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Top Talker:
Can We Blame Our Parents For Bad Relationships?

Are you in a relationship that’s not so great? Think back to your teen years. What was your relationship like with your parents? A new study from the University of Alberta says your relationship with your parents as a teenager has a deep effect on your romantic relationships later in life.

Associate professor Matt Johnson and his team conducted a survey of 2,970 people at three different stages of their lives. They found a direct link between the quality of the participants’ love lives and the quality of their relationships with their parents as teenagers. The study can be found in the February issue of Journal of Marriage and Family.

Related: Single Mom Slice of Life: Of Manners And Teenagers

Don’t go blaming your parents if your relationships aren’t what you would like them to be. Johnson told Huffington Post: “People tend to compartmentalize their relationships; they tend not to see the connection between one kind, such as family relations, and another, like couple unions. But understanding your contribution to the relationship with your parents would be important to recognizing any tendency to replicate behavior—positive or negative—in an intimate relationship.”

This makes sense. We take whoever we are with us wherever we go. The boss who is unrelentingly nasty at work no doubt has troubled relationships in other parts of her life. Although it’s not impossible to behave in different ways in different contexts, it is extremely difficult not to be who we fundamentally are on a long-term basis.

An interesting part of the study noted that those whose parent-adolescent relationships encouraged high self-esteem had more fruitful romantic relationships. “Through experiences with one’s family, in particular during frightening or upsetting times, children develop self-esteem by forming mental models of others (e.g., my parents were able to comfort me during this frightening time) and determining whether they are worthy of love (e.g., a parent did comfort me, so I am lovable). The results from this study suggest that parent–adolescent relations continue to play a role in the development (positively or negatively) of offspring self-esteem into the transition to adulthood, which ultimately pays dividends in later intimate relationships.”

Related: Our Story Begins: Not Just The Birds And The Bees Anymore

Although this kind of study can sometimes inspire panic (e.g., my relationship with my teen isn’t so great), I look at it as empowering. Even if you had a rocky relationship with your parents that led to poor-quality relationships later, you still have the power to change that dynamic within your own family. All this study means is that with a bit of self-reflection, anybody can avoid negative behaviors and patterns of thinking in how we relate to our children and other people in our environment. Changing ourselves could mean a change in the choices our kids make later.

What are your thoughts? Do you think your relationship with your parents ever affected your romantic relationships?


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Alexis Trass Walker lives in Gary, Indiana, with her husband and four children. She is managing editor of Good Enough Mother. Read more about Alexis on her blog or follow her on Twitter @LillieBelle5. You can email her at alexis [at] goodenoughmother [dot] com.