Why Your Parents Might Not Approve of Your Husband (or Wife)

-(Time) Why Your Parents Don’t Approve of Your Husband (or Wife)

By Sept. 20, 2013

Hint: it’s all about the genes.

Well before, and well after Romeo and Juliet, lovers have lived with parents who disapproved of their match. Even in cultures where parents held—or hold—absolute control over their children’s choice of a spouse, parents and children can clash over love.

For evolutionary scholars, this struggle is especially intriguing. Why, if it causes so much angst, conflict, and, as in Romeo and Juliet’s case, death, do parents (and young lovers) never learn? From a strictly energy efficiency perspective, such drama is far from adaptive — rather, it’s a drain on precious emotional and physical resources. And generally such wasteful behaviors don’t survive generation after generation, as disapproving parents and rebellious lovers have. So why has this conflict persisted so obstinately throughout history?

Turning to a computer model, researchers at the University of Bristol and the University of Groningen have ventured provide an answer. In a study published in the journal Evolution & Human Behavior, they propose that genes may have a lot do with it.

(MORE: The Key to Happy Relationships? It’s Not All About Communication)

Evolutionary theory suggests that parents and their daughters (and sons, for that matter) should both want a caring and supportive mate. That would work for all of them. And they do both strive for this. But parents, apparently, want it more. The study’s co-author Tim Fawcett, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Bristol, this model of parental and filial behavior is predicated on the fact that parents presumably value all of their children (and therefore the survival of their genes) equally. So parents want to allocate their resources optimally and make sure that each child ends up with equal share. But if one daughter marries the hunky but unreliable handyman and the other comes home with the gawky, devoted investment banker, the former will probably require additional investment of time, money and emotional support to survive, and the others will get less from the parents.

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