’s the human condition, but, it’s what we do with these challenges that defines us and strengthens us. It is important to mention that this list is about behavior. Behavior can be changed and modified. There is hope in all these situations.
As you read through this you may notice some of these behaviors in your partner. I will be posting a blog in a couple of months called, “Should I stay or Should I go” that is designed to help you decide if you and your partner are willing to do the work to make your relationship work or if you may be happier leaving and finding someone new. Focus on the behaviors you have from this list and work on changing those.