Dating and Mate Selection — 08 June 2007
Family matters in mate selection

It is not only some young starry-eyed lovers who disregard the importance of family considerations in making their choice of a partner. Many older and second timers also erroneously neglect to pay attention to significant family factors that may seriously impact their new union.

There are many health, social, relationship and psychological issues stemming from the original family that must be looked at seriously. Learning about each other’s family history is not intended to disqualify the partner, but rather to prepare the couple for healthier life plans.

Many medical conditions such as: obesity, diabetes, heart disease and a variety of cancers run in families. Though no one can predict who will inherit these diseases, an awareness of one’s medical history can help guide the individual toward healthier lifestyle choices that can reduce the likelihood of these afflictions.

If you are interested in an individual who is not health minded you would find that marriage commitment, nagging, pleading or demanding are ineffective motivators for habit changes. You need to be aware of the likely scenarios to occur with time and decide whether you are willing to handle the consequences.

One’s upbringing is another factor in assessing your compatibility with a mate. Though no individual is responsible for his parents’ style of raising children, the imprints of these patterns have been deeply ingrained into the individual’s reaction style.

Many people who have been raised in a less than ideal way vow to themselves that they will not repeat the “sins” of their fathers and mothers and many are successful in reversing the damaging patterns. Yet, some people, when stressed, resort to what has been modeled for them. For example, yelling at children, quickness to anger, irritability, spanking, or even verbal or physical abuse, are learned behaviors that are painful to experience and damaging to perpetuate.

How your future mate’s parents relate to each other is another clue as to a pattern that may be repeated. A young man I know was somewhat concerned about his girlfriend’s rare sharp tongue. Once he witnessed her parents acerbic, cutting, and shaming style of interaction, his fears about his future with her were confirmed.

Research indicates that children of divorced parents are more likely to be divorced themselves. It does not mean that every child of divorced parents may end up divorced, many do not, but learning about the causes of the previous generation’s failed relationship may help prevent it from recurring.
Older individuals and those entering a second marriage are wise to consider their partner’s adult children’s life situations, attitudes towards the new union and overall wellbeing. A senior friend once told me that he was delighted that his new wife’s children were self-sufficient, healthy and emotionally stable, which he considered a prerequisite for a second marriage. His future wife’s good health was another major asset.

Mental health family history is another area that merits exploration. Severe depressions, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorders, schizophrenia, to name a few, can be familial.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, used by mental health professionals to diagnose mental disorders, identifies the Familial Pattern associated with each type of disorder. It says, for example: “Major Depressive Disorder is 1.5-3 times more common among first-degree biological relatives of persons with this disorder than among the general population” which “varies from 10%-25% for women and from 5%-12% for men.”

The same type of data is also available about alcohol dependence, substance abuse, eating disorders, gambling and many other conditions.
This information alone need not dissuade anyone from selecting a mate with a family history of health, behavioral or habit challenges. It should also not be used to alarm anyone or create excessive concern since almost all families have health, habit, psychological, or interpersonal difficulties.

Family history should not be dismissed as irrelevant because it is valuable data for health and relationship planning.

• Share information about your family’s health and emotional and behavioral patterns with your future mate. You are not responsible for it, but it may affect both of you presently or in the future.
• Observe you intended’s family styles and discuss it with each other.
• Use this data to make future decisions about handling any condition, should it impact your new nuclear family.
• Develop a strategy to handle difficulties, should they arise. For example, agree to accept each other’s input about your behavior if it is of concern. Get professional help when needed.
• With information, preparation and teamwork you can deal effectively with most difficulties and create the healthy union you and your partner desire.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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