We like to think that we’re deeply individual people, totally in charge of our decisions — but there is so much that influences the way we look at the world. And when it comes to relationships, one of the biggest influences we have is the primary relationship that we grew up with — our parents. The relationship that we grew up watching and internalizing can inform so much of how we date as adults. And you might not always realize that it’s happening.
For those of us who didn’t grow up with a happily married set of parents, thinking about the influence this may have had can feel a little disheartening. But the truth is, having a bad example isn’t necessarily a terrible thing— sometimes it helps to have an example of what not to do. Here’s how your parents’ relationship affects your love life, because whether it was amazing or troubled, you’re going to have to be self-aware when it comes to the impact it has on you.
Just Because Your Parents Split Up, Doesn’t Mean You’re Doomed
OK, first things first, divorce rates are higher in those who had divorced parents. That’s a fact. But it doesn’t mean that you’re doomed. My parents were divorced, never lived together when I was alive, and hated each other — but I’m not letting the lack of a good blueprint make me think I can’t be in a healthy relationship. In fact, I have a pretty good blueprint about how to not have a relationship from watching the way my parents interacted. Whether your parents were divorced or never together in the first place, you still probably had some blueprints for relationships — the good, the bad, and the ugly.
The most important thing here is self-awareness. You’ve seen what can go wrong in a relationship, so now you have to not only work out how to avoid these pitfalls, but you have to be willing to admit when you’re falling into them yourself.
There’s one other aspect that you may need to deal with if your parents divorced — and this one is trickier to talk about. You can’t blame your partner for your parents divorcing. And you can’t assume your relationship will fail just because your parents’ relationship failed. Even if it’s somewhere back in the dark corners of your mind, it could lead you to self-sabotage, second-guess your partner, or act out. So you need to accept the limitations of your parents’ example, but also understand — and really believe — that it doesn’t have to turn out the same for you.
Not Fighting Isn’t Necessarily A Good Thing
If your parents had a great marriage, that may give you a lot of good examples for your own. Maybe you saw them work as a team, maybe you saw them use great communication, maybe there were traditions and values that you bring into your current relationship. It’s all not only very useful, it’s also a genuinely lovely thing to be able to do.
That being said, some parents make a huge effort to present a perfect relationship. They never fight, never even disagree, and act as though everything is amazing, every single second of the day. That’s not necessarily a good thing. “For a lot of couples, when conflict does come up, if they’ve never seen conflict in their parents’ marriage, they think, ‘Well that’s it, the marriage is over, the relationship is over, this will never work because we’re fighting,’” Ashley Seeger, a Colorado-based licensed clinical social worker and couples counselor tells Well and Good. “And the other person’s going, ‘My parents fought all the time, this is fine. This is how you deal with things.’”
Seeing your parents struggle a bit can actually be a useful tool, because it can show you how you work through things. If it looked like your parents had a perfect marriage, that’s great — and you should take all of the good that you remember from that and apply it to your own relationship. But it’s also important to remember that norelationship is perfect. Your parents had their bumps in the road — and just because they didn’t show them to their children, doesn’t mean they weren’t there. If your parents are still around, you may want to talk to them about your own relationship issues and ask for their advice — they may give you some very different insights into their relationships now that you’re an adult.
And Expectations Can Be Too High
There is so much good that can be taken from a strong parental relationship. But, again — no relationship is perfect. If you idealize your parent’s relationship or try to replicate it, you’re bound to be disappointed. In fact, some people idealize their parents’ relationship so much that it stops them from getting into a relationship in the first place, because they’re so scathing of every candidate. Try to remember that you are not your parents — your traditions don’t have to be the same, your values don’t have to be the same, and your relationship doesn’t have to be the same.
This is especially true if your parents continue to provide a lot of input on your current relationship. The truth is, it’s not always just the way our parents’ relationship played out when we were children that can affect us — sometimes they directly influence us as adults. If your parents are pressuring you into a relationship that looks just like theirs, try to take a deep breath and remember that you’re your own person.
Watching your parents’ relationship, whether it was happy, difficult, or non-existent, can have an effect on how you date — and even on your marriage. But that’s OK. Hopefully, you’ll have a mixture of good examples and bad examples, things you can apply and things you can try to build on. Just be aware if you’re projecting any preconceived expectations onto your current relationship. Because no matter what you saw, it wasn’t the whole story — and your current relationship is your own, not anybody else’s.
Originally posted on Brides