If you are someone who has started relationships determined to love and be loved, given everything you had to make the relationships work, yet watched them slowly fall apart no matter how hard you tried, your own behaviors may be the reason.
It’s not easy for anyone to look at that possibility. New partners often refrain from telling you what they don’t like, hoping your good qualities will outweigh your liabilities if they just hang on long enough. Established partners may feel cumulative resentments but either have not shared them or have resigned themselves to accepting those behaviors because you’ve been unwilling or unable to change them.
Whatever the case, sabotaging behaviors slowly build toxicity in a partnership that might otherwise have succeeded. What once may have been tolerable or even acceptable eventually evokes an emotionally allergic reaction in the partner of a saboteur.
It takes courage for any of us to turn the mirror of responsibility on ourselves. It’s less painful to rationalize our own negative reactions as being justified by what others have done to us. But when your hopeful relationships always end in the same way, or your long-term relationships continue to falter, you are probably the one who has to change.
Most relationship saboteurs are not intentionally destructive. They don’t set out to torment their partners or to destroy their relationships. In fact, most of the people I’ve worked with who have repeatedly failed in their relationships are heartsick about it, and don’t understand why their relationships haven’t worked out.
Some committed relationships do manage to survive despite long-term sabotaging interactions. The partners in a continual conflict-love relationship may be unwilling to give up what they treasure about each other, despite the cost. Their relationship continues to endure, but it will always operate on less than its full potential unless the partners stop their sabotaging behaviors.
Sabotaging behaviors can take many forms, but they share some common characteristics:
- They often are tolerable, even desirable to some partners at the beginning of a relationship.
- They are not meant to create the damage or disruption that they do.
- Their negative influence on a relationship evolves over time.
- They are often subtly hidden and may be expressed as a different problem in the relationship.
- They may be more tolerable when a relationship is new but will eventually destroy its ability to regenerate.
- If these behaviors are challenged, the partner doing them will usually feel righteous and offended when confronted.
The following exercise will help you determine whether or not you have sabotaged your past relationships. You may want to take notes or write your answers in a separate notebook or journal.
Exercise: Have You Been a Relationship Saboteur?
To determine if you practice relationship sabotage, rate your answers to the following questions on a scale of 1 to 5, in which 1 = never, 2 = sometimes, 3 = usually, 4 = often, and 5 = always.
- If you queried all your significant partners, would their complaints be similar?
- Have you dismissed your partners’ requests for change as unimportant?
- Do you continue with certain patterns of behavior, even when they are clearly driving your partner away?
- When your partners have been distressed with you, have you responded defensively and justified what you’re doing?
- Did anyone in your childhood justify hurtful behaviors that happened to you or others?
- Would you be unable to tolerate a partner behaving the way you behave in your relationships?
- When you start to see your relationships crumble, do you lean even more heavily on certain patterns of behavior that have not worked in the past?
- When you’re confronted with behaviors your partner doesn’t like, do you try to reverse the blame and focus on your partner’s faults instead?
- Do you expect your partner to excuse your faults because you have other good qualities?
- Are you likely to blame your partner for behaviors you are employing?
- When your relationships have ended, have you usually felt self-righteous and that you are not the one who should be blamed?
- Do you believe the reason your relationships fail is that you just haven’t found the right person?
Now add up your total score. If the total is 1 to 24, you are more than likely not a relationship saboteur. You may do some distancing in your relationships when you are off-kilter, but your partner should not use that as a reason to disconnect from the relationship. If your score is between 25 and 36, you could be eroding the trust of your partner and should begin your recovery work, so you can move in a more positive direction. If your score is over 36, you could already be sabotaging your relationships and need to commit yourself to a new way of being.
This article has been edited and excerpted from the book Relationship Saboteurs (New Harbinger Publications, 2010) by Randi Gunther, Ph.D. Dr. Gunther is a clinical psychologist and marriage counselor in Lomita, CA. She has given multiple workshops and lectures, inspiring hundreds of couples to go beyond their limitations to create successful relationships. A practical idealist, she encourages her patients to give up their deadlocked limitations and to create the relationships of their dreams. In more than forty years of practice, she has spent over 90,000 face-to-face hours helping individuals and couples. www.newharbinger.com
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