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Study: For Couples with Relationship Anxiety, a New Baby Makes Things Worse

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Apr 2, 2020

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Image Credit: Hitesh Sonar

They say having a baby can solve problems for a relationship that’s going south. But new research has found, for a person who already fears being abandoned by their partner, the first child can make things worse — they develop feelings of jealousy for the child after the child is born, according to a new study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.

“You might think, who could be jealous of a baby? But if you already have fears of rejection, it may be scary to see how much attention your partner showers on your new child,” Anna Olsavsky, lead author of the study and a doctoral student in human sciences at The Ohio State University, said in a press release.

This jealousy results in a decline in satisfaction for both partners within the relationship, even as the couple is involved in sharing parental roles.

The current research used data from a long-term study that was aimed at understanding how double-income couples adjust to becoming new parents. The study comprised 182 couples who completed different questionnaires during the third trimester including one that assessed “attachment anxiety.” Under this index, couples rated their answers to statements such as “I’m afraid that I will lose my partner’s love” and “I worry about being abandoned.”

Three months after the baby was born, researchers assessed the couples’ levels of jealousy, and their partner-infant relationship by responding to statements such as “I resent it when my spouse/partner is more affectionate with our baby than s/he is with me.”

Researchers found people who had relationship anxiety before their child was born were more jealous of the child three months into their arrival.


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“There may be two things happening to the spouses of people with relationship anxiety,” Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan, co-author of the study, and professor of psychology at Ohio State, said in the press release. “It is not just that you aren’t receiving all the attention that you used to receive, but also that the child is receiving that extra devotion that once was given to you.”

Although the belief is that anxious fathers may be most vulnerable to having feelings of jealousy — because they tend to spend less time with their babies as mothers do — researchers said it was equally likely for either the mother or father to be jealous of the time their partners spent with the baby.

Therefore, said the researchers, expectant parents should take into account their feelings regarding their relationship before their baby is born.

“There are a lot of programs for expectant parents, and attachment anxiety might be a good thing to assess beforehand,” Olsavsky said. “If you make people aware of their relationship patterns, it may help them deal with their feelings more constructively.”

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Written By Anubhuti Matta

Anubhuti Matta is an associate editor with The Swaddle. When not at work, she’s busy pursuing kathak, reading books on and by women in the Middle East or making dresses out of Indian prints.

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