What It’s Like to Date if You (or Your SO) Had Toxic Parents

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Anyone with toxic parents or dating someone with toxic parents likely knows how difficult they can be when it comes to relationships. Your parents already want to control every aspect of your life — school, work, extracurriculars — and now they want to control who you date? If your SO is the one with toxic parents, that may be even worse — now you have someone else’s parents trying to control your life. Or maybe love wasn’t given freely when you were a child, which can undoubtedly take a toll on your love life. Don’t worry — Her Campus is here to help. We’ve talked to Carole Lieberman, M.D., psychiatrist and author of Bad Boys and Bad Girls, and collegiettes who’ve been there to let you know what it’s like to date with toxic parents in the picture and how you can make the most of a situation like this.

1. You’ll feel forbidden from certain events and experiences

When you or your SO has toxic parents, it may feel like you can’t do certain things, such as date freely. “It is likely that these toxic parents will continue to haunt your relationship in other ways, too, even now that you are grown up,” Lieberman says. “For example, if they are too critical, controlling or are absentee parents, they will affect how you see yourself and how you see your significant other.” Jasmine Yadeta, a junior at the University of Victoria, knows this firsthand. “They consistently undermine you regardless of age or experience and that becomes extremely evident in the dating scene,” she shares. “Their feelings tend to come before your own and no matter how badly you want to start dating and getting yourself out there, you are ridden with guilt because their emotions are a priority in comparison to yours (or at least that’s how it seems).”

Jasmine was able to get out of this once her parents got divorced. “I was lucky and was able to start fresh with my relationships as me, and I became really grounded in who I am,” she says. “My mother listened to reasoning with an open ear after the divorce and honestly it only went up from there.” Even if your parents aren’t getting a divorce, don’t feel like you’re stuck — you’re your own person and are entitled to having your own healthy relationships.

2. It may be harder to commit or say “I love you”

Lieberman mentions that growing up with toxic parents can make it difficult to experience intimacy. “Still feeling the sting of rejection or other [forms of] hurt, you are afraid to get closer to your partner for fear that they will similarly reject or hurt you,” she says. “This makes it harder to commit or to say, ‘I love you.’” If you’re wondering why you have a fear of commitment or are dreading those three little words, your upbringing might be the answer. If your parents didn’t show you love as a child, it will be hard for you to show love to someone else.

3. You’ll face judgment and drama

This goes without saying — toxic parents will judge your every move, which leads to inevitable drama. Jenna*, a sophomore at the University of South Carolina, recently went through a breakup because of a toxic parent, specifically her ex-boyfriend’s mom. “She would be nice to my face and then he would tell me things that would take me aback,” she says. “It was a constant argument in our relationship that he wouldn't stick up for me enough when his family would say things that were absolutely crazy, so we got to a breaking point.” If your SO is blind to his family’s pettiness, it’s probably time to move on. You can’t let toxic parents drive you to a breaking point.

Related: You’re Ruining Your Love Life by Doing These 5 Things

4. You may fear your SO is cheating on you

Growing up in an unsteady household may make you doubt your SO’s commitment. “If you were raised with a father who cheated, who left home or who otherwise did not make you feel worthy of a good man’s love, then you will be fearful that your partner will cheat on you, abandon you or disappoint you in some other way,” Lieberman says. It’s important to remember that your partner’s actions won’t automatically reflect your parents’. It may be hard to put those thoughts on the back burner, but it’s still important. If you’re in a healthy relationship, you should trust your SO.

5. Your SO will make you feel stronger

Although having toxic parents (or an SO with toxic parents) makes it difficult to date, it can make your relationship that much more important. “My mom is emotionally abusive and it definitely affects my dating dynamics,” says Emma*, a junior at the University of Alabama. “It makes it even more important for me to have a supportive SO because they kind of have to outweigh the negativity she creates in my life.” Finding someone who will be there for you, toxic parents or not, is extremely valuable and will put a true test to your relationship.

What can do you?

Although you’ll have difficulty in any relationship, it’s important to keep things between you and your SO. “I think while dating, especially in a long-term relationship where you think about wanting to be with someone forever, it's important to keep your relationship between just the two of you and not get toxic families and their opinions involved,” Jenna says. “But, if it's a constant argument and makes the relationship toxic too, you have to take a step back and see if this is really worth the fight.” If you’re able to put the issues aside and become closer, you know you and your SO are in it for the long haul.

Although toxic parents may put a burden on your dating life, it’s ultimately up to you how much it affects you. If you and your SO use each other to stay strong and keep the relationship between the two of you, you can get through it. Good luck, collegiettes!

*Name has been changed

About The Author

Rachel graduated from the Honors College at James Madison University in May 2017 and is pursuing a career in the media/PR industry. She majored in Media Arts & Design with a concentration in journalism and minored in Spanish and Creative Writing. She loves spending time with friends and family, traveling, and going to the beach.