People inherit their relationship patterns from their mothers, new research finds.
Both men and women whose mothers have a higher number of romantic partners are likely to have more partners themselves.
Similarly, mothers who divorce or serially cohabit, have children who are more likely to divorce and serially cohabit.
A person is more likely to break up their cohabitation if their mother also does so frequently.
It is probably because mothers pass on their relationship patterns to their children.
Dr Claire Kamp Dush, who led the study, said:
“Our results suggest that mothers may have certain characteristics that make them more or less desirable on the marriage market and better or worse at relationships.
Children inherit and learn those skills and behaviors and may take them into their own relationships.”
The study followed over 3,200 mothers and their children for 24 years.
It tracked how people married and divorced across the generations and their subsequent relationships.
Dr Kamp Dush said:
“It’s not just divorce now.
Many children are seeing their parents divorce, start new cohabiting relationships, and having those end as well.
All of these relationships can influence children’s outcomes, as we see in this study.”
Those who saw their mothers having more relationships tended to copy this themselves.
Dr Kamp Dush said:
“You may see cohabitation as an attractive, lower-commitment type of relationship if you’ve seen your mother in such a relationship for a longer time.
That may lead to more partners since cohabitating relationships are more likely to break-up.”
Mothers pass on their characteristics to their children, Dr Kamp Dush said:
“What our results suggest is that mothers may pass on their marriageable characteristics and relationship skills to their children — for better or worse.
It could be that mothers who have more partners don’t have great relationship skills, or don’t deal with conflict well, or have mental health problems, each of which can undermine relationships and lead to instability.
Whatever the exact mechanisms, they may pass these characteristics on to their children, making their children’s relationships less stable.”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the journal PLOS ONE (Kamp Dush et al., 2018).