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An Important Tool for Strengthening Couples’ Relationships in the Wake of COVID-19


by Karen Shirer, Ph.D.

In Brief

  • Relationship education (RE) for individuals, couples and families can provide critical support in recovering relationship health after disruptive events like the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • A new podcast series on RE focuses on three important RE programs and resources — the NERMEM, Healthy Relationship and Marriage Training and Elevate for Couples. Dr. Ted Futris shares examples for applying the model’s components to your work with individuals and families in community-based settings.

As the pandemic continues to ebb and flow, we are learning as a society to live with COVD-19’s presence. One area where pandemic recovery might be needed is with our couple and family relationships. Over time, spillover stress from the pandemic has negatively impacted the health of many couple and family relationships.

I’d like for you to take a moment to reflect on the individuals and families with which you work. They may be military-connected families, farm/ranch families, parents of young children, small business owners, or older adults. If asked, what do you think couples would say about the long-term effects of the pandemic on their romantic  relationship? You might hear something like this:

“At the beginning of the pandemic, my partner and I worked well together to manage home schooling and remote working. But over time, things became more difficult and we seemed to grow more distant.”

Faced with unexpected and disruptive changes from the pandemic, research on spillover stress has found that individuals and couples often rally to the  challenges. They report positive effects on their relationship suCapturech as increased relationship satisfaction and positive communication. But over time their energy and resources for managing stress become depleted and spillover stress takes a negative toll on their relationship (e.g., they grow more distant from or become impatient with each other).

Relationship Education in Your Work

So what can you do to help couples improve their relationships in your Extension work? Relationship education (RE) for individuals and couples is an important strategy that can help prevent the negative effects of spillover stress in relationships.

OneOp Family Transitions has released a new three-part podcast series on tips and resources for RE programs. Dr. Ted Futris, Extension Family Life Specialist at the University of Georgia, highlights the vast array of work he and his colleagues have done in RE and discusses how we can use these resources with individuals and families in community-based settings. One podcast even provides an opportunity for you to practice mindfulness!

What is Relationship Education (RE)?

Dr. John Gottman and other researchers have shown that there are distinct patterns of interaction and communication that form the basis of healthy couples’ relationships. This pattern includes specific knowledge, skills and attitudes, that if practiced by individuals and couples, will more likely result in a stronger, healthier relationship.

RE teaches individuals and couples that these skills, knowledge and attitudes “… can help ….  individuals develop and maintain a happy and healthy couple, co-parenting and/or marital relationship”.

Strengthening Couples’ Relationships - A Podcast Series

In episode one of the OneOp podcast,, the National Extension Relationship and Marriage Education Model is described along with specific ways to use the model with individuals and families to help them maintain healthy and stable relationships. Dr. Ted Futris and his colleagues distilled research-based knowledge, attitudes and skills into seven components that can be learned to enhance healthy couple relationships. These components are choose, care for self, know, care, share, manage, and connect.

Episode two of the podcast series builds on part one and focuses on the Healthy Relationship and Marriage Education Training (HRMET) Program for family-serving professionals. Dr. Futris and his colleagues originally developed the training program for training child welfare professionals to offer RE. The project resulted in a research-based, national training resource and curriculum that all family-serving professionals can access and use in their work. In this episode, we discuss examples for using the interactive resources with individuals and families in a variety of settings.

Episode three builds on both parts one and two. In this episode, Dr. Futris discusses the ELEVATE curriculum for couples. He developed the curriculum in partnership with Dr. Francesca Adler-Baeder at Auburn University based on the NERMEM model. Research on the program has shown its effectiveness in strengthening couple relationships. The curriculum, which is available at no charge, contains lesson plans, videos and interactive activities.

Each podcast episode contains many detailed examples of how Extension educators can adapt the resources into programs for individuals and couples in community-based settings. All the resources highlighted in the podcast episodes are available at no charge.

Call to Action

  • Share this post and the podcast series with colleagues, friends and families who could benefit from the information.
  • Check out the resources used in this post and available from OneOp on strengthening family relationships.
  • Check out this archived webinar series, Supporting Military Couples. The five webinars highlight research and strategies for strengthening couple’s relationships.
  • Check in [often] with the families and communities that you work with to see how they are doing.


National Extension Relationship and Education Network (NERMEN). (N.d.). National Extension Relationship and Marriage Education Model (NERMEM). University of Georgia.

Futris, T. G., Adler-Baeder, F., McGill, J., Burke, L., Ketring, S., Smith, T., & Cook, L. A. (2020). ELEVATE: Taking your relationship to the next level. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Extension. Available at

Futris, T. & Schram, D. (2016). Making the Link Between Strengthening Families and Relationships and Marriage Education [Research Brief]. Center for the Study of Social Policy’s Strengthening Families.

McGill, J., Adler‐Baeder, F., & Garneau‐Rosner, C. (2021). An evaluation of the ELEVATE program for couples: Considering vulnerabilities and relationship length. Family Relations, 70(1), 327-351.

Murray, C. E., Ross, R., & Cannon, J. (2021). The Happy, Healthy, Safe Relationships Continuum: Conceptualizing a Spectrum of Relationship Quality to Gude Community-Based Marriage Promotion Programming. The Family Journal: Counseling and Therapy for Couples and Families, 29(1), 50-59.

Neff, L. A., Gleason, M. E., Crockett, E. E., & Ciftci, O. (2021). Blame the Pandemic: Buffering the association between stress and relationship quality during the COVID-19 pandemic. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 13 (2), 522-532.

OneOp Family Transitions. (2021-2022). A Close Look at Supporting Military Couples. [Webinars).

Schramm, D., Futris, T. G., Warzinik, K, & Allen, K. (Eds) (2013). Healthy Relationship and Marriage Education Training Curriculum. Available at

The Gottman Institute. (2022).


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The Extension Foundation was formed in 2006 by Extension Directors and Administrators. Today, the Foundation partners with Cooperative Extension through liaison roles and a formal plan of work with the Extension Committee on Organization and Policy (ECOP) to increase system capacity while providing programmatic services, and helping Extension programs scale and investigate new methods and models for implementing programs. The Foundation provides professional development to Cooperative Extension professionals and offers exclusive services to its members. In 2020 and 2021, the Extension Foundation has awarded 85% of its direct funding back to the Cooperative Extension System, 100% of funds are used to support Cooperative Extension initiatives. 

This technology is supported in part by New Technologies for Ag Extension (funding opportunity no. USDA-NIFA-OP-010186), grant no. 2023-41595-41325 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or the Extension Foundation. For more information, please visit You can view the terms of useat

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