We hear a lot about “daddy issues” and how a father’s presence (or lack thereof) can affect your future romantic relationships. But quiet as it’s kept, the mother-daughter relationship can have as much or an even greater impact on who you choose to date and marry and how that relationship develops.
Think about it: What did your mama teach you about men and marriage?
Did she tell you to make sure you have your own? So that if a man leaves you (or if you never get married in the first place), you’ll still have a roof over your head.
Or, did she tell you that you need keep yourself up and cater to your man because there’s always another woman ready to take your place?
Maybe she told you to be strong and never let a man see that he’s hurt you, otherwise he’ll take advantage of you.
I’ve seen firsthand in my own coaching practice how women are affected by their moms when it comes to who they date, how comfortable they are with being vulnerable with a man, and how they communicate with their partners. Here are a few of the themes that have emerged:
Feeling Guilty for Wanting A Man
“I kind of feel guilty for wanting a man. My mother never had one.” I asked my client to explain why she had trouble expressing what she truly wanted her life to look like. “I guess it’s because my mom always told me what I needed to do,” she said.
My client’s mother wanted to ensure that her daughter was never in a position where she needed to depend on a man. Her daughter needed to get a good job, have her own house, and ensure she was financially secure and had her life together. She didn’t need to spend so much time thinking about a man because that wasn’t a sure thing.
What I helped my client see was that her mother could teach her how to be self-reliant, but didn’t know how to teach her how to be loved. My client needed to give herself permission to desire a relationship, even if she didn’t necessarily “need” one.
Frustration with Perfection
“Whose voice is that?” I asked, when my client began beating herself up because another man she was excited about went from pursuing her to disappearing without a trace.
“Here I am, successful in my career, but I can’t keep a man. I might as well just grab a glass of wine and sit my fat behind down somewhere.”
The critical tone in her voice was a sign to me that she was repeating something she’d heard from someone else. “My mama,” she said flatly.
We spent the rest of the session exploring how it felt to have a mom who tried to motivate her daughter by pointing out her mistakes. My client felt like she was expected to be perfect and learned how to criticize herself when anything didn’t go well in her career or in her love life. She spent a lot of energy trying to be the good girl who avoided confrontation so people would be happy with her.
The big breakthrough came when she realized she was choosing men who reminded her of her mother. They were attracted to her, but would tell her she’d be the perfect woman if she’d only lose 40 pounds. They’d leave her when they discovered she was flawed and couldn’t live up to their expectations.
We connected the dots between her mom’s fault-finding and her boyfriends’ inability to love her unconditionally. And we began the healing process so that she’d learn to choose a different kind of partner, one who could accept her– flaws and all.
Fear of Marriage
“My mother was superwoman,” my client replied when I asked her what her mother modeled for her about men and marriage. She told me her mom was abandoned by her first husband and worked tirelessly to make sure she could provide for her family.
When she remarried, she was still doing all of the cooking, cleaning, and caring for the home and children. She literally watched her mom lose herself and sacrifice everything for her husband and kids. Although she admired her mother and appreciated everything she’d done for the family, my client was afraid that falling in love and saying “I do” would put her in the same situation.
My mother was superwoman.
She admitted to me that she was ambivalent about marriage. She’d find herself falling out of love with men 6 months into a relationship if they began to make her feel like they wouldn’t be able to provide for her and keep her safe. She’d go cold, withdrawing her love and affection from the men, much the same way she witnessed her mother shut down emotionally in order to survive a divorce and bad marriage.
We had to work on creating new relationship models for my client so that she could learn how to communicate her fears with her partner and keep her relationship, instead of becoming emotionally unavailable and losing it all.
Fear of Vulnerability
Another woman had a similar fear of vulnerability, but her challenge with wearing her heart on her sleeve was a result of some advice her mother gave her after a devastating breakup. Her mother rebuked her for crying in front of her man and told her she should have been strong and pretended like his cruel words didn’t phase her.
When I shared with my client that sadness–and expressing that sadness through tears–was a normal response to losing someone you love, she was surprised. “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen my mother cry,” she said. “And she’s never had a man, either.”
I had to help my client embrace vulnerability and value her ability to express all of her emotions, even the negative ones like sadness, disappointment and pain.
Your mother may not have explicitly taught you lessons about men, but chances are she became a model on how to navigate relationships that you’re still drawing from today. If you’ve been having some challenges with men and relationships, it may be a sign that you need to explore how your relationship with your mother is affecting you.
BMWK, what did your mother teach you about men and marriage?
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