How childhood experiences impact our dating life


By Dr Lurve


As someone in the dating world or currently with a partner, you know of the few stigmas associated when it comes to our relationships with our parents and our dating life. You might have heard the phrase “daddy issues” or “mummy issues” that are often the butt of a joke when discussing someone’s dating habits, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg of what lies underneath due to the way we give and receive love.


While those terms are more damaging than helpful, there is some truth to how people cope with the issues from their past and their childhood, and how they are applied in relationships in adulthood. You might have a male friend with “mummy issues” who has trouble connecting with women or holding down a relationship, but your friend has experienced problems far more in-depth than just not getting along with his mother or being too clingy with her.


The thing to remember is that everyone, on some level, has a parent issue with one or both parents, even if there was an absence. Don’t forget, someone with the perfect example of a parent relationship growing up will bring their expectation of a functioning relationship into adulthood and find it hard to settle down or lower their standards of what a relationship should look like.


Australia’s leading love expert, Dr. Lurve tells us the key signs to look for when it comes to childhood impacts:


Why are we dating our parents?

It has been studied throughout the field of psychology since Freud; our parents are the first people we bond and have a relationship with, and as our earliest relationship they help form our ideas and connection to others in life, romantically or otherwise. They influence the working models of how we believe relationships work, whether functional or dysfunctional, it is what we believe to be ‘normal’.


From the outside, you can tell when your friends are dating someone who reminds you of their mother or father, but you wouldn’t tell them that directly. However, when it comes to our own intimate relationships, we often find it difficult to identify and look inward when we are facing these problems ourselves; sometimes it can take decades to realise your dysfunctional parent and partner are one in the same. On the surface they might have nothing in common, but the way your partner treats you is oh-so-similar to your parents that the familiarity is what appealed to you in the first place.


As humans, we are drawn to the familiar whether it’s good or bad for us. We are creatures of comfort and like to know what we’re expecting, so even if you’ve gone through an emotional or traumatic childhood, you’ve probably been in a relationship where you experience similar situations and feelings. If you grew up in a positive and stable environment with loving parents who set a good example, you’ll most likely follow their footsteps and look for a partner who is independent and appreciative.


Though we try our hardest not to end up like our parents, it can be befuddling when we recreate our childhood experiences, despite our active efforts. For some, they get stuck in the cycle that often comes from childhood traumas or abuse; because you took care of a parent who suffered an addiction or was abusive, you have an innate desire to help someone who has similar issues, trying to fix them because you couldn’t fix your parent/s.


Breaking out of these habits and finding a partner that isn’t your parent is hard to navigate especially when the signs aren’t clear at the beginning of a relationship. As it often occurs later on, many couples seek counselling to work through their childhood experiences and become the ideal partner they can be.


How Imago Therapy can help

A therapy based on the theory that feelings you experienced in your childhood relationships are destined to present themselves in your adult life, Imago Relationship Therapy can assist couples who are committed to each other and want to find the root cause of particular problems they face. Often misunderstandings and conflicts stem from our early childhood experiences and expectations, so working together to unpack these issues allows couples to resolve and rediscover their connection.


The therapy mainly involves identifying childhood relationship situations and how they impact our communication, behaviour and response to our adulthood experiences, especially our intimate relationships. It gives the couple a fighting chance to get closer and an opportunity to actively resolve their individual and shared issues by overcoming them together.


As we begin to understand how negative experiences and feelings from our early demonstrations of relationships have affected our lives, we can understand reactions and responses.


This allows couples to gain empathy and develop ways to positively influence your relationship while leaving negativity at the door. We begin to stop blaming outwards and start looking inwards at what can be improved and forgotten, while working on communication, self-control and empathy to better our relationships well into adulthood.


Final thoughts

Though we all have an issue in some form with our parents, it doesn’t mean it’s the be-end-and-end-all in life – you can make real, positive change to your relationships by doing the work and opening yourself to vulnerabilities, which in turn makes you stronger.