The older we get, the more it can feel like we’re resembling our parents— in both positive and negative ways. Sure, there are moments when we subconsciously utter a phrase or do a dance move that makes us stop and chuckle. But sometimes, we see our parents habits manifest in complicated ways, including how we behave in our own relationships. The ways that we communicate, compromise, express ourselves, and react to conflict may be influenced by things we observed from our parents’ interactions, and sometimes these habits can negatively influence our relationships. However, it’s never too late to make changes! The reality is, carrying our parents baggage, no matter the size, is often a part of being human. But when we begin to recognize these patterns, we can begin to manage the way they manifest in healthy, constructive ways. Read below for some ways to get started!
Recognize your patterns— and your partners.
How do you show your partner love and affection? How do you communicate your needs or desires? How do you fight? These are all good questions to get started. Reflect on how your parents approached communication in their relationship-- how they argued, expressed love, and resolved conflicts. Licensed clinical psychologist Rebecca Bergen, Ph.D., suggests a journaling technique to organize your thoughts and make clear distinctions. “Journal and increase your self-awareness of your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in your relationship,” she told MyDomaine. “Compare what you are noticing with the ways your parents interacted with you and interacted with each other. Also if you notice that something was missing in your relationship with your parents, reflect on whether or not you are seeking to find it in your current relationship.”
What traits are you looking to correct or understand better?
While it’s difficult to forget learned behaviors, it can be done! Common traits we may adopt from parents can include jealousy, lack of trust and intimacy issues. While it will take time, recognizing these patterns is the first step in correcting them. Sharing with your partner might help alleviate some of the pressures, so they are aware of where you are coming from and how you are working toward resolution. Find healthy methods of self reflection, like seeing a therapist, reading books that are recommended by trusted professionals (one of our favorites, It Didn’t Start With You, can be found here), and seeking out content that supports your journey (we really liked this episode of the Goop Podcast, with psychiatrist Robin Berman, about processing and recovering from childhood trauma). Patterns that you have subconsciously developed over time will not just magically disappear once you’ve realized their existence, but with the right resources and support system, you should start to see positive changes in your relationship and in yourself!
What style of communication best suits your individual and mutual needs?
You and your partner carry different learned behaviors, meaning you bothl bring different quirks and habits into your collective communication style. Make sure there is room for both of you, and that each person's personal needs are being met. For example, if your parents engaged in loud arguments with screaming and shouting, you may be sensitive to your partner raising their voice, and need you both to approach conflict in a calm, even-toned manner. Your partner may have parents who did not engage in a lot of physical affection, so giving her a big passionate kiss on the street may bring her anxiety, and giving her hand a squeeze gives her the same message of affection within her comfort zone. Tailor your relationship to each other needs and habits and find where they comfortably intersect, while knowing they may change over time. And remember, even if you do catch yourself talking exactly like your mom on the phone, or feeling an unnecessary rush of competitive energy during a casual game of Monopoly like your dad, you are still your own person, with an opportunity to make your relationship the best it can be.