john_gottman's picture
Psychologist; Co-founder, The Gottman Relationship Institute; Author, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work
Psychologist; Founder of Gottman Institute; Author (with Julie Gottman), And Baby Makes Three

When Men Are Involved In the Care of Their Own Infants the Cultures Do Not Make War

In the past 13 years we have been able to study 222 first born babies interacting with their new parents using video cameras and the Swiss Lausanne Triadic Play method. I am very impressed with babies and working with them has renewed my faith in our species. However, in the first study we did with 130 newlywed couples we discovered the grim fact that 67% of couples experienced a large drop in relationship satisfaction in the first 3 years of their baby's life. We also found that hostility between parents increased dramatically. The baby was deeply negatively affected by this increased hostility. In fact, from the way a couple argued in the last trimester of pregnancy we could predict with high accuracy how much their baby would laugh and cry.

But then we compared the 33% of couples who did not experience that negative drop in happiness when their first baby arrived with the 67% who did, and the two groups of couples turned out to be very different even a few months after the wedding. So my wife and I designed an educational workshop based on these differences. What I am really optimistic about is that now we have discovered in two randomized clinical trials that in just a 2-day workshop we can reverse these negative effects of the arrival of the first baby. That has renewed my faith in scientific research. Furthermore, we dramatically change fathers and have a large impact on the emotional and neurological development of their babies (even though the babies didn't take the workshop).

The other thing that I am optimistic about is how much men have changed in the past 30 years. Thirty years ago we'd have only women in our audiences. Men becoming dads really want to attend these workshops and they want to be better partners and better fathers than their own dads were. That makes me optimistic. We have found that change to be there in all walks of life, all socioeconomic levels, all the races and ethnic groups we have worked with in this country. We have now trained workshop leaders in 24 countries, so I am optimistic about prevention. I believe that this knowledge can change families, avoid the deterioration of couples' relationships, and contribute to Dan Goleman's social intelligence in a new generation of children. Peggy Sanday's study of 186 hunter-gatherer cultures found that when men are involved in the care of their own infants the cultures do not make war. This greater involvement of men with their babies may eventually contribute to a more peaceful world. That thought makes me optimistic.