It's probably not a huge surprise that the relationships with which you grew up can have an affect on your later romantic relationships. And while you've likely heard many couples praise their parents for all of the relationship lessons they bestowed over the years, for people whose relationships with their parents are far more strained, even toxic, that affect can be quite different. There are a number of ways having a toxic mom causes problems in your romantic relationships later on down the line. And if your mom is toxic, you may want to know how growing up with this kind of parent might influence other parts of your life, outside of just the relationship that you have (or don't have) with her.
"We cannot change the fact that our mom may have been (or may continue to be) toxic," Celeste Viciere, LMHC, a licensed mental health clinician at The Uniting Center, tells Romper by email. "Sometimes we just end up being angry about the fact that we did not have a mom like everyone else. When we do this, we are fighting reality, and end up stuck in our past. In order to heal from your toxic relationship, it's important to work on understanding how you were affected. Understanding your triggers and emotions around your past can help you work on recreating your future. Therapy and journaling are two methods that can help you begin to unwind these complex emotions and situations."
If you grew up with or still have a toxic mom, recognizing these effects in your romantic relationships can perhaps help provide some perspective for what happened in past relationships or help you address them in your current relationship, hopefully allowing the two of you to move forward together.
1. Communication & Respect May Be Hard To Come By
If the environment in which you grew up included a toxic mom, that likely affected the way interpersonal communication and respect were handled within your home. Communication and respect might likewise take a hit in your romantic relationship.
"Living in a toxic environment where communication may not have been valued and your feelings may not have been recognized can cause you to display the same behaviors as your mother," Viciere says. "You may struggle with respecting your partner due to the fact that you were not respected."
2. You Might Constantly Seek Validation From Your Partner
Affirmations, advice, and agreement, and the like can, of course, be nice to receive from your partner (and others) from time to time, but if you're constantly looking for your partner to validate the things that you do or say, that could be a sign that having a toxic mom is affecting your relationship.
"If a child grew up in an invalidating environment, the child as an adult will not learn to trust their own feelings and seek external validations from others (particularly in their relationships)," Jamie Kreiter, LCSW, a licensed clinical social worker in private practice in Chicago, tells Romper in an email exchange. Doubting yourself is completely understandable when you grew up learning to do so, but working with a therapist can help.
3. You Romanticize Romance
If you're constantly looking for your idea of a perfect, whirlwind romance like those you see on screens, that could be another potential affect from having a toxic mom in your life.
"Often they mythologize romance, chronically seeking a perfectionist ideal that resembles the quest for the perfect parent," Rev. Sheri Heller, LCSW, a New York City-based psychotherapist, tells Romper by email. "When reality shatters the fantasy, rage, and despair kicks in."
4. You Have A Difficult Time With Boundaries
"If you are in a romantic relationship and have had a toxic mother, you can struggle with creating healthy boundaries due to the fact that your mom did not have boundaries with you," Viciere says. "Not having boundaries can be dangerous because you can potentially allow yourself to be mistreated."
It can sometimes be difficult to set boundaries, but they're really important in all relationships, maybe your romantic one especially. But if you're not familiar with boundaries, it might be difficult for you to even know where to start with setting your own.
5. You Struggle To Trust Your Partner
Trust is super important in any romantic relationship, but if you have a toxic parent, you might find it difficult to do so, Kreiter says.
"Children who grow up with a toxic mother learn coping skills to survive in their environment," Kreiter explains. "These behaviors are difficult to 'unlearn' as they grow up, leave toxic homes and try to form and create new relationships. We think of relationship patterns as pervasive, therefore a person who grows up with a toxic mother may have difficulty in romantic relationships, but also with friendships or with persons in the position of authority."
6. You Expect The Same Of Them As Your Mom Expected Of You
Heller says that if you have a toxic mom, you might find yourself expecting them to meet the exacting standards that your mom had for you. This can make things difficult in your relationship because if those standards are too high for them to reach (or trying to meet your expectations makes them feel trapped or controlled), it'll only lead to disappointment and distance.
7. You Have A Hard Time Being Happy Or Secure In The Relationship
A toxic relationship with your mom can make happy, healthy romantic relationships difficult to navigate because they're just not the dynamic you're used to in relationships. "People who grew up in a toxic environment struggle with being content in their romantic relationships if they do not have the same dynamic as they did with their toxic mom," Viciere says. "Trying to go from toxic to a healthy relationship is difficult when you have not worked through those issues. Your body and mind is not used to interacting with someone in a healthy way, which means being with someone who is healthy can feel foreign to you."
If you know the ways that your relationship with your mom might be causing actual issues in your romantic relationship, you can work to try to repair some of the damage. "People are resilient and can also change," Kreiter says. "With insight, people can recognize learned behavioral patterns and make changes so that they can have secure and healthy relationships with others in their lives." Recruiting a qualified therapist can help you get there.