5 Ways Your Dad Is Affecting Your Relationships With Men — For Better Or For Worse
The growing body of research on father-daughter relationships offers invaluable lessons for women.
If you are struggling with love or repeating unhealthy patterns, it would serve you well to explore your relationship with perhaps the most influential person on your romantic life – your father.
Some of you have been lucky. You’ve had an overall positive relationship with your father. He was reliable, consistent, and stable. Someone you could count on and talk to with ease. Someone who gave you that felt sense of security we need. Other women have not been as fortunate. Perhaps he was an addict, couldn’t hold down a job, was cold and distant, or overly controlling. Maybe he completely abandoned the family. Whether a “good” or “bad” Dad, you might be surprised at the impact this relationship has on your partner choice, expectations in a relationship, and views about love.
Research supports the idea that the father-daughter relationship is both unique and vital to our well-being. Several themes come up that tell us how your father might be affecting your romantic relationships. You can also learn what to do if "daddy issues" are impacting you.
1. His presence is critical. A father showing up for both his daughter, as well as his spouse, fosters hope and a positive outlook on romantic relationships. Seeing the father’s responsiveness and presence helps women learn about the need for support, trust and closeness. Note that the father showing up for both his wife and children is key. Alternatively, the overly doting father who makes his kids the center of his life and does not prioritize his wife is problematic as well.
2. His physical absence hurts. When a father is not present, regardless of the reason, it harms young women. Absence can be from divorce, abandonment, illness, incarceration or something else. This might be intentional as in abandonment, or less intentional per se, in the case of illness or death. Having experienced these situations may cause women to be less trusting and also generate more uncertainty about what to expect in romantic relationships. It’s hard to know what’s acceptable or unacceptable treatment from a man. In cases of abandonment, it can bring out deep-seated fear about whether or not you are lovable, worthy, or good enough.
3. His emotional absence also hurts. You may see him a lot but feel disconnected or detached. An emotionally unavailable father will often have you choosing emotionally unavailable partners. You’ll fee less secure and often dissatisfied in your relationships. Emotional absence might be from his substance abuse, having an avoidant attachment style, being a workaholic, and other reasons. A narcissistic father will undoubtedly have a troubled connection with his daughter by being self-centered, hyper-critical, and lacking empathy.
4. His treatment of your mother matters a lot. What you observed in your parent’s relationship or marriage often helps you to see what you don’t want and the way you don’t wish to be treated. If there were many negative interactions, you might have become fearful of repeating their mistakes. Abuse, affairs, financial betrayals and the like will impact your ability to trust.
5. His communication about sex and love is meaningful. Most fathers tend to not discuss these topics at all. Yet the fathers who muster the courage have candid and non-shaming conversations about sex, dating, and commitment have done you a tremendous favor and you will reap significant benefits.
Be mindful of the role your relationship with your father may be having on your own relationship.
Negative experiences, as in an emotionally or physically absent father, will frequently have you repeating history in an attempt to re-write it with romantic partners. You’ll choose a similar type of man that gives you a familiar feeling that has been your “normal.” Comfortable as it might feel, it’s not healthy. You just can’t seem to change the end of the story, no matter how many times you try.
Exploring these early family experiences is essential to help you recognize patterns and blocks in your romantic life. Much focus is often on the Mother, yet we can’t ignore your Father, who may actually have a more severe impact. Your bond with him and the quality of if, has long-lasting and immense consequences on your life.
After looking at your relationship with your father, determine the ways this might be sabotaging your love life.
You are picking, be it consciously or unconsciously, a romantic partner based on characteristics of your father both in traits and in the way in which you relate. Approach your conclusions about this relationship with curiosity and self-compassion.
Are you choosing someone like him or the opposite of him?
What serious changes do you need to make?
What does moving forward look like?
Can you find a way to prevent unproven or irrational beliefs from creating barriers to healthy love?
Whatever your conclusions, know that your life can be different. This “first” bond is not necessarily predestined. Taking responsibility for yourself will foster a different outcome. You can make changes and create a healthy, loving, and secure relationship.
Dr. Marni Feuerman* is a licensed psychotherapist and author of Ghosted and Breadcrumbed: Stop Falling for Unavailable Men and Get Smart about Healthy Relationships available on Amazon and everywhere else books are sold. Sign up for her newsletter to keep in touch and get the latest content on love, dating and relationships.
*Author note: This article originally appeared on YourTango.com.