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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