“What is required for many of us, paradoxical though it may sound, is the courage to tolerate happiness without self-sabotage.” — Nathaniel Branden
There are many types of romantic relationships. Good, bad, mediocre, dangerous, life changing, short-lived, sometimes ethereal. One thing they all have in common is that from the time we are young, we are taught that we should have one. We should hunt for it or let it find us. We should become worthy of one, change for one, or even compete for one. Some of us witnessed horrible relationships as children and so we fear them, avoiding them at all costs. Or sadly, we repeat what we learned from our misguided teachers, perpetuating harmful lessons.
Depending on our idea of what defines a relationship, we may work quickly in the selection process, or withhold full benefits until the individual has proven competence in the position. Sometimes we interview overqualified candidates and work hard to convince them they should accept our offer. Or for some of us, we welcome entry level experience hoping that with our guidance and investment, they can reach newfound success. This may be a realistic theory for a recent high school graduate, but the probability of an adult changing into someone other than who they have long chosen to be, just because we have decided to love them, is possible but unlikely.
When a person chooses not to invest in themselves, their personal growth, or in us, it is unwise to become one of their high-risk investors, especially when we can’t afford to lose. If we throw caution to the wind, it may be that we are misdirecting our time and energy in another so that we don’t have to look at the ways we have historically or are presently sabotaging ourselves. If we are not interested in investigating and addressing the root of our recurring aches and pains, it is not realistic that a partner or lover will ever cure them for us. A relationship may offer temporary relief, but once the euphoria wears off, there are typically two people left standing comparing battle scars and blaming one another for the infliction of more.
Many times, it takes such pain in the context of a relationship to learn some of our most valuable life lessons. But first, we must be willing to learn. It is much easier for us to look at relationships as hurting experiences with a hero and a villain, rather than what they truly are, opportunities for our healing and growth. Others of us just blindly stay in unfulfilling, toxic, or abusive relationships because we are afraid that there will never be more, we believe we have no other choice, or we simply feel that we are not powerful enough to make a change. Maybe we are in a relationship right now, questioning whether we should stay or go. It can feel very difficult to make such decisions, when we are not comfortable putting ourselves first, or if we don’t feel brave enough to acknowledge the dull ache of things that don’t quite feel right. Feeling confused, we justify bad with good, believing our own words or another’s, rather than reality and verifiable action.
No matter where we are at in our life, if we have never taken time to identify, define and prioritize our needs and evaluate our own areas for development, we cannot expect another to honor us in relationship or elsewhere. We may become more prone to self-sabotaging behavior if we are unaware of our impairments and how we may be attracted to complimentary impairments in another, or vice versa. According to Psychology Today, self-sabotaging behavior creates problems in our daily life and interferes with our long-standing goals. It is the action of damaging, obstructing or impairing ourselves whether consciously or subconsciously.
If you feel something may be out of alignment, yet continue to participate in a relationship anyway, some of the following clues may help you identify and break the self-sabotage you could be inflicting through your relationship:
#1. Energetic Decline or Disruption of Natural State. Have you experienced an inexplicable change in your energy levels? Have you had a decrease in passion or motivation? Are you normally calm and relaxed, but now are uptight with little patience? Is anger bubbling below the surface, causing you to feel hostile or critical toward others? Is your living space usually organized and now it is disheveled? Do you skip classes or activities you used to enjoy? Are you normally social and find yourself avoiding others or being reclusive? Have you lost interest in your appearance?
#2. Excusing Unacceptable Behavior. Are you excusing behavior that you would never find acceptable from another person outside the relationship, or even from yourself? Are you choosing your partner over trusted longtime friends after they have voiced their concerns? Are you forgiving actions that you believe to be unforgivable, but for some reason you have created a reason in your mind to do so anyway?
#3. Continuous Self-Talk and Overthinking. Do you find yourself constantly trying to convince yourself things aren’t bothering you; they are not as bad as they seem, or maybe you are crazy? Are you thinking to yourself maybe you did something to warrant mistreatment? Or maybe, you are justifying your partners offenses because they “just have had it rough?” Well you have had it rough too remember that, or maybe you haven’t…but I have, and it doesn’t grant someone a free pass to lie, steal, cheat, take from, or mistreat others.
#4. Ignoring Your Needs. Are you staying in a bad situation so you don’t hurt the other person’s feelings, even though you are not happy most of the time? Are you putting off endeavors or activities that are important to you, to focus on your partner or their goals? Do you allow yourself to get steamrolled, finding yourself trying to have boundaries, but quickly giving up when you get some resistance? Have you become resigned to the fact you must live a life different than the one you desire or have the potential to create, because you know that it will never be possible with your partner? Do you downplay your successes or strengths because it makes your partner feel uncomfortable?
#5. Change in Habits. Do you find that you are saying yes to things that you want to say no to, such as sexual activities, alcohol and drug use, or smoking? Have you started spending more money in an unhealthy way? Have you changed your normal self-care routines? Have you stopped exercising? Have you begun stress eating, maybe putting on a few unwanted pounds? Have you felt anxiety around keeping your phone close as to not miss a call or text, feeling responsible for responding immediately to your partner? Again, have you stopped interacting with your friends?
#6. Focused on the Future. Do you think that someday things will be different in your relationship? Maybe things will change for the better? Are you being carried by promises that have yet to materialize? Do you invest in your partner in hopes that they will become the person you envision, yet they never seem to make a drastic change? Do you romanticize the relationship through your future visions rather than what is happening in the present? Do you think that maybe you can change them if enough time passes? Maybe they will realize one day soon?
#7. Erosion of Boundaries. Have you noticed that the lines between you and your partner have become illegible and you are losing your sense of self? Do you feel that your partners reality is not your reality, but you are constantly made to feel it is? Are you not honored with privacy and personal space to pursue your goals or personal endeavors? Are there not clear rules around food, shelter, and other responsibilities? When you try to have boundaries are you personally attacked, guilted, or even covertly manipulated?
If any of these questions caused you to think that you may indeed be a victim of your own self-sabotage, the great news is, it is never too late to do something about it. At certain times in our lives we have all fallen prey to our own desertion. And if we never learned how to decipher the difference between the languages coming from our head and our heart, it is difficult to know which one is sending us messages to save us from ourselves. We are all born with an internal compass that alerts us when we start going the wrong direction, but for some reason many times rather than trusting our intuition, we trick ourselves with our thoughts, convincing ourselves what we feel is wrong. The only true test we have, is to quiet our minds and ask ourselves how we feel right now. If something doesn’t feel right, most likely it is because it isn’t.