We see it all the time in movies, TV shows, with our friends, and maybe even with ourselves (guilty as charged) — people engaging in destructive behaviors in a relationship, thereby sabotaging it. The bad behavior takes a toll on the relationship, sometimes causing it to end, and the sabotager is left feeling heartbroken…even though, uh, it was kind of their own fault.
It’s pretty common for us humans to self-sabotage and not always in relationships, sometimes it’s our career, schooling, or general well-being. Sometimes, you don’t even realize you’re doing it, hurting ourselves (or others), until it’s too late.
What Does Destructive Behavior Look Like In A Relationship?
There are several tell-tale signs that you’re being destructive. Talkspace therapist Christine Tolman LCPC says, “If you find yourself starting a fight for no real reason, looking for reasons to have your feelings hurt, or pointing out every flaw you find in your partner, that might be a sign that you are engaging in destructive behaviors.”
More examples of self-destructive behaviors in relationships include:
- Feeling like you need to end a relationship when it starts getting serious
- Being nitpicky about your partner’s personality, behavior, and looks
- Constantly comparing your present relationship to your past relationships
- Cheating (physically or emotionally, as with an emotional affair)
- Abusing alcohol and/or drugs to an extent that it’s hurting the relationship
- Anticipating things will go badly and expecting the worst
- Refusing to be wrong (in day-to-day life and in heated arguments)
- Feeling like you don’t deserve love or a healthy relationship
Why Do We Engage In Destructive Behaviors In Relationships?
Just like there are usually reasons we self-sabotage other aspects of our lives, there’s almost always a deep rooted cause for destructive behaviors in relationships. We aren’t out here wreaking havoc on our partnerships for no reason! In order to avoid destructive behavior, we need to realize why we’re doing it.
Think far back in your life. What was your parents’ relationship like? Was it healthy? How about your early romantic relationships — were they healthy? Growing up around family members who engaged in destructive behaviors might’ve subconsciously rubbed off on you. If you’ve been hurt badly in relationships before, destructive behavior in relationships might be a big ol’ defense mechanism, attempting to save yourself from more heartbreak. Many times, destructive behavior is a result of our own insecurities.
Being Self Aware Of Our Destructive Behaviors
As previously mentioned, we need to understand our “why” in order to make positive changes, and this comes with being self aware. Did you read those last tips and think, “Oh crap…I totally do that”? Welcome to being self aware!
When you look back at your past experiences — your fears, and your insecurities (not a fun thing to do, I know) — you can get some insight as to why you do the things you do. This is crucial for making changes to avoid destructive behavior. This is something that can be really deep, and can be great to unpack with a therapist.
“Being self aware is a skill, and therefore requires practice in order to be good at it,” says Tolman. You’re going to have to be more aware in your daily life and recognize when you’re engaging in destructive behaviors.“If you feel an emotion, allow yourself to sit in that emotion and ask yourself where it is coming from. Work to identify your own signs of destructive behaviors in your relationship, and be open to recognizing when you are engaging in them. Acknowledge the behavior to yourself, and then recognize the emotion that goes along with it.”
We can’t forget the harsh reality: you’re also going to have to be very aware of the fact that there’s a real possibility that the relationship might not work out if the destructive behaviors continue.
Avoiding Destructive Behaviors
When you’re the one being destructive, it’s up to you to make changes in order to create a healthier relationship, or maybe even repair one that’s breaking. It’s probably not going to be easy, but if you want to be on your way to healthier and happier relationships, you have to put the work in to change your behavior.
Tolman advises, “Once you can increase your self awareness and how your behaviors are impacting your relationship, begin to focus on improving communication in your relationship. Clearly define your needs to your partner, and give them the freedom to meet your needs.”
You must be willing to examine the root causes of your behavior — and as previously mentioned, therapy could be a great place to delve into this. Then, it’s really your responsibility to apologize for past destructive behavior and to make positive changes.
Communication is likely the top thing you’ll have to work on if you’re trying to stop being destructive. You’ll have to learn to get comfortable with talking and being vulnerable, expressing how you feel instead of just reverting to behavior that’s going to be damaging and possibly push your partner away.
Additionally, you should pay attention and learn what sets you off and makes you feel like you need to act out. Identifying triggers can be very helpful in avoiding destructive behaviors.
In general, you should also be sure to practice self care as a part of your whole mental health journey. This can make a big impact on your overall well being, which can translate into our interpersonal relationships. When we are well and have a good relationship with ourselves, it makes it easier to have healthy relationships with others.
Again, this isn’t necessarily going to be easy. There’s no quick fix for this, because it’s unlikely that you can automatically snap out of these behaviors when it’s been a pattern. You’re going to have to work with yourself and your partner in order to make positive changes in your life, and then stick with them! Hard work will pay off in your relationships, however, we promise!
Talkspace articles are written by experienced mental health-wellness contributors; they are grounded in scientific research and evidence-based practices. Articles are extensively reviewed by our team of clinical experts (therapists and psychiatrists of various specialties) to ensure content is accurate and on par with current industry standards.
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