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Offering Individual-Oriented Relationship Education: Challenges and Opportunities. Galena K. Rhoades, Ph.D. University of Denver. Traditional Relationship Education. Provided to committed couples, often in healthy relationships In the 1990s, 30% of couples received premarital education

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Offering Individual-Oriented Relationship Education: Challenges and Opportunities

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Offering Individual-Oriented Relationship Education: Challenges and Opportunities

Galena K. Rhoades, Ph.D.

University of Denver

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Traditional Relationship Education

  • Provided to committed couples, often in healthy relationships

  • In the 1990s, 30% of couples received premarital education

  • 95% of this education was delivered through a religious organization

  • Components:

    • Relationship assessment

    • Communication skills

    • Personality differences

Stanley, Amato, Markman, & Johnson, 2006

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Effectiveness of Traditional Relationship Education

  • Samples: Middle-class, White

  • Couples who do relationship education generally:

    • are satisfied with the services

    • improve their communication

    • maintain improved communication over time

    • have a lower divorce rate

Carroll, J. S., & Doherty, W. J. (2003). Evaluating the effectiveness of premarital prevention programs: A meta-analytic review of outcome research. Family Relations, 52(2), 105-118.

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Bumpass & Lu, 2000; CDC, 2002, 2006; Raley & Bumpass, 2003; Stanley et al., 2004; U.S. Census, 2003

Basic U.S. Relationship Statistics

  • Divorce rate: 36-60%, depending on education level

  • Children born to unmarried parents: 36.8%

  • Median age at first marriage: 27.1 for men, 25.3 for women

  • Median age at first birth: 24.6

  • 60-75% of couples live together before marriage

  • 40-50% of women have ever cohabited

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Gaps in Relationship Education

  • Services for:

    • Individuals (vs. couples)

    • Individuals not in relationships

    • Unhealthy or violent relationships

    • Couples with children by previous partners

    • Populations with low income levels

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Targets for Early, Individual-Oriented Relationship Education

  • What is a healthy relationship?

  • Safety

  • Planning for the future

  • Making decisions about partners and relationships

  • Communication skills

  • Expectations for relationships

  • Impact of adult relationships on child well-being

  • Managing children and new relationships

  • Barriers to marriage

  • The positive role fathers can play

  • Building social support

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Core Development Team


  • Domestic violence experts, Anne Menard and Michael Johnson, Ph.D.

  • Oklahoma Marriage Initiative, George Young, Tony Russell, and Scott Roby

  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program instructors

  • Women receiving TANF

  • Pilot classes

  • Sociologists, policy experts, Kristin Seefeldt, Ph.D. and Kathryn Edin, Ph.D.


  • Marline Pearson, M.A.

  • Scott Stanley, Ph.D.

  • Galena Rhoades, Ph.D.

  • PREP content and strategies (conflict and communication skills, expectations)

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Overarching Goals

  • Help those in viable relationships to cultivate, protect, and stabilize their unions, and to marry if desired.

  • Help those in damaging relationships to leave safely, at some point.

  • Help those desiring a romantic relationship and/or marriage in the future to choose future partners wisely.

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Core Philosophies

“Sliding vs. Deciding”

“Our love lives aren’t neutral.”

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Initial Target Population

  • Women in welfare programs

    • Presence of children

    • High financial stress, chaos

    • Threats to personal safety (neighborhoods and partners)

  • Now used with other populations

    • E.g., Men, prisons, college students, religious organizations

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Structure of Curriculum

15 hours of core material

Three major sections:

  • Understanding Healthy Relationships, Risks, and Making Decisions

    • Sliding vs. deciding

    • Knowing yourself first

  • Building and Maintaining Healthy Relationships

    • Safety

    • Communication skills

  • Moving Forward toward Goals “Within My Reach”

    • Planning for the future

    • Managing children and relationships

    • Infidelity

    • Barriers to marriage

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  • Messages about safety throughout

    • Keeping workbooks safe

    • Leaving safely

    • Help for domestic violence

  • Unit on domestic violence

    • Recognizing warning signs

    • Intimate terrorism vs. arguments-that-get-physical

    • Getting help and support

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Instructor Materials

(Spanish versions available)

