What’s the Deal with Relationship Ed?

Remember that class in high school when you leaned over and whispered to your friend, “When am I ever going to use this stuff?” I do. At the time, I certainly didn’t realize how reading a classic novel and practicing math problems were going to help me much in the future. Instead, what I was learning seemed entirely irrelevant to life after high school. This year, however, I entered back onto the high school scene to facilitate a class about something that was anything but irrelevant–it was a class about relationships. While not everyone is going to become an English teacher or a mathematician and use the content of their high school classes on a daily basis, most of us are going to spend our lives navigating interactions with others. This means that learning how to have healthy and functional relationships is entirely relevant to daily living.

The irony? For such an important part of all people’s lives, this is a subject that most of us get little to no formal education about. Besides past experiences and what we have learned from observing the relationships around us, most of us have minimal training in the art of entering into and maintaining a healthy relationship. And yet we are surprised when we feel like we don’t always know what we are doing?! Luckily, relationship education programs have become more widely available in recent years to meet this need.

Maybe you’re wondering, “What exactly is a relationship education class?” Well, these classes are preventative programs, which means they target problems in groups of individuals before they become too serious. Classes typically focus on developing better communication and problem-solving skills, and they also stimulate conversations about other issues related to relationship quality.

Do these classes really work? Well, one study examined the results from 117 other studies that all looked at the effectiveness of relationship education classes. The results show that participants are reporting higher relationship quality and better communication skills after taking a class!

Further, the research goes beyond self-reported improvements. Research actually is showing physical health benefits from taking a relationship education class too! One study on found that relationship education programs can buffer the harmful effects of stress caused by repeated conflict in close relationships. After the class intervention, participants’ results showed not only an increase in relationship quality, but a decrease in stress during couple conflict too. Participants appear to walk away from these types of classes not only happier, but healthier as well!

An interesting finding of this study is that the positive outcomes for participants appear stronger for older than younger couples. This contradicts the age-old saying that old dogs can’t learn new tricks. It doesn’t seem like the high schoolers in my class are the only ones who can benefit from a relationship education program. Maybe you can too! For more information about classes being offered in your area, visit alabamamarriage.org.

-C.C. Hermes

Ditzen, B., Hahlweg, K., Fehm-Wolfsdorf, G., & Baucom, D. (2011). Assisting couples to
develop healthy relationships: Effects of couples relationship education on cortisol. Psychoneuroendocrinology36(5), 597-607.
Hawkins, A. J., Blanchard, V. L., Baldwin, S. A., & Fawcett, E. B. (2008). Does marriage and relationship education work? A meta-analytic study.
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Health & its Impact on the Couple by Sarah Beth Thompson

Couples face many different challenges on many different levels. Whether it is over who will do the dishes or who will take care of the bills if one partner is in the hospital, each day brings different challenges. We also live in a world that presents many different stressors to one’s health and well-being. So, how does health impact the couple, and what can you do to help protect your relationship?sb1For this blog, I will focus on diabetes and what research says you can do to help your partner and yourself.  Diabetes imposes major lifestyle adjustments on those who are affected as well as those who are close to the patient, most importantly the intimate relationship. In today’s society, illness has the tendency to be viewed as a stressor to both the affected and those close to the affected, which speaks to the importance of adopting relationally-focused coping skills. The two main skills that have been examined specifically within couples where one individual has been diagnosed with diabetes are active engagement and protective buffering. Active engagement occurs when the partner displays support behaviors to the patient, such as asking how the patient is feeling and openly discussing the disease. Protective buffering consists of behaviors such as hiding one’s worry for the other, avoiding arguments, and pretending that nothing is wrong or different.sb2

Research shows that both partners and patients who practice active engagement support behaviors tend to experience greater relationship satisfaction. However, couples who engage in protective buffering often experience less relationship satisfaction. Further, there is reason to believe that positive support behaviors may account for the effects of negative support, which can be quite detrimental. So what can you do in your relationship?sb3Couples who are experiencing health challenges or even just challenges in general can take the advice given in this blog. It is important to turn toward your partner and talk about everything, not just the easy things. When you approach the hard topics and discuss the hard things for both partners, there is an increased chance for a boost in relationship satisfaction. Today when you get home from work or before you go to bed, ask your partner how they are feeling and express to them your concerns if you have them. It will mean much more for both you and your partner.sb4Sarah Beth Thompson


Schokker, M. C., Stuive, I., Bouma, J., Keers, J. C., Links, T. P., Wolffenbuttel, B. R., & … Hagedoorn, M. (2010). Support Behavior and Relationship Satisfaction in Couples Dealing With Diabetes: Main and Moderating Effects. Journal of Family Psychology24(5), 578-586.

