Start with a baseline assumption of two parents that stayed together and had a relatively happy marriage — or, if you want, two parents that ultimately separated but maintained a functional, happy environment for the children involved. In either of those situations, are the eventual relationships that the children enter going to mirror the parents in some way? Obviously this question has no set answer — in some cases it’s “yes,” in some cases it’s “no” and in some cases (probably most) it’s “a mix of the two possible answers” — but it’s still interesting to me. (In broad, umbrella terms — it’s quite hard to be in any relationship and not unconsciously, unwittingly somewhat model what you’ve seen before, which is probably your parents.)
Personal aside: I don’t think it’s possible for a marriage to be perfect. I don’t really think anything can be perfect, in all reality, but if anything could be, a marriage would probably be pretty far down the list. I’ve only been married a little over a year, and while I think it’s great, it’s definitely not perfect. I feel like that’s essentially life, right?
Second thing: I think it’s a really important sequence in adolescence/your 20s/whenever it happens when you realize that your parents aren’t perfect. I don’t know when I realized this, but I think it was sometime in the early-to-mid double digits. I actually tried to explain this to my mom in my late 20s — the notion that realizing your parents have issues and flaws is actually somewhat freeing — and she basically reacted the completely wrong way, which was fun. That’s a digression.
So, back to the original question: is your parents’ relationship going to affect your own in some context?
There’s a couple of different online forums/postings related to this: here, here, here and here. Most of those aren’t official or scientific, and most deal with the idea of children of divorce and whether they become divorced / children of oft-fighting couples and whether they fight or are prone to affairs. There’s some legitimate academic work on these topics, including this paper, but again, it all comes back to your personal context and the prism you view it through. Also, read this for some additional content/context here.
Here’s my two cents (again, unofficial and not scientific): in my own life, I actually think the challenges in my marriage are — well, some of the base ones are universal, so I can’t chock that back to my own parents or her own parents — and, hmmm, alright, let me offer another theory. I’ve actually been thinking about this more in the last two years because I’ve encountered more people of each side of the equation. If you completely deify your parents to the point that their relationship is perfect and they can essentially do no wrong (I’ve met probably a dozen or more people in that boat), I actually think that might make it harder to have a successful adult relationship (the bar cannot be leapt over, or even touched). So if your relationship with your parents is too focused on their positives, I think that might have an inverse effect on your own ability to develop and maintain healthy relationships. If you see your parents as wonderful people in a wonderful relationship — but nonetheless one with challenges and flaws — then I think you’re in an easier place to figure out your own stuff.
Anyone have thoughts on this? Leave ’em in the comments.