Couple holding hands while looking in opposite directions.

How A Lack of Self-Awareness in Relationships Can Destroy the Relationship

When two hearts unite and decide to share a life together, it’s a celebration of love and unity. Yet, like any shared journey, the path of love isn’t always smooth. One of the largest, and most often unnoticed, stumbling blocks on this path is the lack of self-awareness.

When was the last time you stopped and reflected on how well you truly know yourself? Most of us profess to do it regularly or simply assume that we are already self-aware. But delving into self-awareness is often like peeling an onion. There are always more layers beneath the surface. This need for self-reflection becomes even more critical when we examine self-awareness in the context of our relationships.

The well-known Greek aphorism “know thyself” is not merely a philosophical statement but a pivotal piece of advice for sustaining healthy relationships. A lack of self-awareness in relationships can lead to misunderstanding, conflict, dissatisfaction, and, ultimately, the destruction of the bond itself.

But what does self-awareness mean, particularly in a relationship context, and how does its lack impact the rapport between two people? Most importantly, how can we improve our self-awareness to safeguard our relationships? Let’s dive into these important questions before addressing how you can build your self-awareness.

Self-Awareness: The Core of Relationships

Self-awareness refers to a clear understanding of your own emotions, strengths, weaknesses, thoughts, and beliefs, and how they influence your behavior and interactions. It’s the ability to introspect and recognize your true self beyond external or societal definitions.

Within relationships, self-awareness plays a crucial role. It helps us understand our needs, expectations, boundaries, and communication styles, which in turn shape how we interact with our partners. When self-awareness is lacking, it creates blind spots and sets the stage for misunderstanding, disconnection, and conflict.

In the realm of relationships, it’s crucial to understand how the lack of self-awareness can manifest and harm the bond you cherish. Here are five ways this can happen:

  1. Poor Emotional Regulation

    Without self-awareness, understanding and managing our own emotions become a challenge. This can lead to outbursts, emotional suppression, or impulsive decisions that can hurt the relationship. It’s like being in a dark room, unaware of the objects around – you’re bound to stumble.

    Consider a situation where stress from work spills over into a couple’s evening, leading to unexpected arguments. If the stressed individual had a higher level of self-awareness, they could recognize their emotional state, and its potential impact, and choose to handle it differently, thereby avoiding unnecessary conflict.

  2. Misunderstanding Personal Needs

    Every individual has unique needs in a relationship – it could be quality time, words of affirmation, physical touch, acts of service, or receiving gifts. These needs are influenced by our personality, past experiences, and expectations. (For more detail about these needs, you might want to read or re-read The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman.)

    A lack of self-awareness can lead to misunderstanding or neglecting these personal needs. For instance, someone might crave quality time but ends up prioritizing work due to a lack of awareness about their emotional needs. This can create a self-induced feeling of neglect, leading to dissatisfaction and friction in the relationship.

  3. Skewed Perception of Reality

    Without self-awareness, our perception of reality can be clouded by biases, past experiences, or defensive mechanisms. This distorted lens can create a gap between reality and our understanding of our partner’s actions, causing misunderstandings.

    As an example, if a person has past experiences of being cheated on, they may harbor insecurities in their current relationship. Without self-awareness, they might interpret their partner’s innocent actions as signs of infidelity, causing unnecessary suspicion and tension.

    It’s important to remember that self-awareness is not a destination. It’s a journey. So even with a high level of self-awareness, there’s almost always something more to discover about yourself. As a result, your perception of reality will rarely if ever be crystal clear.

  4. Communication Breakdown

    Communication is the bridge between two hearts, and self-awareness is one of its crucial pillars. When individuals lack self-awareness, they often struggle to express their feelings, needs, and expectations clearly. This lack of clarity leads to communication gaps.

    Imagine a partner feeling overwhelmed by their share of household chores but unable to express this discontent due to a lack of awareness about their feelings and needs. This can lead to resentment, arguments, and a breakdown in the relationship’s communication.

  5. Creating and Crossing Boundaries

    Boundaries are crucial for maintaining respect and understanding in a relationship. However, without self-awareness, it can be challenging to establish and uphold these boundaries. This can lead to feelings of being overwhelmed, disrespected, or violated in the relationship.

    For example, a spouse may consistently intrude on the other’s personal time, not realizing it’s a boundary due to their lack of self-awareness. The infringed party may feel disrespected or suffocated, leading to conflict and dissatisfaction in the relationship.

Recognizing these potential pitfalls is the first step toward change. While it’s disheartening to see how a lack of self-awareness can sabotage relationships, the good news is that self-awareness can be cultivated.

As we grow more self-aware, we gain the power to change the course of our relationships, steering them toward understanding, connection, and satisfaction.

