Relationships – When is the Pattern Set?

This piece is submitted for #WickedWednesday : the theme this week is  Relationship

[6.5 min read]



How do you feel about the theory that the pattern for relationships and how we ‘place’ ourselves in them starts with our early years, how we fit in our family? Is the dynamic is set at the foundation stage, so we go out into the world with that imprint, or label on our personality?

I am a third child, a placement which seems to have given me the desire to be ‘different’ – striving to make my own mark so as not to be in the older siblings’ shadow. Simple example: when my teachers set an assignment, I always wanted to do something that none of my peers had thought of. I like to follow fashion, but not slavishly, so I’ve often ‘customised’ my clothes in small ways so that I can wear an item that nobody else has. 


I won’t be a sheep and follow the crowd. My take on the #SoSS meme is typical: my decision to share by interviewing other bloggers was because I wanted to put my own spin on things. My OH, contrastingly,  is a ‘joiner’, preferring to go with the flow. Sometimes he worries my ways make it appear I don’t like his friends or family.


What if you were an only child – if you didn’t have siblings to fight or play or learn to share with? I suspect this affects a person’s ability to ‘multitask’ with their feelings. Many ‘onlys’ I have met seem unable to juggle several friends, instead focusing attention on one while ignoring the others. Some parents who were the only child seem to fall into the trap of ‘playing favourites’ once they have offspring to nurture. To quote my Mum “I don’t have a favourite, I always root for the underdog,” and I’ve followed her example to a certain extent.


The path for an only child can be a lonely one, and an eldest child follows the same route to a large extent.  Both positions mean that the child must break new ground alone, going to parties, school or the park by themselves – until a younger sibling is old enough to toddle along. Another aspect is that a lot of responsibility gets put on eldest and only children. An eldest may be asked to look out for the younger ones or feel the responsibility for protecting a sibling from ill treatment. 


Parents treat their only child as an ambassador, which is often true for the firstborn also. How does this translate in your adult, loving relationship? Will they want to maintain their place as the strong one, or is this their haven where they let a lover take charge and be dominant while laying their responsibilities at their lover’s feet?


In childhood, all needs are met by the primary carer – often the mother – and these needs are simple. The needs are to feed, clothe, keep clean, protect from danger, to teach and love. Usually parent(s) fulfil these needs, resulting in their child feeling unconditional love for them as ‘providers’. This becomes what the child defines as ‘love’, translating to what they search for in an adult partner. The downside of this is that a person’s needs become much more complex in adulthood. This make it harder to ‘fulfil’ these needs, leaving many people with the sense they are unable to find ‘real’ love.


Nowadays not every family matches the old ‘models’ – this is not news. Not everyone’s up-bringing will fit the examples I’ve given above. I’m looking forward to people’s comments on the concepts I have suggested because I have written this post to open discussions rather than to get on my soapbox and convert you to my opinion. I would not like to cause offence in sketching out these ideas, my purpose is more to ask if readers think the evidence is greater to support or to reject them.

17 thoughts on “Relationships – When is the Pattern Set?”

  1. It is good that you are able to tread new ground and not follow, I am much more of a follower myself to the extent that I want to fit in, although I often feel that I don’t and I do want to be myself. I am an eldest and tend to seek approval for things. I don’t know if that is my position in the family but my relationship with control is certainly to do with my upbringing. Some interesting points. ?

  2. I agree with your statement about first born children, my mum pushed me to talk to people because she was painfully shy and didn’t want me to be, she reminded me all the time to look after my younger brothers. It’s a lot of pressure.

  3. Very interesting to read. I agree with some of the parts about being an only child. The quibble I’d have would be with using the word loneliness. For myself I look upon it as a self-sufficient solitude. I’m very happy in complete isolation. Which can mean having to force engagement in social relationships.

    Wonder what other inputs there will be.

    1. You make a good point. Many of us prefer / are comfortable in our own company. My OH and kids both need time alone to ‘recharge’ after social interaction – something I noticed May touched on too.

  4. Nice post Posy.
    I am not a joiner or a follower lol in fact I dont have a “fear of missing out” I have a “fear of being sucked in” – I too like my isolation. 😉 Which many would find at odds with me – because as u know I am very socially gregarious – but really we are all made up of so many different facets – shaped by our family relationships and experiences xx

    1. I have picked up on those aspects of your personality and I think it gives the impression of strength and perhaps a mystery which draws people to you. I think you have an early ‘pattern’ of not wanting to take things at face value, having been fooled by them on occasion. Thanks so much for your feedback May.

  5. This is a very interesting post, and as the oldest of two children, but also one who have never watched others around me and wanted to be like them, I wonder where I fit in with this. I need to ponder…

    Rebel xox

  6. A very thoughtful post. I’m the eldest child, and I was definitely the responsible one who was treated far more strictly than my younger sibling. Perhaps because I am the eldest, I am a loner, and a very independent person – always have been. Sometimes I feel this has been to my detriment.

    1. Interesting! I’m glad it struck a chord. If i’m honest I was stricter with my eldest child than the 2nd. I’d say being firstborn does prep a person for being independent.

  7. I’m an only child, and I definitely prefer one on one relationships or small groups. I have a hard time focusing on more than one thing at a time. I am easily overwhelmed by people and would consider myself an introvert. I am also raising an only child, who seems very much to be taking after me. However, both of us have and show the capacity for extroversion – it just exhausts us.

    I think your post is pretty spot on. A good generalization.

    1. Thanks Brigit – I’m glad you’re nodding along! I like socialising, but need to recharge with some alone time afterwards. xoxo

  8. My childhood has had a huge impact on how I approach relationships, how I am as a person, and who I am attracted to. Maybe Freud was right and all the truths to who we are lie in the first forming years of our lives. (P.S. I have always tried to be different too, and I am the first born, by the way).

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