While you definitely have the ability to shape your life into whatever you'd like it to be, there's evidence that suggests
parents affect children's behavior later in life — even when it comes to relationships. And, depending on the situation, that can either be a good thing or a bad thing.
"Your parents are usually your first example of a romantic relationship," Dr. Crystal I. Lee, licensed psychologist and owner of
LA Concierge Psychologist, tells Bustle. "Oftentimes, it's the only real example you have during your formative childhood years. Just as we learn how to speak and behave from our parents, just through being around [them], we implicitly learn relationship habits from our parents."
That's great news if your parents
' relationship was healthy as you grew up, or if they had a stable relationship. But what if their relationship wasn't the healthiest example, or if you've picked up a their bad habits along the way? "With awareness of 'bad habits,' it's always possible to unlearn them," Lee says. "Once you're aware that you're engaging in the habits, you can intentionally act differently. For example, if you learned the bad habit of relying on your partner too much for feelings of happiness, once you've recognized that, you can begin to find other sources of happiness for yourself." So, even though your parents may have had a hand in teaching you about relationships, their not-so-great example doesn't mean you will repeat their mistakes.
Here are a few habits and
thoughts patterns your parents likely modeled for you when you were a kid, that may effect how you handle relationships today.
The way you act when you're upset may be something you picked up from good ol' mom and dad. As
relationship counselor Monte Drenner tells Bustle, "How we saw conflict modeled at home growing up is typically what we use for future relationships." Families have all different methods to handle conflict — some will talk things out, others have fights and then move forward, and sometimes families will avoid confrontation altogether, says Drenner. Take a second to think of how your parents handled conflict, and see if you can find your current practices reflected there.
How Vulnerable And Open You Tend To Be
Are you someone who pours their heart out, hugs your partner frequently, and tells them exactly how you're feeling? Or do you struggle in relationships, because you can't seem to open up? Both habits could be something you learned from your parents, since they were your models of vulnerability.
"Some families are very open about how they feel and express their emotions freely, while other families are more quiet and closed off emotionally," Drenner says. "What we saw modeled throughout our formative years growing up tends to stay with us as we mature."
How You May Deal With (Or Don't Deal With) Toxic Partners
Experts suggest that those who've experienced physical or emotional abuse growing up
will carry those experiences with them later in life. In some cases, this may mean tolerating potentially toxic situations because they were commonplace as a child. "You may have learned to think that you deserve verbal or emotional abuse because you have repeatedly been told you do by toxic parents," relationship consultant Rhoberta Shaler, PhD tells Bustle. Unfortunately, sometimes abuse becomes a pattern. Those who experience abuse may wind up in abusive relationships later because that is what they know.
If this sounds familiar, and you're noticing a toxic pattern in all your relationships, it may be
a good idea to talk with a therapist. A professional can help you re-build your self-esteem, so you'll be less likely to fall into these types of unhealthy situations in the future.
How Likely You Are To Feel A Deep Commitment
"People raised in a household where they saw little or no commitment modeled by one or both parents could have trouble committing later in life,"
certified counselor Jonathan Bennett tells Bustle. Were you parents always breaking up and getting back together? Or did they seem to have a new partner each week? As Bennett says, this "can make kids cynical about giving their love to someone they think is just going to leave them anyway." Bennett suggests this mentality may be something kept in adulthood.
On the flip side, though, you might be the most committed person ever, because you decided early on that you didn't want that kind of drama in your life. (It just goes to show you don't
have to be like your parents, and sometimes the actions they modeled can serve as handy little life lessons.)
How Your Prefer To Communicate
Again, if you have a habit of yelling when you're upset, or remaining silent and introspective,
you may have gotten that from your parents. But it's possible they modeled other communications styles, too, like your mannerisms while talking, or the ways you choose to convey yourself. "For better or for worse, most kids pick up on the communication styles and habits of their parents subconsciously," says Bennett. "Then, when they get in their own relationships, it’s easy to default to what they watched growing up."
