Wish you could know for sure if the guy you’re dating will end up having Hugh Jackman-level dad appeal? Well, if he’s sensitive, thoughtful, and supportive, you can breathe easy. The same qualities that make a guy a great boyfriend are the ones that will make him a good parent, according to a new study published online in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.
Researchers in the UK recruited 125 couples with kids between the ages of 7-8. The couples completed individual surveys to assess their romantic attachment style, their parenting habits, and how responsive they were to their partner. Researchers found that a secure attachment was associated with authoritative parenting—the ideal parenting style known for setting clear boundaries in a warm environment. They also found that responsive caregiving (things like picking up on your partner’s cues and showing support when needed) was the common link between the two.
Essentially, people with secure attachments showed more thoughtful behaviors like supportiveness and sensitivity, and those qualities carried over into their parenting. “Responsive caregiving is an important feature of loving relationships, and having that quality in a relationship with your partner means you’re more likely to also have it in one with your kids,” says lead study author Abigail Millings, Ph.D., research collaborator at the University of Brighton.
Hoping to decipher his dad potential? Keep an eye out for these good signs:
He knows when you need an ice-cream-and-sweatpants night
If your guy can tell when you’re having a rough day and always knows exactly how to cheer you up—he’s a keeper. Plus, he’ll probably be a great father. “Being tuned in to the other person and knowing what they might need in a given situation are known to be important in all attachment relationships—be they with partners, children, or friends,” says Millings. If he’s super attentive with you, he might be that good at anticipating the needs of your future kids.
He’s not bummed when plans change at the last second
Being adaptable is a great trait in a boyfriend—like when the restaurant loses your reservation and he swoops in with Chinese takeout—but it’s pretty much a requirement in a parent. If he keeps his cool when things go haywire now, chances are he’ll be better equipped to deal with unpredictable children down the line. “Look at if he manages change well,” says Susan Fletcher, Ph.D., author of Parenting in the Smart Zone. “You have to be adaptable in order to put someone else’s needs first.”
He still does his own thing
Scoring a secure attachment doesn’t mean you have to be that couple who can’t function without each other. In fact, a guy who gives up too much of himself in a relationship might not cope well when a few children are thrown into the mix. It’s healthy for him to hold on to his man cave and his Fantasy Football league. “It’s important to see that he can take care of his own needs and not just yours,” says Fletcher. “That’s the best predictor of if he’ll be able to do that with children.”
He supports you—but not too much
It sounds counterintuitive, but you don’t want your partner to be so supportive that he becomes a micromanager. Cheering you on and prepping you for an interview are great—but if he’s rewriting your resume and telling you what to wear, that may be going too far. “It’s possible to be there for you and still have boundaries,” says Fletcher. “If he’s too strong of a caretaker and protector, that may translate into his parenting.” To avoid ending up with a helicopter parent, look for a guy who’s helpful without being controlling.
He lets you know when he’s upset
Even if you’re generally on the same page with each other, you’re not a mind reader. So it helps to be with a guy who is open and honest when something is bothering him. If he’s that transparent in your relationship, he’ll probably be just as clear when it comes to setting boundaries with his children. Plus, being able to vocalize his feelings is a sign of emotional intelligence, which is crucial in parenting, says Fletcher.