Why Do We Sabotage Love? Strategies to Avoid Being Hurt

By Raquel Peel

In the last article I promised to tell you how people sabotage romantic relationships.

In a nutshell, it goes like this: They meet that great person and then… They find faults, become over critical, untrusting and assume the relationship will fail without much evidence.

This is a pattern and it happens again and again… From one relationship to the next!

Strategies to Avoid being Hurt

Let me be more specific!

There are six main strategies people use to sabotage relationships - this is the HOW:

  1. Relationship Withdrawal
  2. Defensiveness
  3. Pretending
  4. Relationship Pursuit
  5. Partner Attack
  6. The Pursue-Withdraw Dynamic

Withdrawing from romantic partners or relationships is a strategy individuals use to avoid being hurt. These can involve:

  • Partner Withdrawal and Distancing
  • Emotional Detachment
  • Withdrawing Effort

Partner withdrawal and distancing involves evasive maneuvers, such as “shutting down” or “closing off” to avoid interacting with a partner or keeping a physical and emotional distance from partners as a way to avoid feeling vulnerable. For example:

I distance myself or simply do not get in relationships.

(male, age 18, queer)

Individuals who withdraw in relationships will often also remain emotionally detached. For example:

I tend to physically and emotionally distance myself. I find it very difficult to trust men, so I do not open up quickly or easily.

(female, age 54, heterosexual)

Some individuals describe relationship withdrawal as not investing effort in the relationship. For example:

I think I stop trying to make an effort. I stop voicing my concerns and try to deal with them on my own. I usually try to just "suck it up."

(female, 24, heterosexual)

Defensiveness is a self-protection strategy when feeling criticised or victimised, In turn, partners are held responsible for this feeling. Here are some examples:

I protect myself from getting hurt in a romantic relationship by putting up all of my walls and not letting go of my guard.

(female, age 22, heterosexual)


I act defensive until the person is proven to be trustworthy.

(female, age 18, heterosexual)

Pretending broadly involves lying to oneself or one’s partner about how one feels about the relationship. Here are some examples:

I pretend that it is working

(male, age 23, heterosexual),


I pretend it is still working and ignore the problems

(male, age 19, heterosexual),


I pretend everything is okay when it is not

(female, age 24, heterosexual),


I pretend it is not happening

(male, age 43, homosexual)


I pretend that things are better than they truly are

(male, age 58, heterosexual).

Some individuals implement extreme strategies to prevent the relationship from ending and for fear of being abandoned. These can be perceived as demanding or "needy". More specifically, relationship pursue can involve:

  • Partner Pursuit
  • Pleasing the Partner
  • Bargaining

Partner pursuit involves chasing an emotional connection with one’s partner.

In my first relationships, I would try everything I could. I would stalk, fight, cry—anything and everything.

(male, age 38, homosexual)

Pleasing the partner is a major aspect of relationship pursuit. However, in this attempt, some individuals might inevitably destroy their relationships. This one person explains:

I become 100% focused on that person and want to give the relationship my all. Sometimes this is overbearing and can turn off my partner.

(female, age 35, heterosexual)

Bargaining is similar to trying to please one’s partner and involves promising to do anything for the partner and the relationship. For example:

I would do anything they said or try to become the person that they wanted me to be. I also ignored the fact that I felt constantly threatened by other women (even my friends).

(female, age 21, heterosexual)

Partner attack includes being critical, blaming the partner and holding power over the relationship. Here is a example:

I have a bad tendency of throwing the blame to my partner so that I do not get hurt, even if it could have been my fault or both of ours.

(female, age 21, heterosexual)

Lastly, as this is a couple dynamic, here are some examples of what happens individuals adopt both pursuit and withdrawal methods:

When my partner is overly needy, I pull away. When my partner is avoidant, I cling.

(female, age 47, heterosexual)


Although these strategies can serve the function of self-protection — long-term they can destroy your relationships.

In the next article of this series, I will discuss what it means to have insight into your own relationship self-sabotage.

Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy


The Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy is offering 50 FREE copies of my article. As a researcher, I know how valuable this content is and having to pay for articles can sometimes add up. To take advantage of this offer and access the full article, contact me.

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