You already know that you got your mother’s unruly hair, her stubborn nature, and her green thumb. Now it's time to take a step back to consider your your mother’s love life. According to a new study just published in PLoSOne, mom may have passed on her relationship patterns to you as well.
Look, I get it. Your mom’s number of partners isn’t exactly something you want to think about (woof). But what if it could provide some insight into your own love life? And not just the kinds of people you’re attracted to, or your attitude toward relationship styles in general, either — but how those relationships actually pan out. The study, which analyzed data more than 7,000 people and their biological mothers, revealed that people whose mothers either lived with multiple partners over the years or married multiple times are more likely to do the same.
In fact, they found that for every additional partner the mother had, their children’s average number of relationships increased. Not only that, but people who were exposed to their mother’s cohabitation for a longer period of time were more likely to have a higher number of partners than siblings who were less exposed to this (for instance, an older brother or sister who had already moved out of the house).
This isn’t the first time that researchers have studied how parents’ relationships may impact their children’s, of course. For years, there have been persisting concerns about whether children of divorce are more likely to get divorced later in life. Fortunately, multiple studies have disproved this theory. One 2016 study in Marriage & Family Review, for example, found that children who experienced high levels of conflict (worrying about money, fighting, etc.) were more likely to get divorced than children whose parents split. Not only that, but children in families who got divorced showed similar numbers in terms of their marriages dissolving to children in low-conflict families whose parents stayed together. Basically, it’s not divorce that’s the source of the problem — it’s a stressful environment. But what about when a parent is dating again?
“Many children are seeing their parents divorce, start new cohabiting relationships, and having those end as well,” said research leader Professor Claire Kamp Dush in a press release. “You may see cohabitation as an attractive, lower-commitment type of relationship if you’ve seen your mother in such a relationship for a longer time. That may lead to more partners since cohabiting relationships are more likely to break-up.”
So, what’s the reasoning for this phenomenon? It’s a classic nature versus nurture debate. Are genetics to blame for your relationship patterns or your environment? Scientists noted that certain inherited personality traits may be at play. For example, if you have trouble with depression or anxiety, which can be genetic, those disorders may impact your relationships. However, there’s something to be said for the skills you learn (or don’t learn) growing up, such as those that relate to conflict resolution. It’s no secret that we learn by watching our parents — we can learn everything from how to deal when you’re upset with someone, to how to apologize when you know you were wrong. We can even learn how to show and receive affection or praise in watching their interactions and communicating with them ourselves. All of these behaviors can come into play in terms of how we act as partners and how our relationships play out.
Here’s the thing: No one can dictate or define our relationships — not even our parents. As they say, different strokes for different folks: Some mothers may prefer dating multiple partners as opposed to committing to one life-partner, and if that makes you happy, too, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. A single long-term relationship is not the only picture of a healthy or stable love life. It’s entirely possible to be well-adjusted without having any problematic behaviors or emotional issues. Besides, when you feel lost, afraid, or hurt while navigating your way through the often confusing realm of romance, your mama may be able to pass on some seriously life-changing wisdom from her own experiences. And since science has shown that you inherit your intelligence gene from your mom, you can thank her for the wise dating decisions you've made along the way.
That said, if you feel like you’re repeating unhealthy patterns (whether they do or do not resemble your mom’s), you can aways consider consulting a therapist, who can help you dig into those and work through them before they negatively impact your own personal well-being or your relationships. Remember: You are your own person. While your mom’s experiences may have shaped you in some way, you have the power to lead your own love life in whatever way suits your needs, wants, and values. Exploring your options and seeing what works for you — that’s the fun part.