Good relationships take work and some take more than others. But when a relationship isn’t going well, some of us have the instinct to run.
Peel interest was sparked by her earlier work in which she found many people who had considered suicide did so as a result of broken relationships.
This got her thinking about why people struggle to maintain good relationships, and sometimes destroy relationships that have the potential to work.
“It’s like they’re not giving it a chance,” says Peel, who is in the early stages of her PhD research.
She says regardless of age, gender and sexual orientation people behave in similar ways and create expectations of how relationships should be. These are informed by interactions with family and friends, and previous relationships, and are carried into future relationships.
Not everyone is aware of their patterns of behaviour and how they respond to situations, she says.
If a previous partner has been unfaithful, it can create the expectation that people can’t be trusted, or that a new partner will be also be unfaithful. In fact, people who self-sabotage start looking for signs of affairs, or even disrespectful behaviour, from their partner.
Are we making relationships harder than they should be?
Yes, according to Peel who says the behaviour is about self-protection and the desire to stay in control. While we may be creating these issues, and looking for problems that may not exist in the first place, the ultimate outcome is diminishing relationship success.
Peels adds that people who sabotage relationships want to feel that they’re ‘right’ and inadvertently look for reinforcing behaviour.
“The need to be right overwrites everything that is going on.”
To understand self-sabotaging behaviour, it’s necessary to go back to the origins of how we learned to love, and why we get stuck, she says.
“Our first experience of love is with our parents and if [that is] an insecure space we will tend to carry that [and] recreate that in a way.”
Her study will continue over the next two years with the aim of creating a ‘self-sabotage scale’. She hopes to contribute to relationship counselling and help people who want to break free from the cycle of behaviour.
Part of that process, she says, is learning to create realistic expectations. “[It’s about] being able to realise that the blame is not on the other partner [but] something that is within my control.”