Have our parents’ failed relationships doomed our love life? Turns out there’s still hope!

All the wonderful ways your parents messed you up and what to do about it

parents failed relationships
Are we doomed to repeat the mistakes our parents made in their relationships? (Photo by Charlie Foster)

Kids tend to idealize their parents. It is usually not until teenagerhood that they realise their fathers and mothers are not unflawed beings in a perfect relationship.

For many, this is a process of small discoveries, like finding out that mum’s chocolate cake is actually from the supermarket (betrayal!) and that dad also cries once in a while. Not that big of a deal, they’re human.

For others, however, it’s facing the evidence that your parents aren’t in a healthy relationship, or aren’t happy together. Sadly, they showed you first what love is supposed to look like. So by the time this idyllic representation crumbles, it may have influenced you more than you’d like.  

For example, it’s been observed that those who come from divorced parents are significantly more likely to experience divorce themselves, due to lower trust in relationships and hesitancy towards marriage. Sociologists call it ‘intergenerational transmission of divorce’.

Does it mean we are condemned to a life of romantic issues because of our parents and generational trauma? Not necessarily.

Add your attachment style to your Tinder bio

parents attachment style
Understanding your attachment style can help you form happy relationships (Photo by Rafael Leão)

It’s a common belief that love is either something you are naturally good at or doomed in. This mindset takes your agency in love away. Sure, there are elements of luck in love: where you meet your partner, when, how…etc. But setting clear boundaries for yourself and learning how to pick partners that will fulfil your needs has nothing to do with luck.

If your parents didn’t set a healthy relationship role model, you owe it to yourself to learn about it. And there are tools to help you.

In 1958, psychoanalyst John Bowlby published research about attachment theory, based on observations made on babies and the way they exhibit separation anxiety when they are taken away from their primary caregivers. He detailed how human bonds formed in the early stages of life can have a profound and lasting impact on one’s emotional development. This research was further developed to determine four types of attachment styles: secure, ambivalent, disorganized, and avoidant.

Ever felt like your partner strangely resembled your mum or dad? Or that you had an unexplained pattern in choosing partners? Research shows that attachment styles could be linked to the way we seek partners resembling our parents and the relationship we had with them.

We seek partners resembling our parents and the relationship we had with them

This may also explain why you choose people that hurt you. Depending on the model your parents set, you may be subconsciously attracted to troubled relationships. Not because they feel good, but because they are familiar.

Breaking those patterns is hard, and may even require therapy. But the first and most crucial step to breaking intergenerational trauma is self-awareness.

Our generation is breaking the cycle

Millennials are getting married later, but more of them are staying together (Photo by Sofia Hernandez)

Millennials and Gen Z were raised on the idea that one out of two weddings ends in divorce. Despite this, they are beating the odds. The American sociologist Phillip N. Cohen observed how millennials’ divorce rates had been declining over the past decades (take that, Boomers!)

On top of that, the average age of marriage in the UK has been on the rise. Where our parents used to get married in their twenties, millennials are now getting married in their thirties. People now prioritize their careers and individual financial security over a relationship, and they spend more time dating. As a result, they went through trials and errors which allowed them to refine their needs in relationships. Overall, people are more mature when they make their vows, and take the time to find the right partner.

Delaying marriage out of the fear of reproducing the previous generation’s mistakes is helping people make wiser choices. In short, maybe your parents’ failed relationship was setting you up for success all along.