How to Help Your Partner to Get Over a Self-Destructive Behavior



Relationships have their ups and downs, but things can be a little nasty if your partner is engaging in self-destructive behavior. The happy moments, special dining experiences, gifts and flowers, and other beautiful things in a relationship can be washed down when you find that the person you care about is involving himself or herself in self-destructive behavior. The behavior may manifest as substance abuse, eating disorder, explosive anger, alcohol abuse, other addictive behaviors or engaging in self-mutilation acts like burning and cutting.

According to a recent report dubbed Pain in the Nation released by the Well Being Trust and Trust for America’s Health, both non-profits, the United States has been experiencing a new set of epidemics. About 1 million people in America have died from alcohol use, drug overdose, and suicide in the past decade (2006 to 2015).
In 2015, about 127,500 people in America died from cases related to alcohol or drug-induced suicide or causes. If the trends in alcohol, drug, and suicide deaths continue to occur at similar rates, about 1.6 million deaths would be recorded by 2025 representing a 60 percent increase compared to the level of 2015. The deaths from these three epidemics would hit 192,000 nationally in 2025 from 127,000 in 2015.

If you are in a situation where your significant other is struggling with self-destructive behavior, you feel like you are stuck not knowing what to do and where to start. Of course, you don’t want to dump or abandon them, and you don’t want to see them behave that way. So, how do you go about helping your partner if they are being self-destructive?

Before we delve into that, let’s look at what self-destructive behavior is.

What’s Self Destructive Behavior?

When we talk about self-destructive behavior, it is a deliberate action a person takes that causes a negative impact on the person’s mind or body. Being self-destructive takes many forms, and the victims are in most cases not aware of the damage and harm the behavior is causing themselves and other people. The signs of self-destructive behavior are pessimism and depression, avoiding responsibility, having emotional numbness or being hypersensitive, addictive behavior, or physical damage like having scars and bruises due to self-inflicted injuries. Self-destructive behavior is a 
symptom linked to a deeper, unidentified, and unresolved problem an individual has experienced in their life.

Self-destructive behavior could be intentional, subconscious, planned, or impulsive. It can be a series of actions, an action, or a way of life causing physical and psychological harm to the individual engaging in the behavior. Self-destructive behavior can start off as something pleasurable, a coping mechanism, or an unintentional act. The behavior can start off small, however, it escalates going to a point where it leads to death.

How to Help Your Partner

If you have a partner going through a problem like substance abuse, extreme anger, abuse of alcohol, eating disorder, or maybe self-harm behavior, you definitely have a deeper and desperate desire to help or change the situation. What you need to realize is that regardless of the amount of love you have for your partner, you have no power to fix or change them to come out of the behavior unless they are ready to do so. It is challenging for the partner to detach themselves from the otherwise self-harming behavior they are engaging in, the reason being that they are getting short relief or even some sense of self-soothing and numbing from the behavior. 

You may try to be supportive and get close to your loved one who is struggling with the behavior, however, this can put you in problems too. An important thing to remember is that while you help your partner to get out of the problem, you essentially have to take care of yourself. There may be no magic solution, however, part of the solution is learning to disassociate your partner’s behavior from their real self as a person. What this means is that you love the partner, but denounce their behavior.

Disassociation or detachment may involve being less emotionally reactive because of the situation. You need to value who your partner is at his or her core, but you refuse to support the negative influences and choices they are bringing to themselves or even to your relationship, at large. Detachment means that you step back emotionally to find space so that you draw boundaries to allow yourself to respond to the situation in a helpful way. 

Sometimes, as you make efforts to bring solutions to the problem or help your partner trounce the behavior, you may set yourself up for feelings of anger, frustration, resentment, and helplessness when your efforts and attempts don’t work. A person who is entrenched in self-destructive acts may misinterpret the zeal of others wanting them to change and be healthy as being critical, judgmental, or motivated by anger. Your partner who is self-destructive may accuse you of being unsupportive and not understanding the pain they get through or their needs. 

In most cases, a person who is self-destructive will downplay the seriousness of their actions: excessive drinking, purging, bingeing, drugging, cutting, starving, or involving in other self-harming or addictive behaviors.

Other Ways to Help 

When a person is wrestling in self-harming behavior, they may deny the behavior even when there is solid proof confirming what they are doing. The individual may be selfish and may try to protect their actions by denying or lying to you.

You need to let your partner realize that you love and care about them and their well-being. You also want to show compassion by allowing them to know you recognize what struggle they are going through and how overwhelming it feels to let go of a thing they feel is temporarily helpful. Whenever you try to connect your partner to resources 
or places where they can get help, tell them that they deserve support. Let them see and feel your confidence in their ability to find new ways of coping and healing through professional guidance. Let them know that you have no power to fix or change another person.

Sometimes, even after making all the best efforts, things might not go well. You need to understand that you have to let go. It may feel very devastating to you and your relationship, but when things don’t seem to work, then you have set yourself free, not because you don’t want to help your partner or don’t care about them, but because it’s
difficult to control their choices. To let go isn’t denying, it doesn’t mean stopping to care, it doesn’t mean you cut yourself off or you are judging, it means you admit powerlessness, you admit you cannot control another person and you are supportive.

When you accept that you reasonably did all you could to help, then you may be able to make a conscious decision to distance yourself. Know that it is your right to put to an end a relationship when it’s unfulfilling, abusive, one-sided, or when the partner stubbornly refuses to make efforts to be healthy by getting out of the harmful behaviors.

If you have to end a relationship, you can still make yourself available to help your partner if eventually they take a different turn and make healthy choices like changing their self-destructive behavior or seeking professional help.
If your partner has been involving themselves in self-destructive behaviors like alcohol abuse, you need to help them get professional assistance. Seeking treatment for excessive drinking from a reputable rehab facility can help the partner get back to a healthy lifestyle.

Patrick Bailey

One thought on “How to Help Your Partner to Get Over a Self-Destructive Behavior

  1. I’m just curious what type of credentials are held by contributors to this blog; I should add that just because a person has never studied any type of psychology, earned one or more degrees in psych (or a similar, related fields) does not disqualify them from having insight or giving good advice. I just find it highly irresponsible to interpret the lives and experiences of others as offer any type of guidance to them without fully disclosing that what they’re about to read is based on opinion and perspective rather than clinical/professional experience, scientific published (and sited) research or at the very least, academic study. These are people’s lives, and “self destructive behavior” is a very complex issue, further complicated by the fact that it’s a highly individual type of challenge that is not easily summarized. If it were, it wouldn’t be such a widespread challenge because there would be a simple approach to resolve self destruction and it would work easily for anyone who gave it a shot. Instead, this is a cycle almost everyone will face at some point in their lifetime. That said, it’s likely that if an individual were dealing with a self destructive partner and sought advice from an experienced therapist, the therapist would not recommend that they try and rescue, fix or change their self destructive loved one. That would be codependent, and would cause the individual seeking counsel to live in a state of disreality; instead, they would try to help the individual determine whether or not they can tolerate being involved with someone who is hell bent on harming them self, and what their limits are if they can tolerate meeting their loved one where he/she is at and accepting them for who they are. Trying to change them is likely to make that person feel worse about what they already know isn’t working in their life. Not to mention rejected and possibly ashamed, which, in combination, is much more likely to fuel their self destructive fire, making things more severe in the long run.

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