Of course this isn't always the case, but if you notice one of your parents coming through every so often during conversation, this may be why.
How You Navigate Conversations About Sex
If your parents were really open about sex, and gave you all sorts of "talks," it may explain why you're super comfy talking about it as an adult. But the opposite can be true, too. "While very few parents share details about their sexuality with their children ... parents still set a strong tone for 'proper' and 'improper' sexual behavior," says Bennett. "Men and women raised in a household where sex was considered dirty or immoral could have issues embracing an open, positive sexual relationship later in life."
Of course your sexuality is a natural part of you and should be embraced in a healthy way, but if you find you have hang-ups regarding sex (thanks to your parents) this may be another case where talking with a therapist can help. Since sex
is an important part of a relationship, you should feel comfortable talking with your partner, and telling them what you do and do not like — even if you parents told you that wasn't OK.
How Good You Are With Money
"We learn how to manage money from our parents,"
relationship expert Dr. Venessa Marie Perry tells Bustle. "If one person was a spender and one a saver and constantly fought about that, we will either learn how to manage money or how to not manage it. Late bills, poor credit, and spending beyond your means could all be things we learn from our parents."
So take a moment to think about how your parents handle their money, and how you do. Since
money issues can cause lots of fights between couples, figuring out where you got your habits from — and improving them, if need be — can mean being more open about shared finances, and ultimately having a healthier relationship.
What A Relationship Should Look Like
While you're obviously your own person with your own ideas, you might notice that the way your parents behaved with one another, the ways they showed (or didn't show) affection, and the roles they assumed play a part in how you view relationships.
"Our beliefs about our roles in romantic relationships, what the expectations are of each person, and what love, flirtation and romance are, are driven in large part by what we saw our parents do or not do," says clinical psychologist Dr. Josh Klapow.
If you find yourself struggling with the dynamics in your relationship, thinking back to how your parents acted can shed some light on the problem.
Potentially Overcompensating For Your Parents Failures
Overcompensating in your relationship so you don't repeat your parents' failures is definitely common, experts say. "If our parents were distant and unkind to one another, we may make it a priority to be loving and dedicated," Klapow says. "If we were in a divorced situation, we may feel that relationships are more fragile than they are, and overcompensate to avoid losing a partner."
But be careful if you are trying
too hard to keep a relationship together. If your need for love is straying into codependency, or if you're pushing your partner too much for affirmations of their feelings, it could lead to an unhealthy situation.
How Kind You Are Towards Your Partner
Kindness is another thing we can mimic from our parents. If they were caring and loving toward us, this may extend into our relationships. Sadly, though, if we did not experience that love, we may be likely to carry that unhealthy behavior with us to our partner. "If we saw one parent abuse another, we may become an abuser," Klapow says. "Or we may rebel strongly against the behavior and be fearful of intimacy as to not be in an abusive situation."
If any of that sounds familiar, you've already taken a really healthy first step. Recognizing unhealthy or toxic habits is the best way to start handling them in a better way. (And, again, a therapist can help.)
How You View Certain Relationship Roles
Your way of approaching relationships, and the roles therein, can come from your parents, too. "More specifically, you learn gender roles in a relationships from your parents," Lee says. "If your father was the one who always made the decisions, this might impact you by you either accepting the gender role ... or rejecting that notion, because perhaps you saw that make a negative impact on your mother."
If prescribed gender roles were prevalent in your parents' relationship, it may be one of the first places you learned them. But luckily, social constructs of gender can be unlearned, and the roles you take on in your relationship can be those that work best for you and your partner, regardless of gender.
Looking at the way your parents interacted might explain a lot about your relationships. But at the end of the day, it's important to remember that your relationship is
yours. If you have a few bad habits, it's certainly possible to change. Or, you may just find your parents' example helped your relationship for the better.