UT Professor Launches ‘Relationship Rx’ Project for Romantic Couples

KNOXVILLE—We receive check-ups for our teeth, eyes, and even our cars—but not for something that is the foundation of most our lives: our romantic relationships.

Relationship RxA study by Kristina Gordon, associate professor of psychology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, seeks to determine if periodic check-ups can keep relationships strong and healthy for a lifetime by increasing intimacy, improving communication, and promoting greater acceptance of each partner, among other outcomes.

Called the “Relationship Rx,” the three-year project launching this month seeks to make it easier for couples to take good care of their relationship health. Gordon is collaborating with Clark University’s James Cordova, who developed the Marriage Checkup, a scientific program for sustaining and strengthening marital health.

Here is how it works: Patients learn about the importance of relationship health at their doctor’s visit from his or her health care provider or pamphlet. Then, if the patient and his or her partner are interested in assessing their relationship health, one assessment session and one feedback session are held in the couple’s home or doctor’s office with a trained relationship health professional. Couples also will be offered the chance to participate in ongoing relationship skills workshops and workshops designed to help individuals with job searches.

About 500 couples are being recruited for this study.

“This project will use motivational interviewing principles to help couples use their strengths to address the areas of concern in their relationships and make their relationships stronger,” said Gordon. “The goal is to help couples use their own resources to improve their marriages, reduce the stigma of seeking help for their relationships, and connect partners with community resources to help them deal with identified problems.”

The researchers predict in the short term, couples will improve their financial outlook, intimacy, and communication. In the long term, they predict couples will improve overall relationship health and satisfaction, and experience a lowered risk of divorce, fewer reports of domestic violence, increased financial stability, better parenting outcomes, and better attitudes towards seeking relationship help.

“By working with couples before they are unhappy, we hope the program identifies potentially damaging relationship issues and helps couples make small changes in their relationships before problems spiral out of control,” said Gordon.

The Relationship Rx is not therapy but an informational health service that provides confidential, personalized feedback designed to help couples keep their relationship on track.

The service will be offered for free to existing patients at Cherokee Health Systems and to other interested couples who qualify as part of a clinical study funded by the Administration for Children and Families (ACF). ACF is within the Department of Health and Human Services, which is responsible for federal programs that promote the economic and social well-being of families, children, individuals, and communities. This program is also available to other interested couples in the community who qualify.

If you are interested in participating or learning more about this study, please call 865-974-8978 or visit RelationshipRx.utk.edu.

C O N T A C T :

Whitney Heins (865-974-5460, wheins@utk.edu)

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