As father figures are often children’s first male object of love, psychologists believe both positive experiences and so-called ‘daddy issues’ will rear their head later down the line. And from being less picky about potential partners, to dating people who look strangely familiar, here’s how your father/daughter bond can impact your romantic relationships…
1. You Could Be More Clingy
If you grew up with an absent, or emotionally absent, father then you could have developed abandonment or attachment issues – which can still cause pain later in life (and are well worth seeking counselling or therapy for if they are). “Expecting rejection or always worrying that your partner might leave you are classic signs of this,” says therapist Sonja Keller.
Was your father inconsistent with his affection? This could cause you to overinvest your emotions in relationships, have a strong desire for constant contact and appear clingy or needy. Partnerships can also feel unbalanced, and you may struggle to be reassured about your worries.
2. Or You Might Keep Your Distance
If your father was especially unresponsive or rejecting, you may have developed your own ‘personal defence’ system as a way of protecting yourself – after all, if your needs haven’t been met, you learn to meet them on your own. This can make you feel disconnected from others, and may discourage you from attempting relationships altogether.
“A common response to pain is to recede into a shell,” Bob Alaburda of love and relationship site YourTango.com explains. “You can't be hurt if you never put your heart out there. Having a poor relationship with your father may lead you to not let other men get close to you emotionally.”
3. You Could Make Better Choices
If your childhood was filled with fond memories of your dad, you’re more likely to thrive in the dating world – regardless of whether your parents were married or divorced. “The daughter who has a fulfilling relationship with her father is usually more trusting, more secure and more satisfied in her romantic relationships than the daughter with a troubled or distant relationship with her dad,” Linda Nielsen, Professor of Psychology at Wake Forest University and author of Between Fathers and Daughters, explains.
According to Nielsen, women who grow up with meaningful, comfortable, conversational relationships with their dads make better choices in who they date, sleep with, and marry.
4. Or You Could Be Less Picky
Nielsen compares the experience of picking a boyfriend in your adult life after a childhood without fatherly affection to going to the supermarket when you’re starving. “If you go into a grocery store when you’re hungry, you’ll come out with junk food,” she said. “You just grab whatever’s on the shelf that makes you feel good right now.”
She believes if young women don’t have approval from their fathers, they often try to seek it elsewhere – and this can lead to unhealthy relationship choices. And research seems to support her theory: “Numerous studies found that girls from fatherless families develop more promiscuous attitudes and experience difficulty in forming or maintaining romantic relations later in their development,” says Dr. Ohemaa Nkansa-Dwamen, a chartered counselling psychologist.
5. You Could Accept The Male Treatment You Think You Deserve
Having an emotionally inattentive caregiver can condition children to believe that the poor treatment they’re given is indicative of what they deserve – and many people carry these false beliefs and flawed thinking patterns into adulthood. “If you had a father who’s cold and distant, you don’t know how to relate to men in another way,” Nielsen said. “You pick men who are cold and distant, because that’s what you’re used to.”
On the other hand, having unconditional love from a father figure can teach children good examples. Charlotte, a 52-year-old artist, told Nielsen she only chooses men who love her without question. “I’ve always regarded the man in my life to be totally trustworthy, and I’ve never had problems,” she said.
6. You Could Refuse To Date Anyone Like Your Dad
Sometimes a person is so hurt by their father, or so conscious of how any ‘daddy issues’ may affect their love life, that they make an outright decision to avoid anyone that reminds them of their dad.
While this may sound like a wise idea, in reality, making that conscious choice can indicate that your dad is still a negative influence in your life. As clinical psychologist Jennifer Kromberg, says: "A choice to go opposite is still a choice based on dad."
7. Or You Could Pick Men Who Look Just Like Him
In all honesty, this one’s a little bit gross – research suggests we pick male partners who look like our fathers. Kromberg says that even from a very young age people can be “attracted” to men who resemble their dads: “When I say ‘attracted’ I don’t mean in a creepy, inappropriate way. I mean that in a group of people of different heights and sizes, you’re drawn to the one who most resembled your own dad.”
And there’s plenty of research to support this. Some studies suggest it comes down to hair and eye colour; others say it’s due to a biological drive to pass on our genes (picking someone who looks similar to your opposite-sex parent is the best way to guarantee your children carry those familial traits); and one even theorises it’s because of imprinting – as our parents’ faces are the first we see when we’re babies, we could ‘imprint’ upon them, much like other animals do.
For advice on finding a therapist, or more information about how talking treatments like counselling could help you, visit Mind.org.uk
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