A guide for supporting new parents

What is 'Me, You and Baby Too'?

Me, You and Baby Too is an online resource designed to help new and expectant parents adapt to the changes that parenthood can have on their relationship.

If you want to do the course, please head over to Me, You, and Baby Too.
 
This guide is for frontline practitioners who work with parents. It will show you how to introduce parents to the resource and support them as they work through it.

Read more about the evidence base behind the resource.

Who is it for?

Me, You and Baby Too helps first-time parents prepare for changes in their own relationship, giving them the skills to communicate better and support each other at this important time in their lives.


It is aimed at parents who are still in a relationship with each other, during pregnancy or in the first 12 months of their child’s life. It may also be beneficial to those who have significant risk indicators:


  • Parental conflict that is frequent, hostile and unresolved.
  • Separation in family of origin.
  • Social disadvantage.
  • Unplanned pregnancy.
  • Lack of relational skills.


Introducing parents to the resource will largely depend on your own professional judgement and the family’s situation. It is important to prepare parents for the changes to their relationship and help them understand why a healthy relationship with their partner matters to their baby.

Me, You and Baby Too works best when both parents do it together. The resource is divided into three sessions:

Changes for me and us

Having a baby is an exciting time but it can also be very challenging. This session helps parents understand how their relationship with each other will change, and why it matters to their baby.

Coping with stress

Having a baby can be stressful and overwhelming. This session helps parents to identify sources of stress and learn ways of coping together and supporting each other.

Conflict and communication

Arguments can be constructive or destructive. This session helps parents think about how their arguments start, and how they get out of hand. Most importantly, it will give them the skills to resolve arguments in more constructive ways.

How to use this resource with parents

Me, You and Baby Too is set up to help you work with parents remotely. We recommend you ask parents to work through the resource in their own time. It will take 20-30 minutes to work through the whole thing, or they can do it one session at a time.

We suggest you have a follow-up call with the couple after each session to discuss how they got on. This will give you a chance to check progress, assess understanding, clarify any misunderstandings, and offer further relationship support where appropriate.

At the end of each session, parents are encouraged to set a goal to work on between your contacts with them. The key messages will assist you in recapping and goal setting.


Accessing the 'Me, You and Baby Too' resource

Me, You and Baby Too can be accessed on a computer, tablet, or smartphone. The couple will need a good internet connection and a device on which they can play video and hear sound.

Before you introduce couples to the resource, you might find it helpful to log in yourself, so that you have an idea of what they will see.

You can register here, and access the course here.

For help with this, download the instructions here.


Session 1

Changes for me and us

The purpose of this session: To promote engagement motivation and enhance understanding of conflict on infants and children.

Please note that this starts on page 5 because this is the first page featuring actual content. Pages 1–4 are questions for parents to complete at the beginning of the session.

Page 5: Why does our relationship matter to our baby?

Most couples argue from time to time – that’s a normal part of being parents. But the way you argue can make a big difference to your baby’s wellbeing.

Did you know that your baby might feel upset and scared if you and your partner shout at each other a lot? All children do better when their parents get on with one another.

Evidence and notes for you

  • A strong parental couple relationship provides the emotional bedrock for the healthy development of babies and children, particularly in the early years. But for many couples, becoming parents can be challenging and stressful.

  • Differences in values and expectations can become magnified when parents are tired and stressed. Couples often experience a dip in relationship satisfaction and are likely to argue more [1]. Financial and social constraints can create further challenges [2]. If the pattern of decline continues it can lead to family instability and relationship breakdown [3]. But this is also a time of opportunity. Parents’ motivation is often higher and there is a chance to intervene early, strengthening the parental relationship and making a real difference to the family’s outcomes [4].

Page 6: When is arguing bad for our baby?

This video shows a baby at different stages of pregnancy. It shows how your growing baby gets to know during pregnancy, and becomes aware of what's happening outside the womb. It is helpful to learn how to have disagreements with your partner without getting angry or stressed, as this can affect your baby.

You can't stop arguing completely, but there are some ways of arguing that are better for your baby, both during pregnancy and after they are born. This video shows a baby at different stages of pregnancy.

The quality of your relationship with your partner can affect your baby in a number of ways – now and in later life:


Problems in your relationship can affect your health in several ways:

Evidence and notes for you

  • Exposure to parental conflict that is frequent, intense, and poorly resolved can have long-term negative impacts on children’s early emotional, behavioural, cognitive, and social development [5]:
    • Early attachment problems.
    • Higher rates of anxiety, depression, aggression, and conduct problems.
    • Poor peer relationships.
    • Reduced academic attainment and employability.
    • Heightened substance misuse and criminality.
    • Future relationship breakdown and experience of domestic abuse.
    • Poor physical health outcomes.
    • Adult psychiatric disorder and suicidality.
  • The evidence shows that a poor-quality couple relationship also affects mothers’ and fathers’ health and wellbeing: distressed relationships are the strongest predictor of psychological distress and increased rates of depression in mothers [6]. A lack of partner support is known to contribute to negative birth experiences [7] and living in conflict or within a toxic relationship is more damaging than living alone [8].

    Positive relationships support mental health and wellbeing. Relationship issues are strongly associated with negative health outcomes including cardiovascular disease, alcohol misuse, obesity, diabetes, and healing rates following trauma, and major surgery [9].

Page 7: Rollercoaster of change

What difference do you think having a baby will make to your relationship with your partner?

Having a baby is a big change for you both and it can be stressful at times. When you are tired, stressed and worried, it’s easy to take it out on each other. You might get irritable, and small niggles can quickly grow into big arguments.