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Choose by Brianna Williams

The National Extension Relationship & Marriage Education Network (NERMEN) is comprised of researchers and practitioners who utilize their research findings to better inform the effectiveness of relationship and marriage education programs. NERMEN has compiled a model of seven principles that are validated predictors of relationship quality and stability: Choose, Care for Self, Know, Care, Share, Manage, and Connect. Over the next several weeks we will be describing each of the core principles on our blog. Today we will be talking about the Choose principle.


As the central component of the National Extension Relationship & Marriage Education Model (NERMEM), Choose refers to deliberate and conscious decisions that help to create and strengthen healthy relationships”. Below is what Choosing looks like in healthy relationships:

  1. Being intentional: Deciding, not sliding
    Much like a ship without a captain, couples sometimes navigate their relationships with little to no direction of where they want their relationship destination to be. Healthy relationships involve couples making conscious decisions about the future of their relationship. For example, couples can “slide” into moving in together by keeping their things at each other’s homes and then moving in because the majority of their things are there anyways. However, deciding to move in together means both partners consciously discuss why they want to live together, the pros and cons, and communicate these ideas to their partner.
  2. Committing effort to the relationship
    One way of showing you are committed to your relationship is to show your dedication. Dedication means having loyalty to your partner. A great way of showing commitment is by prioritizing your relationship and choosing to find ways to enhance your relationship such as going on dates, weekend vacations, or spending time together.choose2
  3. Focusing on each other’s strengths
    All couples face challenges and differences within their relationship, but the important factor here is the approach that couples take when this occurs. Rather than criticizing each other, couples should choose to focus on each other’s strengths and redeeming qualities. One way you can try this is by using the “yes, but” statements. For example, “yes, he didn’t start dinner, but he wasn’t feeling well today.” Couples who practice focusing on their partner’s strengths and minimize the attention that they give to faults tend to be more satisfied in their relationship.
  4. Avoiding hurtful thoughts and behaviors
    Hurtful communication (e.g., withdrawing, over-criticizing) and behaviors (e.g., drug/alcohol abuse, lying to your partner) are damaging to each partner’s well-being and the relationship overall. It is important for couples to set boundaries on what behaviors are and are not acceptable. When couples establish healthy guidelines for communication and engage in positive relationship behavior patterns, they often report greater relationship satisfaction and well-being.choose3
  5. Finding ways to strengthen and grow the relationship
    Couples can be intentional about growing their relationship by seeking out resources that can improve it. Resources could be attending couple counseling or attending one of our relationship education workshops. Strengthening and growing the relationship also means making time for the relationship. Spending quality time together has been reported to reduce the likelihood of getting a divorce and showed increased relationship satisfaction and marital happiness. Thus, spending quality time together as a couple can help to strengthen and grow the relationship.
  6. Envisioning a healthy relationship and future together
    Individuals are encouraged to make assurances, which are statements or behaviors that imply that the relationship has a future. For example, planning a trip for next year or signing both names to a lease are ways to make you and your partner feel secure in your relationship and your future together.

As you can see, the main point of the Choose principle is for you to choose to say and behave in manners that will show your partner you are committed to the relationship and to continuously find ways to strengthen it. Even healthy relationships have challenges and disagreements, so during those times it is important to have a strong relationship to fall back on.

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Care for Self by Brianna Williams

The National Extension Relationship & Marriage Education Network (NERMEN) is comprised of researchers and practitioners who utilize research findings to better inform the effectiveness of relationship and marriage education programs. NERMEN has compiled a model of seven principles that are validated predictors of relationship quality and stability: Choose, Care for Self, Know, Care, Share, Manage, and Connect. Over the next several weeks we will be describing each of the core principles on our blog. Today we will be talking about the Care for Self principle.

