Wondering why many of us seem to choose partners like our parents? Well, it’s a potent mix of psychology, bias and a little bit of emotional marketing!
Why Do We Choose Partners Like Our Parents?
Life can be full of surprises! The saying: you don’t know what you don’t know has never been truer than in romantic relationships. Once we reach our twenties, we think we have the most important parts of finding a romantic partner all figured out. Height, body frame, hair color, eyes, and bank account seem to be at the top of most lists.
Well, my friends, in my opinion, that list is a little too shallow!
Is It Weird To Be Attracted To Someone Like My Mom?
As a trained Marriage and Family Therapist, I believe there are more important things to know. Like, are you dating your mom? Maybe you are engaged to a version of your dad? Are you cool with this? Is it okay to be married to someone like your parents?
Are you finding yourself in a relationship that seems eerily familiar? Have you found the man or woman of your dreams – only to realize they’re a less mature version of one of your parents? If so, you can join the rest of us who have made this puzzling mistake.
We don’t mean to do it – but why else are we drawn to someone whose downfalls and attractions mimic those same qualities in our own family? It’s an interesting pattern, and one worth exploring!
There Is A Reason Your Partner Is Like Your Parent
Have you ever found yourself saying something to your children and thinking, “Wow, that sounded just like my parents”? Well, my friend, welcome to the world of “parental echo.” It’s when we repeat the same phrases, expressions, and mannerisms of our own parents, even though we swore we’d never become them.
We all understand the effects of marketing on our brains. Shoes, potato chips, or certain car models trigger a familiar feel-good emotion inside of us. It might not just be because of its quality or design, but because of the psychological effects on your subconscious.
Our brains are wired to respond to certain triggers, and companies know it. They use advertising and marketing techniques to tap into our emotions and convince us that we need their products.
What Makes A Person Attractive To You?
Romantic attraction can work the same way. It’s a bit scary when you think about it, but also super fascinating! Our brains, hard-wired by our earliest nurture attachments, have a hidden radar that signals when we find a partner similar to our mom.
And bullseye! Before we know it, we are walking down the aisle with dear old Dad!
When it comes to marriage, we’ve all got our own visions of what it should look like. Separate bank accounts, his/her home chore lists, tacos every Tuesday… our ideas about an ideal partner come from our early role models.
But have you ever stopped to think about where those visions come from? Chances are that your views on marriage were shaped by your upbringing. Did your folks show you how to be a team, or were they always fighting over who got to hold the remote?
Relationship Cycles Are Learned In Childhood
t’s worth taking a closer look at how your upbringing has influenced the way you think about love, commitment, and yay! wearing a wedding ring!
Looking for family cycles and behaviors can be the quickest way to solve repetitive romantic conflicts. When we begin to understand how these patterns can cause pain and frustration in relationships, we can begin to make positive changes. For example, having a controlling mom might make you more vulnerable to choosing a controlling romantic partner.
It’s the little things that can turn into big issues over time, creating patterns that cause pain and frustration. Let’s face it, no one is perfect, and we all have our quirks. But it’s important to recognize how these patterns can affect our relationships and take steps to address them
Romantic Relationship Dynamics Are Important
All people have unhealthy behavior patterns in their life. It’s part of being human! Sometimes we can feel stuck in a pattern of unhealthy relationships. Do you keep attracting the same type of partner or keep making the same romantic mistakes? Don’t worry, breaking the cycle is possible!
Creating A Healthy Dating Relationship
Let’s take a step back and reflect on what you want and need in a relationship. It’s important to set boundaries and communicate clearly with potential partners. Additionally, don’t be afraid to seek support from a therapist or trusted friend. And most importantly, give yourself grace and patience; creating healthy relationships takes time and effort.
It is possible for us to break the cycle of parental echo and create healthier, more meaningful relationships with our life partners. We can do this by taking the time to reflect on our own behaviors. We need to understand why we are drawn to certain people and the origin of our family dynamics.
One of the hidden reasons why we marry someone like our parents is that we seek out partners who remind us of them. This can be because we want to feel loved and supported in the way our parents took care of us. Sometimes we want to recreate the happy and stable home life that we had growing up.
Don’t Repeat Your Parent’s Mistakes!
And for some of us, we are attracted to difficult partners because it feels familiar. If you grew up with chaos or lack of security, you are more likely to recreate that with a potential partner. It might look like dating someone who needs their partner to “parent” them. Your emotional radar goes off the charts when you are recreating a familiar childhood role!
Let’s say your boyfriend has a chaotic life, you are attracted to chaos because it feels safe for you. Most likely one of your parents was unstable, and you were rewarded for acting calm in the family storm. Whatever the pattern of behavior, it usually is subconscious, which means that we may not realize that we are attracted to partners who remind us of our parents.
We Have an Attachment Style That Is Similar to Our Parents
Another reason why we marry someone like our parents is that we have an attachment style that is similar to theirs. Attachment styles refer to the way in which we relate to others, and they are learned from our primary caregivers – typically our parents.
Attachment style is multi-layered and can be hard to categorize. Like an invisible force, we often feel drawn to people that “activate” our attachment style. Our style of attachment can be a positive part of our relationship. It is important that we understand the ways we feel loved and show love to our partner.
If our parents were warm and supportive, then we are likely to have a secure attachment style. However, if our parents were neglectful or abusive, then we are likely to have an insecure attachment style. In either case, we tend to seek out partners who have a similar attachment style to ours, as this feels familiar and comfortable.
