What Parents Teach Us About Love

Most people’s understanding of how relationships work usually comes from watching how their parents treat each other at home. Here, we share real-life love lessons from mom and dad that made an impact.

By Theo Pauline Nestor

hether your parents’ marriage was a happy one or an unhappy one, most of us learned our first lessons about love from mom and dad. Our homes were like schools in which we quickly learned what love looks like, how to make it work, how to make a mess of things, and even when to give up. The daily patterns of love — dad brings mom roses after a fight, mom makes a big deal out of dad’s birthday — were taught through modeling and without formal instructions. Often, we find ourselves reenacting in our own relationships the very same
My parents spent 53 years together and were still in love when my mom died.
ways of showing — and sometimes not showing — love as our parents did, sometimes without even being conscious that we’ve inherited their habits.

Besides the modeling our parents did at home, we may learn new lessons when we turn to those parents for advice about relationships later in life. When we were teenagers, our parents might’ve been the last people we asked for advice about love, but often our parents help us in our twenties, thirties, and beyond to sort through the tough questions like: “Is he The One?” or “Should I stay with this person?”

Read on for some great stories of romantic knowledge gained through both parental examples and their shared wisdom.

What my parents SHOWED me about love…
“One trick I learned from my parents for making a marriage work is taking two cars to the same place. My father — who traveled extensively for work — didn’t like to go out much, while my mother, a stay-at-home mom, longed to socialize. So sometimes when they went to parties, they took separate cars. That way, they respected each other’s differences while still getting what worked for each of them.”
– Jen Singer, editor-in-chief of, Kinnelon, NJ

“My parents spent 53 years together and were still in love when my mom died. While mom was dying, I watched my dad kiss her good night every evening and tell her that he loved her. Even though mom was on a ventilator, when dad came in the room she smiled and her eyes widened and became happier.”
– Jean E., executive assistant, Seattle, WA

“My parents have been married for 52 years. I think part of what I saw them model was the importance of making time for each other. Despite the fact that they had four kids and a hectic life, they still found time to travel together and share adventures — even at that stage in a marriage when many couples would drift apart. I recall one trip they took when I was a teenager — and they had been married about 15 years — that was particularly memorable. It involved them driving, on their own, more than 1,000 miles to Lake Mead, NV and spending the week on their small boat — fishing, camping out, relaxing on the beach and just having a good time. And the four teenagers and pre-teens were at home with a very brave babysitter. But my parents came back looking fit, happy and restored. And what happened on Lake Mead stayed on Lake Mead.”
– Geof W., 51, content publishing manager, Bellevue, WA

What my parents TOLD me about love…
“Once, when I was home from law school for vacation, each of my parents happened to talk to me about the elements of a happy relationship. It was so unusual for us to
In a relationship, it’s important that a person be able to have fun.
have this kind of conversation that their observations made a big impression on me. It was my mother who said, ‘In a relationship, it’s important that a person is kind, because eventually, if he’s not kind to other people, he won’t be kind to you,’ while my father made the point: ‘In a relationship, it’s important that a person be able to have fun, because you’re not going to have a happy life with someone who can’t have fun.’”
– Gretchen Rubin, author of the New York Times bestseller, The Happiness Project, New York, NY

“When I was in my mid-to-late 20s, I quit all dating for a year, in despair. ‘I want a guy like my dog,’ I complained on the phone to my father, ‘someone who loves me no matter what.’ ‘Oh, honey,’ said my father, the psychiatrist, ‘Dogs are opportunists. Sure, they love you, but they’ll run off with the first person who has something they want. A really good relationship is like a great conversation that never ends, but only pauses while you’re asleep or at work and resumes every time you’re together.’ I didn’t agree with him about dogs, but I took the rest of it to heart, and within a year, I was dating the man I’ve been married to for the last 15 years. The conversation is still going strong.”
– Sara K., 46, therapist, Los Angeles, CA

“My parents almost divorced when I was 13, but then worked out their differences and have now been married (happily) for 46 years. I once asked my mother what changed for her that allowed her to stay married to my dad. She told me that she went from unhappily married to happily married on the day she stopped blaming my father for all of her problems. Once she took ownership for her happiness and stopped assuming he could read her mind, she was better able to communicate with him and solve problems. When I had my own marital problems years later for precisely the same reasons, I remembered what she had told me and was able to take ownership of my happiness, too. Once I was able to see myself as the source of our problems and voice my needs out loud, I was able to go from unhappy to happy as well.”
– Alisa Bowman, 40, author of Project: Happily Ever After and creator of, Emmaus, PA

Theo Pauline Nestor is the author of How to Sleep Alone in King-Size Bed: A Memoir of Starting Over and a regular contributor to Happen magazine.
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