Participant Materials (Spanish versions available)

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Structure of Units

  • Lecture

  • Discussion

  • Group activity

  • Workbook activity

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“Relationships/marriages today are like…”

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Structure of Curriculum

16 hours of core material

Three major sections:

  • Knowing What You’re Made Of:

    • Sliding vs. deciding

    • Personality, hidden issues, family background

  • Being a Great Buddy

    • Communication skills, stress and anger management, prejudice, domestic violence, suicide prevention, alcohol

  • Decide, Don’t Slide into Love

    • Expectations in relationships, mate selection, commitment

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Benefits of Individual-oriented Relationship Education

  • Access

  • Education on violence

  • Education on the transitions and decisions that come before a commitment to marry

  • Education on relationship choices and children’s well-being

  • Communication skills apply to many relationships

  • Gateway to other services

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Contact Information and Additional Resources


  • Galena Rhoades:



  • PREP, Inc.



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Relationship Education Across Louisville: Within My Reach Implementation and Results

Becky F. Antle, PhD

Eli A. Karam, PhD

University of louisville

Kent school of social work

Marriage and family therapy program

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Within My Reach

Skills Demonstration

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Implementation Issues

Relationship Education Across Louisville

Funded by the US Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Family Assistance

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Relationship Education Across Louisville: Implementation

  • Grant will use the Within My Reach curriculum from PREP

  • Services are provided by through the 8 Neighborhood Place sites

  • Existing staff at the NP sites have been trained by national experts in Within My Reach

  • Each NP site will offer 2 workshops per year to clients

  • Approximately 850 adults will be trained over the 5 years of the grant

  • “Training Booster Sessions” are offered to both adults and youth to reinforce concepts from workshops, discuss issues with utilization of skills in current relationships

  • Facilitators and other grant/agency staff will refer clients with complex relationship needs to services in the community

  • Advisory Board of professionals with an interest in healthy relationships

    • Facilitate collaboration between these key agencies and professionals

    • Identify existing and develop needed relationship services for the community

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Evaluation Results

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Participants and Training Satisfaction

  • A total of 400 adults have completed the WMR program.

  • The majority of participants are female (80%) and African American (71%). The average age was 33.5 and number of children was 2. Approximately 33.3% were employed full-time.

  • Training satisfaction was very high, with a mean score of 66.2 out of a total possible score of 75 or 4.45 on a 5-point scale.

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  • Learning was measured using a 25 item multiple choice knowledge test administered pre- and post-training.

  • There was a significant increase in participant knowledge from pre- to post-training. The average pre-test score was 32% correct, and the average post-test score was 55%.

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Communication Skill Acquisition

  • There was a significant decrease in conflict engagement and the demand-withdraw dynamic.

  • There was a significant increase in the mutual cooperation approach for communication.

    • Communication and Conflict Resolution measured through standardized scales such as Communication Patterns Questionnaire (Noller & White, 1990) and ConflictResolution Styles Inventory-Partner (Kurdeck, 1994)

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Relationship Quality

  • For the WMR training, there was a significant improvement in relationship dynamics (Dyadic Adjustment Scale and Relationship Dynamics Scale) at six month follow-up.

    • Dyadic Adjustment Scale measures positive dynamics while Relationship Dynamics Scale measured negative patterns.

    • Relationship Quality measured through Dyadic Adjustment Scale (Spanier, 1976); Stanley-Markman Relationship Dynamics Scale (Renick et al, 1992).

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Domestic Violence

  • There was also a significant reduction of physical violence and emotional control in relationships at six month follow-up.

    • Relationship violence measured through Revised Conflict Tactics Scale (Straus, Hamby, Boney-McCoy, & Sugarman, 1996); Need for Control Scale (Bledsoe & Sar, 2004); and Controlling Behaviors Scale (Graham-Kevan & Archer, 2003).

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Implications for Practice

  • Knowledge + Skills

  • Cumulative Lasting Impact

  • Batterer Benefits

  • Focus on Strength and Health in Safe Group Setting

  • Erasing Stigma/Potential for Follow-Up

  • Prevention and Advocacy for Family and Friends

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