In the group, the couple would explore why they feel so emotional about their view. Maybe the mom is compensating for what she didn't get as a child from her own parents. Once she and her husband realize why this particular issue is so touchy, it's easier for them to be sympathetic and find a solution they're both comfortable with.
Q: What can couples do on their own if they want to improve their marriages?
PC: Work on issues with your partner when you're calm -- not at 2 a.m., when the baby won't sleep. Often after couples have had a fight, they're reluctant to bring up the issue again. But if you don't, it can linger and resentment can build.
If you argue in front of your kids, tell them later that you worked out your disagreement or show them that you did by calming yourselves down in front of them.
Make time for the relationship. You may not be able to afford a sitter or be ready to leave your baby, but you can check in with each other for at least 10 minutes every day. That can be done after you put the kids to bed or even on the phone while you're both at work, as long as you're sharing what happened to you that day and how it's affecting you emotionally. The pace of life today is so frenetic that few couples do this. But marriages are capable of change, and small changes can make big differences.
Q: In your research, you've found that being in couples groups with trained leaders also helps children. Why do you think that is?
CPC: We enrolled 66 of the couples in our second study in couples groups for four months. One half were in groups that focused more on the parent-child relationship, while the other were in groups that stressed the marital relationship.
We conducted interviews with parents, observed the family interacting, asked teachers to fill out questionnaires about the couples' children, and gave the students achievement tests. Those whose parents had been in groups of either type were doing better academically and having fewer behavioral and emotional difficulties than the children whose parents received no support. This was true even six years later.