Sadly, about 50% of marriages end in divorce, and even if your parents were not married, they might not still be together or have had a tumultuous relationship. It takes a great amount of self-awareness to recognise that you would not like history repeated, and I commend you for seeking ways to positively impact your future.

Now, I want to make it clear that this is not about projecting blame onto your parents, but rather that it is down to you to break a negative pattern in your relationships. It is important to understand the relation between our childhood experiences with our parents and how they provide a model for our adult relationships, what we can do to break the negative cycle, and how we can raise the next generation.

Learning how to not replicate your parents’ relationship is easier said than done. This is primarily because their relationship is the romantic love model that we have learned. Relationship expert Susan Winter says, “you may have learned bad habits such as manipulation, victimisation or aggression, and you may have seen these behaviours at such close range that you can spot – and avoid – them in both yourself and romantic partners.” If you perhaps witnessed or learned negative behaviours from your parents’ relationship, then unlearning them is the way forward to not replicate their relationship, stop the negative behaviours in their tracks, and keep yourself accountable. But how do we unlearn our primary example of ‘love’?

Educate yourself on attachment styles

Learning your attachment style is an important strength to have within romantic relationships as it brings clarity to how you operate. By reading John Gottman’s work on attachment theory and how they can influence the success of a relationship, you are able to reflect back on your primary caregiver’s availability to you as a child. According to attachment theory, you have a secure attachment style if your caregivers were responsive and available to you as a child. If your parents were inconsistent in their responsiveness and availability, you likely have an anxious attachment style, and if your caregivers were neglectful, you likely have an avoidant attachment style. By learning the dynamics between you and your parents, you are able to identify certain triggers that may arise in you and where they stem from. In the context of not replicating your parents’ relationship, you can use attachment theory to your advantage by working towards a secure attachment style and intentionally being as responsive and available as you can if you should choose to start a family.

Identify what did or did not work in your parents’ relationship.

If unintentionally copying your parents’ behaviour is something that makes you nervous, try not to worry. The first step in preventing this from happening is to identify the characteristics of their relationship that will or will not work for you. For example, if they did not trust each other and infidelity was involved, then work on trying to get to a stable place in yourself and with a partner where you have an unshakeable sense that you will be a part of each other’s lives without needing constant reassurance. Hadjiioannou, an integrative psychotherapist, asserts that having a foundation of trust and security in your relationship – even if your parents did not – is a sure-fire way of ensuring that your relationship is built to last.

Set boundaries with your parents.

Lastly, and likely most difficult, is to set and maintain boundaries with your parents. If you had a negative example of a relationship set by your parents, it is likely because of their personalities, choices, or actions. If their personality is overbearing and controlling, then you can set boundaries with them by respectfully asking them to allow you to make your own decisions without their unsolicited opinion or advice being given. Or, if they make passing comments comparing you to another person your age in terms of career choices, relationships, or children, then a boundary needs to be set for them to know that they are crossing the line.

In general, it is inevitable to be influenced by the people who set the example for relationships in our lives when it comes to our own. However, the extent to which we are influenced is in our control. If you do not wish to replicate your parents’ relationship, there are steps you can take and boundaries you can set to work towards ensuring that does not happen.

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