You might need some extra support, and it’s good to be able to plan for this as you saw in this video.

Evidence and notes for you

  • The ‘Roller coaster of change’ clip is a good way of explaining how stressful events affect relationships. It shows parents how failing to seek help can damage their relationship stability, leaving them less able to cope in the future. With early preventative help and support parents can learn to cope better with the inevitable challenges of being parents as well as partners and avoid crisis [10].

Page 8: What can you do to feel close to your partner and support each other?

Often, it's the little things that help you feel close. What does your partner do that makes you feel loved and cared for?

  • Makes you a cup of tea.
  • Kisses you goodbye.
  • Says “I love you.”
  • Gives you some time to yourself.
  • Asks you about your day.
  • Cleans the bathroom while you’re out.
  • Texts you just to say something nice.
  • Lets you choose what to watch on TV.

Evidence and notes for you

  • This page shows how relationships change over time, and the challenges and potential conflict that may happen at each stage [11]. 

    It emphasises the following points:
    • Relationships are complex and they are different for all couples.
    • Things can get difficult during the transition from one stage to another. This is often when arguments happen.
    • Life events like becoming parents lead to immense personal change.
    • Couples may go back to earlier stages as their situation and family dynamics change.
    • As relationships mature, couples stop struggling to change each other’s point of view, and instead learn to accept their differences.
  • Focusing on positive aspects of a relationship can protect the couple relationship during periods of change. 

Page 9: How do we want to bring up our baby?

The way you were brought up often influences what you think is important in bringing up your baby. In this video, parents talk about the lessons they learned from their own parents.

Depending on how you were brought up, there might be things you want to make sure you do – or avoid doing – for your baby.

What do you and your partner agree is important in bringing up your baby? Can you think of two things that might be important to you?

This could be a big conversation between you and your partner and may tap into memories from you past. Try to bring it up at a time when you’re not feeling too stressed or tired, when you can talk about it sensitively.


Now it’s time to set some goals.

A goal can be a thing you want to happen, or a way you want to be. Goals are a good way to make sure you use the new skills you are learning.

How to set goals

What would you like to do differently? You can set goals by going to your account and clicking on ‘Goals’.

Then you can either choose your own goal or pick one from our list:

  • Make time for each other.
  • When the going gets tough remember why we are together.
  • Decide together who is going to do what.
  • The most important thing is to PRACTISE.


Whatever goals you choose, try them out over the next few weeks. The more you practise, the better you will get.

Take a break

You have reached the end of Session 1. It's a good idea to take a break here before moving on.

Evidence and notes for you

  • Arguments about how to bring up a baby are a common cause of conflict in parental relationships and are often related to early childhood experiences.

    This links to the enduring vulnerabilities of each parent and attachment orientations in relationships which often surface as areas for disagreement.

    Some parents’ expectations of family roles are based on their family of origin:
  • Replicative family scripts. This is when parents aim to repeat experiences and family roles from their own childhood. 
  • Corrective parenting scripts. This is when parents try to avoid repeating their parents’ mistakes.


The ‘scripts’ each parent brings may be more or less helpful to the new family’s functioning [12]. Helping the couple explore what they each feel is important in bringing up their baby together fosters co-parenting and helps them to understand each other better.

Session 1 – instructions

Recap on the content of Session 1. Ask the parents to reflect on what they have taken from this session.

 

Pages 5 and 6 – Why does our relationship matter to our baby and When is arguing bad for our baby?

Talk about how stress and disagreements can affect the growth and development of a baby. Check their understanding of why and how their relationship matters to their baby.

Page 7 – Roller coaster of change

Ask the couple to talk about how their relationship might change when they have a baby:

 

  • What difference do you think having a baby will make to your relationship with your partner?
  • What can you do to stay close and support each other?
  • Where might you be able to get help and support?

Page 8 – What can you do to feel close to your partner and support each other?

Ask the couple if the ‘Stages and changes’ clip sparked any thoughts or feelings about their relationship. This is an opportunity for you to get a sense of where they are at and what they think.

 

Page 9 – How do we want to bring up our baby?

Encourage the couple to explore their own scripts to see how these might influence their behaviour and how they parent. Parents can be supported to develop new scripts that fit their own situation, avoiding arguments about which way is right. These are called improvised family scripts.

 

Ask the parents to identify two things that they would like to do together for their baby.

  

Encourage the couple to set a goal on adjusting to change, if they haven’t already done so. They can do this by going to the dashboard and clicking on manage


Wrapping up Session 1

They can choose their own goal, or you can suggest one based on their experiences so far. Some suggestions:

 

  • Make time for each other. 
  • When the going gets tough, remember why we are together.
  • Decide together who is going to do what.

You can review their progress at the start of the next session.

 

Emphasise the key messages of this session:

  • Outcomes for babies and children are better when their parents get on with one another.
  • Unborn babies are sensitive to their environment. They will be affected by parental distress and discord.
  • Most couples argue but it is how parents argue that is important.
  • Parents in high conflict relationships are less able to provide consistent authoritative parenting.
  • Parents who model constructive conflict behaviours provide the blueprint for children for future relationships.
  • Relationships keep developing, and one bad patch doesn’t mean the end. With support, it can get back on track.

 

Why does our relationship matter to our baby?

Go to the following pages and go through the video clips with parents 

Now talk about how stress and disagreements can affect the growth and development of a baby.

Roller coaster of change

Go to the following page and watch the video clip

The ‘Roller coaster of change’ clip is a good way of explaining how stressful events affect relationships. It shows parents how failing to seek help can damage their relationship stability, leaving them less able to cope in the future.


