Findings from a large, federally funded, multi-year study of South Florida couples participating in nine hours of marriage and relationship education found statistically significant improvements in consensus, satisfaction, affection, and cohesion for both distressed and non-distressed participants a year after completing the PAIRS Essentials skills training program.
An analysis of pre/post, six-month, and 12-month assessments using the Dyadic Adjustment Scale (Spanier, 1976) showed improvements either increased or were sustained six and 12 months after completing training to improve communication, conflict resolution, and emotional understanding skills.
Gains were particularly significant for couples experiencing relationship distress before beginning the educational program.
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A new study indicates participation in 9-12 hours of marriage and relationship education produces significant and perceived benefits in reducing the level of disturbance single adults experience around issues of interpersonal relationships, symptom distress and social role functioning, for both clinically distressed and non-clinically distressed people, alike.
The study is one of the first comparing the benefits of a brief, group educational program on single participants attending without a significant other using a standard assessment typically used to measure the impact of traditional therapy, counseling, and psychiatric interventions.
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A study by the nonprofit PAIRS Foundation found statistically significant, lasting improvements in marital satisfaction for men and women who completed a nine-hour relationship skills training program.
For the study, Amanda Falciglia and Rachel Schindler analyzed data on 747 participants in federally-funded PAIRS marriage education classes in South Florida. Falciglia and Schindler said the research showed positive changes among an ethnically and economically diverse population.
“This study demonstrates the lasting positive effects completing a PAIRS Essentials relationship education class have towards sustaining and improving relationship satisfaction. The results also show that PAIRS classes can produce lasting significant improvements, especially for couples who report the lowest levels of relationship satisfaction,” Falciglia and Schindler reported.
The researchers added that the results of the study offer a promising indication of how relationship education classes can improve levels of satisfaction at any stage of relationship.
“These findings offer encouragement for continued work in the area of relationship education as a way of strengthening couple and marital satisfaction, which ultimately will assist in reducing divorce rates and the number of children raised in single-parent homes,” they said.
In 2006, PAIRS Foundation received a five-year, multi-million dollar grant to provide marriage education and relationship skills training classes for adults and high school teenagers in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. To date, over 5,000 adults have participated in free programs offered through area churches, schools and community organizations.
Seth Eisenberg, President of PAIRS Foundation, said the findings show the potential of relationship skills training in reducing health care costs, teen pregnancies, poverty, crime, and incarceration rates while boosting employment.
“Marital and family breakdown costs state and federal budgets billions annually,” Eisenberg said. “Short-term, the impact is felt through larger numbers of families seeking government assistance and added burdens on doctors and hospitals through illnesses exacerbated by the repercussions of divorce. Long-term, neighborhoods with higher rates of single-parent households require more policing, have higher school drop-out rates, increased teen pregnancy, and greater likelihood of incarceration. In many cases, investing hundreds of dollars in prevention can save hundreds of thousands in future tax-payer expenditures,” he said.
Eisenberg said that expanding relationship skills training in communities nationwide offers the potential for creating thousands of jobs. “Federal funding for relationship skills training in Florida created hundreds of jobs over the past four years,” Eisenberg said. “Increasing federal and state investments in evidence-based, skills training for premarital couples, couples contemplating divorce, returning veterans, adoptive families, families on government assistance, prison inmates, and teenagers will help employ thousands of educators across the country while saving billions as we reduce the rate and related taxpayer costs of marital and family breakdown.”
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A study of 490 women participating in marriage education classes found that six months after completing nine hours of training, 85 percent reported their sex lives improved.
For this study, non mental health professionals trained by the nonprofit PAIRS Foundation delivered brief educational classes in English and Spanish at locations throughout South Florida, including weekend retreats and multi-week workshops in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. Participants completed confidential relationship assessments prior to the start of classes and again after six months. Key findings from the six month follow-up included:
For the study, PAIRS Foundation’s instructors delivered the nine-hour PAIRS Essentials curriculum, including exercises to enhance communication, emotional understanding and expression, and constructive conflict resolution.
“The study is evidence that relationship skills training that enhances empathy, communication, and emotional literacy is highly effective for women, including benefits that show up in higher levels of sexual satisfaction,” said Amanda Falciglia, PAIRS Foundation’s Research Director. Falciglia added that previous research showed a positive impact for men.
