Growing up watching how your parents or step-parents interacted with each other is bound to affect how you view relationships at a young age.
But, according to experts, you can keep those views and habits right through your lives – even decades into marriage.
From kindness and compassion, right through to anger, a number of personality traits can be influenced by your childhood and watching your parents and other adults close to you.
But do you think you picked up habits from your parents’ relationship? Do you still have them now?
Psychologist Sabina Read told Starts at 60 that our parents’ relationship is inevitably a “powerful influencer” on our own.
She explained: “Our parents’ relationship is usually the first template we have for what a relationship looks like. We tend to pick up many habits from our parents and their relationship patterns are no exception.”
Meanwhile Elisabeth Shaw, CEO of Relationships Australia, added: “We learn about how to manage others emotions, about avoidance, provocation, disrespect and nastiness. Equally we can learn about kindness, care and respect. As observers we make judgements about what is fair and reasonable based on our own interpretation of their relationship, our experience of them individually, for example do we feel the same as one parent or another, or take one side over another, do we think the parents deserve or not the way they are being treated?”
Here are a few habits you may have picked up from your parents – at any age:
Growing up with parents in a long, committed relationship may seem rare in the present day – but many children are lucky and have just that.
If so, it’s likely they’re more open to commitment, having seen a prime example of how it can bring happiness long-term.
However, on the flip-side, if your parents were in and out of relationships and unhappy long-term, it may make you more cynical about committing to someone yourself.
“People raised in a household where they saw little or no commitment modelled by one or both parents could have trouble committing later in life,” certified counsellor Jonathan Bennett told Bustle.
He added that parents who regularly broke-up or fought with a partner “can make kids cynical about giving their love to someone they think is just going to leave them anyway.”
Clinical Psychologist Amanda Gordon Hon FAPS, Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Canberra, told Starts at 60 that learning relationship habits from your parents is inevitable.
“As a child, we experience and learn without even knowing it. Our parents’ relationship is the primary one in our lives, and it’s what first influences us.
“Children will unconsciously learn and believe therefore that ‘this is how it’s done’.”
Just like parents teach children their first words, how to read, write and even their every day manners, it follows that they have an influence on how we react in an argument.
While many families try to keep angry outbursts private from their children, the odd one is bound to slip through the net – and children are always keen to learn.
If one adult continuously reacts in a certain way, for example with immediate anger, a child may assume that is how to react to any future arguments, and whether they are aware of it or not, may then do the same in their own relationships.
Do you find yourself reacting just like your mother or father did? Have you made a conscious effort to ignore their reactions in your own life?
Just like watching arguments unfold, a child is likely to learn ways of communicating from parents and older family members.
Those communication methods can stay with you for life, and as you yourself reach the age of your parents and grandparents, you may keep some of those traits with you – both good and bad.
After all, as humans we learn by example.
“For better or for worse, most kids pick up on the communication styles and habits of their parents subconsciously,” Bennett told Bustle. “Then, when they get in their own relationships, it’s easy to default to what they watched growing up.”
It’s always advised that any adult goes into a relationship with no expectations and an open mind.
But realistically, it just doesn’t happen.
While growing up with happy parents in a stable relationship may mean you hope or even expect the same from your own, the same can be said for children who had a single parent, or an unhappy one.
Did you have certain expectations for your own relationship, based on your thoughts as a child?
A woman and man having certain ‘roles’ in a relationship may be an older idea, and one that’s sparked a lot of controversy in recent years – but it still exists for many people.
If you watched your mother do certain jobs round the house, or expressed emotions in certain ways, you may expect the same in your own relationship. And the same can be said for your father.
Rebecca Bergen, clinical psychologist and co-owner of Bergen Counseling Center in Chicago, told MyDomaine: “Attachment theory suggests that we create an internal working model of our parents that we later internalise as our own sense of self. This attachment style also affects how we experience ourselves, and in turn how we are in relationships.”
If your parents had a particularly hostile or difficult relationship, you may have done everything in your power to have a different, more positive one of your own.
But experts warn it’s a fine line to ensure you don’t “over-compensate” for your parents’ faults.
Read told Starts at 60 everyone can create their own relationship habits, and make a conscious effort not to follow every trait from their parents.
“It’s not necessarily a fait accompli, and with insight and awareness we can nurture our relationship in ways our parents never did.”
She added: “We can’t afford to rest on our laurels just because our parents enjoyed marital long term bliss. Every relationship needs to be watered and nurtured. Take the aspects from your parents your most admired and add them to your own recipe for marriage success.
“Regardless of the relationship your parents had, focusing on each other’s good points, expressing gratitude and regular touch are all sound ingredients in any healthy marriage.”
Gordon explained to Starts at 60: “Many habits we pick up from our parents can work well for us in our own relationships, they’re after all comfortable.
“But even when you’re in love with someone, those habits may not suit your partner.”
Gordon explained that your partner may have learnt their own habits from their parents, and they may not match yours, adding: “They might be confused by your habits and they may have had different experiences of their own.”
Knowing that parents and grandparents have such a huge influence on kids while they’re growing up, it’s undoubtedly important to ensure you’re giving them the best impression possible.
But with thousands of books and advice pieces on what to do, it can become over-powering to know the best way to deal with this.
Bergen told MyDomaine that small, simple steps are important.
She advised adults to encourage communication from an early age, and “show them [children] unconditional love with boundaries for behavior”.
Constantly teaching them the consequences of bad behaviour is key, she explained, while showing them love no matter what – so they’re aware that they can learn from their mistakes.
She added: “Be a model for who you want them to be in the way you express love, anger, hurt, joy, etc, both toward them but also toward your partner.”
Simple answer – yes.
Gordon explained: “Many people don’t want the same relationship as their parents, so they can discard bad habits consciously.
“It’s then about being mindfully in a relationship, as opposed to mindlessly. You can make conscious choices about how you behave.”
She said the most extreme case during her work was looking at violence in families.
While statistics show more children who have had a violent parent will go on to be violent themselves, she insisted: “It’s not your heritage.
“You are not bound by that, so if you can break from that, you can break from anything.”
Shaw added: “Recalibrating our reactions and responses with our own grown up relationships is important, and that can occur if you can both feel the feelings and talk about them, not immediately blame your partner for doing the wrong thing.”
For access to private psychologists in your area, contact the APS Find a Psychologists Service on 1800 333 497 or visit the website here.