Any therapist will tell you that more of your life than you realize was probably impacted by your childhood. In relationships, for example, we tend to look to our partners for things we didn't get from our parents. It's hard to see how your childhood affects your relationships because this is usually happening subconsciously.
While our parents do the best that they can, most of us lacked something growing up, whether that was attention, validation, or respect for boundaries. We may seek these things out in our other relationships (like friendships) too, but since our romantic relationships are often the closest ones outside of our families that's where these issues tend to come out. "Romantic love is our second chance to complete and get what we didn’t in childhood, and to evolve and know what those needs are and how to give and create a mutually satisfying partnership," marriage and family therapist Marissa Nelson tells Bustle.
This is not necessarily a bad thing. Wanting attention and validation from our partners is normal. Still, it's important to be aware of it so that we're not projecting the failures of our caregivers onto our partners — and to make sure we're not depending on our partners to meet needs we are responsible for meeting ourselves.
Here are some of the top needs that we look for our partners to fulfill because they were unmet during our childhoods, according to Nelson.
1. Positive Attention
Children crave attention from their parents, and when they don't get it or only get negative attention, this can affect their relationships in two opposite ways. Some may avoid expressing their needs to their partners because they subconsciously believe they won't meet them, says Nelson. Others may become clingy or demanding in order to make up for the attention they lacked.
We all want to feel accepted for who we are, and getting this acceptance from our parents is what leads us to feel comfortable in our own skin. Feeling like we don't fit in with our families or even our peer groups can leave us thinking there's something wrong with us and we're not desirable as dates. In relationships, people with this issue can become "almost obsessive in predicting the other person's behavior so that they can know how to act and react accordingly," Nelson says. "This can cause a lot of unnecessary stress because a large part of these fears are self created unfounded."
If you grew up with overly critical parents, there's a good chance you seek out praise from other sources, whether that's your work, your friends, or your partner. It can be healing to get this praise, but it becomes harmful when you depend on other people to feel good about yourself or when you get into relationships just for the validation.
Too often, when kids go to their parents with problems, they tell them to suck it up or make it all about themselves, says Nelson. So, it's no wonder that many of us crave emotional comfort from our partners — and many of us are afraid we won't get it. At its worst, this can lead people to avoid their partners whenever something's wrong because they're afraid they won't listen to them or help them. It can also lead people to become dismissive themselves because they've been taught people's feelings don't matter.
We all want to feel safe with our caregivers, and when they're unreliable, we may come to believe that people can't be trusted. People with this history may especially need their partners to repeatedly prove that they'll give them what they need and won't abandon them. Sometimes, they'll become emotionally unavailable themselves or develop a pattern of getting into relationships with unavailable people in order to avoid the risk of abandonment.
Again, these needs are not harmful in of themselves. They just may lead to harmful behaviors if we're not aware of them. "We have the opportunity to heal in relationships," says Nelson. "What needs to be adjusted is that other people are not responsible for our happiness or well-being. Some of these skills are more about our own individual and emotional growth. If we do that, then the way people treat us and visa versa will begin to shift in a more fulfilling way."
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