Ask the couple to talk about how their relationship might change when they have a baby:


  • What difference do you think having a baby will make to your relationship with your partner?
  • What can you do to stay close and support each other?
  • Where might you be able to get help and support?


Stages and changes of relationships

Go to the following page and watch the video clip together:

This clip explains how relationships change over time, and the challenges and potential conflict that may happen at each stage. 


It emphasises the following points:     

  • Relationships are complex and they are different for all couples.
  • Things can get difficult during the transition from one stage to another. This is often when arguments happen.
  • Life events like becoming parents lead to immense personal change.
  • Couples may go back to earlier stages as their situation and family dynamics change.
  • As relationships mature, couples stop struggling to change each other’s point of view, and instead learn to accept their differences.

Ask the couple if the clip sparked any thoughts or feelings about their relationship. This is an opportunity for you to get a sense of where they are at and what they think.

How do we want to bring up our baby?

Go to the following page and watch the video clip together:

Arguments about how to bring up a baby are a common cause of conflict in parental relationships and are often related to early childhood experiences. 

This links to the enduring vulnerabilities of each parent and attachment orientations in relationships which often surface as areas for disagreement.

Some parents’ expectations of family roles are based on their family of origin:

  • Replicative family scripts. This is when parents aim to repeat experiences and family roles from their own childhood. 
  • Corrective parenting scripts. This is when parents try to avoid repeating their parents’ mistakes.

The ‘scripts’ each parent brings may be more or less helpful to the new family’s functioning. 


Encourage the couple to explore their own scripts to see how these might influence their behaviour and how they parent. Parents can be supported to develop new scripts that fit their own situation, avoiding arguments about which way is right. These are called improvised family scripts.


Ask the parents to identify two things that they would like to do together for their baby.

How to set goals

Encourage the couple to set a goal on adjusting to change.

If they've registered, they can do this by going to the dashboard and clicking on manage.

They can choose their own goal, or you can suggest one based on their experiences so far. Some suggestions:

  • Make time for each other. 
  • When the going gets tough, remember why we are together.
  • Decide together who is going to do what.

 

You can review their progress at the start of the next session.

Key messages

  • Outcomes for babies and children are better when their parents get on with one another.
  • Unborn babies are sensitive to their environment. They will be affected by parental distress and discord.
  • Most couples argue but it is how parents argue that is important.
  • Parents in high conflict relationships are less able to provide consistent authoritative parenting.
  • Parents who model constructive conflict behaviours provide the blueprint for children


Session 2

Understanding and coping with stress

Purpose: To enhance the couple’s coping skills.

Having a baby can be stressful and overwhelming. This session helps parents to identify sources of stress and learn ways of coping together and supporting each other.


Below, you will see the content that the couple will access in Session 2. You will also see the evidence behind each activity, and some suggestions as to how you can follow up with the couple after the session.


Remember to check in on progress towards the goal parents set at the end of Session 1.


Page 10: What causes stress?

Stress can come from different things:

  • Big changes, like having a baby or moving to a new house.
  • Daily hassles, like paying the bills or changing nappies.


How often do you find yourself feeling stressed? A couple of times a week? Every day?

We all have times in all our lives when we feel stressed. It’s helpful to know where stress comes from so that we can learn how to deal with it in a healthy way.

You can think of stress as a balance. When you've got lots of ways of coping, it can be easy to deal with stress. But when the causes of stress outweigh your ways of coping, it can all feel like too much.

  • What kinds of things can cause you stress?
  • Which ways of coping do you tend to rely on? What sort of things can you do and what support do you have that help you to cope day to day?
  • What happens when you feel overwhelmed by stress?

Evidence and notes for you

  • Stress occurs when demands outweigh resources. It is evident that stress has a detrimental impact on relationships and increases negative communication, arguing and conflict. It is clear that the stress of one partner becomes the stress of the other partner through ‘stress spillover’ and ‘crossover’ [13].

Page 11: How can I support my partner?

1. Emotional support: This is when you show that you have understood.
2. Practical support: This is when you offer ways of solving the problem.

Emotional support is important because it shows your partner that you are there for them.

Often, it’s better just to listen first without offering advice.

  • Listen to your partner’s feelings.
  • Show that you understand.
  • Give them a confidence boost: “You can do it!”
  • Stick together.
  • Reassure them.


This doesn’t mean that you can’t offer practical support at all, but you should try to offer emotional support first.

This video shows you how this works. In the first version of the story, Liam only offers practical support. In the second version, we rewind and Liam offers emotional support first. Can you see the difference in the way Naomi reacts?

Watch the next video (on the next page) for a breakdown of what's happening in each version.

Evidence and notes for you

  • In the late 1990s, dyadic (couple) coping arose from the idea of stress and coping in couple relationships, abandoning the traditional view of these as individual phenomena. Over the years empirical studies have found that communication and problem-solving abilities are the best predictors of relationship quality [14]. But these abilities often break down under stress.

Page 12: Expert analysis

Think about how you might be able to use these skills in your life. Next time your partner comes to you with a problem, see if you can offer emotional support before you try to come up with solutions:

  • Pay attention to how your partner is feeling.
  • Ask questions to learn more about the problem.
  • Listen, and show that you understand.
  • Try to reassure your partner.
  • Work out solutions together.
  • Try setting a goal to offer emotional support in the goals feature.

