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The shadow of an overbearing parent can affect romantic relationships

Introspecting on relationship patterns can help decode your behaviour in a romantic relationship and possibly trace it back to a bond with a parent

Relationship-behavioural patterns can be linked to the relationship you have had with an overbearing parent.
Relationship-behavioural patterns can be linked to the relationship you have had with an overbearing parent. (Pexels)

R is a 42 year old successful media professional. In our first session he declared that he will never be able to sustain a long term relationship as it is very exhausting. R said he had arrived at this conclusion after going through seven relationships over a span of twenty years. Tired and scarred by his past experiences he stopped dating altogether two years ago. Until he changed his mind. R is now quite lonely, especially since his entire friends circle is married. He’s been introspecting and has found a pattern that R feels is what has been the cause of his unsuccessful relationships in the past.

The first relationship R had was straight out of college at 20. He met M at a party, the attraction was powerful and in a few weeks they started dating. In about four months, the relationship started falling apart. According to R, he tried his best to keep the relationship going. They only did things that M wanted to do, be it meeting friends, dining out or other activities. R adjusted and accommodated for M’s lifestyle. Even though he says he is not a morning person, he would wake up early without complaining about taking her call every morning. R made himself available to M unconditionally. Yet nothing he did seemed to satisfy M and she repeatedly threatened to break up. They stretched their relationship for almost a year. Both were unhappy and felt the burden of their relationship becoming heavier as time passed. M finally took the call and stopped all contact without a warning.

Heartbroken and emotionally drained, R took four years to heal before opening his heart to another woman. At 25, he felt more mature and better equipped to handle a relationship. This relationship R says, was his most intense by far. T the girl he started seeing, was two years older than him. He calls her a woman of the world. She had great clarity about what she wanted in her man emotionally and physically. For a year things were going great. T took the lead and R followed. Then two incidents happened that changed the course of their relationship. The first was when T met R’s mother and they instantly hated each other. The second, R decided to leave his job and start his own venture. This time R called things off. He could not handle the constant bickering about his girlfriend with his mother and the pressure T put on him to be available to her like he used to, which he just could not manage considering the work he had to put in into his new venture. He recalls how he used to fear taking the calls of both his mother and T, as he could never tell when they’d flare up and start screaming at him.

The other five relationships he had over the span of fourteen years were short lived and did not last beyond six months. R’s pattern held good in all of these five relationships too. He was always available and accommodative (even when he did not really want to). He felt saying no or not adhering to what his woman wanted would be disrespecting her. He always tried to think two steps ahead for his woman so as to please her. He worked hard to get over his feelings if he ever got hurt due to insensitivity of his partner. He moved on from such experiences even when his partner didn’t apologise to him. Even to R, it is clear now that his behaviour is not normal or healthy for a relationship. He does so much unnecessary emotional heavy lifting in a relationship that it leaves him exhausted.

This behavioural pattern of his, R says is linked to his relationship with his mother. R’s mother is a successful businesswoman. R remembers that throughout his childhood, he used to be so fearful by the evening as he did not know what mood his mother would be in when she got home. If she had a good day, things would be calm and fine. But God forbid if her day was bad. R, on many occasions got a thrashing as well – for simply being in front of her – without uttering a word. Whenever she was nice to R, he felt a sense of obligation towards her because his mother had treated him well. R bent over backwards to fulfil his mother’s wishes, he lived to seek her approval. Even now, when I ask him if he has established any boundaries with his mother, he says he thinks it will be disrespectful of him to do that to her. By his own admission his mother continues to be as overbearing with him now as she was in his childhood.

The fact is that R is subconsciously behaving with women in his life exactly the way he has been behaving with his mother. Unfortunately he has hurt himself the most by continuing to not even question his mother’s behaviour with him; where she might be getting her way with him but he never gets his way with her.

R then brings that same approach to the women who come in his life. While his mother might be happy that her son unconditionally accepts her dominance, this same approach of R’s with a partner will not work in a healthy relationship. If the woman he is with is dominant, R will get frustrated and feel exhausted in the relationship – like he did with T. Or if he is with a woman who wants him to lead or in the least be equal in terms of initiative, boundaries and individuality, they will lose interest due to his lack of being his own person, which is perhaps what happened in his relationship with M.

To remedy R’s relationship behaviour, we really need to start at the source. Thankfully he is working towards making changes in his behaviour towards his mother. We are taking baby steps – for now R tries his best to speak up respectfully if he is in disagreement with his mother. It’s hard for him but even this small step is making him feel liberated. It is difficult to make changes in the hardcoding of strong parental influence, after all that’s the way you’ve lead most of your life. But it’s not impossible. What is needed is a balanced approach to modify behaviour patterns. After all, the relationship with a parent is one that most of us can’t ever imagine severing. I highly recommend seeking external help of a counsellor to establish this balanced approach that will work best for you.

This is a limited series by Simran Mangharam, a dating and relationship coach, who can be reached on

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