Why Your Parents Are The Reason You Keep Dating The Wrong Person

Do you notice a similarity in the way your parents and partners treat you?

Girl stressed thinking about dad yelling at her Koldunov, Syda Productions | Canva 

Are you tired of kissing frogs and toads? Have you gone on a string of dates that were no good? Had a series of relationships that didn’t last? Do you feel scared that you're making the same mistakes again (and again)? Most of us unknowingly sabotage our dating journey by attracting and choosing the wrong people to date. But, you can still attract love and choose the prince or princess of your wildest and most abundant dreams and create the relationship you want. The first clue of why you keep picking the wrong people is found in your childhood. More specifically, your parents. You probably fondly remember what your dad and mom were like:

  • Dad was funny and playful, always a pile of laughs or the life of the party. Mom was smart and always had the answer, a great help with your homework, encouraging you to learn.
  • He was inspiring, positive, and always believed in you. She was creative and zany, she made beautiful things and gave you cool new ideas, gifts, and a lot of freedom. 
  • He was solid and dependable, practical, and prepared for every emergency. She was powerful, respected, regal, and confident.
  • Both of your parents were sweet, loving, gentle, and always there for you.

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But, of course, you might have also had a rougher experience with your mom and dad:

  • She had to be the center of attention, talked too much, and overindulged in everything. He was always "right," making you wrong. They thought you needed to get better grades and work harder at school. 
  • Her expectations were too high, nothing was ever good enough, plus things were always your fault. He was unpredictable and flaky, caught up in his ideas and pleasure, and ignored you. 
  • She was rigid, tough, pushy, and impatient. He was controlling and manipulative, and treated you almost like a servant.
  • Both of them were too sensitive, soft, needy, or weak.

So, here's the question — do these same traits also sound like the people you’ve recently dated? When we choose dates and partners just like mommy or daddy, they seem so attractive at first because this new person (seems to) love and accept us more than our parents ever would (or could). But sooner or later they become just as frustrating as our parents. When we choose someone like a parent, this person is called our Imago match, a term coined by Harville Hendrix. Some people intentionally look for someone like their parents ("I want someone creative and fun, just like my dad!"), but most people do it subconsciously — they don’t realize they’re doing this at all! So, are you doing this?

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More than likely, you still want approval from this person in some way. Plus, the way this person treated you as a child is the way you learned to receive love, and this all got wired up together in your brain. Are you an online dater? You probably don’t realize this, but you most likely set up your online dating profile to attract people just like your parents and caregivers! You can change this. You can stop attracting, choosing, and dating your parents' doubles.


Here are the 3 practical steps to take if your parents are affecting your dating life:

1. Look at your online dating profile as if you were someone else.

See how you are trying to describe yourself, and if it sounds eerily similar to your parent, take these parts out of your profile. Look at how you appear in your photos too. If you judge your new profile, thinking you are too much like this and not enough like that, these are exactly the things about you that want to be healed and loved.



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2. Re-evaluate the type of people you find attractive

How are they like your parent? When you look at these people, you think "I’ve been wanting your approval." Instead, say to yourself, "I approve of me." Optionally add some specifics (e.g., "I am creative and have interesting ideas"), and say it until you feel it and believe it. A lot can come up. If helpful, get support from a coach or therapist.


3. Explore how you can celebrate yourself here and now

Make a list of what you appreciate about yourself, what you and perhaps your friends think you're good at, what you are enough at, etc. Put that in your profile. Share about how this shows up in your life. Feel more and more proud of who you are. Your special someone sees you, gets you, and loves you for who you are. Not who you pretend to be. They are not someone set up to recreate a dynamic from childhood.

A future special someone might end up resembling your mom or your dad, but you no longer need to seek approval from them. And they’re not looking for such approval from you. When two people look for this "approve of me" substitute parenting, the relationship is typically doomed to fail. Neither partner shows up as they are, and they each expect the other to play a role for them. There are many more tricks for finding the ultimate love of your life. So you can stop kissing those frogs and toads!

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Laureli Shimayo has been a coach and consultant specializing in applying Sweet Spot with ThriveTypes and body psychology to leadership development, human resources, personal growth, and romantic matchmaking since 2008.