Evidence and notes for you

  • Dyadic (couple) coping not only offers a method for reducing stress from external sources and avoiding negative spillover into the couple relationship. It also fosters togetherness, commitment and trust as well as a perception of the other person as a caring and loving partner [15].

Page 13: Sharing stress

When you or your partner are stressed, try not to think of it as my stress or your stress. Instead, think of it as our stress – something for you to deal with together.

This animation shows why it’s best to work together as a couple, even when only one of you is going through a hard time.

You can see more videos about managing stress in your relationship here.

Now it’s time to set some goals. A goal can be a thing you want to happen, or a way you want to be. Goals are a good way to make sure you use the new skills you are learning.

How to set goals

What would you like to do differently?

You can set goals by going to your account and clicking on ‘Goals’.

Then you can either choose your own goal or pick one from our list:

  • Make eye contact to show I understand.
  • Comfort my partner when they are upset.
  • Try to listen more.
  • Ask my partner questions to find out more.
  • Reassure my partner.

The most important thing is to PRACTISE. Whatever goals you choose, try them out over the next few weeks. The more you practise, the better you will get.Take a break You have reached the end of Session 2.It's a good idea to take a break here before moving on.

Take a break

You have reached the end of Session 2. It's a good idea to take a break here before moving on.

Evidence and notes for you

  • This view of shared stress opens the possibility for dyadic coping, where either one partner supports the other in their own coping efforts or both partners engage together in shared problem-solving or emotional regulation. Couples who think of their stress as shared stress – something they deal with together rather than from an individual perspective – are more likely to be satisfied in their relationship and more able to cope.

This has been found to be important in the transition to parenthood [16].

Session 2 – instructions

Recap on the content of Session 2. Ask the parents to reflect on what they have taken from this session.

 

Page 10 – What causes stress?

Discuss the couple’s current sources of stress and their coping resources.

 

Often, focusing on stress is an easier way for parents to talk about what is happening in their relationship, and to introduce coping strategies.  

 

Pages 11-12 – How can I support my partner?

Ask the couple if they were able to see the difference when Liam offered emotional support. 

 

Find out if they have been able to offer emotional as well as practical support.

Additional activity – The funnel method
If the couple needs some extra help in offering each other emotional support, this additional activity might help.

Ask the parents to tell you about a recent time they felt stressed, focusing on: 

  1. The problem – stating the facts.
  2. Emotions and thoughts – both in the moment (angry, unsure of what to do) and the deeper feelings (ashamed, anxious, sad).
  3. Personal theme – why did it bother me so much?

This is the ‘funnel method’ of offering emotional support. You will be modelling relational skills – empathy, understanding, and acknowledging the other person’s feelings. ‘I can see why that might make you feel scared/angry/sad.’

 

Page 13 – Sharing stress

Encourage parents to think of their stress as shared stress – something they deal with together rather than from an individual perspective. This is an effective way of improving relationship quality and stability.

 

Wrapping up Session 2

Check in with the parents to see how they are progressing with their goals. If they haven’t set a goal yet, you can help them to choose one now. They can do this by going to the dashboard and clicking on manage

 

They can choose their own goal, or you can suggest one based on their experiences so far. Some suggestions:

  • Make eye contact to show I understand.
  • Acknowledge how my partner is feeling.
  • Comfort my partner when they are upset.
  • Listen more.
  • Ask my partner questions to find out more.
  • Reassure my partner.

 

You can review their progress at the start of the next session.

 

Emphasise the key messages of this session:

  • Partners often provide unhelpful support, such as playing it down:
  • ‘It’s not that bad.’
  • ‘It’s nothing – don’t make a big deal.’
  • Or giving advice:
  • ‘Next time you should…’
  • Some partners try to provide practical support to their stressed partner before they have understood the stress.
  • Some partners withdraw, leaving the other person alone with their stress.
  • Sharing the stress is better than dealing with it alone.

Session 3

Conflict and communication

Purpose: To help parents develop skills in communication and managing conflict.


Arguments can be constructive or destructive. This session helps parents think about how their arguments start, and how they get out of hand. Most importantly, it will give them the skills to resolve arguments in more constructive ways.


Below, you will see the content that the couple will access in Session 3. You will also see the evidence behind each activity, and some suggestions as to how you can follow up with the couple after the session.


Remember to check in on progress towards the goal parents set at the end of Session 2.

Page 14: How do we argue?

Have a look at this sliding scale which shows the different ways couples deal with arguments.

  1. Arguing all the time – shouting, criticising, blaming, walking out.
  2. Arguing most of the time.
  3. Arguing sometimes and not really getting things sorted.
  4. Arguing but listening to each other and agreeing to differ.
  5. Getting on well and sorting out differences


Where do you think you and your partner are on this scale?

Where do you think your partner would say they are?

Are you both in the same place or is one of you OK and the other one not?

Why might that be?

Evidence and notes for you

  • The model for developing skills for dealing with conflict is underpinned by a cognitive behavioural approach [17]. It begins with self-assessment and facilitates parents to identify unhelpful thought processes and behaviour patterns, and promotes the use of more positive adaptive thinking and behaviours. This is the basis for the development of constructive conflict behaviours and communication skills.

Page 15: What is your conflict style?

All parents have disagreements. How you handle these can make a big difference to your relationship. When you and your partner argue, it can be harmful or helpful.



Have a look at these questions as you think about how you and your partner argue.

  • What harmful things do you say or do?
  • How do you think that makes your partner feel?
  • What do they do in response?
  • How does that make you feel?
  • How do you think this make your baby feel?
  • What happens next?

Why do arguments happen?

