Observing your parents’ interactions during childhood was your first introduction to romance and relationships and, whether you realize it or not, it affects how you yourself behave and react in romantic relationships.
So how exactly does the family dynamic you witnessed as a child affect your dating dynamic as an adult?
Two Parent Households
Two sex, two parent households are heralded by society as the gold standard of stability a child needs in order to grow up well-adjusted, happy and healthy.
“Children need a mommy and daddy,” they say. (Whoever ‘they’ are.)
But what they really mean is that children need two parents that live together, love and respect each other and demonstrate that love and respect to their children so that their children know what a healthy romantic relationship looks like and feel safe in a home environment they’re sure won’t disappear one morning when they wake up.
What they don’t mean is that children need two parents that live together…even constantly argue, even when they believe their children to be asleep upstairs, or that ignore one another, leading separate lives despite living in under the same roof.
If you grew up in a two parent household, your dating style is affected differently based on what kind of two parent household it was: warm, boiling, or freezing.
Think of it like water. Warm water is a comfortable embrace, while boiling and freezing water are both painful to the touch.
Warm Two Parent Household
A warm two parent household is the household where the parents love each other and their children. They resolve conflicts calmly with a compromise, give affection freely and often, and make time for fun family activities—as well as fun adult activities without the kids; logs in the fireplace to keep the love spark burning.
If your family dynamic was like this growing up, your dating dynamic might resemble a warm two parent household. You and your parent communicate well, are affectionate and respectful to each other, and set aside time to spend with one another despite busy schedules.
It won’t be perfect. No family and no relationship is. But when bad things happen, you and your partner discuss it maturely and find ways to fix the problem constructively, in a way that satisfies both of you—instead of blaming each other or ignoring the issue all together.
As for blaming each other for the problem or ignoring the problem, those reactions to conflict represent boiling and freezing dynamics, respectively.
Boiling Two Parent Household
If you were raised in a boiling two parent household your parents fought often, resorting to shouts, insults, and curse words. You and any siblings might have been caught in the middle, your parents demanding you take a side while you just wished it would stop.
Maybe it was only one parent being cruel while the other endured the torment in silence, afraid to speak up for fear of tearing apart the family. Your parents might have truly loved each other, but their love was toxic and sometimes you would pray they would just get divorced already.
Growing up subjected to a boiling family dynamic is difficult and can have a negative effect on your dating dynamic. You might unconsciously or even deliberately seek out partners who treat you the same explosive way your parents treated each other; you might even be an explosive partner, yourself.
You may or may not have boiling relationships, like your parents had, and if you do, you may or may not realize that you are having them. If you notice that your relationship(s) resemble that of your parents’ you can make a change.
Counseling can help. So can self-help books, and support groups. And if you’re confident you can change on your own and have the will to, then you can pay close attention to you and your partner’s behavior, make note to yourself of what seems destructive, and be mindful of you and your partner’s actions next time a similar situation arises.
Freezing Two Parent Household
Growing up in a freezing two parent household is more complicated than growing up in a boiling two parent household. It seems better, but can actually be just as damaging.
Though your parents may be civil to each other instead of fighting, they still do not communicate and sometimes even ignore or disregard each other.
It might have taken you a long time to notice this and understand, as you got older, that you did not live in happy home despite your parents’ best efforts to keep up that façade to the public and their own children.
This could affect your dating dynamic in that you don’t know how to communicate with your romantic partners nor how to give affection because you never saw it demonstrated between your parents. You might be emotionally closed off and distant from your partner, because you grew up thinking that was the normal way for couples to be.
If this is true of your childhood experience and your current dating life, then counseling, self-help books, support groups and individual mindfulness can help you, just like it can help those raised in boiling family dynamics.
Learning to express your thoughts and feelings can be very difficult, but trust makes it easier. Dating someone that you trust is very important if you want to take that step.
So, if you’re dating someone you don’t trust or dating someone equally closed off, it may not be possible to make a change and you might have to reconsider the relationship.
Single Parent Households
Single parent households also have their own subdivisions.
Was your primary custodial parent single as a result of the death of your other parent? Divorce? Abandonment? Was your other parent involved in your life? Did your parents share custody? Were they civil with one another? Did they fight? Did one or both remarry?
There are so many different types of single parent households, that each create their own implications on the adult dating experience of the children raised in them. If both parents are still involved in their child’s life, then the three categories of warm, boiling, and freezing still apply, depending upon how amicable their split was.
But the biggest difference in single parent households is whether the single parent dated on display or kept their dating private.
Dating on Display Single Parent Household
A ‘dating on display’ single parent household meant mom brought home a new boyfriend to meet you and your siblings every three months, or dad came home late with a new girl every weekend. It was strange meeting all these new adults then having them fade away as if they were never there.
If you never knew your father (or mother), or no longer had contact with him (or her), you always hoped that one of the new boyfriends (or girlfriends) would stick around. If you spent time and had a good relationship with your dad, you always felt like these new guys were trying to replace him when you just wanted your parents to get back together.
Either way, it was hard being a kid in a ‘dating on display’ single parent household.
Watching this as a child might have made you more cautious when you started dating. You didn’t hop from relationship to relationship, and you only dated people you were serious about; those you were sure wouldn’t up and leave.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
It only becomes a problem if you’re too clingy to your partner—especially too soon. Or, oppositely, if you’re too afraid to enter into a relationship because you’re scared it might not work out just like your parents’ relationship didn’t work out.
The way to begin to heal this issue is to know that you are not your parents and neither is your partner.
Sure, not every date you go on will lead to marriage—or even a second date—but that’s okay. If you’re patient, understanding and open, you will eventually find someone who will stay with you long term and that you will want to stay with long term. It may take years, but when the time comes it will be worth it.
Private Dating Single Parent Household
Private Dating Single Parent Household doesn’t mean mom or dad isn’t allowed to date. It just means that they were careful enough not to introduce their children to their new partner until they were in a long term committed relationship, so as not to get their kids’ hopes up for a stepparent if they wanted one and ease their kids into it if they didn’t want one.
This is the more healthy way to date as a parent. If your single parent dated this way, your dating dynamic may be similar to the dating dynamic of someone raised in a two parent household—warm, boiling, or freezing, due to your parents’ relationship.
But what about stepparents? Grandparents? Aunts and Uncles?
Your parents are not the only ones who affect your dating style as an adult. All your childhood influences do; including television, movies and other media.
So, even if your parents had a rocky romance, if you witnessed your grandparents’ loving marriage or saw how different your mom and stepdad’s relationship was from your mom and dad’s, then seeing positive examples of love taught you what to look for and emulate in a relationship.
And even if you had no good role models for romance when you were growing up, the most important determinant of your dating dynamic is you. With hard work, the proper help and a lot of love, you can be whatever kind of dater and romantic partner you want to be.
Regardless of your parents’ relationship, you are deserving and capable of giving and receiving healthy and supportive love.