A new baby can spark feelings of jealousy in someone who already worries about being abandoned by their other half, new research suggests.
Though it is difficult to understand someone being jealous of a newborn, if you’re already feeling insecure in your partnership, jealous feelings towards the baby are more likely to occur.
The study, published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, found that partners who showed signs of relationship anxiety before the birth of their first child were more likely to be jealous of the child after it was born.
Using data from the New Parents Project, a long-term study investigating how couples adjust to parenthood, the research analysed 182 couples, most of whom were married.
During the third trimester of pregnancy, mums and dads-to-be filled out a range of questionnaires, including one that analysed “attachment anxiety.”
Participants were asked to assess how much they agreed with statements such as “I'm afraid that I will lose my partner's love” and “I worry about being abandoned.”
Three months into their parenting journey, the couples completed a measure of jealousy of the partner-infant relationship, assessing how much they agreed with statements like: “I resent it when my spouse/partner is more affectionate with our baby than s/he is with me.”
Unsurprisingly the findings revealed that those suffering from relationship anxiety before the birth were more jealous of the baby three months after arrival.
“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, told ScienceDaily.
Interestingly researchers also found it wasn't just the anxious partner who felt jealous of the baby - even their spouses felt higher levels of jealousy.
Study authors believe the explanation may be that spouses of anxious partners are used to receiving a lot of attention from their partner, and that responsiveness may reduce when the baby arrives.
“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,” says Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan study co-author and professor of psychology at Ohio State.
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But don’t be thinking this is a problem more associated with new dads.
The researchers originally believed it might be anxious fathers who would be more vulnerable to feeling jealous, mainly because in the early days dads tend to spend less time with infants than mums.
Actually, however, the results revealed that anxious mums and dads were equally likely to be jealous of the time their other halves spent with the new baby.
The research team now hopes their findings might encourage soon-to-be parents to be aware of their relationship dynamic before their first baby is born.
“There are a lot of programs for expectant parents, and attachment anxiety might be a good thing to assess beforehand,” Olsavsky added.
“If you make people aware of their relationship patterns, it may help them deal with the feelings more constructively.”