Terry Gaspard on why you keep messing up your relationships, and how to avoid this.
Do you ever wonder why you keep sabotaging relationships? It’s not uncommon for people to feel discouraged when they begin to notice that their relationships are ending badly and that their partners share similar characteristics.
There are many ways your baggage can get in the way of how you relate to intimate partners. It’s possible that you have not come to terms with your tendency to create self-defeating relationships that match your negative view of yourself and love and commitment.
But as you grow and learn about yourself, it’s important to look at the choices you make in romantic partners and to see what lessons can be learned from your experiences. I know firsthand that the process of gaining self-awareness and looking at the role you play in the dynamics of a dysfunctional relationship takes courage. It wasn’t until after my divorce that I came to terms with how my negative view of myself caused me to walk on eggshells, be a people pleaser, and sabotage most of my intimate partnerships.
For most of my life, I sabotaged relationships as a way to avoid making a commitment because I was mistrustful and fearful of ending up like my parents who divorced when I was young. With support from a seasoned therapist, I gained the insight to break self-defeating patterns in relationships. The benefits of not rushing into a romantic relationship have paid off for me because my second husband and I have built trust gradually; have fewer disagreements, and less disappointment.
Becoming more aware of red flags that may signal problems can also help you to pick partners who are capable of sustaining a loving, romantic relationship. The secrets to healing from the past are to make a decision to stop pouring your energies into saving a negative relationship, recognizing the role you play, and make a decision to change. If you believe you are worthy of love and happiness, you won’t settle for less than you deserve from a partner.
One of my clients, Anna, struggled through a series of unhealthy, short-term relationships until she met her fiance’, Ryan, at age thirty-six. Prior to meeting Ryan, she hadn’t experienced a healthy relationship. She admits to sabotaging her relationships by being mistrustful and controlling. As Anna describes her issue with trust, she says, “Trust and communication are major difficulties for me. I tend to hold everything in and then blow up. I just don’t believe that anyone will stick around so I manage to screw things up.”
Fortunately, Ryan has earned Anna’s trust by being consistent with his words and actions over a period of several years. Anna is working on her fear of being vulnerable and not holding in her feelings with Ryan — allowing them to reach a deeper level of intimacy.
5 ways that you might be sabotaging your relationship:
- You have unrealistic or rigid expectations of how others should treat you and so you are easily disappointed. Then when a partner treats you badly, your suspicions are confirmed. Yet you failed to set healthy boundaries from the beginning. Your friends and family may tell you that you are “too picky.”
- You struggle with intimacy and are either a pursuer (craving intense closeness); or, a distancer (who can be remote and shut down when stressed).
- You have negative beliefs about yourself and your ability to find long-lasting love. You tell yourself “I’m not good enough” or “There will never be anyone who is right for me.”
- You are a people pleaser and don’t want to make waves so you avoid conflict. However, you end up feeling resentful and believe that people will reject you unless you make them happy and are in a good mood.
- You are convinced that the problem is because of your partners. Therefore, you spend too much time analyzing others rather than taking responsibility for your role in your relationship problems.
Katie, an attractive and intelligent single woman in her early 30’s, finds herself repeating negative patterns from past relationships. She tends to fall for men who are emotionally distant like her father who left when she was ten years old. Katie reflects: “I just keep wasting time with the same types of men, men who are low achievers and emotionally distant like my dad. Then when I date someone that might be good for me, I ruin things by being overly needy or possessive.” Her comments mirror the sentiments of many individuals who just can’t seem to stop sabotaging relationships and need to examine how their baggage can get in the way of creating a loving partnership.
8 ways to avoid sabotaging relationships:
- Gain awareness of your history — dating back to childhood. For instance, if you are a people pleaser you may be drawn to partners who you attempt to fix or repair. Learn more about how your parents’ unhealthy patterns have impacted your choices in partners.
- Accept your part in the dynamic. For instance if you’ve experienced a pursuer-distancer pattern, you may realize that you have a tendency to avoid intimacy (distancer) or fear abandonment (pursuer). It’s natural for one person to see their style as preferred and to be convinced that their partner needs to change – neglecting to see their part in the struggle.
- Examine your expectations about intimate relationships. You might be focused on your dream of how a relationship should be rather than the reality of how it is — leading to disappointment. There is no such thing as a soul mate or perfect partner.
- Let go of being a victim and positive things will start to happen. When you see yourself as a victim, your actions will confirm a negative view of yourself. Instead, focus on the strengths that helped you cope so far in life. Don’t obsess about past choices in partners but learn from them.
- Don’t rush into a romantic relationship. Make sure you’ve dated someone for at least two years and are at least in your late 20s before you make a life-long commitment to reduce your chance of divorce.
- Make sure that you have common values with people you date. Pinpoint destructive traits in some of the partners you are attractive to. Finding a good match may require that you choose a new “type” in the future, according to dating expert Cija Black.
- Use positive intentions such as “I am capable of creating loving, trusting relationships.” Recognize the newness in each day and that you have the power to make positive things happen.
- Write a new narrative or story for your life — one that includes taking your time picking partners who are trustworthy and willing to work on a committed relationship if that’s your desire.
With time and patience, you can begin to visualize the kind of life you need to thrive. You don’t have to let your past dictate the decisions you make today. You have an opportunity to learn from your experience and build the kind of relationships that eluded you in the past. Remember to be gentle with yourself and others on your journey.
About the author
Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW is a licensed therapist, non-fiction author, and college instructor who specializes in divorce, children, and relationships. Terry and her daughter Tracy’s book “Daughters of Divorce” will be published by Sourcebooks in the fall of 2015. She is a sought after speaker who frequently offers her commentary on divorce and her research on daughters of divorce. Two of Terry’s research studies on the long-term impact of parental divorce were published in the Journal of Divorce and Remarriage. Her third study is a descriptive study of 326 daughters of divorce and examines relationship issues such as love, trust, and intimacy. Terry and her daughter Tracy offer a healing community for adults dealing with divorce on their website Moving Past Divorce.com. She is also a regular contributor to Huffington Post Divorce and YourTango.com. Follow Terry onmovingpastdivorce.com, Twitter, and Facebook.
This article originally appeared on Divorced Moms.
Photo credit: screenpunk/flickr