At some point, you may have heard that your relationship with your parents influences every other interaction in your life. And if you’ve had a male partner, you’ve likely wondered at least once how your relationship with your dad can affect your love life.
Perhaps your father is charismatic, handy around the house, and generous — he’d do anything for anyone. Maybe he and your mom are still in love after all these years. As a result, you may find that many of your romantic partners have those same traits. In essence, you’re dating a version of your dad (in the least gross, best possible way, of course).
However, you may have grown up with an absentee father — maybe he’d call and remember your birthday, maybe he wouldn’t. Your parents may have divorced. If they didn’t, they may have always had a rocky relationship. Then what? Have you felt drawn to unstable partners like your dad?
While there are exceptions to every theory, many therapists believe that the relationship with your dad definitely affects your love life.
And with Father’s Day around the corner, we wanted to explore this topic further. HelloGiggles spoke to Shirani M. Pathak, licensed psychotherapist and relationship coach with the Relationship Center of Silicon Valley to get the lowdown.
First, look at how your parents related to each other — and to you.
While growing up, your parents may have had a fairytale, “happily ever after”-type relationship. Or not. And if you think your parents’ constant arguing didn’t affect you? Think again.
“What we learn about relationships we learn by not only watching the adults around us and how they interacted with one another when we were growing up, [but] we also learn about relationships by experiencing how the adults in our lives related with us,” Pathak tells HG.
So is it a myth or reality that your relationship with your dad affects your love life?
You may have grown up in an imperfect family situation with a less-than-supportive father figure, yet now you have the most amazing boyfriend ever who is nothing like your dad, and you two are engaged. While this may be your reality, these situations tend to be the exception, not the rule.
“If you had a great relationship with your dad, you will most likely have few struggles in your relationships with men,” continues Pathak. “If you didn’t have such a great relationship with your dad, expect to find yourself struggling in your relationships with men.”
But why does a far-from-perfect father-daughter relationship tend to make us choose similar romantic partners?
It’s not that you intend to date people like your dad. For example, many people who lived with alcoholic fathers find themselves dating person after person who has a drinking problem. Similarly, your dad may have been an absentee parent, and your romantic partners tend to act the same way and thus emotionally neglect you. It’s painful, but it’s reality for many people.
“If you have a difficult relationship with your dad, the reason you might find yourself struggling in your romantic relationships with men is because you are carrying your childhood struggle into your adult life,” Pathak says. “Only, this time, you have unconscious hopes to ‘win’ the love, affection, attention, or whatever you feel you didn’t receive when you were growing up, from your partner. Basically, as terrible as it might sound, your romantic partner unconsciously becomes your replacement parent.”
So, now what?!
Say you are doing all the above and dating a version of your dad, but not a good version. Then what? Yes, you want to break the cycle, but doing so alone is not always easy (dammit, subconscious!).
“If you find yourself struggling in your love life, and you are ready to end your struggle, seek the support of a qualified professional to help heal your childhood relational wounds,” Pathak says. “This will help you stop turning your adult romantic partners into replacement parents, and you can start to enjoy your love life.”
Don’t be afraid to reach out to a therapist if you see some patterns in your life that you wish weren’t there at all. We can’t control how much our childhood affected us in the long run, but we do have the power to better understand our subconscious and work through the pain we experienced when we were kids. Once you take the initiative to do that, your love life will only get better.