John and Julie Gottman have developed
interventions that prevent the spiraling negativity
that’s all-too-common among new parents.
BY SADIE DINGFELDER • Monitor staff
Gottman, PhD, and published in the Journal
with their relationships and less likely to
experience postpartum depression than
participants in a waitlist control group.
Diapers? Check. Bassinet? Check. A relationship that can withstand the challenges of taking care of a
newborn? Perhaps not.
And, at a three-month follow-up, workshop
After having a baby, 67 percent of
fathers were more engaged with their babies
couples see their marital satisfaction
plummet, according to research presented
The Gottmans’ workshop is based on
at APA’s 2011 Annual Convention by John
their “Sound Relationship House” theory,
of Family Psychology (Vol. 14, No. 1).
Post-baby discontent is so common, said
Gottman, many people think it’s inevitable
Drs. John and Julie Gottman
encourage spouses to help each
other realize their most deeply held
dreams and ambitions.
domains of marital satisfaction: friendship
and intimacy, constructive conflict and
shared meaning. During the workshop,
and acceptable. But what they probably
trained facilitators share study findings
don’t realize is the negative impact squabbling couples can have
on their children. Two decades of research show that marital
conflict is bad for babies, increasing their chances of later
developing depression, poor social skills and conduct disorder,
“When there is a precipitous decline in relationship
satisfaction and an increase in hostility, it transfers to the baby
and affects the baby,” he said.
To find ways to address that problem, John Gottman and
his wife, Julie Gottman, PhD, have been studying examples of
the 33 percent of couples who stay happy after having a baby.
Based on what they’ve learned from that research, they’ve
developed a program that effectively fortifies expecting couples’
“We reversed this trend with a two-day workshop,” Gottman
about these components of healthy relationships, then lead
activities that allow couples to practice skills that fortify these
In the friendship domain, for example, they put into use past
research by John Gottman, which shows happy couples engage
in lifelong learning about one another. Even as they celebrate
their silver anniversaries, these couples ask one another open-
ended questions, such as, “What life goals are you still hoping
to accomplish?” To get young couples in habit of querying one
another, the Gottmans provide them with a series of fun, silly and
serious questions to ask, like, “What’s your favorite band?” and
“Who are your main enemies and allies at work?”
The questions help couples deepen their understanding and
appreciation of one another, John Gottman said.
“Most couples, when they think about making their
According to a randomized trial published in the Journal
of Family Communications (Vol. 5, No. 1), participants in the
Gottmans’ workshop before the birth of their babies were,
following their babies’ birth, more likely to remain satisfied
relationship more positive, they think of going on a vacation
to a really nice place. But how often have you seen couples
in a canoe screaming at each other, ‘That’s not how you do a
J-stroke! We’re going around in circles! What the hell is wrong
with you?’” he said.