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Written by Caroline Meyer

While your personality and future relationships may not be as dependant on your genes as your eye colour and shape of your nose, your behaviour may stem back to your parents in some ways too. Good and bad relationship behaviour between your parents can go a long way towards shaping your own behaviour in a relationship. What you observe growing up can result in fall back behaviour when you are an adult.  What you learned from your parents could also clash with what your partner experienced growing up which can cause strife in your relationship.  Working together to make a relationship work when you come from two totally different relationship backgrounds can be quite complicated and take a lot of commitment. 

Your framework 

Watching how your parents deal with things such as housework, finances, grief and so forth sets a foundation for much of your behaviours. One of the key points in the framework comes from seeing how they deal with anger. You learn cues such as how to tell when someone is angry and some of the ways people behave when they are emotional. This can cause you to emulate good behaviours or copy the bad behaviours in your own relationships.  The after effects of an argument is even more important. Seeing how your parents reconcile such as talking about the situation and resolving the problem, or withdrawing from each other can make a difference in your personal behaviours after a bit of strife with your partner. When you were not given the opportunity to see parents disagree and reconcile, you often have no roadmap on how to behave during and after a disagreement. In this instance, one bout of conflict may appear to be the end of the relationship. They do not realise that disagreements are an integral part of a relationship, nor know how to deal with them. They may be able to take cues from their partners if they have come from families where arguments were resolved openly, but if their partner also comes from a family where strife between the adults was kept away from the children, it may actually be the end of the relationship. 

Hostility between parents that was not constructively resolved can result in children and later adults that deal aggressively with conflict. Children that are exposed to constructive resolutions are able to figure out how to resolve conflict in a less aggressive way. So while you may want to hide all your arguments from your children, it actually helps them to see you make up. 


Adults that come from backgrounds of divorce are a lot more likely to get divorced than those from homes where parents stick together through thick and thin. It doesn’t mean that it is set in stone that you will get divorced if your parents did, it just means you need to be more aware of the influences your parents’ divorce has on you and your own relationships. Talk to your partner about your personal history, the trauma and the habits learned from your parents. This may help strengthen your relationship and make you more aware of negative behaviours that stem from this situation. Some of your behaviours may actually be involuntary. You may not notice the behaviour until you examine it in parallel to your parents relationship. Do you believe your partner may leave you when the going gets rough, even though they have never indicated this in any way? Do you look for an out whenever there is a disagreement? This may come from experiencing your parent’s relationship and have nothing to do with your own marriage. 

How can you change things? 

Look back on your parents’ relationship with the eyes of an adult. Analyse the things they did and use your personal life experiences to make more sense of it. Acknowledge the influences both good and bad and see how they pertain to your current relationships. If possible, talk to your parents about their relationship and as an adult they may be more forthcoming about their behaviours than they would have been when you were a child. Many things may be different to what you believed as a kid. You may think your father left your mother due to him finding someone else, but the truth may be a lot more complicated than that. This can help you change your perspectives and realise that your perceptions as a child may have been clouded or oversimplified. This could also help you deal better with potential conflict situations in your current relationship. Go through various stages in their relationship and see where there were warning signs that the relationship wasn’t going to last or perhaps you only saw the good side of their relationship. Knowing there was tension and strife in their relationship and how they worked through it, can help you deal with issues in your own personal relationships. 

While is is great to have role models that set a good example of what a relationship should look like, not all relationships are ideal and strife-free. Whether your parents relationship was good or bad can have a major impact on your own without you even realizing it. You cannot expect a fairytale marriage, but you can look back and choose those qualities you want to emulate from your parents while discarding some of the learned behaviour that can cause conflict in your own relationship. You will also need to know more about your partner’s upbringing so that you can discuss what you have experienced and where this can cause strife between you. You will also be more aware on where some behaviours are coming from and be able to be more tolerant of each other.  While your parents may create a foundation for your relationships, it is entirely up to you as an adult to shape your behaviour in a relationship. You can choose to change bad behaviours and improve on the good behaviours to make your own relationship work. 

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