  • What are your logs? What are the things you and your partner argue about the most?
  • What is your match? What usually starts an argument?
  • How do you add fuel to the fire? What do you each do that makes it worse?
  • What’s in your watering can? What can you do help calm things down?

Evidence and notes for you

  • There are four different destructive conflict behaviours or styles described by Gottman [18]:
    • Criticism conveys disrespect, disdain, and contempt, and allows partners to express dissatisfaction or disapproval.
    • Contempt includes sarcasm, mockery, and personal insults that attack a person’s sense of self, such as, ‘You’re an idiot’.
    • Defensiveness includes denying responsibility for actions, making excuses and responding to complaints with counter-complaints.
    • Stonewalling manifests itself in emotional withdrawal, silence, or repressed verbal and nonverbal feedback. This is usually in response to contempt.

Page 16: Why do we misunderstand each other?

One of the reasons you find yourself getting into arguments is because of misunderstandings between you and your partner. When we’re tired and stressed, it’s easy to think the worst. Sometimes, an innocent comment can be taken the wrong way.

Everyone argues, but not everyone argues well. Getting better at arguing together can help you solve your problems before they get worse.

The good news is that you can learn skills to help you get through arguments in a way that supports your relationship.

There are three simple steps to arguing better:

  1. Stop
  2. Talk it out
  3. Work it out

Step 1: STOP

The first step is to STOP. This means staying calm and listening. You can’t always control the way you feel, especially when an argument starts. But you can have some control over how you respond.

When you feel a conversation heating up, you can try some of these tips to help yourself say calm:

  • Take some deep breaths.
  • Relax your shoulders.
  • Count to 10.
  • Take some time out.
  • Go out for a walk with your partner.

Do you find yourselves arguing about the same things over and over again?

Sometimes an argument isn’t about what it first seems. An argument about money, or who does what, or who looks after the children, is rarely just about that. Understanding the root of the argument can help you talk about the things that are important to you.

Have a look at this diagram which show the things people argue about the most.

Step 2: TALK IT OUT

The second step is to talk through what’s going on. To do that, we have to two things:

  • See it differently. Try to see things from your partner’s point of view.
  • Speak for myself. Use ‘I’ statements to talk about how you are feeling.

You can help avoid arguments by using a soft ‘start up’.

A harsh ‘start up’ is when you go straight in with a criticism or a mean comment. It can feel like an attack and may be met with a defensive response.

A soft ‘start up’ is a gentler way of bringing something up, that focuses on the issue at hand without blaming the other person. It might start with “I feel…”

Step 3: WORK IT OUT

Once you are able to stay calm and talk about it, you will be able to look for solutions you can both agree on.

This might be a good time to check in with your goals. Did you manage to set any? How are your getting on? Whether or not you set a goal, you might like to set a goal now.

You might set a goal to do with staying calm when you feel yourself getting upset in a disagreement with your partner. You can use some of the suggestions above.

Evidence and notes for you

  • Often, arguments can flare up based on one partner’s perception of the other partner’s behaviour. People can get into patterns of automatically thinking negative thoughts and making negative assumptions about the other person [19].

    These attributions consist of the explanations that partners hold regarding the causality and responsibility of each other's behaviour. Distressed couples tend to make negative and relationship-damaging attributions more than non-distressed couples. Specifically, individuals in distressed relationships tend to believe their partner's contribution to relationship problems is global rather than issue-specific, stable rather than fleeting, and due to their partner's personality rather than circumstances.

    Those experiencing less relational satisfaction perceive their partner's problematic behaviour as intentional, blameworthy, and selfishly motivated. These negative attributions are also associated with destructive conflict behaviours.  

    Studies have found that people who started their discussions with a great deal of negative emotion and displayed far fewer expressions of positivity were highly likely to experience relationship breakdown. The research showed that the discussions will end on the same note in which they began [20].  

    So, if arguments start with an attack on the other person – a ‘harsh start up’ – it is highly likely it will end that way. Using a ‘soft start up’ to a conversation is crucial to resolving relationship conflicts, as the other person is more likely to listen and there’s a chance it will lead to a discussion that will resolve the issues.

Page 17: A situation going badly


You’ve just seen a situation going badly. In this video, Liam criticised Naomi about spending money. Naomi reacted by defending her position. This led to a harmful argument.

Liam and Naomi were:

  • Critical
  • Defensive
  • Blaming each other
  • Trying to win the argument

In the next video, you will see the same situation going better.

Evidence and notes for you

  • Behaviour Modelling Training (BMT) is based on social learning theory [21] and uses visual demonstrations of behaviours to promote knowledge and skills acquisition. It provides opportunities for feedback and social reinforcement to participants following practice to maximise transfer of behaviours.

Page 18: A situation going better

In this video did you see what happens what happens when Liam and Naomi STOP and TALK IT OUT.

  • What did Naomi do differently? Did you see how she stayed calm and listened?
  • How did this make it easier for Liam to respond?
  • Why was Liam able to see things from Naomi’s point of view?
  • How did this help the conversation?

Next time you find yourself getting drawn into an argument with your partner, remember – the first step is to

STOP.

STOP: Stay calm and listen.
TALK IT OUT: Speak for yourself and try to see things from your partner’s point of view.
WORK IT OUT: Negotiate and problem-solve.

John Gottman, a famous relationship researcher, found that couples have better relationships when their positive moments outweigh their negative moments.

For every negative moment between you and your partner, you need five positive moments to balance it out.


At the beginning of this section, we asked you to think about this Sliding Scale and identify where you and your partner might be.

