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Effect of Birth Order on Relationships

Ashwini Kulkarni Sule
Do you think the sequence in which you were born in your family has anything to do with your personality or the way you interact with others? Yes, it does. According to research findings, your birth order indeed impacts your relationships with others at every stage of life. Let us study the effect of birth order on relationships, in this story.
Ever wondered why two siblings with almost identical upbringing exhibit diverse (sometimes extreme) personality traits? This is because, even though the siblings are exposed to similar cultural and economical environment, their social environment is often different. Exposure to social environment is largely dictated by the child's birth order in the family.
It conditions him or her to grow in a certain manner only. Hence, it is logical to assume that people with same birth orders exhibit personality traits that are more or less identical. Needless to say, birth order also impacts the interpersonal relationships. However, the dynamics of birth order and human relationships are pretty complicated.

Birth Order and Personality Traits

The study of birth order and its impact on relationships cannot be understood, unless you are acquainted with the personalities of people born in each order. Alfred Adler, an Austrian psychiatrist was among the first few to show how birth order influences your personality. Birth order can be classified into 4 groups namely, oldest, middle, youngest & only.
Walter Toman further broadened this classification into 11 groups - oldest brother of brother(s), youngest brother of brother(s), oldest brother of sister(s), youngest brother of sister(s), oldest sister of sister(s), youngest sister of sister(s), oldest sister of brother(s), youngest sister of brother(s), intermediary sibling position, only child and twins.
However, for the sake of simplicity, we will consider Adler's classification of birth order and personality traits.
According to his theory, oldest children tend to be bossy, power oriented and dominant but they are responsible and dependable as well. Middle children may show an occasional streak of rebelliousness, but are generally friendly and competitive. Whereas, youngest children are rebels, risk takers and highly competitive.
However, they may have difficulty in accomplishing tasks independently. Only children are attention seekers and self-centered. On a positive side, they are mature and hardworking. However, this is just a vague analysis of birth order personalities.
Every individual responds differently to the environment he is exposed to, irrespective of his birth order. Recently, Kevin Leman in his book The New Birth Order Book: Why You Are the Way You Are has described in detail how numerous factors such as sex of child, parental styles, number of years by which children are separated, genes, etc., also contribute to development of typical personalities. Nonetheless, it would be still interesting to know how birth order affects your love life.

How Birth Order Affects Marriages

The study of effect of birth order on human relationships was done at various levels such as, same-sex friendships, opposite sex friendships and opposite sex romantic relationships. It was found that the influence of birth order on successful friendships and romantic relationships was negligible.
However, unsuccessful romantic relationships were greatly afflicted by birth order of partners. As evident from the above personality traits, each of these individuals are likely to respond in a different manner when in a relationship.
Firstborns tend to be more responsible and authoritative in a relationship. However, as they have been 'dethroned' in their life, there exists a sense of insecurity regarding their partners loyalty. Middle children always have to cope up with the more powerful elder siblings as well as attention seeking younger sibling.
Hence, they have a feeling of being unloved and uncared for, which culminates into a state of indecisiveness and insecurity, either of which can be detrimental for a relationship. Youngest children are used to all the attention and adulation from parents as well as elder siblings.
They are often dependent on others to do their bidding. Naturally, they start expecting their partner to assume a role of a primary caregiver, once in a relationship. Needless to say, this attitude can damage the very foundation of a relationship.
Certain combinations of birth orders are favorable for successful relationships while others may cause friction. According to Leman's research, same order relationships are found to be least favorable.
Marriage between two oldest order individuals turns into a lifelong power struggle, whereas two middle-birth-order individuals in a relationship, may experience a great void due to lack of communication in an attempt to avoid conflicts, a tendency which naturally comes to middle order children.
However, the worst pairing is that of two youngest order individuals. As both of them lack the maturity required in a relationship, their match turns out to be extremely volatile.
Some of the ideal matches based on the order of birth are marriages between female firstborn and youngest male, male firstborn and female last-born with elder brother(s), only female with youngest male with elder sister(s) and only male with youngest female with elder brother(s).
Although, birth order impacts a relationship in more ways than one, it would be wrong to assume that a success of a relationship depends on birth order alone. In fact, love, trust and compassion between partners are far more significant factors in making a relationship worthwhile.