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What Are "Daddy Issues" and How Can You Recognize Them in a Partner?

Are your relationship problems with your wife or girlfriend related to her dad?

Key points

  • People use the phrase “daddy issues” to refer to father-daughter relationships that have a negative impact on the way a woman relates to men.
  • Women with "daddy issues" do not have specific symptoms, but common behaviors include having trouble trusting men and being jealous.
  • Women whose fathers are physically or emotionally absent tend to have troubled romantic relationships and marriages, research shows.

Are you involved with a woman with "daddy issues"?

As a boyfriend or husband, how do you know if the relationship problems you’re having with your girlfriend or wife are related to her “daddy issues”? Or as a woman, how do you help your brothers or male friends recognize the kinds of problems they might encounter with women who did not have a supportive, loving, meaningful relationship with their dads while they were growing up?

The phrase “daddy issues” doesn’t have a specific definition with a specific list of symptoms. The term simply means that certain kinds of father-daughter relationships have a negative impact on the way the woman relates to men in her life, particularly the men she is romantically involved with. Decades of research that I discuss in my book, Improving Father-Daughter Relationships: A Guide for Women and Their Dads, shows that women whose fathers are physically or emotionally absent and not supportive or involved in their lives have more troubled romantic relationships and marriages than women who were “well-fathered” throughout childhood.

Common Signs of "Daddy Issues"

How do these poorly fathered or father-deprived women generally behave in their romantic relationships with men?

  • having a hard time trusting men
  • suspicious and excessively jealous
  • constantly testing his love
  • overly needy for attention and validation
  • uncomfortable with your having any female friends
  • doesn’t know how to work through relationship problems or how to express anger effectively — pouts, cries, rants, walks away, clams up
  • expects a man to create happiness for her and take care of her financially like a father
  • enjoys and creates “drama.” Everything is a big deal, a crisis, a drama. Can’t separate small unimportant situations or relationship issues from the really important ones.
  • lacks self-confidence: constantly striving to feel better about herself
  • abandonment issues: I’ll dump you before you dump me
  • chooses emotionally distant or unavailable men
  • overly focused on getting the attention of other men: overly flirtatious
  • can’t commit to relationships or far too eager for a quick commitment
  • makes many negative assumptions about men as a group
  • uses sex to get attention and affirm her self-worth

Sound familiar? The more of these relationship problems she has, the more likely it is that her relationship with her dad was not supportive, communicative, comfortable, or meaningful. As a boyfriend or husband, my book can serve as a “stop, look and listen” alert system to help you find out more about how women’s relationships with their dads can end up affecting your relationship with her. Her past with her dad is “her” past. But that past also affects your life in the present and the future.

References, L. (2020) Improving father-daughter relationships: A guide for women and their dads. New York: Routledge.

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