How Families Haunt Our Love Lives

Pause. When was the last time you called your parents? Your siblings? What about Grandma Jo? (How could you forget?!)  Like it or not, your family has taught you and shaped how you navigate this world. You have these people to thank (or blame) for the person you have become, so far, today.  We like to think that once we are adults, we have freedom and choice over the rest of our lives, but the specter of our family continues to haunt us in the present and into the future. In classic Marriage Pact fashion, we are interested today in family and how they affect one’s romantic relationships, especially when it comes to attachment style. There is general agreement that whether you are mostly securely, avoidantly, or anxiously attached in your relationships stems from how you were raised. Parental warmth and social support have been found to be significantly correlated with attachment style. People are less likely to develop attachment anxiety or avoidance in homes with greater warmth and support. However, there are more instances of anxious and avoidant attachments in households where parents exercised strong behavioral control. But things aren’t as simple as they seem. In one longitudinal study, participants were followed from the ages of 15-16 until age 27. Their family dynamics and interactions were recorded. It was found that there was a direct impact of family interactions on attachment security and romantic interactions during adolescence as well as at age 25. In a surprising turn of events, at age 27, family interactions could not reliably predict attachment security anymore. Researchers believe that by 27, attachment style is dictated more by our recent romantic experiences and interactions and less so by our upbringing.  So, what does this mean for your love life? Our families undoubtedly have a strong influence on how we develop our approach to interpersonal relationships, but we are not so strictly bound to the attachment styles they have endowed to us.   As much as we are likely to find ourselves repeating relationship patterns from our upbringing, it is reassuring to know that all it takes to break the cycle is to get out there, make new memories, and choose for yourself.