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All My Relationships Fail

People who are drowning in self-doubt often wonder if they're the problem.

RANDI GUNTHER Clinical Psychologist & Marriage Counselor

When patients come to me with this honest and sincere question, they are often drowning in their own self-doubt and emotionally broken. They have been raking themselves over the coals, unable to understand what they have done wrong.

Because all of their important relationships have ended, they have lost confidence in whether or not they will ever succeed, and nothing has worked. They’ve tried everything from blaming their partners to blaming themselves, from just feeling unlucky to the agonizing inability to get closure of any kind.

What they don’t realize is that they cannot see or understand what drives them to do what they know will push their partners away because those reasons are driven by unconscious or unknown traumas from childhood that are unresolved. They exist beneath the surface, sabotaging every attempt a person makes to overcome the behaviors that result from them. Unless those deeper issues are unearthed, no amount of commitment or motivation will work. What is hidden cannot be healed.

Once these underlying, buried heartaches are identified and resolved, most people can control their off-putting behaviors and go on to create relationships that are successful.

The following seven unconscious trauma-driven behaviors that predict relationship failure have come up the most often in the more than four decades I have practiced therapy.

1. Seeking Familiarity

If you have unresolved distress from your childhood relationships, powerless to stop your suffering, you will be unconsciously drawn to partners who are similar to those people from your past who were part of that trauma. As an adult, you feel stronger and more powerful, believing that you can now create a different outcome. You are trying to heal the past by controlling the present.

2. Expecting Rejection and Creating That Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

If you experienced rejection as a child, no matter how hard you tried to be loved, you may have internalized an expectation that rejection will always happen if you give yourself to a partner. Without realizing it, you may be unconsciously creating reasons for your partners to reject you by continually testing them until they eventually grow tired of trying to please you and move on. You have proven that you were right.

3. Insecurity Driving Jealousy and Fear of Loss

If you were constantly compared unfavorably to others growing up and felt you would never measure up, you may constantly imagine that your partner will find someone better than you in time. You’ll constantly watch for signs of lessened interest or preoccupation and become certain that the end is coming.

If you feel your partner has more to offer in the relationship than you do, your fear of losing in an anticipated competition will drive you to destroy what you do have to give.

4. Not Carefully Vetting the Relationship History of Your Partners

Were you taught to be overly trusting of people when you were young? Are you a hopeless romantic, believing that what a new partner tells you is always true? Do you accept stories that don’t seem to ring true and allow your naivete to direct your choices?

In this dating world, vetting is now crucial. You need to know where a person has been, what social networks exist, and where their families of origin are. If you choose partners who have a shady past, you are more likely to be hit with emotional boulders you could not have anticipated and then blame yourself for not seeing the obvious destructive behaviors.

5. Overlooking Hidden Deal Breakers

New relationships can feel perfect. What that really means is that there are so many good things happening that the potential bad things are underrated. Sadly, a deal breaker can upend anything that is good and reduce it to rubble. Do you ignore any possible behavior, idea, or attitude that you would eventually become allergic to over time, thinking that you can tolerate it if enough good is there? Did you see one of your childhood nurturers lie to themselves in the same way?

6. Fear of Being Authentic

Though a new relationship may seem abundant with willing sacrifices, underneath, it is a transactional investment for everyone. If you are not free to tell someone what you need, what you can give, where you are broken, what you envision a great relationship is, and what positives you bring to it, you will rely on someone else's generosity forever, which is a no-win possibility. Yes, people are capable of being altruistic at times, but successful reciprocity underlies all quality relationships. Clear contracts up-front make all the difference in predicting a great outcome, yet you find yourself too fearful of loss to take that chance.

7. Failure begets the expectation of failure

Once you have experienced a long string of failures, your mental and emotional state may have given up hope that you will ever succeed. You may have developed an attitude of cynicism or pessimism. When small things start to go wrong, you immediately assume they must be harbingers of bigger losses to come, and you begin to pack your bags.

Your partner may see that as you not wanting to be with them anymore and react by disconnecting emotionally, fueling your dire expectations, and causing what might have been a potentially successful relationship to fail for all the wrong reasons.


Until you are able to heal past, buried sorrows that are driving your relationship-failure behavior, it is important to recognize what they are and to ask your partner for patience and support as you are trying to navigate the pain of change. You can identify triggers and ask your partner to be aware of them and to help you see them coming before you react. You can avoid blaming your partner when he or she reacts negatively to things you do and say when you are upset. You can seek out help from a qualified professional with a background in trauma healing, who can help you remember those painful events and deal with them outside of your relationship.

The most direct way to emerge as a successful relationship partner in your search for your healing is to have compassion for the reasons you have acted in counter-productive ways and to have faith that you can leave them behind.

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