Our childhood has a much bigger effect on our current relationships than most of us realize. From our friends to our parents to our religion, there’s no escaping their lasting influence as we enter into adult relationships.
“Our attachment system preferentially sees things according to what has happened in the past,” said Dr. Amir Levine, a psychiatrist at Columbia University. “It’s kind of like searching in Google where it fills in based on what you searched before.”
There are so many contributing factors from our upbringing that form our perspectives on romantic relationships. These four are among the top factors:
1. Your parents’ relationship status
Were they happily married, unhappily married, divorced or single? Or did you not have parents around at all?
Given that the divorce rate is 40 to 50 percent, plus all the other parental possibilities, being raised by the ‘typical’ happily married parents actually isn’t typical at all – less than half of all U.S. families look like that.
Whatever your upbringing situation was, your parents were (and still are) your number one influencer for your own romantic relationships. Most of what you learned about relationships came from your own parents’ example.
2. How your parents treated you
This is actually a very interesting vein of psychology called attachment theory, and everyone fits into one of four groups: secure, insecure anxious, insecure avoidant and insecure disorganized. Scientists determined these categories after extensive trials and observations of babies whose caregivers briefly leave them, then come back. The categories can apply to how the babies grow up to handle adult relationships.
Secure: These babies get upset when their caregiver leaves and are easily soothed when they come back — a sign their parents treat them well. As adults, they typically have healthy relationships, trusting their loved ones for support and supporting them in return.
Insecure anxious: These babies also get upset when their caregivers leave, but aren’t easily soothed when they come back — a sign their parents haven’t been a reliable source of comfort in general. As adults, they tend to fret and obsess over their relationships and seek attention.
Insecure avoidant: These babies don’t get distressed when their caregivers leave and don’t pay much mind when they come back — a sign their parents give them too little or too much attention. As adults, they tend to have trouble opening up to loved ones and have commitment problems.
Insecure disorganized: These babies display avoidance and anxiety in illogical patterns — a sign their parents were threatening or abusive. As adults, they display the same patterns toward romantic relationships.
3. Religious upbringing
There are lots of contributing factors to your childhood culture, and religion (or lack of religion) is a biggie. Kids who grew up in faithful, church-going families are more likely to end up married and more likely to marry sooner.
According to a Religious Landscape Study by the Pew Research Center, there are significant trends in religious upbringing and marital patterns. Overall, over 50 percent of Americans belonging to any religion are married, while only 37 percent of Americans who identify as unaffiliated are married.
Additionally, belief in God is a tell-tale sign of marital chances. Did your religious upbringing lead you to believe in God? Then you’re more likely to get married. Did your lack of religious upbringing lead you to not have faith in God? Then you’re more likely to live a single life or live with a partner.
4. Your childhood friends
Today, you’d be hard pressed to forget about your childhood friends even if you wanted to. Thanks to those handy devices in our pockets, we have a 24/7 window into the lives of those past friends and acquaintances we would have forgotten about long ago had Facebook and Instagram never come around.
What are they up to now, years after those times on the swingsets or playing tag together? Are they having babies, or are they out hitting bars every night? Are they settling down into a white picket fence life, or are they with a new partner every couple posts?
You’re an adult now, but social media introduces an extended form of peer pressure from the same kids who convinced us to do things when we were six. But now, it’s not to jump off a moving swing or play a round of truth or dare; it’s to do what everyone else is doing relationship wise.
Don’t worry, you’ve still got choices
While the influences from your past are strong, there’s no reason to feel your relationships are completely out of your control. You can use your awareness of those influences to build the kind of relationships you truly want.
For example, if you don’t want the same kind of marriage your parents had, recognize the influence their example has on you and make conscious choices to do things differently in your own marriage.
Take those childhood influences and use them for your gain on your current and future relationships.