StMU Research Scholars

Featuring Scholarly Research, Writing, and Media at St. Mary’s University

March 1, 2024

Romantic Love Through the Scope of Our Parents

Love is one of the most profound feelings we get to experience, and it is present everywhere we look. While love is a universal feeling, it is also an abstraction that is unique to each individual. There is love that we feel for our family and friends, and then there is romantic love. Love is known by how we communicate it with others both verbally and nonverbally, though endearing words or physical touch. Everyone experiences this feeling differently and as a result, we express it differently. Whether we realize it or not, this is due to how we are initially exposed to love throughout our adolescence. For many, this is through the relationships that are presented to us within our household. Upon interviewing my family, I have learned that parental romantic relationships shape how we view love and contribute to the development of our own love language.

Dr. Gary D. Chapman, author of The Five Love Languages | January 18, 2013 | MoodyPublishers | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

As humans, we have have an innate desire to be loved and it is one of the most prevalent feelings that drive us as emotional beings. Romantic love is the ambiguous force that inspires so many love songs, fairytales, movies, and books. This goes beyond any initial physical attraction and lust; it is a feeling of intense emotional interconnectedness: “Being in love does not exclude lust. In fact, lust can lead to love. However, real love requires time to get to know one another”. 1 It is finding a companion with whom you seek a future with and care for unconditionally.

While there is a general perception of what romantic love is, we experience this through our familial upbringing, which results in unique interpretations of what love should look like. From a young age, romantic love has always been something that I wanted to experience in its entirety. I dreamed about finding my prince charming and having my fairytale wedding. My concept of love was rooted in fictional tales and curated scripts I saw through books and movies. It was not until I was old enough to observe my parents’ relationship, that I began to view love in an entirely different light. That picture perfect idea of love was soon replaced with a sense of reality. What I witnessed growing up was not the facade of an unflawed couple like in the movies, but of two human being, who like me, are navigating the complex challenges of love.

In order to better understand my view on love, I had to understand theirs. Romantic love viewed by my dad is “wanting to be with someone for the long term because you are emotionally connected with them and attracted to them not only a physical level, but a mental one.” 2 My mom’s view on love is “being helpful to one another, providing security and establishing a mutual partnership in which we are equals” 3  They both value similar attributes in a romantic partner, but their communication emphasized that when seeking love, they wanted a commonality in background. Both of my parents came from humble beginnings, and when while they were burdened with financial constraints, they sought out a better life. They did so through hard work and determination that was instilled in them by their parents from a very early age. My grandparents on both sides are Hispanic and come from a very antiquated background where romantic relationships follow old-fashioned rules. Tradition and faith are something that they have always valued, and while it may not be to the same extent, my parents do as well. The tone of our parent’s romantic love is translated into what we later merit as an ideal relationship. Whether these ideals mirror our parents’ or differ entirely, they are a direct result of that exposure.

Our existing model of love, what we view early on from our parents, is subject to being altered when we are met with significant experiences of our own. However, as we ascend into the search for love, we tend to carry with us patterns that are familiar to us. *insert research* This is most often seen in how we choose to communicate our love language. Through his experience as a couples counselor, Gary Chapman was able to distinguish 5 types of love languages: Quality time, physical touch, words of affirmation, gift giving, and acts of service. He wrote an entire book series on this. It guides people though their endeavors with love. He parallels the process of learning to talk to the process of learning our love language. “Most of us grow up learning the language of our parents and siblings, which becomes our primary or native tongue.” 4 The majority of people speak that one language throughout their entire lives because it is what is known to them.

Romantic love is similar in the sense that we grow up learning love through the ways that our parents have exhibited love in their own relationships. Understanding this, means acknowledging that others will also show love, how they have been shown love. Depending on their parental example of romantic love, (along with other experiences) their love language will likely differ from yours. Being young, my relationship experiences are limited, and my attempts have been far from successful. I have had a partner tell me, “Maybe you don’t know how to show love because you don’t have a good example of love at home.” This has stuck with me ever since it happened, and really made me ponder the impact that my parents’ relationship had on me.

Growing up my parents seldomly ever said I love you to one another, kissed in front of my brother and me, or even held hands in public. This is because they were emulating what was shown to them by their parents growing up. My mom mentioned, “I was not raised in household of ‘I love yous’, and public displays of affection, so those are hard for me. It’s not what I know, and it’s just not me”. 5 My mom talked about how the lack of affection from her parents, resulted in her siblings and herself becoming unaccustomed to physical touch in public settings. Rather than displaying love through grand romantic gestures and affection, my mom prefers to show love through doing things such as cooking, cleaning, and providing. One of Chapman’s love languages is acts of service, and this specific love language is how my mom communicates her love for others. Being raised in a Hispanic household, there are defined roles that a husband and wife are expected to fulfill, and from a young age, this was embedded in my mom’s mind through her mother’s manifestation of love. She mirrored the ways in which her mother showed love to her father.

My dad described himself as a “doer” because he leads by action. He states, “An important aspect of family is to be able to provide, and working hard in order to provide, is an act of love. There is good intent in wanting to better your family. I saw that in my parents, when they got off of work their hard work did not stop, it continued on at home and this forged my ability to be a doer.” 6 Like my mom, his way of communicating love is also acts of service, but rather than cooking or cleaning it’s providing big things like stability, to the little things like preparing her morning coffee. His parents valued spending plenty of time together, and subsequently he also values quality time.

