Watching Your Valentine’s Parents: What You Can Learn About Your Future Spouse


There is a politically incorrect piece of advice that young men have long been given: “If you want to know what a girl will look like when she’s older, just look at her mother.” The same counsel might be offered to young women, suggesting that they take a gander at their boyfriend’s father. But predicting future physical appeal is probably the least you can learn from such an exercise. Hairlines and waistlines are worth knowing about, but you’ll discover more if you examine how your future in-laws behave.

Your valentine has inherited more than his looks. He also came by his temperament — his nature — by dint of his genetic roots. And his parents served as models of how to live, as well as encouraging some of his tendencies and trying to change others. Yes, your spouse-to-be learned from other sources too, but don’t discount the characteristics that came to him over thousands of hours growing up at home. Nor should you dismiss even some of the qualities in his folks that make his blood boil, because we do tend to become the thing that we hate.

What then might you observe as you scrutinize your sweetheart’s parents as individuals and as a couple? Do you watch werewolf movies? Imagine the possibility of a photographic special-effects transformation of the wonderful person you hope to marry. Think of seeing his current self morph into one of the two old, disagreeable, totally unappealing people who live in his parents’ house. Particularly if he admires that progenitor, he is not likely to see his flaws, but instead imitate them. Love of a parent can be as blind as the romantic kind.

Perhaps we are talking about a tendency to get angry or penchant for avoiding conflict. Indeed, if you watch your future in-laws deal with disagreement, then you could well observe both of these characteristics: the inclination to attack in Parent A and a corresponding proclivity for backing down in Parent B. Is there bitterness? Does one publicly embarrass the other by word or deed? I’m told my dad’s father, who died when I was very small, would sometimes sigh loudly when my grandmother (a very sweet, but not so bright woman) said something that granddad thought less than clever.


Do your lover’s parents listen to each other? Somewhere there is a greeting card that shows a middle-aged couple talking over the kitchen table. Or, more precisely, the wife is talking while the husband is reading the morning paper. Finally, the husband interrupts the mate who was once (but is no longer) the woman of his dreams; the person whose every word and gesture were precious once upon a bygone time: “I’m sorry dear, but I wasn’t listening. Can you repeat everything you’ve said since we got married?”

Do your partner’s elders drink too much? Do they entertain new ideas or are they stuck with the same old ones? Are they still in love or is the marriage kaput? Have they become members of a two person chain-gang, bound by a marital contract but not by affection?

So many things to consider as you watch your future in-laws. So much to learn about what may be in store if your fiance begins to resemble one or the other more. And while you’re at it, you’d be well advised to take a look at your own parents, their relationship and their personal characteristics. You know the old saying, don’t you? “The acorn doesn’t fall far from the oak.”

But perhaps both your lover’s parents and your own are wonderful people. Then, no worries. But just in case…

How do you predict whether the worst will happen and your “intended” becomes some version of his mom or dad at their most maladjusted? Psychologists actually aren’t very good at crystal ball gazing, especially when we have to look 20 or 30 years out. But, if the mate of your dreams doesn’t seem to have much insight into who he is and who his parents are, I’d be a bit concerned.

I can say this much: if the parents in question are impaired, it almost always matters and it is almost always worth talking about with the person you hope to spend all your life with. Even if your hottie doesn’t become like them, you’ll still have to deal with their stuff  the emotional baggage and crazy-making that will make your life rough.

Are you looking at a version of your future when you visit your potential in-laws? Even though it is hard to know with any certainty, it would be best to figure that out while you still can.

The first photo is of a Velingara Couple in 2008 courtesy of Barry Pousman. The second image is an 1876 picture of a Great Andamanese Couple. It is the work of Edward Horace Man. Both are sourced from Wikimedia Commons.