Stevie Martin | Staff Writer | Wednesday, 11 November 2015

How Much Does My Dad Affect My Relationships?

Are Daddy Issues Actually A Thing?

The Debrief: AKA 'Alright, how much do I subconsciously fancy my own dad then?'

You know the drill: you start seeing a guy, you introduce him to your mates and they're all like 'oh my god, he's basically your dad'. Alright, so this doesn't often happen, but it's true that phrases like 'daddy issues' are commonly flung about when someone dates someone who is older, that girls in abusive relationships are presumed to have had similar relationships with their fathers, and absent dads are thought to cause a hell of a lot of romantic issues. 

'The father daughter relationship almost models the kind of relationship one might have in later life - not just in 20s, but in your 30s as well,' says Dr. Ohemaa Nkansa-Dwamen, a chartered counselling psychologist who knows her 'daddy' from her 'issues'. 'If you have a relationship with your father that's strong, and your father is validating and kind, you will be seeking that out consciously or unconsciously in future relationships.'

How your dad treated you, and how he treated his own relationships (your mother, your stepmother, his girlfriend, his boyfriend, whoever), sets a subconscious benchmark within you about what you will and will not stand for. Personally, I get this - my dad was never violent, horribly angry, never cheated or was dishonest, and that's been a consistency in my relationships through my 20s. I'm really not good at dealing with lots of anger, cheating, or lying because it feels like an unacceptable element to any loving, caring relationship.

It makes sense, then, that if your dad wasn't around (so you didn't have any blueprints), or mistreated you (so your blueprints were all messed up), that it would equally affect your ability to deal with stuff (sorry about the amount of times I said 'blueprints' in this sentence). 'If you have an absentee father you may go one of two ways,' says Dr. Ohemaa. 'You may seek someone who is similar to that, and have bad relationships, or try and go for the opposite. Which, in and of itself, and go well or go badly wrong.' 

Why do these things make for bad relationships? '[With an absent father], if something unhelpful emerges within a relationship, you fear the loss of that relationship really strongly, and may consequently put up with a more, and a lot worse, than you should. If you go for the opposite of your absent father, another psychologist I know says it's like going to a grocery store when you’re really hungry - you pick up all the junk,' explains Dr. Ohemaa. 'Some relationships - not all, but some - are affected in the sense that, if someone shows you that in any way, shape, or form you might connect with that really strongly and disregard the negatives, because you're so desperate for that love.'

Science seems to support this - studies across the world have found that absent fathers negative affect daughters' wellbeing, and research by Krohn and Bogan in the early 00s found that 'Numerous studies [indicate] that girls from fatherless families develop more promiscuous attitudes and experience difficulty in forming or maintaining romantic relations later in their development… These behavioral patterns are carried with them into womanhood and may be the cause of their unfulfilling relationships with men'. These problems aren't just with fathers who weren't there, being attracted to the first person who shows you love and affection - regardless of the quality of that love/affection - regardless of other problems can be the case for anyone who hasn't grown up knowing what it's like to be seen, heard or loved by a male role model. Again, it's not the case for everyone, but there's certainly a correllation that's difficult to ignore. 

What's a little bit easier to ignore, thought, is the gross research done that suggests we pick people who look like our fathers. Gross because it implies you totally fancy your dad. And it's been proven even with adopted parents, implying that it's to do with our environment rather than some genetic predisposition. 

'All my boyfriends, or most of them anyway, have been tall, with dark hair and sort of arty,' says Hannah, 27, who refuses to accept that she is picking guys who are like her dad. 'My dad is also all of these things, but that doesn't mean I'm necessarily going for people who are like him!' 

OK sure. And maybe not, because we're all different - but if we're subconsciously attracted to (or repelled by, depending on the quality of the relationship) our father's traits, why not their appearance too? 'I guess in some ways it sounds perversive - you married your dad!' laughs Dr. Ohemaa. 'But in some ways, even though people won’t admit it, if you really sat down and looked at the traits in your partner, it wouldn’t be unusual to find similarities. Or to see traits that your father didn't have that your partner does have that, subconsciously, you're looking for.' 

In trying to find the perfect match, it makes sense that we use the categories and building blocks that we grew up with - and then attempt to fill the gaps, or replace them, depending on how cool your dad was. And by cool, I mean 'not a dick'. 

If you're with someone who looks nothing like your dad, and had none of his traits, then that still doesn't give you a I Deffo Don't Fancy My Dad get out of jail free card. There's significant research done on how a strong dad-bond (or paternal bond, if you're fancy) can provide you with higher self esteem which, in turn, positively affects your  future relationships by giving you a stronger sense of worth. As we all know, the more we value ourselves, the better our relationships go. Or rather, the lower our self esteem, the more totally batshit we are. 

So to conclude: no, you don't fancy your own dad - but it's highly likely that you're affected fairly strongly by him when it comes to your relationships in later life. Unless of course, you do actually fancy your dad, in which case that's for a different article and god speed to you. 

Like this? You might also be interested in...

Ask An Adult: Why Don't I Get On Better With My Mum Now I'm An Adult?

Older Women Share Advice On How To Cope With Relationships In Your 20s 

Why Do We Get Hangry? We Asked An Adult

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Tags: Science Says, Health, Family