Why do we parentify our romantic partners?

Questions like “What do you expect in your romantic partner?” leads to interesting answers. One of the most common answer I’ve come across is, “I want to be myself around them. Someone who will accept me for everything that I am.” 

At first glance, this expectation seems perfectly valid. After all we don’t want to be with someone who criticises all our choices and makes us feel like an awful human being. However, it raises certain questions. The core of the answer comes from wanting to be accepted. Where is this want coming from? If they want to be their true self with their romantic partners, are they not their true self with others? Why does romantic relationship have to be a scared rite of passage to actually know the authentic self of another person? What is this need to be accepted for all our flaws, frivolousness, and quirks? 

We often tend to replay our childhood parental dynamics in our adult relationships. As a child, our primary need is to be accepted unconditionally by our parents. It is their role to view us as valuable human beings regardless of our choices and behaviour. However this is hardly what happens. Our parents while loving us, also have huge expectations from us. Our choices are viewed as rebelliousness and our actions are sometimes sources of their disappointment. As a helpless child, we might yearn for the acceptance from our parents because it is so crucial for our growth. As adults we might even scorn our parents for never understanding or empathising with our views or needs.

Isn’t it then understandable that as adults, we expect some human being to hold space for us, to let us be for what we are, and to show complete acceptance for all our choices? But the problem is we are not children anymore and our romantic partners are not our parents. As adults, we might feel helpless due to lack of acceptance. However we have a choice to not re-enact our childhood anxieties in our present. As a child we were dependent on others for our self-esteem needs, but as adults we are entirely responsible for ourselves. Adult relationships are conditional. Nobody can irrevocably love us for everything we are. That fantasy doesn’t exist. 

Wanting to be accepted is not the problem. However, it shouldn’t be a criteria for evaluating a relationship. Acceptance is an inside job. As adults, we have the responsibility to become self-aware and accept all parts of ourselves, unconditionally. It is something that only we can do for ourselves. Romantic relationships aren’t sources of complete acceptance. Our partners can criticise our choices and still respect us, our partners can be honest about how certain quirks of ours annoy them and still love us, our partners can disagree with our views and still support us. Adult relationships are built on honesty, respect and trust. There is no space for juvenile role playing. 

A self-aware person who has accepted themselves don’t need to put on layers between them and others. When you have connected with your authentic self, you are going to genuinely express your true self with anybody. It doesn’t matter whether that person validates you or not. That is what self-acceptance is all about -to be unapologetically yourself in all situations, among all people. 

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