Self-sabotage in romance is largely an unconscious act. If you or your partner's behaviors don’t quite match with what you are communicating, you may find yourself confused about what’s going on in the relationship. Consider that there may be deeper forces operating between you. Here are five common ways we self-sabotage in romance:
1. “I can do it all.”
Believing you can and should do it all—emotionally, financially, physically, socially—both for yourself and your partner sets you both up for trouble. If you never believe you can rely on others, ask for help. If you never believe it’s okay to be vulnerable, you probably tolerate more than you can handle and perhaps more than is healthy. You may turn down the volume on your own emotions and not realize how burned out you truly are. Find ways to connect with your partner other than always doing things for them or managing their lives. Being self-reliant when necessary is a strength; being compulsively self-reliant is a curse.
2. “I can’t do it myself.”
The counter to “I can do it all” is believing you can’t do anything without another warm body present to guide you, stand by your side, and/or do it for you. When a partner becomes your emotional caregiver, resentment builds. In addition, if your whole well-being rests on someone else then you may start to feel desperate and fearful at the thought of losing them. When you think you can’t do something on your own—including work, social outings, managing difficult emotions, or taking a risk—do it in spite of yourself! Show your partner or future partners that you are a living, breathing, effective human being—all on your own. Then they can enjoy you without the burden of feeling emotionally responsible for you.
3. “I’m afraid to get what I want.”
I see it so often in my psychotherapy practice—a person wanting nothing more than a healthy partner to attach to for the long term. Only once the match presents itself, they panic. They may list Seinfeld-like quirks about the particular person—”When he chews his food he hums”—but once we get below the surface, invariably there is a fear of failure. “What if I can’t provide for her financially?” “What if I can’t be available in the way he needs?” “What if he hates my family?” “What if I can’t please her?” The list goes on. Some fear is inevitable when a person begins to feel close with another and warms to the realization that a meaningful match may be possible. It’s much easier to want something you can’t have. Once you know you can have it, a little fear kindles—a fear that you won’t be able to give the situation what it needs to grow. Talk yourself off this ledge. Instead of going internal, discuss with your partner what you fear. There is nothing more comforting than sharing our fears and seeing them met with love and understanding.
4. “I’m afraid I will be found out.”
Of course you will, and should be, "found out" if you are in a healthy union. The reality is that happy relationships, whether romance or friendship, take accountability. When those closest to you see your flaws and weaknesses, these are opportunities to be better known. Explain yourself, and how you got this way. Take responsibility when you hurt others or let them down. Being less than perfect doesn’t mean you are a failure; it means you are a real, living human being whom others can connect with. The problems I see come when couples hold themselves to impossible standards so that each sort of puts on a show for the other. Acting out a façade keeps people at a distance and makes for awkward and inhibited social and physical interactions.
5. “I’ll have to change.”
As soon as love comes in, your day-to-day routine changes. At first this can be fun—flirty texts during the day, spontaneous meet-ups during the work week, and sleepovers on the weekend. But once the novelty fades, you may find yourself overwhelmed at the idea of eventually living with someone, having to adjust your routine to accommodate that person. Change is inevitable in life. What fun would it be if you merely did the same thing for the next 80 years? Don’t deny the impact of your new situation, but do find a way to talk with your partner about the changes that are most challenging for you. See if you can problem solve together about ways to accommodate one another, ensuring the changes you do make aren’t too soon or overly abrupt.
Jill Weber is a clinical psychologist in Washington, DC and author of Having Sex, Wanting Intimacy—Why Women Settle for One-Sided Relationships.
Copyright Jill Weber, Ph.D.