How Your Family Influences Your Relationships

  • Published
  • By Jaclyn Urmey, LCSW
  • 514 AMW Wing Director of Psychological Health

The apple doesn’t always fall far from the tree. But if it does, it’s still an apple. It may look a little different after a while. It might even taste different, but it’s still 100% apple. Thank goodness people aren’t apples. But we can relate to them in that no matter what family tree we grew up in, we will always resemble that family in some way.

Most people try to take the good and leave the bad, if they are aware that there was any bad in their childhood family. Others aren’t aware, and don’t realize they are taking it with them. Even still, people can view things differently so some may not view ‘bad’ the same way. Once a couple gets together, family influences, good or bad, become obvious pretty quickly.

There are three major influences of family background that are important to understand, as taken from How to Avoid Marrying a Jerk (or Jerkette), by John Van Epp. The first is to understand the way you learned to handle your emotions. The two most significant emotions which tend to drive the mood of the home are affection and aggression.

Consider how your family showed affection and how family members expressed that they love you. Next, consider how this affected you and how it affects how you relate to other people. Younger individuals tend to struggle making this connection, whereas more mature individuals will see how it relates to their relationships.

Then, think about how you want affection to be shown within your own relationship and family. What kind of family background would your partner need to have to make this possible? If in a current relationship, is this an area where differences need to be addressed?

Move on to your temper; what is it like and how were tempers managed in your childhood family? How would you know if a prospective partner is able to manage their temper? Take a moment to think about your affection and aggression ideals for a happy relationship.

The second major influence of family background is the way you learned power. The structure of the family is based on aspects of family interaction that have influence. There are four ways to determine the structure of your family:

• How was responsibility assigned in your family? Healthy family structures fall within a balance of responsibility. Unhealthy family structure may, for example, place more duties on a driven child and less duties on a lazy child, thus appearing like the lazy child was rewarded for their lack of drive, and the driven child was punished for their ambition.

• What type of authority did your parents demonstrate in the home? Healthy family structures have a balance between passive and authoritarian (bossy) homes which fosters respect for authority. Unhealthy family structures may look like anything goes in the home (no curfews, everyone eats dinner at different times, one family member does it all) or there is strict rules (physical discipline for minor infractions, one member domineers over every other family member).
• How were possessions and territory managed in your childhood home? Extreme possessiveness can result in fighting and lack of cooperation, while enmeshment can result in being overly dependent and needy. Healthy family structures demonstrate a balance of ownership and sharing of possessions.

• How was attention given to each member of your childhood family? Extremes are neglecting and spoiling, while a healthy balance is “a blend of attention at times with allowances of the child to be told ‘no’ and not always get his or her way.”

The final influence is the way you learned family roles. This is important because it correlates to how you think you should be and how you think your spouse/partner should be. Having healthy expectations is a major plus to a successful relationship, but many times we don’t even know we have unrealistic expectations of ourselves or our partners. Consider some of these questions: How did your relationship with your parents affect the development of your identity? What was your mother like as a wife, and father as a husband? How does this affect how you view your partner? How are you like your parents?

Examining these three areas is important, even if your family has no problems today. Looking back over your childhood can help you identify any patterns being repeated in your relationships. By understanding how you became you, your insight into your relationships will greatly improve. Having this understanding can also help a prospective partner prepare to be in a serious relationship with you.

“An apple tree is just like a person. In order to thrive, it needs companionship that's similar to it in some ways, but quite different [in] others.” Jeffrey Stepakoff, The Orchard