The ways that we were wounded by our parents inevitably present themselves in our romantic relationships. Like it or not, our past does inform our present.
One of the most often heard and even more commonly misunderstood sayings is that “We marry our parents.” Most people balk at the idea that they could ever be attracted to someone with their mother or father’s personality, especially if they do not get along with that parent. Whomever they end up with, they assure themselves that this person’s interests, hobbies, career, and even appearance bears no resemblance to their mom or dad at all. The truth is that this statement refers to the character and attitude of the partners that we find ourselves attracted to.
Many adults have some level of dysfunction in their dynamic with one or both parents. Many people who grew up with domineering parents hate this behaviour, yet consistently enter into relationships with people who are domineering. Some people had an absent or revolving door parent who was in and out of their life, and although this hurt them deeply, they gravitate to inconsistent and emotionally unavailable partners, thus re-enacting that same dynamic. The more self-aware person can tell you the ways in which their parent(s) or guardian(s) hurt them, and yet fail to see the connection between this and the partners they choose, many even going so far as marriage. They are more unhappy than not with the person that they’ve chosen, but stay anyway. Why? Either because they’ve felt this specific pain most of their lives and think it’s normal, or because their unhealed inner child believes that if they can finally change their partner or win their unconditional love, it’ll fill the void of a mommy or daddy wound. Neither of these beliefs could be further from the truth.
No amount of time, waiting, or hoping can change a person. People do not change for other people, but for themselves; very, very gradually. Also, no amount of love from outside can mend and heal the wounds left from an absent, abusive, or emotionally immature parent. The only way to heal from and learn from that pain is to re-parent yourself, to give yourself all of the love, affection, time, and validation that your parent(s) wouldn’t or couldn’t. Consciously or subconsciously placing the burden on our romantic partners to heal us doesn’t just keep us stuck, but also makes us incredibly vulnerable to predatory, abusive, or negligent partners who can sniff out these wounds like a vulture to roadkill. The fact of the matter is, unhealed and broken people are generally not attractive to healed, thriving people. While exceptions to the rule do exist, the rule is that brokeness is a beacon for extreme incompatibility at worse, and the brokeness of another at best.
Our relationship with our caregivers sets the tone for all other relationships. Some of us learn to expect love and support from others. Some of us learn that love is conditional, and that we’re unworthy of it. This is why the partners that many people attach themselves to before or during the healing process are often character reflections of the parents who hurt them. In choosing this person, they are playing their most comfortable role: the martyr. We can ask ourselves over and over again, Why do I always want the cold, distant guy? Why do all of my boyfriends talk down to me? Why doesn’t my husband give me enough attention? But chances are, these character traits were subconsciously appealing to you, because this behaviour is what’s most familiar to you. In healing, we must learn to want, expect, and demand better from our partners as well as ourselves. Only then can we begin to break the shackles of childhood hurts.