When you met your partner and fell in love you probably dreamed and eventually planned out a life together. For many this plan included the possibility of children. Fast-forward to having one or more children and all is perfect, right? Maybe not.
Life has a way of taking you through unexpected twists and turns and rarely, if ever, does it turn out the way you anticipated. What if one of those unexpected twists however, is your partner’s jealousy of your children?
A partner feeling jealous of his or her children is not uncommon. Children create a new dynamic within a relationship and many changes occur. It is nearly impossible to fully prepare yourself for all of them and, no matter how much you try to anticipate your own feelings and responses, you cannot.
Generally speaking, children bring a lot of joy into a relationship. But they also bring a lot of stress. Time that was once shared by the two of you is now shared by the three (or more) of you. For both partners this change can cause feelings of resentment and jealously. Because these are not considered appropriate emotions when it comes to your children, they rarely get discussed.
Jealousy in Men
Men in particular are susceptible to feelings of jealousy, especially during the infant and toddler years. Your man, who may have been the picture of a doting father-to-be, now finds himself an outsider and onlooker to a very unique bond. A bond with which he feels he cannot participate or compete.
Even as the children become more independent, a mother’s reaction to her children and her protective nature may feel exclusionary to her partner. Mother’s often immerse themselves in a child’s world and that can leave very little room for the world that existed before.
A man may feel abandoned and lonely. Where he once was the recipient of his partner’s affection and interaction, she is now completely focused on the care and well-being of this new human being. He may feel pushed aside as though he and the dog are now the only members of their own, lonely hearts club.
This can lead to jealousy of the time and affection the child is receiving. Jealousy can be a very damaging emotion. In some cases a man might become resentful disdainful of his partner and treat her poorly, in other cases a man might lose interest in his household and family and seek the companionship of others. Other men may just become withdrawn and emotionally aloof.
Jealousy in Women
Today more and more men are becoming the primary caretakers. In these cases the dynamic is reversed and the bond that gets cultivated early on is that between father and child. For many women this not only creates feelings of jealousy, but is also compounded by feelings of guilt as well. Women often feel both the biological and cultural weight of motherhood. Changing from the societal norm of parenting, no matter how right it is for the person in question, can lead to complicated feelings that are hard to sort though.
Even when the above is not the case, as children age relationships change and a deeper and different connection to dad can develop. This is normal, healthy and welcomed in most cases, but occasionally it can mean that a mom may begin to feel disconnected and even threatened. This can be especially true in a relationship between a father and daughter where dad is now the “nice” one and mom is seen as the rigid rule-setter.
In mothers, jealousy often manifests as depression or competition with the child for her partner’s time and attention. A woman may be cold toward her partner or undermine her children’s self-esteem by making them feel like they don’t measure up to her own standards of intellect, beauty or drive.
What Does It All Mean?
Minor feelings of jealousy toward a child will often resolve themselves as people adjust to the new phase their lives have entered. Concern should arise, however, when these feelings are ongoing and cause friction between the parents, or a rejection of the child.
Angry or punitive behaviors arising out of jealousy are unhealthy for everyone in the family and need to be recognized and managed. Unaddressed, these feelings can destroy a relationship and damage the emotional health of children.
If you feel that you or your partner are struggling with jealousy related to your relationship with your children, try talking to your partner. He or she may have no idea how they truly feel. The conversation may actually help them see things more clearly and provide you with a better perspective of the reasons for their feelings. If the issues go beyond what a conversation(s) can resolve, you may need the help of a qualified third party. Be sure to remind each other that you each have a common goal, a healthy, happy family.