Take Control Of Your Romantic Relationship
When we take ownership of our experience, and understand our patterns, we can design better relationships!. As grown adults, we have the power to create meaningful connections that nurture growth in all aspects of life.
Don’t be afraid to take control of your relationships. It’s up to you to recognize and transform negative patterns that come from “parental echo” for a healthier future.
We Want to Repeat the Good Parts of Our Childhood
Sometimes we date someone like our parents because we want to repeat the good parts of our childhood. This may be because we had a happy childhood and want to recreate that feeling in our adult life.
Or it might be because we had a difficult childhood and want to make things different this time around. Either way, choosing someone like our parents gives us a sense of control over our lives and allows us to create the kind of family life that we want.
We Believe That What Is Familiar Is Safe
Finally, it’s possible to date someone like our parents because we believe familiar things are safe. If our parents had a happy and successful marriage, then we might believe that marrying someone like them will lead to a happy and successful marriage for us as well.
Oddly, if our parents had an unhappy or unsuccessful marriage, then choosing someone like them may give us a sense of comfort or security, as it feels familiar.
Sometimes our brains trick us into thinking we have the power to change the past by repeating it in our own relationships. We make unconscious plans to “re-write” our childhood relationship with our dad, our unresolved wounds steering us into a potential disaster.
Repetition Compulsion Can Affect Your Romantic Life
This is called “repetition compulsion” in the psychological world. In simple terms, a person is compelled to reenact early childhood traumas in an endless cycle of unhealthy behavior. This can be repeated in many areas of a person’s life. Unconsciously repeating the same difficult circumstances prevents us from changing.
Change is scary to the brain and often we will stay stuck in unhealthy behaviors to stay “safe”. Even if the change is positive, our brains and bodies will struggle with the uncertainty of the unknown. Self-defeating behavior seems so frustrating, but for people with repetition compulsion, it keeps them safe.
Is It Better To Marry Someone Similar Or Different?
Dating someone like your mom or dad is not always a bad thing! There are plenty of good and healthy reasons to be attracted to someone like one of your parents. Not all attraction is based on trauma or unhealthy behavior patterns.
It is good to understand the hidden reason of romantic attraction, it helps you to understand your own emotional wiring better. Remember, all people have behaviors and patterns that can be irritating in a romantic relationship. Not everything that makes you frustrated is a red flag for relationships!
Examples Of Red Flags In A Relationship
Obviously, if you are experiencing abuse in your romantic partnership, get out. True red flags are things like: controlling behavior, emotional abuse (teasing/passive-aggressive behaviors/manipulating) verbal abuse (name calling, screaming, put-downs), and financial abuse (money is used to control aspects of the relationship).
Choosing a partner like our parents becomes a problem if we choose a partner that keeps us in a hurtful dysfunctional cycle. If you begin to see patterns of unhealthy behavior in your romantic relationship, take some time to talk about your concerns with your spouse. It might help to write down some examples to share how certain behaviors remind you of the hurt that happened as a child.
Get Professional Help If Your Relationship Is Unhealthy
It is emotionally healthy to ask your partner to consider making changes in painful behavior. Most spouses want to create a safe and healthy relationship dynamic. If your husband or wife is not able to see the pain that they are causing you, it is time to consider working with a therapist or relationship coach. Sometimes we need a little support from an outside professional to help course correct our romantic relationships.
Why Do We End Up With Someone Like Our Parents
There is an old saying “The hand that rocks the cradle, rules the world”. Our earliest caretakers create much of the template we have for relationships and how to navigate the world around us. Most parents are committed to loving their children and teaching them about life with patience.
Being attracted to someone who reminds you of your parents is not dysfunctional! It’s a normal thing that happens to most of us. Finding someone that is safe and supportive and has the same type of humor as your dad is totally okay!
Choosing a partner like your parents is much more common than most people realize. While it may seem weird or complicated, it doesn’t mean you will have a bad marriage. When we marry partners who are like our parents, we are looking for a sense of comfort and familiarity.
For many of us, it can lead to positive outcomes such as improved communication and better conflict resolution skills. Often we can share a deeper sense of understanding, and a stronger connection.
It’s especially important to note that repetition compulsion is not always a bad thing and doesn’t necessarily mean we’re trying to date our father or mother. Rather, it’s a natural response resulting from a lifetime of familiarization with our parents and their behavioral patterns.
Finding a partner who embodies our parents’ most positive qualities can be a beautiful thing. But it’s essential to recognize our negative patterns to ensure that we don’t perpetuate harmful dynamics in our relationships.
The key is to focus on finding a partner who exemplifies the best qualities we admire in our parents. We all need to work on recognizing and breaking the harmful patterns from our past. Choosing to self-reflect and being self-aware makes you more likely to choose a healthy, loving partner.
Are you choosing a partner like your parents? Tell me about it in the comments!
Melane Ann is a writer, blogger, and life coach. In 2020, she turned her experience in midlife divorce and creating a new life for herself into midlifeismagical. With a master's in Marriage and Family Therapy, Melane focuses on helping women over 50 navigate their relationships and commit to healthy aging. She and her new husband share 7 children between them. Melane jokes that she has a black belt in blended families! In addition to her writing, Melane works virtually with her coaching clients from her home office.