Seth Eisenberg, President of PAIRS Foundation, said the findings should offer hope and guidance for millions of couples. “Emotional openness and physical closeness are fundamental building blocks to happy marriages,” he said. “The study shows that for most women in committed relationships, PAIRS delivers lasting improvements in sexual satisfaction far beyond the results typical of therapy, psychology, or counseling — all of which are generally far more expensive and time-consuming.”
PAIRS Foundation is one of the nation’s oldest and leading providers of relationship skills training. The organization develops relationship skills curriculum, trains course instructors, and conducts research. In 2006, PAIRS Foundation was awarded a multi-year, multi-million dollar grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families to conduct a healthy marriage demonstration project in South Florida. As a result of the federal grant, couples in the classes studied for this research were able to participate at no cost.
For many South Florida families, the state of their unions is stronger than ever.
A sour economy, soaring health care costs, and uncertain job market is leading increasing numbers of men to marriage education classes for tips and tools to bring greater harmony to their families, improve relationships with spouses and children, and strengthen their ability to weather financial challenges. A recent follow-up study indicates the program is working.
More than 5,000 men and women in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties recently participated in free classes offered by the nonprofit PAIRS Foundation as a result of a federal grant provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families. A follow-up study of 400 men six months after the nine-hour class offers encouraging news for efforts to curb the rate of divorce and family breakdown.
Seth Eisenberg, President and CEO of PAIRS Foundation, said the program focuses on enhancing competencies in three areas:
1. Emotional literacy;
2. Confiding, listening and problem-solving skills for building and maintaining intimacy;
3. Practical knowledge, strategies and attitudes for sustaining positive marriage and family life.
"The goal is to enable couples to create relationships that both partners can live with joyfully," Eisenberg said.
"To sustain relationships based on love and intimacy, each partner must be able to identify his or her own feelings and needs, communicate them in such a way that they can get met, and integrate skills that lead to constructive conflict resolution based on empathy, good will and a shared relationship vision."
"Marriage education classes offer a road map and practical tools to be successful," Eisenberg added. "Research shows that for most couples, it's far more effective than traditional counseling or marriage therapy, far less costly, and an inconsequential expense compared to the price and impact of divorce."
Classes were delivered through Broward County YMCA, Miami-Dade County Public Schools, City of Fort Lauderdale Parks and Recreation Department, churches, and agencies that help men and women, including veterans, rebuild their lives after being homeless, such as Carrfour Supportive Housing. PAIRS Foundation recently began offering classes online as well.
"The most urgent challenges facing neighborhoods and communities nationwide can be traced directly to the impact of family breakdown," Eisenberg said. "Children are healthier, happier and better able to achieve their potential when they have the active engagement of both their fathers and mothers and the resources that come from strong two-parent families," he said. "We're delighted to help their parents find the road map and tools to be successful."
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Four in five couples on the brink of divorce achieve lasting improvements from participation in nine to 12 hours of relationship skills classes, according to a study by the non-profit PAIRS Foundation.
Seth Eisenberg, President and CEO of PAIRS Foundation, says the study has important implications for the public as well as legislators and policy makers. “Divorce has a lifelong impact that significantly affects adults and children long into their own adulthood. We now know we can break the cycle of family breakdown by encouraging couples to participate in brief relationship skills classes that teach emotional literacy, communication skills, and healthy conflict resolution.”
Specifically, Eisenberg says family breakdown, “makes it more difficult for children to succeed in school, increases risky behaviors that lead to teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, school drop outs, incarceration, increased likelihood of being victims of crime, and negatively impacts physical and mental health.”
“Divorce also contributes significantly to the number of Americans living in poverty,” he adds. “Average wealth drops 77 percent as a result of divorce. It’s nearly impossible to fully measure the true costs to children and society.”
In October 2006, PAIRS Foundation was awarded a $5 million, multi-year, federal grant to deliver services and research the impact of PAIRS brief relationship skills training classes on participants in programs in South Florida, encompassing Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. As a result of the grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Eisenberg says PAIRS has been able to provide services to more than 5,000 participants and conduct extensive research.
