8 signs you learned bad relationship habits from your parents

We learn a lot of things from our families that stick with us well into adulthood. Although we might adopt and adapt our family’s values and make them our own when it comes to our work ethic, our politics, and even how we eat, other things can be harder to shake. When it comes to love, especially, there are more than a few signs you learned bad relationship habits from your parents. Most of the time, they probably don’t even know realize what they’re teaching you, since most parents don’t talk to their kids about the emotional aspects of love at all, according to a new study.


The study, done by Harvard Graduate School of Education, found that most families don’t sit teens down and talk about love when they have “the talk,” even though 65 percent of kids surveyed said that they’d be open to talking to their parents and educators about healthy relationships.

Think about it: Kids are taught, either at home or in some awkward sex ed classroom, about sexually transmitted diseases, lectured on condoms and the “perks” of abstinence, and then sent off into the world to navigate relationships without a clue how to do the hard stuff. So if you feel like you learned most of what you know about love and relationships from R&B songs and rom-coms, you are totally not alone.

Luckily, you can unlearn bad relationship habits with a little work. But first you have to know what you’re doing wrong. Here are a few signs you might have picked up bad relationship habits from your parents, well-meaning as they probably were.

1You doubt your partner all the time.

It’s hard to watch your parents go through a divorce or a rocky time, especially if you were younger when it happened. Although most studies show that divorce doesn’t eternally “mess up” children any more than those whose parents remain married, it can create some anxiety issues, which can later be translated into a general fear of commitment or rejection, according to Psychology Today. Since you know firsthand that a marriages can, and do, end, your attachment styles might be all over the place, depending on how secure you feel with another person.

2You talk to everyone *but* your partner.

No one’s perfect, but communication styles are one of the first things we pick up on as kids and teenagers. If your parents weren’t good at coming together and hashing things out with each other, or if you didn’t see any of that bonding, you might not have picked up on how important talking really is. If your parents were great at complaining about each other to anyone who would listen, you might find yourself talking about your relationship to friends instead of going right to the source with your needs.

Richard Weissbourd, the psychologist behind the Harvard University study about talking to kids about love, recommended that parents have their kids watch shows with “good” marriages, like Friday Night Lights and Blackish. That sounds totally silly, but if your parents weren’t great at disagreeing with each other, you might want to channel Coach Taylor and Tami when it comes to talking about your needs in a relationship.

3You withhold information.

Just like gossiping about your partner’s bad habits can be a sign of bad communication, so is hiding things from your main squeeze. You know the old “don’t tell Mom” trope? You have to kick the idea of thinking that some things are better left unsaid. Dr. Michele Kerulis, a professor of counseling at Northwestern University, told Bustle that little white lies can lead to major trust issues.

“Make an agreement to enter an unpleasant conversation with your partner with the understanding that the intention of the conversation is to address your needs and feelings and it is not intended to be a personal attack on the other person,” she said. Kerulis recommended agreeing to end the convo on a positive note, or at least taking a break until you can. You’ll thank yourself later.

4You don’t know how *deal* with sex.

No one wants to think about their parents in the bedroom, but you do pick up some cues about appropriate level of PDA and other kinds of affection from watching your parents growing up. If your parents never stole a kiss before they left for work in the morning or touched each other around you, you also might be a little awkward when it comes to showing your partner any affection. Sex positivity comes out in many ways, so the messages you got from your parental units when you had The Talk or even growing up might also have stuck with you. Some parents really freeze up and get super weird when it comes to sex—like they almost want to pretend it never happens—and that can leave you out of the loop as you grow up and actually start doing it.

A healthy relationship means being sex positive and able to communicate your sexual needs as well as listening to what you partner needs from you. So shake off any “icky” feelings you might have learned from your parents about sex, orgasms, and a little PDA, and get real with your partner. This might mean going to see a therapist or couples’ counselor, since sex psychology can run deep.

5You’re not great at fighting.

Although there are some relationship fights that can be solved with sex, they are the exception, not the rule. Watching your parents fight growing up will definitely affect how you fight with your romantic partners as a adult, and it’s likely you’ve picked up some bad habits. Having a huge blowouts and then dropping it in the name of just getting back into your normal routine or “keeping the peace” is one way this shows up, but there are so many others.

Passive aggressiveness can be a relationship killer, so you might want to think about all the sneering comments your mom or dad dropped over the dinner table when you’re angry at your partner. Shade is never a good strategy. Likewise, going right to “it’s over!” and slamming the door behind you as you storm out “for good” is also a bad habit you might have learned from parents with more volatile relationships. Fights are normal, inevitable, and healthy in a relationship, but learning how to have them in a productive way is when you know you’ve really grown up.

6You feel like you’re competing.

There are no winners and losers in a relationship, so if your parents were all about one-upping each other or if one person always caved to another’s wishes, you might have a competitive streak when it comes to love. It’s important to remember that relationships are about teamwork and there’s really no finish line you can beat someone to. Which is why working out conflicts, talking about issues before they spiral out of control, and learning to trust your partner is essential. You and your partner are on the same side, no matter what your parents’ relationship looks like these days.

7You’re not great at monogamy.

There’s no research that says divorce messes kids up for life, but there is research that shows kids of unfaithful parents really mess with their children’s emotional health. The side effects of an affair on a kid are, according to a report in the Daily Mail, “low self-esteem, a sense of being abandoned, poor performance at school, anti-social behavior and the heartbreak of simply missing the absent parent.” All of these can lead to bad relationship habits, one of which is not communicating what you want in a relationship and then cheating on someone, or just never allowing yourself to get attached enough to someone so that you care about staying faithful.

8You get into abusive relationships.

If an affair sticks with a child, domestic violence definitely does. Growing up in a household with physical and emotional abuse will definitely leave you with some form of PTSD, one consequence of which is that you fall into the same pattern of abuse in your own relationships. You might also wonder if an actually healthy relationship is *real* and be totally unable to let yourself be loved in healthy, non-explosive way. It’s not your fault—being around physical and emotional violence is traumatizing and sticks with you for the rest of your life.

Abuse isn’t just about someone hitting you, either. Creating a tense environment at home because of a substance abuse problem, throwing things, and yelling are all forms of abuse. So is emotional abuse, like someone putting you down, embarrassing you, or snooping on your text messages and emails and forcing you to check in with them all the time. You should definitely talk to a professional to help you break the cycle of bad habits.

If you think you’re being abused or need to talk to someone, you can always call the National Domestic Abuse hotline at 1−800−799−7233 or chat live with them. 

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