  1. Arguing all the time – shouting, criticising, blaming, walking out.
  2. Arguing most of the time.
  3. Arguing sometimes and not really getting things sorted.
  4. Arguing but listening to each other and agreeing to differ.
  5. Getting on well and sorting out your difference


Now you can begin to think about where you would like to be, and how you might get there. Here are some questions to get you started:

  • What would make it better for you?
  • What would make it better for your baby?
  • What would you be doing differently?
  • What was happening when things went well?


Now it’s time to set some goals. A goal can be a thing you want to happen, or a way you want to be. Goals are a good way to make sure you use the new skills you are learning.

How to set goals

What would you like to do differently?

You can set goals by going to your account and clicking on ‘Goals’.

Then you can either choose your own goal or pick one from our list:

  • Stay calm – count to 10 before I respond.
  • Listen to my partner without jumping in.
  • Try to see it from my partner’s point of view.
  • Notice when I criticise.
  • Take a break if I start getting angry.
  • Say two positive things to my partner every week.


The most important thing is to PRACTISE. Whatever goals you choose, try them out over the next few weeks. The more you practise, the better you will get.

Well done!

You have reached the end of Session 3. Please click through to the next page where there are a few more questions to finish.

Evidence and notes for you

  • In the film clip ‘A situation going better’, the BMT techniques are used to sequence the film clips  to promote behaviour change as follows:  
  • Attentional. Observing model behaviours graded from less to more difficult.
  • Retentional. Effective transfer to memory - use of symbols to highlight behaviours and assist retention.
  • Reproduction. To promote skill practice in real life.
  • Motivational. Via reinforcement for the newly learned skill.


THE SLIDING SCALE
Solution-focused brief therapy [22, 23] focuses on building solutions rather than problem-solving. A questioning style explores couples’ preferred futures in the context of their current resources and behaviours. Therapeutic elements may include:

  • 'Problem-free talk' (discussing non-problematic aspects of the couple’s lives).
  • The 'miracle question' (how will the future be different when the problem is no longer present?)
  • Progress scales

Session 3 – instructions

Recap on the content of Session 3. Ask the parents to reflect on what they have taken from this session.

Page 14 – How do we argue?

The sliding scale tool is used both for assessment (Where are you now?) and solution-focused discussion (Where would you like to be?). 

 

Explain how relationships can move up and down a scale. The umbrella symbolises the factors that help protect relationships during difficult times – humour, affection, time together, support, etc. 

 

Ask parents to share with you where they think they are on this scale. 

 

This will highlight how they see their level of conflict and if there are discrepancies. These are the questions they will have explored:

 

  • Where do you think you and your partner are on this scale? 
  • Where would your partner say you are as a couple?
  • Are you both in the same place or not?  
  • Why might that be?

 

Facilitate a conversation using solution-focused questions to come up with ideas specific to the couple, if they haven’t already done this. Talk about how they would like their relationship or communication to be different and how they can build on their strengths.

 

Offer positive affirmations on any progress so far. Behaviour change is difficult for many parents.

 

Page 15 – What is your conflict style? 

Consider these questions for discussion and reflection:

 

  • What harmful things do you say or do in an argument?
  • How do you think that makes your partner feel?
  • What does your partner do in response?
  • How does that make you feel?
  • How do you think that will make the baby feel?

 

Ask the couple if they have been able to identify what they argue about and why, and how little things can turn into big arguments. This will give you vital information about the couple’s dynamics and where the issues lie.

 

Page 16 – Why do we misunderstand each other?

Ask the couple if they find themselves arguing about the same things over and over again. Have they been able to identify a deeper issue?

  

Discuss the ‘Hidden issues’ image. An argument about who does the dishes is rarely just about that. Helping couples understand the hidden issues at the root of their arguments is important in identifying the underlying feelings and emotions. These issues are often about respect, commitment, or feeling cared for.

 

Exploring with couples how to reframe some of their thoughts and increase positive attributions will help them overcome relationship-damaging interpretations and assumptions.

 

Facilitate a discussion using the three simple steps to arguing better: 

1. Stop

2. Talk it out

3. Work it out

Step 1: STOP

It’s not always possible to control our feelings or emotions in argument. But we can control how we respond. Talk to the couple about the strategies they could use to help them stay calm. 


Step 2: TALK IT OUT

The second step in resolving conflict is to help parents talk through what’s going on for them. 

 

Discuss the impact of harsh versus soft ‘start ups’. Ask the parents if they have identified any harsh start ups they might use, and how they could replace these with soft start ups.

 

Encourage parents to try using ‘I’ statements, focusing on their feelings rather than using ‘you’ statements that can come across as an accusation or blame. Using an ‘I’ statement helps a person become assertive without making any accusations.

 

  • ‘I feel …’
  • ‘When you …’
  • ‘Because …’
  • ‘What I need is …’ 

 

It may feel strange for parents to approach their conversations in this way but, with practice, it can really help.


Additional activity – Master the skill of listening. 
To be able to talk about issues or problems, parents need to master the skill of listening. Being able to listen and to see things from another person’s point of view builds empathy – the basis of all effective communication. Parents learn to listen to each other’s point of view, avoiding the temptation to try and get their own way.


Ask the couple to agree to some ground rules before you start. If things start to get out of control you can remind them of what they agreed to do to avoid destructive conflict behaviours.

