The mysteries of dating are many and one of the most common things we ask ourselves goes back to our parents—how does our parents’ relationship affect our love life?
Relationship science examines many things, among them is how much influence our parents have over our love life, not just in our teenage years but even as full-fledged adults. A lot of the findings on parents’ influence stems from something called attachment theory, a concept developed in the 1960s.
From this attachment theory came the idea of an attachment style—four different categories of attachment that people generally fall into based on their experiences with their parents. Each style represents a certain type of parent-child relationship that then transfers over into the type of adult you turn into.
Here are the types of attachment and how they relate to our relationship with our parents:
These adults are self-assured in their relationships, support their partner, and receive an equal amount of support in return. Adults with this style of attachment have parents who created an ideal, nurturing environment.
Anxious Preoccupied Attachment
Adults with this style of attachment crave affirmation from their partners. They’re looking for someone to be their better half but also tend become clingy when they feel insecure in a relationship. This can be the result of neglectful parents.
These can be split into fearful avoidant and dismissive avoidant. The former wants a relationship but are also afraid of being hurt by getting too close to someone. The latter tend to distance themselves emotionally and can even shut down their emotions, making them more introverted. These adults typically grew up smothered by a parent or even had a parent who looked down on them. They distance themselves from other people because they don’t want to feel emotionally drained.
So does this mean that we’re all destined to repeat history? Is the way we act in relationships solely defined by how our parents treated us? It depends on how you approach it. Psychologists tend to agree that we gravitate toward the familiar, which is why you get the phrases “I married my mom” or “he’s just like my dad.”
For people who grew into a secure attachment style, you’ve already hit the sweet spot. But for those in the anxious or avoidant attachment scenarios, it’s a little trickier. You could be uncertain of why you can’t hold down a relationship or become convinced that you’re better off alone.
But there is a solution. People can change their style of attachment. Once you recognize how you operate in relationships and realize you want to change, you can create steps to move toward a secure attachment relationship.
Lisa Firestone, a doctor who specializes in relationships, writes about understanding yourself by documenting your story. Through writing about your history, you can connect the dots of your childhood to your adult life. More importantly, you gain a better understanding of where that anxiety came from and create a plan to abolish those insecurities.
If you’re not a writer, simply revisiting and thinking about or talking about your childhood can have a similar affect. There’s no getting around it, parents shape who we are. Even their absence can have lasting affects on the type of people we’ll become. But by acknowledging and understanding their influence we can create new ways of being and interacting with those we love.