Anxiously attached partners have trouble with jealousy when a baby enters the relationship

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Having an anxious attachment style is not the end-all-be-all recipe for disaster in a relationship. When a newborn baby arrives however, a study finds it can ruffle a few feathers. Ohio State University researchers say an anxious or jealous partner can make an already stressful transition even more chaotic.

“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,” says lead author Anna Olsavsky in a university release.

The study looks at 182 married couples. In the third trimester of pregnancy, researchers ask couples to complete a series of questionnaires, one specifically seeing if a partner has an anxious attachment style. Finding out whether or not someone is anxiously attached helped the team move forward with their research into who may be competing with a new baby.

When attachment anxiety interferes with parenthood

For spouses who have relationship anxiety before the arrival of a newborn, the study reveals feelings of jealousy increase three months after the baby’s arrival. Spouses who are on the receiving end of the smothering however, also notice the change in their partner’s behavior. They see their partner now delivering the majority of the attention to the newborn, creating two jealous partners, and leading to more stress during this new life as a family.

“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,” study co-leader Schoppe-Sullivan adds.

Prior to the study, researchers believed the father have the most trouble with being anxiously attached and jealous, due to mothers generally spending more time with infants. After the research however, the study finds both parents are equally jealous when the babies arrive. Before a baby is born, the research suggests couples get to know and understand their attachment style.

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

The study appears in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.

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