Most of us have conflicts with our parents now and then – especially during adolescence and young adulthood – yet we tend to keep that separate from our romantic relationship. But have you ever wondered if or how your relationship with your parents can affect you and your partner?
Our parents and their parenting style are crucial to the formation of our self-concept and our couple identity. Our self-concept consists of all the ideas that we have about ourselves in relation to others. We may think of ourselves in terms of personality traits (‘smart’, ‘clumsy’, ‘out-going’) as we integrate what we understand about ourselves with what others tell us (for example, a friend telling you: ‘You’re such an extrovert!’). Similarly, if you successfully incorporate being in a relationship into your self-concept, then you have managed to build your couple identity. This is very important especially when you or your partner go through a difficult time.
Research tells us that our parents’ parenting styles can influence us especially during more sensitive times in our development, such as adolescence and young adulthood. More specifically, it is intrusive parenting that seems to have negative influences on us and on our romantic relationships. Intrusive parenting means that the parents are intrusive and manipulative with their child’s thoughts or feelings. This blocks the child’s efforts to build their self-concept on their own, as the parents don’t recognise the child as having an identity separate from them or from their wishes and desires.
Unfortunately, this means that an adolescent’s or a young adult’s efforts to build a strong and committed relationship with their partner isn’t enough for their couple identity to develop well. This is how a healthy couple’s relationship not only depends on the two partners but also on their relationships with their own parents. In other words, if your parents don’t allow you to be your own person outside of their boundaries, then you won’t be able to achieve that in your romantic relationship either.
Parents who aren’t intrusive allow you to re-negotiate your relationships with them as you become more autonomous, and as you start building life and relationships of your own.
You might ask yourself: ‘Okay, but what can I do if my parents are intrusive?’. It might be useful for you and your partner to discuss your relationships with your parents and how you feel this might affect you as a couple. Involving them in this could also help, as the process of children growing up is natural and irreversible and, even though they might want to, they cannot keep you with them forever.
Remember that communication is key here! If you feel you cannot handle this process yourself, you might want to consider contacting a family therapy professional who will help you, your partner and your parents understand each other better.
If you think that you can benefit from professional support on this issue you can reach out here.
Alexandra Trașcă is an intern with Willingness and an undergraduate Psychology student at Babeș-Bolyai University in Romania.
Harter, S. (2012). The construction of the self: Developmental and sociocultural foundations (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Guilford Press.
Manzi, C., Parise, M., Iafrate, R., Sedikides, C., & Vignoles, V. L. (2015). Insofar as You Can Be Part of Me: The Influence of Intrusive Parenting on Young Adult Children’s Couple Identity. Self and Identity, 14(5), 570–582. https://doi.org/10.1080/15298868.2015.1029965
Regalia, C., Manzi, C., & Scabini, E. (2013). Individuation and differentiation in families across cultures. In M. A. Fine & F. D. Fincham (Eds.), Handbook of family theories: A content-based approach (pp. 437–455). New York, NY: Taylor and Francis/Routledge.