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I have read multiple times that we tend to marry one of our parents. Some even claim there is no way around it. I don't really see it. There are some aspects that are similar between my spouse and my parent, but since a character has very many facets, I could find some similar facets to any person.

Obviously, a person is influenced by their surrounding, especially their close relationships, like their parents. And also, obviously, we tend to stick with what we know - including people that are similar to us and what we know. But that basically just means we tend to marry someone who is similar to us and the milieu we grew up with. I don't see any need for arguing that we marry one of our parents.

What is the evidence and accompanying reasoning for the claim that we marry our parents?

Examples of such claims:

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  • $\begingroup$ It would help if you started with a citation to these claims that you've read multiple times, otherwise you are asking for evidence and reasoning for something you have not shown to exist. $\endgroup$ – Bryan Krause Nov 20 at 19:58
  • $\begingroup$ @BryanKrause: I updated my question. $\endgroup$ – Make42 Nov 20 at 21:55
  • $\begingroup$ An obvious counter-argument for that "theory" are the people who grow up in dysfunctional families. A woman who grew up with an abusive dad for example will look for the complete opposite in a husband. A man who grew up with an absent mom will mostly look for a warm and loving partner. $\endgroup$ – Doliprane Dec 2 at 9:54
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Yes, much literature supports this notion. Mary Ainsworth's attachment theory has a lot to say about parental attachments and how important they are for future growth; this journal article is directly related to your query. There is also related research in evolutionary psychology, see this and this.

As for why we get attracted to parental traits: the most popular explanation is sexual imprinting, which comes from evolutionary psychology: as the human species evolved, the humans who learned early on what humans looked like were more likely to mate with the same species and pass on their genes, leading to an evolutionary benefit for learning traits from your parents.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thank you very much! Except for "Investigating an imprinting-like phenomenon in humans: Partners and opposite-sex parents have similar hair and eye colour" (Little et al.) I was not able to gain access to those papers. Do you have access to the other studies? Little et al. used ~700 people and compared parent and own traits with partner's traits (eye color, hair color) by using a logistic regression as predictor. Turns out that opposite sex parent's traits can be better predictors of partner's traits than own traits. This would go against what I wrote. $\endgroup$ – Make42 Dec 2 at 11:03
  • $\begingroup$ However, the data is not exactly overwhelmingly strong. The evolutionary explanations seem like pure speculation to me. I have yet to read texts in evolutionary psychology that I would not dismiss as pure speculation to be honest. It seems like the statement "we are marrying our parents" seem to be quite an inflation of what - at best - should be stated as "we tend to marry people that have some traits of our parents". It would be interesting to see if "our parents" is actually "people we are around a lot as kids". But this paper helped me a lot to get some perspective! $\endgroup$ – Make42 Dec 2 at 11:04

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