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A newborn baby can cause relationship problems for some couples

Researchers say growing families can often feel anxiety and jealousy as priorities change

Photo (c) StefaNikolic - Getty Images
A new study conducted by researchers from Ohio State University explored how anxious spouses deal with jealousy when a new baby arrives. 

According to the researchers, when partners are more anxious about the state of the relationship, introducing a baby into the mix only heightens feelings of jealousy. 

“You might think, who could be jealous of a baby?” said researcher Anna Olsavsky. “But if you already have fears of rejection, it may be scary to see how much attention your partner showers on your new child.” 

Easing fears

To understand this jealousy/anxiety dynamic among partners, the researchers had 182 couples participate in the study. In the final months of pregnancy, both partners filled out questionnaires that helped the researchers gauge where they were at emotionally with their partners. They reported on feelings of anxiety about their relationship and how secure they felt in their spouses. 

After the baby was born, the participants went through a similar process, again answering questions about the state of their relationships. This time, the researchers wanted to see how the baby had changed the relationship dynamic, if at all. 

The study revealed that partners who initially felt anxious about their relationships were more likely to feel jealous that their newborn was receiving so much attention from their spouse. These findings were true for both anxious mothers and fathers. 

Additionally, the researchers found that jealousy was common among all participants, as the attention given to the baby altered the level of attention that the couples were used to receiving from each other. 

“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 was once given to you,” said researcher Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan. 

Finding a solution early

The researchers warn that relationships can only worsen if a pattern of jealousy persists over time. However, consumers can be proactive in these scenarios. 

The researchers encourage couples to think and communicate their feelings about their relationships honestly. New parents should also seek out resources that can make their family transition easier.

“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 habits, it may help them deal with the feelings more constructively.”

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