Eisenberg says the organization is particularly interested in the impact on couples who are on the brink of divorce and high risk teenagers.
Daniel Hummel recently analyzed pre, post and longitudinal data from 103 participants who completed nine to 12 hours of PAIRS relationship skills training classes who began the program at the lowest level of relationship satisfaction – considered at high risk for divorce.Hummel earned a Masters in Public Administration at the University of Nebraska, Bachelors in International Relations from Pennsylvania State University, and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Public Administration at Florida Atlantic University.
Key findings include:
While improvements were significant for all demographic groups in the study, Hummel reports they were particularly strong for high risk participants in the 41 to 60 year age group, African Americans, and Hispanic men and women.
Although both men and women showed significant improvement after six months, Hummel says they were stronger for men.
Hummel says he expects the research findings to help shape public and corporate policy.
“Government and industry spend billions annually to help children and needy families,” Hummel says. “Our findings suggest investing in validated, preventive, educational approaches is highly effective to improving wellness, helping children succeed, and strengthening families. That’s vitally important information for the public, industry and policy makers.”
Amanda Falciglia directs PAIRS Foundation’s research activities for the South Florida study. “Federal funding has enabled us to measurably validate what participants have said for years,” she says, “PAIRS works.”
Falciglia says the multi-year study includes measuring relationship pleasure, cohesion and a range of additional variables prior to participation in PAIRS classes, at the conclusion of the training, and again six and 12 months later.
“While we measure dozens of variables, we’re particularly focused on indicators representing the level of pleasure couples experience in their relationships since that’s key to sustaining love,” Falciglia says. As a result of the classes, she says couples show strongest improvements in “the ability to confide in each other, shared interests and trust, sensual and sexual connection, and the perception of what’s been built together.”
Michael and Lauren DelGandio participated in a 12-hour PAIRS relationship skills training class at the YMCA in Weston, Florida three years ago to strengthen their 14-year marriage.
"From the first exercise," Mr. DelGandio says, "we began rediscovering the joy and passion of our earliest years together."
"The skills made an immediate difference for us as a couple and as a family," Mrs. DelGandio adds. "Three years later," she says, "our family is stronger than ever. We've learned to easily, naturally and regularly confide, share, and play along with a deeper understanding of ourselves and each other." The DelGandios have gone on to become certified PAIRS instructors and teach classes to hundreds of other local couples.
Francisco and Viviana Robledo immigrated to the United States from Colombia. They attended a PAIRS class in 2007 to help them strengthen their marriage and family as they adjusted to life within a new culture.
“Immigrant families face many difficult challenges,” Mr. Robledo says. “We wanted to make sure we had every tool to keep our family and marriage strong.”
Like the DelGandios, the Robledos completed the class and went on to become instructors to help other couples and families in their community.
“We’ve taught classes to nearly 2,000 people,” Mr. Robledo says. “Over and over again, we receive enormous appreciation from participants for the impact on their relationships, families and children. We know the classes are helping many people create strong, smart marriages, help their children succeed, and gives them important skills to overcome the challenges that are common to so many families.”
Sanford Rosenthal attended PAIRS classes as a single participant. Rosenthal, a trained social worker, has gone to teach classes to other singles, with particular emphasis on people with disabilities. Rosenthal, who was afflicted with retinitis pigmentosa from childhood, is blind.
“PAIRS helped me understand myself and others in ways that went far beyond what I learned through therapy and counseling,” Rosenthal says. “Classes for singles – especially for those with special needs – have helped them better understand their emotions and learn to more effectively communicate with the people who are important in their lives. For people with special needs, healthy relationships can be life and death issues. I’ve seen countless times that the training has been invaluable helping singles learn skills to create healthy relationships in the future.”
Eisenberg says that as a result of funding PAIRS Foundation received from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the organization has been able to provide free classes to thousands of couples in South Florida.
“Federal funding enables PAIRS Foundation to deliver services to many couples and youth who wouldn’t otherwise be able to benefit,” he says. “Our work with men and women who have experienced homelessness, parents of adopted children, couples impacted by combat deployment, and teen mothers have been particularly meaningful.”
