Why we end up ‘marrying’ our parents

Its uncanny how, to coin an old cliché, so many of us end up marrying our fathers or mothers.

When I first begin counselling and holding workshops, I used to think the importance of family influence was over-rated.  Over the years however,  the link became impossible to ignore, with the increasing regularity of relationship patterns mirroring parental issues.

For example, if you’ve attracted partners who were emotionally unavailable, unstable, married, unable or unwilling to commit, ask yourself if your parents were:

  • Physically absent during your childhood? Possibly either through death, or due to the nature of their work, for example, a pilot, salesman, politician or businessman or woman, who was rarely at home.
  • A workaholic? Or, perhaps due to financial constraints, it became necessary hold down two jobs to make ends meet?
  • Physically present, yet emotionally absent?
  • A disciplinarian?
  • Physically, emotionally or mentally abusive?
  • Over-protective?
  • Unfaithful?
  • An alcoholic?
  • Depressed?

The rule of thumb seems to indicate that whatever hurt or disappointment you experienced in relation to one (or both) parents, 1) it will have an effect on your self esteem, and 2) you can be pretty damn sure you’re going to attract a similar dynamic in your  partner and relationships, and 3) have to deal with it,  one way or another.  If your father was very strict, you may well have a pattern of attracting men either with a temper, or anger issues. Or very mild, laid-back types. If your mother was a nurturer who stayed at home and took care of the  children, you may choose to be a career woman and marry a man who is content to be a house-husband. If your parents pushed you to achieve, you might find successful men appealing, or possibly marry a workaholic.

Similarly, the interaction between your parents – how they treated each other – is also an important factor. Perhaps your father took the lead and your mother submitted to him, in which case you may find you tend to attract controlling men. Which you may enjoy or struggle against, depending on your experience of the way your parents handled it. Conversely, you might find yourself drawn to passive men, with you taking on the role of provider.

The roles we take on in our childhood also include our relationships with our siblings. For example, most of us can relate to being either labelled as, or in the shadow of, someone who smarter, prettier, or more sporty and outgoing. And so we carry this with us into our relationships, perhaps having a competitive streak with our lovers or possibly being rejected – or chosen – in favour of those very same sibling issues.

It is important to realise that we attract a particular partner and relationship, relative to the level of our self esteem at the time.  And just as our family dynamics have a good or bad influence on our self esteem,  it is up to us to choose to use, or lose, the power it has over us and the impact on our relationships.


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