Skip to content

Researcher shares tips on how to break up relationship sabotage

Relationship self-sabotage is common in this day and age.

From unrealistic expectations to defeatist attitudes, the behaviour helps mask feelings of vulnerability and fear while hijacking our relationships.

And according to University of Southern Queensland Psychology Lecturer Dr Raquel Peel, there are depictions of it everywhere.

“In the movie 1o Things I Hate About You, Kat says she has no interest in romantic engagements,” Dr Peel said.

“But as the plot develops, we learn this is Kat’s way of protecting herself, to cope with the trauma of a previous relationship.

“Other people move through relationships searching for “the one”, making quick assessments of their romantic partners.

“In the TV series The Mindy Project, Mindy is a successful obstetrician and gynaecologist with poor relationship skills.

“She is looking for the “perfect” love story with unrealistic expectations.”

Dr Peel said her team found people sabotage their relationships mainly due to fear, despite wanting an intimate relationship.

“However, fear responses are not always visible or easy to identify - this is because our emotions are layered to protect us,” Dr Peel said.

“Fear is a vulnerable (and core) emotion, which is commonly hidden beneath surface (or secondary) emotions, such as defensiveness.

“For singles, relationship sabotage might prevent you from starting a relationship in the first place.

“For people in relationships, a long-term effect of repeatedly using self-defensive strategies might be to see your fears turn into reality, like a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

According to Dr Peel’s research, there are three main patterns of attitudes and behaviours to look out for; defensiveness, trust difficulty and lack of relationship skills.

So, how do you kick the habit? Dr Peel says there are three key things one can do.

“We need to know who we are first, and the “baggage” we bring to relationships. Be honest with yourself and your partner about your fears and what you might be struggling with,” she said.

“Secondly, we need to manage our expectations of romantic engagements - understand what you can realistically expect of yourself and your partners.

“Finally, collaboration. This means learning how to communicate better (across all topics, while being honest) and showing flexibility and understanding, especially when dealing with conflict.”

Read more on Dr Peel’s work into self-sabotage here.

woman smiling
Dr Peel said her team found people sabotage their relationships mainly due to fear, despite wanting an intimate relationship.