One component of the project includes delivering relationship skills classes to high school students. A study conducted in collaboration with Miami-Dade County Public Schools measured the direct impact of training on high-risk teenagers. Results measured four months later showed significant benefits for strengthening relationships and reducing factors that contribute to teen pregnancy:
“Many of the major challenges we face as a society,” Eisenberg says, “can be traced directly to marital and family breakdown. At a time when schools, communities and businesses nationwide are struggling to provide services with reduced resources relationship skills training founded on emotional literacy is a valid, effective, affordable tool that can make an immediate, lasting contribution to the lives of children, families and communities.”
During the month of August 2008, leaders of federally-funded grant projects from around the country gathered in Washington, D.C. for updates from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families and to share lessons learned and best practices emerging from our collective experiences. PAIRS was invited to present on some of the initial findings our current research project is revealing about the impact of brief programs on distressed couples. The following are excerpts from PAIRS Director of Recruitment and Partnership Development Cyndee Odom's presentation.
In terms of the impact of PAIRS classes on participants, many studies over the past three decades validated the significant impact of the PAIRS semester course on couples in all stages of relationship, with particularly significant benefits for highly distressed marriages.
These outcomes led to many news reports and the consistent conclusion that a large percentage of marriages that ended in divorce could be saved, with significant benefits for children.
In 2006, PAIRS contracted with the University of Central Florida and Dr. Andrew Daire to conduct an extensive investigation into the impact of PAIRS brief programs on couples and individuals in all stages of relationship.
As of July 2008, 1,949 participants from South Florida, including Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties participated in this research study. Outside South Florida, thousands more regularly participate in a wide range of PAIRS classes through federally-funded projects utilizing PAIRS curricula in more than a dozen communities nationwide and an international network of private practitioners trained and licensed by PAIRS Foundation. Although research is ongoing, early analysis from PAIRS South Florida project is providing important information regarding the impact of PAIRS brief educational programs (nine to 18 hours), primarily taught by instructors who are not mental health professionals, on relationships that are assessed pre-PAIRS as distressed or highly distressed.
For this study, PAIRS and Dr. Daire's UCF Evaluation Team have utilized a range of assessment instruments to measure couple cohesion and the level of pleasure couples experience in their relationship. Key instruments include the 32-question Dyadic Adjustment Scale and 6-question Relationship Pleasure Scale, which has been validated as providing an accurate measure of key relationship dynamics. Some participants also complete the Child Behavior Checklist and OQ45 Outcome Questionnaire. All of these instruments are available in both English and Spanish. PAIRS classes are also delivered regularly in both English and Spanish. [In recent months, PAIRS developed and deployed proprietary ePAIRS technologies that allow research and administrative personnel to capture and track significant volumes of multi-language data on a timely, cost-effective basis.]
Nearly half of the participants in the South Florida research, 46%, are Hispanic/Latino; 27% are Black; 23% are White/Non-Hispanic. 29% speak Spanish at home. Just over a quarter of participants, 26%, have a high school education only. Thirty percent of couples reporting couple income have combined family income at or below $48,000 annually. The majority of participants have minor children.
While the size of the research sample has allowed PAIRS and UCF to begin analyzing and interpreting data on a broad range of significant variables, the purpose of this presentation is to share a snapshot of what we're discovering about couples who begin PAIRS at a level of discord that indicates atypical low cohesion, representing what is often called "highly distressed." Marriages experiencing this level of discord and conflict are among those most likely to result in divorce without timely, effective intervention. The results for children of family breakdown have been proven to be both significant and lasting in a wide range of prior studies.
Forty seven percent of the couples participating in PAIRS brief programs score in the atypical low category on the Dyadic Adjustment Scale prior to their first class. Workshops offered to these couples have ranged in length from nine - 18 hours, with the far majority, more than 85%, completing at least eight hours of PAIRS instruction. Retention rates are particularly strong for Hispanic/Latino participants, exceeding 92% after introduction of Spanish language classes, curriculum materials, and innovative electronic tools for quality management and curriculum reinforcement. This retention rate for a program serving low-income participants without the provision of incentives is highly significant.
Classes are offered in a variety of formats, from weekend intensives to multi-week sessions that generally include three hours of instruction one time per week over three to six weeks.
