Hamel: Self-sabotage harms intimate relationships

Opinion editor and columnist Peyton Hamel discusses the struggles of self-sabotage and how it influences intimate relationships. 

Peyton Hamel

The dynamics within intimate relationships are both exciting and frightening. We all reach a time in our lives when true intimacy becomes a challenge. We learn how to communicate. We learn how to grow together. We learn how to prioritize. 

I find learning how to feel like I deserve my partner’s love and kindness is the most difficult. If you know my partner, you know they are the most steadfast, consistent person you can find. It’s a blessing. If you know me well, you know I have big goals, but I am sporadic and all over the place. I jump from one side of campus to another, and I can be hard to track down. 

My inconsistency has resulted in me sabotaging my relationship with my partner. I’ll be using it as an example to explain how self-sabotage affects relationships.

We have a funny beginning to our story (or at least I tend to think so). We met the summer before freshman year through a group chat. He must have thought I was pretty funny because he messaged me privately and sparks flew. He became my best friend, the one I never want to live without.

He never kept his feelings for me a secret. One day we were talking, and we spontaneously went to the theater — before that was illegal — to watch “Joker.” Our date night inspired me to write one of my favorite columns. He took me back to my dorm and asked me to dance right then in the parking lot. A fairytale.

But then I got scared. I friend-zoned the man two times, but I got over it in November. We dated for six months, but then we broke up. I wasn’t in a place where I could withstand long distance for another six months without hurting him. I had to work on myself before I could make it work. We got back together this October, and here we are, seven months later. The truth is, I still get scared. I make mistakes, and I still say really dumb things, but he’s always still here.

What’s happening is self-sabotage. I unconsciously have sabotaged my own relationship because of my insecurities and fears. 

I have challenged his patience. 

I have challenged his loyalty. 

I have challenged his compassion. 

And I hate that I’ve done it. 

I’m being vulnerable because I want others to know they aren’t alone, and it’s something that can be helped. About 20 percent of people engage in self-sabotaging behaviors, which commonly results in sabotaging their intimate relationships. Self-sabotage is defined as “behavior that creates problems in your own daily life and interferes with your long-standing goals.”

There are two things that stand true about self-sabotage:

  1. It is never acceptable to sabotage your relationships.
  2. It’s not completely your fault. 

Self-sabotage derives from a multitude of reasons. It could be because of childhood neglect. It could be because of past relationship trauma. Maybe because of PTSD. Even from mental health conditions. 

It’s a harsh reality, and it’s very real. It’s a struggle that has to be acknowledged every day. To be blunt, it sucks to realize what you’re doing and see that you’re constantly letting your partner down because you slipped on your own ice you decided to leave all winter. Annabelle Fournier lists a variety of what sabotaging a relationship looks like: 

  • Gaslighting to look for an exit or to make them despise you so they will leave
  • Serial dating
  • Jealousy with a little splash of anxiety
  • Criticism of your partner, nitpicking their flaws and mistakes but not seeing your own
  • Avoidance and lacking communication
  • Low self-esteem (which is, in itself, a cause as well)

It’s a very long process to work through, but it is possible to recover. Oftentimes, therapy is a huge step for change. It will help you identify your attachment style. Attachment styles are how individuals interact with their significant other, theorized as attachment theory from the 1960s and ’70s. Identify this and work on it. Take a long breath before making a decision. Take your time. Then have that honest discussion with your partner. But most of all, be patient. 

If you are in a relationship with someone who self-sabotages, continue being patient, but set your boundaries. There is a limit. Although you love them, a kick in the butt is sometimes necessary. Make sure to be constructive. Continue being understanding. Reassure them as much as you can. Don’t be afraid of disclosing your own problems.

If you are an individual who self-sabotages, you’re not alone. If you’re doubting, tell your partner. If you’re in a fight and want to lash out or distance yourself, take a breath. You will be OK, and remember that you love them. Work on that attachment style and your confidence. You are worth that love. I know it’s hard. I get it. Don’t give up on your partner, and don’t give up on yourself. My partner has never given up on me. I may not ever understand why, but I don’t need to.

My partner and I are working on my confidence through making lists of three. He has me write down three things I love about myself every day. If I can love me, he can too. 

I still have a lot to learn, but slowly, I’m catching myself. Celebrate the little victories, right? I’m trying to communicate where my head is going before it goes there. I know it sucks to hear “Do better” or “You need to work on it,” but it’s true. Your lovely relationship won’t be able to survive if that fire keeps burning. 

I believe in you, and so does your partner. You got this.