How You May Be Subconsciously Sabotaging Your Relationship
Trying doing this instead.
Posted Jul 31, 2020
Do you find yourself in a relationship where you or your partner:
- Avoid tough conversations that involve intimacy
- Don’t want to talk about future commitment
- Would rather leave the relationship when problems arise rather than seek to find solutions
Or perhaps the following more aptly describes your relationship where you or your partner:
- Feel completely swept away by the other
- Sacrifice your personal interests and activities for the sake of one another
- Overwhelmingly focus on the other and no longer spend time with friends and family
If either of these descriptions depict your pairing, research indicates that these may be red flags of a dysfunctional relationship or obsessive passion rather than a healthy love.
Why do so many of us find ourselves in relationships like these? And why do we seem to have a sequence of these type of relationships throughout our lives? Perhaps it seems like we have the same type of relationship, just with another person.
“Amit” is someone who has experienced this first-hand time and time again.
Despite his best intentions, he told us he couldn’t quite understand why he seemed to automatically fall into the same predictable pattern, attracting the same type of person. Over and over again.
Like Amit, many of us may feel baffled as to why our relationships seem to start out so strong but then quickly fall apart. Out of sheer frustration, we may even end up eschewing relationships altogether, thinking perhaps we are just not “lucky in love.”
What we likely don’t realize is that we may be subconsciously sabotaging our relationships through a pattern of unhealthy attractions and behaviors that we aren’t even aware of.
As we discuss in Happy Together, relationship habits are particularly hard to break because our attractions are functions of deeply ingrained needs and expectations.
According to attachment theory, these needs and expectations are in a large part the result of relational norms that were modeled for us by our parents and primary caregivers from the time we were children.
Studies have found that the attachment styles we had as children have an impact on our adult romantic relationships. In brief, the way we attach with our parents or primary caregivers as kids is often the way we attach with our romantic partners as adults.
The three main attachment styles are secure, anxious, and avoidant, and they describe the way we perceive and respond to intimacy in our relationships.
According to attachment theory, secure individuals are comfortable with giving and receiving love, anxious individuals tend to be preoccupied with their relationships and fret over whether their partner will love them back, and avoidant individuals tend to push others away in an effort to preserve their independence.
If we developed healthy attachments with our parents or primary caregivers as kids we are fortunate.
Sadly, many of us have experienced avoidant or anxious attachments which may lead us to mimic those attachments styles as adults causing strain on our romantic connections or attracting unhealthy relationships.
It appears that obsessively passionate relationships may be the result of unhealthy attachment styles as kids, in particular an anxious one. Obsessive relationships are those where we are consumed with our partner, can’t focus on anything else, and are worried when we are not together.
For others, having unstable bonds with our parents growing up may result in an insecure sense of self. As adults, this insecurity may in turn lead us to avoid our romantic partner or flee at the first sign of trouble in an attempt to protect ourselves.
The good news is that we can throw out old scripts that were modeled to us by our parents and reeducate ourselves on what constitutes a healthy relationship. The first step is awareness. If we are aware of our unhealthy habits, then it is possible to make positive change.
Like in other aspects of our life, we can learn new skills and healthy habits to help us thrive in our relationships.
That’s what Amit did. We invited him to work out at the “relationship gym” where he focused on learning exercises he could do on a daily to strengthen his relational muscles. We wrote about Amit’s real-life experiences in Happy Together. When we first introduced readers to him many told us they could relate to his story of having a tough time with relationships.
Following a very heated divorce, and subsequently many failed relationships, Amit eventually realized he was repeating the unhealthy patterns of his parents who were his first role models on romantic love. Once he became aware of his self-sabotaging behaviors, he was then able to start cultivating new healthier habits.
After working hard at the “relationship gym” for quite some time he contacted us to report that he was finally in a healthy, thriving relationship with a woman he admires, appreciates and who inspires him to become a better person.
For those like “Amit” who may tend toward obsession, in order to build a more satisfying and sustainable love, remember who you were before your relationship to help maintain a strong sense of self. Make sure you haven’t lost yourself in an unhealthy way by thinking back to your life before your relationship. Ask yourself the following questions:
- What did you enjoy doing? Perhaps your daily outdoor run or monthly book club.
- Who did you enjoy spending time with?
- Are you still doing these activities and spending quality time with friends?
If not, prioritize starting up these activities again and schedule regular time with close friends.
Couples who nurture their individual interests and friendships, as well as their collective ones, are more likely to build a healthier love that will last.
As social psychologist Phil Brickman noted, while we are not responsible for our problems, we are responsible for our solutions. While we can’t change the past, and the relationships our parents had and modeled for us, the good news is that we can change the future and cultivate the type of relationships we want.
Once we are aware of our attachment styles, we can work to change our unhealthy habits to create sustainable and satisfying romantic relationships that are characterized by a healthy love.
And we may learn to build a more authentic “happily ever-after” like “Amit” who, by the way, recently exchanged wedding vows in a beautiful and intimate outdoor ceremony.
Pileggi Pawelski, S & Pawelski, J. (2018). Happy Together: Using the Science of Positive Psychology to Build Love That Lasts. New York: TarcherPerigee.