Facilitating this listening activity with the couple relies on you giving them clear instructions:

  • Parent 1 has a minute to talk about how they view things. You will need to keep time and perhaps guide them to identify an issue that is important to them.
  • Parent 2 has to listen. Tell them they are not allowed to interrupt or debate or sigh or tut or turn away – or anything else they might usually do.
  • When the minute is up, ask Parent 2 to summarise what Parent 1 has said. You may need to prompt if they haven’t got all the details.
  • Then swap over and invite Parent 2 to tell their side of the story. This time, Parent 1 has to listen.
  • Debrief. Ask the couple how that made them feel. 

You can then summarise, pointing out the things that they did well and how they might adjust their communication to be more constructive.


Step 3: WORK IT OUT

The third step in resolving conflict is to help parents find solutions they can both agree on. The film clips on the next two pages show some behaviours couples can use to work it out.


Page 17 – A situation going badly 

Discuss the first clip with the couple. Did they spot how destructive conflict behaviours caused the argument to escalate?

 

Page 18 – A situation going better

Discuss the second clip with the couple. Did they spot how constructive conflict behaviours allowed Liam and Naomi to resolve the argument in a more helpful way?

 

Revisit the sliding scale to help the couple identify where they have got to now and set a new goal. 

 

Wrapping up Session 3

Check in with the parents to see how they are progressing with their goals. You may want to make another appointment to check how they are progressing and the changes they are making.

 

Emphasise the key messages of this session:


  • Helping parents to work on their communication skills is essential if they are to sort out their differences.
  • Encouraging a different perspective helps parents to understand their partner better.
  • Learning to listen is vital.
  • Shared goals can help the couple move forward together and can enhance co-parenting.

 

Pages 19-20 – A few questions to finish

Please encourage parents to complete the questions at the end of Session 3. This is to help us evaluate the effectiveness of the programme.


Feedback from parents

This project is funded by the Department of Work and Pensions Challenge Fund.

OnePlusOne are evaluating this digital behaviour change intervention. We are keen to understand how well parents have understood the content of MYBT and whether it has a positive effect on their behaviour. For that reason, there are questions, using standardised measures, woven into the resource to gauge parents’ responses and outcomes. We would really appreciate if you could encourage parents to complete all of the questions by letting them know their feedback and participation is important in making the resource the best it can be.

When you engage parents with the resource it is important that they are aware that the project is being evaluated so we have provided an information sheet for them. It is available to download clicking the button below.

Purpose

To help parents develop skills in communication and managing conflict.

How do we argue?

Insert graphic sliding scale

Share this graphic to explain how relationships can move up and down a scale. The umbrella symbolises the factors that help protect relationships during difficult times – humour, affection, time together, support, etc.

This tool is used both for assessment (Where are you now?) and solution-focused discussion (Where would you like to be?)

Ask parents to think about where they are on this scale. 

  1. Arguing all the time – shouting, criticising, blaming, walking out.
  2. Arguing most of the time.
  3. Arguing sometimes and not really getting things sorted.
  4. Arguing but listening to each other and agreeing to differ.
  5. Getting on OK and sorting out your differences.

This will highlight how they see their level of conflict and if there are discrepancies that could be explored further.

  • Where do you think you and your partner are on this scale? 
  • Where would your partner say you are as a couple?
  • Are you both in the same place or not?  
  • Why might that be?

Facilitate a conversation using solution-focused questions to come up with ideas specific to the couple. Talk about how they would like their relationship or communication to be different and how they can build on their strengths. 

Solution-focused brief therapy focuses on building solutions rather than problem-solving. A questioning style explores couples’ preferred futures in the context of their current resources and behaviours. Therapeutic elements may include:

  • 'Problem-free talk' (discussing non-problematic aspects of the couple’s lives).
  • The 'miracle question' (how will the future be different when the problem is no longer present?).
  • Progress scales.

Offer positive affirmations on any progress so far. Behaviour change is difficult for many parents.

Arguing better 

Insert film clip 10 Conflict styles

What's your conflict style? 


Show the clip and consider these questions for discussion and reflection:

  • What harmful things do you say or do in an argument?
  • How do you think that makes your partner feel?
  • What does your partner do in response?
  • How does that make you feel?
  • How do you think that will make the baby feel?

Why do arguments happen?

Insert film clip Logs and fire

Discuss the clip. Ask the couple to identify what they argue about and why, and how little things can turn into big arguments. This will give you vital information about the couple’s dynamics and where the issues lie.

Why do we misunderstand each other? 

Watch the film clip and discuss. 

Often, arguments can flare up based on one partner’s perception of the other partner’s behaviour. People can get into patterns of automatically thinking negative thoughts and making negative assumptions about the other person. 

Parents who are less satisfied with their relationship often think their partner's behaviour is intentional and selfishly motivated. These negative attributions are also associated with destructive conflict behaviours like blame, criticism, and withdrawal. 

Do you find yourselves arguing about the same things over and over again?

Insert hidden issues image 


Discuss the image together.

An argument about who does the dishes is rarely just about that. Helping couples understand the hidden issues at the root of their arguments is important in identifying the underlying feelings and emotions. These issues are often about respect, commitment, or feeling cared for.


Exploring with couples how to reframe some of their thoughts and increase positive attributions will help them overcome relationship-damaging interpretations and assumptions.


Arguing better 

Facilitate a discussion using the three simple steps to arguing better: 

  1. STOP
  2. TALK IT OUT
  3. WORK IT OUT


Step 1: STOP

It’s not always possible to control our feelings or emotions in argument. But we can control how we respond. 