UCF's research is confirming statistically significant positive change across all key groups in terms of demographic, socio-economic, ethnic, and relationship status measures. Immediate benefits for couples who measure in the atypical low range are especially meaningful as is the fact that, individually, the far majority of participants experience statistically significant improvement both in levels of couple cohesion and the level of pleasure in their relationship.
Beyond these significant individual results, collectively 25% of the participants who begin PAIRS in the atypical low category have such significant change that they move an entire category. Seeing that these results are consistent across diverse demographic, socio-economic and ethnic groups indicates cause for real optimism that our collective efforts have the potential to dramatically reduce rates of marital and family breakdown with lasting, significant, positive benefits for children.
More specifically, as a group 47.2% of the couples completing the Dyadic Adjustment Scale scored in the atypical low range prior to beginning their first PAIRS class. Post PAIRS, that number drops to 35.5% after just brief exposure (nine to 18 hours) to PAIRS marriage education, meaning 25% move an entire category. There is also a similarly significant change in the overall percentage of couples collectively shifting into the atypical high category. Post-PAIRS, the total number of couples in this particular research sample group scoring in the atypical high range moves from 16.3% pre-PAIRS to 23.8% post, a 46% increase.
The Relationship Pleasure Scale (RPS) is an objective six-item self-report measure of general relationship satisfaction. Developed by the non-profit PAIRS Foundation, Inc., the instrument has been used as a pre/post measure of relationship satisfaction in association with the PAIRS marriage and relationship education courses with thousands of adult participants in courses ranging from four to 120 hours in duration. Each question asks the user to individually rate their relationship in the following areas: “Sensuality,” “Sexuality,” “Intellectuality,” “Emotionality,” “Friendship & Trust,” and “What Has Been Built Together.” Response options are on a five-item Likert scale (0 to 4) for the first five questions and a six-item Likert scale (0 to 5) for the last item. The scores are summed and multiplied by four for a total score ranging from 0 to 100. Higher scores correspond to greater levels of relationship pleasure and satisfaction.
The UCF Marriage & Family Research Institute (MFRI) validated the Relationship Pleasure Scale through an analysis of 1,387 assessments. An extensive review of the literature to substantiate the six items on the RPS was conducted. Results found each of the following areas important in assessing relationship quality and satisfaction:
In addition, the MFRI research team conducted a reliability and validity analyses of the Relationship Pleasure Scale. To evaluate the dimension(s) that underlie the RPS, a principal component factor analysis with a varimax rotation was conducted using data collected from 1,387 PAIRS participants who completed the assessment prior to entering marriage and relationship education courses between February 2007 and May 2008. A one factor solution was confirmed that accounted for 62.71% of the variance explained. The component values for each area were: Sensuality - .82, Sexuality - .76, Intelligence - .82, Emotionality - .86, Friendship & Trust - .85, and Built Together - .62. Results of these analyses provide strong support for the one factor structure for the Relationship Pleasure Scale.
The internal consistency for the six-items on the Relationship Pleasure Scale was evaluated using the Chronbach’s alpha coefficient. The overall alpha coefficient was. 88. Additionally, the alpha for males (n-617) was .86 and the alpha for females (n-770) was .88. For White participants (n=355), the alpha was .88, .88 for Hispanic/Latino participants (n=624), and .87 for Black/African-American participants (n=346). Concurrent validity was established by conducting bivariate correlations with the Dyadic Adjustment Scale (Spanier, 1988; Spanier, 1989; and Spanier & Thompson, 1982). Correlations between the RPS total score and the Dyadic Adjustment Scale (DAS) total and subscale scores were all significant at the .01 level (<.01): Dyadic Satisfaction (.74), Affectional Expression (.63), Dyadic Cohesion (.66), Dyadic Consensus (.66), and Dyadic Total Score (.80).
The research conducted validates the Relationship Pleasure Scale as a reliable measure of relationship satisfaction and pleasure.
In June 2011, Paul R. Peluso, Ph.D., conducted a follow-up Reliability and Validity Analysis of the Relationship Pleasure Scale, available here.
The Relationship Pleasure Scale can be obtained for use online or manually through the PAIRS FOUNDATION 200 S. Park Road, Suite 200 Hollywood, Florida 33021 USA, (954) 703-4533, firstname.lastname@example.org.