3 Influences That Your Parents Have On Your Love Life

Research reveals that your parents can play a subtle yet impactful part in your dating life. Here's how.

Mark Travers, Ph.D.

By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | May 30, 2024

When it comes to dating and relationships, many people believe their choices are entirely their own. However, our parents can significantly influence who we choose to date. These influences often operate under the radar, shaping our preferences and behaviors in ways we might not consciously recognize.

Here are three ways in which parents influence your choice of partner, according to research.

1. You Seek Their Approval

Even as adults, many people consciously seek partners they believe their parents will approve of. This can be rooted in a genuine alignment of perspectives or a desire to maintain family harmony and continue receiving parental support and validation.

Parents also communicate their expectations and values regarding relationships, sometimes without even realizing it. These implicit messages can covertly shape who we find attractive and acceptable as partners. For instance, parents might express subtle preferences for certain socio-economic backgrounds, ethnicities or educational levels, which can guide their children's dating choices.

According to evolutionary psychology research, when parents meet a "potential mate," it is a crucial step for both their child and their new partner to assess future compatibility.

"We hypothesized that individuals are motivated to bring home their mates in order to seek parental feedback and approval. We also hypothesized individuals want to meet their new partner's parents for insight into how their potential mate will look when older, their future health and potential familial resources that will be available," the researchers explain.

Sometimes, parental influence can also have the opposite effect and manifest through rebellion against parental expectations. If parents are perceived as overly controlling or having very rigid expectations, their children might deliberately choose partners who are the opposite of what their parents want, as a way to assert their independence and autonomy.

2. Your Relationship With Them Influences Your Own

According to attachment theory, the bond we form with our parents in early childhood sets the stage for how we connect with others later in life. The emotional environment our parents create can steer us towards certain types of partners who either complement or challenge our ingrained attachment patterns.

If parents are consistently responsive and supportive, children are likely to develop a secure attachment style. As adults, these individuals tend to form healthy, trusting relationships and seek partners who provide the same level of emotional security and support they experienced growing up.

However, children with parents who are inconsistently available may develop an anxious attachment style. As adults, they might crave closeness and reassurance, often feeling insecure in their relationships. This can lead them to choose partners who are similarly unpredictable or to behave in ways that elicit the reassurance they seek.

A 2024 study found that adolescents who grew up with more negative conflicts with their parents report lower romantic relationship quality and satisfaction as well as higher levels of conflicts with their partners. They found that experiencing an anxious attachment to a parent is associated also with lower romantic relationship quality.

Further, if parents are emotionally distant or neglectful, children may develop an avoidant attachment style. As adults, they might prioritize hyper-independence over intimacy, often pushing partners away or choosing people that are similarly emotionally reserved.

Understanding your attachment style and relationship with your parents can illuminate why certain types of partners feel more comfortable or familiar, even if those relationships are not always safe or healthy.

3. You Want To Avoid Their Mistakes

When it comes to dating, you might want a relationship either just like your parents', nothing like theirs or something in-between.

Parents serve as the primary role models for relationship dynamics. From a young age, children observe their parents' interactions, picking up on details such as displays of affection, gender roles and conflict resolution styles, internalizing these dynamics as templates for future relationships. This can also provide an exact blueprint of qualities they wish to avoid in a partner.

A 2020 study found that adult children internalize and apply positive relationship behaviors they have learned from their parents when they view them as good role models. However, when parents are perceived as poor role models, their children seek partners that can help them avoid repeating their parents' mistakes.

Researchers also found that people may commit to a partner at a young age and form a family of their own to try and remedy what they experienced in their family of origin.

If a child grows up in a household where affection, respect and healthy communication are the norms, they are more likely to seek out similar qualities in their partners. Conversely, if a child finds that their parents' relationship is dominated by conflict, mistrust or emotional distance, they may unconsciously replicate these patterns in their own romantic relationships.

However, this does not mean we are fated to always make romantic decisions based on parental influence or that parents have to be perfectly happy together at all times to be a positive influence. Researchers suggest that, often, children can learn a lot about commitment from parents who simply value their relationship and work on it over time.

"There are limits to parents' influence as children exert more agency over their romantic choices and extract more nuanced meaning from the examples they observed in their parents' relationships. As adults, participants moved away from seeking partners in reaction to parental deficits and instead sought partners (or chose singlehood) based on their own romantic experiences and values," the researchers explain.

Recognizing these influences can empower you to gain insight into your relationship patterns and make more conscious, informed decisions about future partnerships. By reflecting on these influences, we can break free from unintentional romantic patterns and foster relationships that truly align with our individual values, needs and desires.

Curious about what influences your decisions in everyday life? Take this test to find out: Intuitive Decision Style Scale

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