Ask the couple to think of strategies that might help them stay calm. Here are some examples of simple techniques that you can share if they can’t think of their own:

  • Counting to 10.
  • Taking deep breaths.
  • Relaxing shoulders.
  • Time out.
  • Going out for a walk (with the baby)

Step 2: TALK IT OUT

The second step in resolving conflict is to help parents talk through what’s going on for them using two strategies:

  • See it differently – trying to see things from the other person’s point of view
  • Speak for myself – using ‘I’ statements to talk about how someone is feeling


Discuss the impact of harsh versus soft ‘start ups’. 

People who start their discussions with a great deal of negative emotion and display far fewer expressions of positivity are more  likely to experience relationship breakdown. 

 

Discussions will often end on the same note they began. So, if the argument starts with a criticism or negative comment about the other person, it will end up with at least as much tension as it started. Softening the start of a conversation is crucial to resolving relationship conflicts.


Insert image ‘you lazy useless stupid b…’


Insert image ‘I feel worried when you don’t text me…’


Encourage parents to try using ‘I’ statements, focusing on their feelings rather than using ‘you’ statements that can come across as an accusation or blame. Using an ‘I’ statement helps a person become assertive without making any accusations.


  • ‘I feel …’
  • ‘When you …’
  • ‘Because …’
  • ‘What I need is …’ 


It may feel strange for parents to approach their conversations in this way but, with practice, it can really help.


Additional activity 

Facilitate a listening activity

To be able to talk about issues or problems, parents need to master the skill of listening. Being able to listen and to see things from another person’s point of view builds empathy – the basis of all effective communication. Parents learn to listen to each other’s point of view, avoiding the temptation to try and get their own way.


Ask the couple to agree to some ground rules before you start. If things start to get out of control you can remind them of what they agreed to do to avoid destructive conflict behaviours.


Facilitating this listening activity with the couple relies on you giving them clear instructions:


  • Parent 1 has a minute to talk about how they view things. You will need to keep time and perhaps guide them to identify an issue that is important to them.
  • Parent 2 has to listen. Tell them they are not allowed to interrupt or debate or sigh or tut or turn away – or anything else they might usually do.
  • When the minute is up, ask Parent 2 to summarise what Parent 1 has said. You may need to prompt if they haven’t got all the detail.
  • Then swap over and invite Parent 2 to tell their side of the story. This time, Parent 1 has to listen.
  • Debrief. Ask the couple how that made them feel. 


You can then summarise, pointing out the things that they did well and how they might adjust their communication to be more constructive.


Step 3: WORK IT OUT

Check in with how the parents are getting on. Hopefully they will have been practising staying calm and listening. The next step is to look for solutions that both parents can agree on.

Discuss the film clips. 

A situation going badly 

Film clip 12 A situation going badly

A situation going better

Film clip 13 A situation going better

The film clips are part of a sequence that demonstrates an argument going badly (destructive conflict) and then an argument going better (constructive conflict). This uses a technique called Behaviour Modelling Training (BMT) which is known to be effective in promoting skill acquisition and behaviour change. Reflective sequences, when the parents talk about how they feel, are used to demonstrate the differing perspectives and help parents to see it differently. 


Insert GRAPHIC   5 to 1 ratio 


The difference between happy and unhappy couples is the balance between positive and negative interactions during conflict. The “magic ratio” is 5 to 1. This means that for every one negative interaction, a stable and happy relationship has at least five positive interactions.


 

What do we need to do differently? 

At the beginning of this session, the couple were asked to think about how they saw their relationship on a scale of 0-5.

  1. Arguing all the time – shouting, criticising, blaming, walking out.
  2. Arguing most of the time.
  3. Arguing sometimes and not really getting things sorted.
  4. Arguing but listening to each other and agreeing to differ.
  5. Getting on OK and sorting out your differences.


Encourage the couple to think about where they would like to be, and how they might get there. Here are some helpful questions: 

  • What would make it better for you? 
  • What would make it better for your baby? 
  • What would you be doing differently? 
  • What was happening when things went well?


Help the couple set a goal on arguing better. They can do this by going to the dashboard and clicking on manage


They can either choose their own goal or you can suggest one based on their experiences so far. Alternatively, they might want to pick one from the list:

  • Stay calm – count to 10 before I respond.
  • Listen to my partner without jumping in.
  • Try to see it from my partner’s point of view.
  • Try to acknowledge my partner’s feelings.
  • Notice when I criticise.
  • Take a break if I start getting angry.
  • Say two positive things to my partner every week.

 

Key messages

  • Helping parents to work on their communication skills is essential if they are to sort out their differences.
  • Encouraging a different perspective helps parents to understand their partner better.
  • Learning to listen is vital
  • Shared goals can help the couple move forward together and can enhance co-parenting.


Virtual relationship support

Moving to virtual support has been a steep learning curve for many of us. It is remarkable how far practitioners have gone to ensure that parents still get the support they need. 


Building a relationship with new parents online can be daunting: 

  • How do we form a strong, respectful, and helpful connection with people we have not met before?
  • How can we help via remote technology?  


It often takes trial and error to find a way that works for the family and for you. But the most important thing is to remember that all the skills you rely on in face-to-face sessions are still vital: 


  • Be prepared.
  • Be present and listen well.
  • Be curious.
  • Be kind. 
  • Be human. 
  • Be authentic.


Looking after yourself

Don’t forget your own wellbeing. You are likely to be very experienced in your background knowledge, but it is important to recognise your limitations and not take on too much.


Ensure that you have support and supervision in your role. The materials in this programme may trigger some uncomfortable feelings for you and some of the situations you come across may resemble your own. Make sure you feel in the right place to support parent relationships and seek help if you need to.