Former US President Barack Obama (eldest) and Michelle Obama (youngest). Picture: AP
Former US President Barack Obama (eldest) and Michelle Obama (youngest). Picture: AP

How birth order can shape our romantic relationships

By Marchelle Abrahams Time of article published Feb 25, 2019

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Many happily married couples may argue that the secret to wedded bliss may be humour, communication and trust. Never would they think to factor in their birth order.

It might sound inconsequential but, according to a new book and a growing body of research, your family birth order is crucial to the success of your relationship.

Lisette Shuitemaker is the co-author of The Eldest Daughter Effect. After years of research and poring through data, she and Wies Enthoven decided to detail all their findings in the book.

It shows how first-born girls become who they are and offers insights that can give them more freedom to move, and how they relate to loved ones in relationships.

“However different children of one family may be, the hierarchical birth position is implanted deep within. The data has found that having a relationship in which your birth order position is in a complimentary position to your partner’s gives the best chance of long-standing happiness,” Shuitemaker told the Daily Mail.

Birth order and how it relates to romantic relationships is not a new phenomenon.

Interestingly enough, it was first written about by William Cane in 2010 in his book, The Birth Order Book of Love.

Cane first became interested in birth order after reading an article by German psychologist Walter Toman in 1970. Toman argued that knowing how many siblings you grew up with was important in predicting personality. We decided to put his theory to the test.

First-born and last-born

US psychologist Frank Sulloway, after extensive analysis, found that marriages between first-borns and last-borns can be expected to experience conflict based on “divergent points of view”. But believe it or not, they last the longest. Because both have strong opinions, they are bound to clash.

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and his wife, Melinda, are both middle children. Picture: AP

His advice is to fully understand where your partner is coming from before getting into heated arguments about deeply held convictions.

First-born and first-born

The oldest child is used to taking charge because parents often ask them to help out with the care of their younger siblings, noted Shuitemaker. Fearful of being displaced in their affection, they also tend to want to please their partner by being more conventional and rule-following.

“This is the likely reason that Prince William is not alone in choosing another eldest child for his bride. Most European crown princes in recent years have married first-born women,” she added.

Middle children have it easy

According to Dr Kevin Leman, the author of The Birth Order Book: Why You Are The Way You Are, middle children are the most flexible. Usually characterised as easy-going, sociable and willing to compromise, they can hold a relationship. Because they are accepting, they are a lot more open to different personalities than their older and younger counterparts are.

Britain’s Prince William and his wife Kate, Duchess of Cambridge are both first-borns. Picture: AP

Last-born and middle child

Because the youngest in the family tend to be more creative and attention-seeking, they appear to be more compatible with middle children, who are willing to adapt to their whims. But, according to clinical psychologist Linda Blair, the last-born tends to be less committed to a relationship. Her advice is for last-borns to avoid each other all together, especially if they are prone to treat partners carelessly.

Only child and first-born

Only children do not have the jealousy or insecurity that comes with having siblings. However, they do have a strong sense of self and like being in charge. And here’s where the problem lies. Both eldest children and only children always want to take the lead.

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