PC: Interestingly, couples in both kinds of couples groups had become more responsive parents -- warmer and more skilled at setting realistic limits for their kids. But only the parents who were in the marriage-focused groups had developed more satisfying marriages. That tells us that if parents improve their relationship, they will not only improve the marriage but also become more effective parents.
Q: Do kids really know when their parents aren't happy with their marriages?
CPC: Absolutely. We've found that kids sense when their parents are upset or in conflict even if their parents are not openly fighting. And from academic achievement tests and teacher reports, we know that the kids who feel responsible for their parents' conflicts don't do as well in school.
Q: Despite all your research that reveals the toll kids take on relationships, you are optimistic about marriage and parenthood. Why?
PC: Our children have always been a great source of joy, and virtually all the couples in our studies said that about their children. Becoming parents can reveal fault lines in a marriage -- it did with us. But if you work on the marriage and make it better, as we did, it can be wonderful for everyone. Partners can feel better about themselves, they're more productive and able to meet challenges, and the children thrive.