Dr Raquel Peel has developed a way to measure how people sabotage their own happiness. (Unsplash: Kristina Litvjak, CC0)
For some, Valentine’s Day is the day to smugly celebrate your couple status with overpriced flowers and saccharine sweet cards.
For others, it is the day to ridicule the commercialisation of a Christian festival while lamenting spending yet another year alone with your cat.
But a Queensland researcher may have come up with a way to move from the lovelorn group to the loved-up list.
Dr Raquel Peel, from the School of Psychology and Counselling at the University of Southern Queensland, has made a career out of studying romantic relationships and people will be surprised to discover why some fail and who’s to blame.
‘Recovering romantic self-saboteur’
Dr Peel found that self-sabotage was one of the biggest factors in failed relationships and has developed a way to measure how people sabotage their own happiness.
“I am a recovering romantic self-saboteur,” Dr Peel said.
“I had a history of really bad relationships myself, so it was something that I was always interested in.
“I didn’t really believe that I deserved a good relationship — I didn’t feel pretty and I didn’t feel boys would be interested in me.”
Dr Peel has developed a way to measure how people sabotage their own happiness. (Supplied: Dr Raquel Peel)
Dr Peel is so passionate about the subject, that she is one of a few researchers in the world to study the psychology behind relationship self-sabotage.
“While an undergraduate, I studied suicide and realised that a lot of people who had suicidal thoughts blamed difficulties with relationships and that hit me really hard,” she said.
“I realised that relationship breakdown can have an enormous impact on people’s mental health.”
She has conducted five studies on the topic over the past four years, published two papers, done a TedX talk, and even developed a scientific measurement of self-sabotage for relationship counsellors.
TEDx Talks – Why do we sabotage Love? Raquel Peel, TEDx JCU Cairns on December 20, 2018
Relationship self-sabotage scale could help
Dr Peel said she hoped the scale would revolutionise the approach of health professionals to treat the condition and allow for a swifter diagnosis.
“They [psychologists] can simply ask their clients to answer the questions and score them on those levels — it can be done quite quickly,” she said.
“Psychologists say that clients talk about being anxious or being depressed, and it is not until many sessions on that they would realise that it was all because of a relationship breakdown or difficulties maintaining or even starting relationships.”
After interviewing psychologists working in relationship counselling and surveying almost 1,400 people about how they were destroying their relationships, Dr Peel came up with the scale to identify and measure self-sabotage.
“There’s a lot of information out there about the kinds of things that destroy relationships, but no-one has ever provided a measurement for what goes wrong in relationships,” she said.
“By developing a scale, I was able to narrow it down and I honestly believe this will save relationships.”
James Cook University psychologist and lecturer, Dr Beryl Buckby, said the scale would be particularly helpful for relationship counsellors.
“The value of this scale is that it may well uncover deeper levels of what’s not working in a relationship.
“There’s not very much out there that will tell you how people behave in a relationship, that’s the value of this scale,” Dr Buckby said.
Abandoned at birth
Dr Peel has developed a way to measure how people sabotage their relationship. (Unsplash: Pablo Heimplatz)
Dr Peel said her life experiences also helped her research.
She was abandoned at birth and left for dead in her native Brazil but was later adopted by a nurse and her surgeon husband at the hospital where she was taken for medical treatment.
“It was always difficult for me to believe people were going to stick around in my life, so I’ve had that insecurity since childhood, with my parents, friends, and even romantic interests,” she said.
There is a happy ending — Dr Peel has now been in a relationship for a decade and happily married for seven years.
“I’ll give my husband all the credit — I didn’t make it easy for him,” Dr Peel said.
“From the beginning I would tell him ‘this is not serious’ and I would act like I wasn’t interested.
“He was such a handsome guy and charming and nice and I would think ‘he’s going to leave me at any moment, so I may as well be prepared by telling him I wasn’t interested’.
“To this very day, I feel like I have to work hard on believing that I do deserve love and that he wants to be with me.”
Behaviours that spell relationship disaster
Dr Peel points to a list of behaviours that spell disaster for relationships.
They are called the “four horsemen of relationship apocalypse”.
Dr Peel said there was a lot of pressure on days like Valentine’s Day to be in a relationship and offers the following checklist for maintaining long-term relationships.
- insight (take a really good look at yourself and your relationship)
- expectations (what do you expect of your partner and are those expectations realistic?)
- collaboration (are you a team and are you working together to change things?)
Dr Peel said change was hard but not impossible.
“Love will never be easy, but without self-sabotage, is it achievable,” she said.