Last week I met a girlfriend for a coffee in one of our local cafés. We went through our typical ritual of solving the problems of the world and before long we got onto the issue of her Dad. He had been frustrating her more and more over the years and she was now at the point of absolute distraction, “Dad is the most annoying, infuriating, exasperating person in my life!” she commented in a less-than-intimate voice. An older (read: wiser) woman on the next table leant over to my friend and offered her unsolicited advice, “Honey, get used to it, he is exactly the man you are going to marry.”
My friend and I, both being psychologists, laughed it off. What would she know? Someone of her generation must still be hung up on Freud and all his outdated theories!
Once we stopped laughing, we started thinking. We thought and we talked, and we talked and we thought. If we were really honest with ourselves, we realised that we were both in relationships with men who shared some key qualities with our own fathers.
After all, Freud famously theorised that in seeing our parents’ faces as infants, they subconsciously become the picture of what we look for later in life. Could there be something in this?
I looked to eHarmony’s recent Relationship Study for guidance. The research team surveyed over 1,000 Aussies over the age of 18 about their relationships and found some startling results.
When delving into our relationships with our families and their impact on our choice of partners, the findings strike a little close to the Freudian bone.
1. 91% of Aussies want their partner to share qualities their parents have
The data indicates that we want our partners to resemble our parents in a very specific way. We are particularly focused on values and personality factors such as respect (65%), honesty and kindness (63%) and compassion (53%). This is not really surprising when we consider that values are one of the underpinning factors in compatibility.
People tend to be naturally attracted to qualities they find familiar and comfortable, so it makes sense that we look for partners who exhibit similar characteristics to those who have played such pivotal roles in our lives.
Our families of origin are instrumental in role-modelling the development of our own values and personality traits. They become our benchmark for ‘normal’ and in some cases, ‘abnormal’. And, as Freud would tell us, much of this occurs at the unconscious level.
2. 83% of Aussies agree they would want their partner to have shared similar or better upbringings to what they had
So, according to the research results, we are looking to re-create a similar lifestyle to that our parents enjoyed. And if possible, we’d like to upgrade, thanks very much.
In fact, 77% of respondents would like themselves and their partner to be as financially successful, or more so, than their parents were.
Again, this is consistent with our understanding of what constitutes compatibility – having similar lifestyle preferences and interests are big ticket items in the dating game.
3. 60% of Aussies would not date someone who looked like one of their siblings
Did you just cringe a little?
Taking a closer look at the data, 45% of us would not even date someone if they shared similar personality traits to our sibling. Thinking back on the close attachments most people form with their siblings in childhood, and the common aversion to anything that resembles incest, this is not surprising at all.
So, what does this mean for the contemporary Aussie in the dating scene?
As the old proverb goes, ‘Forewarned is forearmed’.
Perhaps one of the most valuable lessons we learned from Freud is that the majority of our awareness happens at the unconscious level. Undoubtedly, our relationships with our families and the subsequent impact on our partner choices mostly occurs without our conscious awareness.
But, our family does not have to be our destiny.
By consciously reflecting on our families of origin and becoming mindful of the patterns, rules, values and behaviours that were considered ‘normal’ in that environment, we can start to make informed choices as adults. We don’t have to blindly walk into relationships with clones of our parents or blatantly reject anyone who resembles our siblings.
One of the beauties of developing into a mature adult is that we have the benefit of self-reflection. We have the choice to be mindful and self-aware. And we can apply this to our dating experiences and relationships.
So don’t allow the nosey woman in the café to be right. Yes, some of Freud’s ideas were supported by this recent study and that may work for some people. You may be in a position where you genuinely admire your parents and family values and have every intention of emulating this in your own future family. In that case, go forth and continue the tradition.
But if you have less-than-positive childhood memories and would prefer not to continue the tradition, you don’t have to. You have a choice. Break the cycle and choose a partner whose values and personality traits you consciously feel compatible with.