As one of the seven principles in the National Extension Relationship & Marriage Education Model (NERMEM), the Care for Self principle emphasizes the interconnected associations between spiritual, sexual, physical, and psychological/emotional health for an individual’s well-being. It also addresses how well-being in one of those domains can spillover into one’s romantic relationships. Below I describe the Care for Self principle in greater detail:

  • Eating healthy and exercising regularly
    Eating healthy and exercising consistently is important not only for your physical well-being, but also for your relationship. Exercising and eating healthy meals are also great opportunities for couples to spend time together, and encourage each other to
    incorporate healthy habits into the lifestyle, which can establish a culture of wellness.
  • Setting regular sleep and wake times
    Good sleep habits, including setting regular sleep and wake times, are as important as eating and exercising to maintaining a healthy relationship. Research has found that too much or too little sleep is associated with poor health and emotional problems. Such problems can affect how couples interact and impair their ability to effectively listen or resolve issues. Therefore, it is important that couples strive to make the necessary and appropriate accommodations to create healthy sleep patterns.
  • Noticing and appreciating the good things in your life
    An individual’s ability to notice and demonstrate what is going well in their life is essential to their emotional wellness. Appreciating things allows you to remain positive for yourself and your relationship. People who tend to be positive and optimistic, rather than negative, generally tend to have better couple relationships. Keeping a gratefulness journal can help make positivity a habit. Individuals can remain positive by thinking or writing about happy moments (past, present, and future), and then discussing these with their partners can help enhance or establish positivity within the relationship.pic2
  • Looking for the positive meaning in your life
    Spiritual wellness is about looking for the positive meaning in your life and it is essential for overall well-being. For some, enhancing spiritual wellness may include praying, attending religious services, meditating, reading or writing poetry, painting, and other activities that provide meaning in their lives.
  • Managing conflict in healthy ways
    Every relationship experiences conflict, but how you manage that conflict is vital to both your and your partner’s well-being. Safety in conflict is essential! For couples, managing stress involves each partner’s ability to regulate their emotions. One’s health can be ruined by not appropriately managing conflict and emotions, and poor management of conflict can be damaging to the relationship. On the other hand, regulating emotions and responding with humor or de-escalation strategies is related to long-term relationship success.pic3

What’s important is that individuals understand that how they currently choose to manage their physical, emotional, and spiritual health is going to have a direct or indirect effect on their relationship. The Care for Self principle promotes healthy habits so that an individual can best function in a couple relationship. We hope you try one of the ideas we provided to take care of yourself, and ultimately your relationship.

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Your romantic relationship may be interrupted by your smartphone by Shu Su

During my spring break I went to Atlanta with a couple of friends. We found a great dim sum restaurant in Atlanta’s China Town. Dim sum is a style of Cantonese cuisine prepared as small bite-sized portions of food served in small plates, which allows guests to try more plates. The Chinese name of dim sum is “Zao Cha”, which means “tea in the morning”. So when I used to go to dim sum in China, it usually took hours to finish the whole meal, because lots of people treat it as a place to deal with business or to meet with old friends or family. People who go to dim sum usually enjoy the food, the companionship, and the opportunity for some quality time together.





So this was our goal for our time together too. While we were eating the yummy food, we talked and laughed. However, when I looked around the restaurant, to my surprise, almost all of the tables had at least one person looking at their phone. People had their heads buried in their phones, in front of such good food and companions! It made me sad!

Nowadays, technological devices have become more prevalent in our home and family lives. Because the technology is often in our pocket, it becomes so easy for us to reach it. Yes, the new technology provided so many great changes for us, such as having a map always accessible while traveling, being able to see our family thousands of miles away on video chats, and the option to finish shopping by just a few clicks. But because it’s so powerful, I wondered how the new technology influences our romantic relationships?

people on their phones

In one recent study, 70% of women said that cellphones, computers, or TV interfered in their relationship with their partner at least sometimes, if not often. Many women also said that the following specific interruptions happened at least daily:

  • 62% said technology interferes with their leisure time together.
  • 40% said their partner gets distracted by the TV during a conversation.
  • 35% said their partner will pull out his phone if he receives a notification even if they are in the middle of a conversation.
  • 33% said their partner checks his phone during mealtimes that they spend together.
  • 25% said their partner actively texts other people during the couple’s face-to-face conversations.

couple on their phones

Studies have shown that problematic use of cell phones or social networking sites is connected to greater depressive symptoms, less satisfaction with family life, and lower romantic relationship quality. Researchers note that the ever-present and always-on nature of cell phones interrupts face-to-face interactions, which are essential for connection to and knowledge about partners. It is difficult to have a meaningful conversation with, pay attention to, and truly listen to one’s partner when daily interactions are interrupted constantly by technology.


Take some time with your partner to sit and discuss if technology interferes with your relationship, if so, you may set some ground rules that you both agree on – and, especially for this conversation, put the cell phones away! J



McDaniel, B. T., & Coyne, S. M. (2016). “Technoference”: The interference of technology in couple relationships and implications for women’s personal and relational well-being. Psychology of Popular Media Culture, 5(1), 85.


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