Is it possible for parents to get jealous of their children? A new study answers yes and it applies for partners who already show signs of relationship anxiety before the first baby is born.
A team of researchers from Ohio State University explained that the first baby can spark feelings of jealousy in a person's fears being abandoned by his or her partner. Lead author of the study and a doctoral student in human sciences Anna Olsavsky said via science research platform Science Daily that for a person who already has fears of rejection, it can be scary to see how much attention their partner is showing to their new child. Such jealousy can make the couple’s relationship more stressful in an already challenging period.
Fairytales may say that couples live happily ever after, but that is not always the case. As beautiful and blissful the experience is in bringing home a newborn, marital researchers said that the birth of the first baby can be the biggest challenge for couples too. It can be a shocking transition for some couples. The lack of sleep, conflict evolving new roles or clashing parenting styles, new to-do-list for mom and dad, and little or no sex are some of the relationship stressors cited by most new parents.
Olsavsky said that when either of the partners is jealous of their newborn, both spouses will experience a decline in their satisfaction with their relationship. The feelings of jealousy will erode the couple’s relationship.
The authors used data from a long-term study called the New Parents Project. A total of 182 couples, the majority of them married, took part in the study. Both mothers and fathers answered the questionnaires provided by the research team and this was done during the third trimester of pregnancy. They also examined the participants’ attachment anxiety. Authors asked how much they agree with statements, such as “I worry about being abandoned” and “I’m afraid that I will lose my partner’s love.”
Three months after their first child was born, the participants again completed various questions, including the measure of jealousy for their partner’s relationship with their child. They were asked how much they agree with certain statements, including “I resent it when my spouse/partner is more affectionate with our baby and s/he is with me.” The results of the study show that those with relationship anxiety before the child was born became more jealous of the baby three months after their birth. Surprisingly, it was not just the anxious partner that felt jealous of their infant. The spouses of the anxious partners also showed a higher level of jealousy.
Spouses of the anxious partners: why they also became jealous
Olsavsky and the team believe that the reason why the spouses of the anxious partner also become jealous is that they get used to receiving a lot of attention before their baby is born and the responsiveness of their partner lessens when they already have a baby.
Nonprofit Council on Contemporary Families’ senior research associate Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan, who is also the study's co-author, said that it is not just the spouse who is no longer receiving all the attention that he or she used to receive. The baby is now receiving extra devotion that was previously only given to the spouse.
The team conducted the study with the expectation that anxious fathers would be the most vulnerable to being jealous of the baby since they spend less time with their baby compared to the mother. However, this is not what they found. Olsavsky said that both dads and moms were just equally likely to be jealous of the time their spouse spent with their newborn. The study suggests that expectant parents should be made aware of such a kind of relationship style before their firstborn arrives. Today, there are various programs for expectant parents and it may be a good thing for them to assess their attachment anxiety beforehand.
Prevalence of adult separation anxiety
Separation anxiety is when someone is afraid of being separated from a certain person or persons or even a pet. It is not seen only in children but in adults too. Adults with separation anxiety may have extreme fear that something bad will happen to the important people of their lives and their anxiety is experienced with other anxiety-related conditions, like agoraphobia (avoiding places or situations that may cause panic or embarrassment), panic disorder, and generalized disorder. This is according to the medical platform Healthline.
A large-scale epidemiological study reveals that there is a lifetime prevalence of 6.6% that a person will have an adult form of separation anxiety disorder.
Three common attachment styles exist in our society and these are secure, avoidant, or anxious. Around 20% of people are anxious, 56% are secure, and 23% are avoidant. Others are a combination of both avoidant and anxious. None of these are labeled healthy or unhealthy but are descriptions of the way partners act in their romantic relationships. This data is based on news platform for millennial women Elite Daily.
Lisa Fritscher from the University of South Florida likewise shared the common signs of a fear of abandonment in psychology. It includes quickness to attach even to unavailable partners, difficulty achieving emotional intimacy, intense feelings of separation anxiety, reluctance to fully commit, aiming to please, quickness to move on just to ensure that you don’t get too attached, hypersensitivity to criticism, and feeling insecure and unworthy of love. Fritscher, who has diverse experiences in case management and hands-on patient care, was not involved in the Ohio State University study.
Common reasons why couples get separated/divorced
In 2017, 800 respondents from Italy were surveyed by database company Statista on why they got separated and/or divorced. They said that although the decision to end their marriage was not always easy, almost 82% believed it was necessary. The majority (21.5%) of the respondents indicated infidelity or betrayal for causing their decision to leave their partners. Other motives are because their love with the other person is over (17.5%), violent and aggressive attitude (13%), the couple did not get along anymore (13%), physical distance (8.5%), the other doesn’t know or doesn’t reply (8.5%), family intrusions (4.5%), lack of sexual desire or poor sex (4.5%), incompatible characters (4.5%), and different views on the upbringing of children (4.5%).
Meanwhile, scientific online publication Our World in Data reveals these common traits that women want in their prospective husbands: mutual attraction (love), education and intelligence, sociability, good looks, good financial prospect, similar educational background, favorable social status, and similar political background. Traits that men consider important in choosing their prospective wives also include mutual attraction (love), dependable character, desire for home and/or children, education and intelligence, sociability, good financial prospect, similar education background, and good looks, among others.
The team's study can be of help to new parents in dealing with their emotions more constructively, especially if they have existing fears of abandonment or rejection.