Perhaps a big part of why my parents have been married for 25 years is because they are able to understand one another’s love language by tailoring how they show their love specifically to the needs of the other. This is not to say that they have a perfect marriage, because perfect is simply unattainable. Conflict in marriage is inevitable, and how we approach conflict is also something that we tend to pick up from our parents My mom mentioned that unfortunately, when issues arise and arguments happen, she has the capacity to shut down and give the silent treatment to those she loves until she is able to get over her emotions. This is a result of an avoidant attachment  style that has emerged likely due to her childhood experiences: “The attachment styles formed early in life within the family context have been shown to be related to those formed in future relationships, notably the romantic relationships  experienced  as adults” 7

“A lot like LOVE” by Jason Clapp | CC BY 2.0 | Courtesy of Openverse

There are 4 types of attachment styles: Secure, avoidant, anxious and disorganized. People with a secure attachment style typically have good communication skills, handle there emotions well, and manage conflict well. One the other side, people with avoidant, anxious or disorganized attachment styles struggle handling emotions, have poor communication skills, tend to be more independent, and struggle managing conflict. Studies show that “there are associations between various aspects of children’s caregiving environments and their attachment styles in adulthood”. 8 Our attachment styles play a major role in how we communicate our love to others, and understanding how to manage our own style can benefit us in effectively expressing ourselves.

With the divorce rate continuing to rise, research shows that “the risk of divorce is 50 percent higher when one spouse comes from a divorced home and 200 percent higher when both partners do.” 9 This emphasizes the impact that our parents relationships have on our own. For those who come from households of divorced parents this seems to be even more of an obstacle. To further understand how we can better manage our love languages and attachment styles, we must understand the importance of communication as a way of interpreting behaviors. The attributes that we obtain from our parents have the potential to positively and negatively affect our relationships, and resources, such as counseling, can further help us manage these styles.

“Marriage” by Jo Christian Oterhals | CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 | Courtesy of Openverse

While we cannot change the fact that, at an impressionable age, we are going to be influenced by the main example of love in our lives, we can make attempts at practicing mindfulness. This is coming to the realization that rather than becoming our parents, we can pick up on the healthy things that they have shown us while redefining love as it pertains to us. This is something that both my parents have taken steps towards. My dad mentioned that growing up his dad was consumed in his work and the moments he was at home were the moments my dad felt his absence the most: I recognize that he did what he did because that’s what his dad did before him, but I didn’t want that to be a cycle. I changed that, and I think I did a pretty good job”. 10 My mom noted that their was a distinctive treatment that her mother received from her husband that she knew she did not want in a partner. She stated, “It was not 50-50. A marriage should be a partnership and my parents did not have that.” 11 She wanted to be seen as an equal and knew what to avoid when searching for a partner.

After interviewing my parents, I posed those same questions to myself, and based on my own experiences and witnessing the love presented to me by my parents who are grounded in tradition and faith, my view on love looks like this: Romantic love to me is finding an individual who is an addition to my already whole self. It means recognizing that love is not easy, there will be hard times that make you doubt your relationship, but if it were easy, it would not be worth it. It means showing up for another person psychically and mentally, even when you do not always feel like it Understanding that love cannot always be unconditional, I will always come first, and I need to abide by my own boundaries. The person I love will understand this. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 12 I have learned that  my own way of communicating love, like my parents, is through acts of service and quality time. It is what they have shown my growing up through not only their own relationship together, but also with their relationship with my brother and I. While I carry these love languages with me into my personal relationships, I too cary my mother’s disposition to shut down in times of conflict and my father’s hesitation to conform to more modern standards of love. However, like them, I too am capable of shaping how I further approach love by practicing mindfulness.

Due to its subjectiveness, love is going to be viewed differently and communicated differently by all, and parental romantic relationships contribute to this. We should not expect people to be able to assume our love language nor should we assume theirs. Just because we love differently than others, does not mean that we are incapable of showing love. Navigating relationships will be difficult, but when we open allow ourselves to learn other languages, we bridge the gap between communicating with those who come from different backgrounds. In recognizing the contrast between our love language and that of our partner’s, we are able to supply ourselves with the proper tools to not only love vastly, but be loved fully.






  1. Judith Orloff. “Intuitive love: how to recognize when it’s real and when it’s healthy.” Going Bonkers Magazine, vol. 6, no. 1, winter 2012, pp. 14+.
  2. Ramon Benavides. “Personal interview”. 22 February 2023.
  3. Mariana Benavides. “Personal interview”. 22 February 2023.
  4. Chapman, Gary D. The Five Love Languages: How to express heartfelt Commitment to your Mate. Northfield Pub., (1995).
  5. Mariana Benavides. “Personal interview”. 22 February 2023.
  6. Ramon Benavides. “Personal interview”. 22 February 2023.
  7. Fall, Estelle and Rebecca Shakland. “The Mediating Role of Dispositional Mindfulness in the Relationship Parental and Romantic Attachment”. Journal of  Adult Development, vol. 28, no. 2, June 2021, pp. 126-37.
  8. Fraley R. Chris, and Glen I. Roisman. “The development of adult attachment styles: Four lessons.” Current opinion in psychology 25 (2019): 26-30.
  9. Wolfinger, Nicholas H. Understanding the divorce cycle: The children of divorce in their own marriages. Cambridge University Press, 2005.
  10. Ramon Benavides. “Personal interview”. 22 February 2023.
  11. Mariana Benavides. “Personal interview”. 22 February 2023.
  12. 1 Cor. 13: 4-8a ESV.

Tags from the story

Family Patterns


Love Languages

types of love

Recent Comments

Leave a Reply