So, this begs the question of how to enhance your self-awareness. Here are seven ways you can do so and safeguard your cherished relationship:

  1. Regular Self-reflection

    Taking time out of your routine for self-reflection can be a powerful tool for enhancing self-awareness.

    An effective way to begin becoming more self-reflective is to ask yourself introspective questions like: “What was the most emotionally intense moment of my day? Why? How did I react, and why did I choose that response?” Over time, you’ll start noticing patterns in your emotions, behaviors, and triggers, which will enhance your self-understanding.

  2. Journaling

    Journaling can be an effective tool for self-reflection. It allows you to express your feelings freely and gain insight into your behaviors and patterns instead of just thinking about them.

    One way to effectively journal is to jot down your daily experiences, emotions, and thoughts, and then read them at a later time to identify patterns. You can also write down your responses to situations in your relationship and analyze them. This practice can shed light on your reactions and how they might affect your partner.

    If you’d prefer a little more guidance with your journaling, there are several guided journals available online.

  3. Mindfulness and Meditation

    Mindfulness means staying present in the moment without judgment. It involves noticing our thoughts, feelings, and sensations as they occur. Mindfulness meditation can train the brain to achieve this state of mind. And regular practice can enhance self-awareness by helping you understand your internal processes better.

    There are numerous resources available to guide you in beginning a mindfulness practice. One popular option is the “Headspace” app, which offers guided meditations and educational content. If you prefer reading or listening to an audiobook, “Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World” by Mark Williams and Danny Penman can also provide a good start.

  4. Seek Feedback

    Constructive feedback from trusted friends, family, or a professional can provide valuable insights into our behaviors, strengths, and areas of improvement. It might be uncomfortable, but it’s a powerful tool for self-awareness.

    The thing to remember is that all feedback is through the lens of the person offering it. You’ll still need to reflect on how you might use the information you gain to become more self-aware.

  5. Personality Assessments

    Personality assessments like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) or Enneagram can provide insights into your inherent personality traits. While they don’t define you completely, they can serve as a starting point for understanding your behaviors, preferences, and communication style.

    For instance, knowing if you’re an introvert or an extrovert can help you understand your energy patterns and communication needs better. Similarly, understanding if you’re a Type 2 (Helper) or Type 8 (Challenger) in Enneagram might guide your understanding of your motivation in relationships.

  6. Emotional Intelligence Training

    Emotional intelligence (EQ) is the ability to identify, understand, and manage emotions – yours and others. It’s a crucial skill for self-awareness and can greatly enhance your relationship dynamics. If you’d like to pursue EQ training, there are several online courses and books available.

  7. Professional Help

    Therapy isn’t just for resolving issues. It can also be a powerful tool for personal growth. A therapist can help you understand your thought patterns, emotions, and behaviors at a deeper level. They can also provide valuable insights into how your past experiences might be influencing your present.

    For couples, therapists can help foster better understanding and communication. Rather than simply weekly sessions, you might consider a private, intensive couple’s retreat to quickly address the issues a lack of self-awareness may be creating in your relationship.

As you can tell by the suggestions above, increasing self-awareness requires time, effort, and patience. And, as previously stated, it’s a journey, not a destination. But the rewards it brings – understanding yourself better, improving your relationship, and leading a more authentic life – make the journey worthwhile.

Although the journey may sound lonely, it doesn’t have to be. You can always choose to reach out to professionals, join communities, and use resources to guide and support you along the way.

Remember, it takes courage to identify a need for change and seek ways to smooth out the path of love you share with your partner. So, give yourself a pat on the back and take the first step. After all, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

Through cultivating self-awareness, you’ll not only improve your relationship but also embark on a journey of personal growth and transformation. Why wait any longer?

Mary Ellen Goggin offers relationship coaching for individuals and collaborates with her partner Dr. Jerry Duberstein to offer private couples retreats. To learn more about working with Mary Ellen, contact her here.

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Mary Ellen Goggin

Mary Ellen is a highly skilled and intuitive relationship guide. She brings over 35 years’ experience with individuals and businesses as a lawyer, mediator, personal coach and educator. She received her J.D. at University of New Hampshire Law School and a Master’s Degree at Harvard University. Mary Ellen co-authored Relationship Transformation: How to Have Your Cake and Eat It Too with Jerry Duberstein — and they were married by chapter 3. Mary Ellen brings a unique blend of problem-solving, practicality, and warmth to her work. She’s a highly analytic person, with geeky and monkish tendencies. She’s a daredevil skydiver, a voracious seeker of knowledge, and an indulgent grandmother. Her revolution: helping people become the unapologetic rulers of their inner + outer realms. Read more about the retreats