By Jessica Vernold Program Instructor SMART Couples Program
Couple relationships and Marriages account for a large part of the community’s population and these relationships impact many from immediate family and children, to extended family, friends, and neighbors. Family relationships impact children and close relatives in positive or negative ways. Divorce, domestic violence, failure to communicate effectively, feeling undervalued, and child abuse or neglect are just a few factors that can effect families and contribute to the decline of a community’s society by increasing dropout rates, divorce rates, crime, and violence. Challenges faced by couples of all ages and stages of life can affect families. The Smart couples program, specifically the Elevate program, available through UF/IFAS Manatee County is offered to any and all couples in the community completely free of charge. For this reason, it is possible to reach families in any socioeconomic class and lifestyle.
What makes elevate unique is that it combines relationships skills proven effective through years of research with education on the physiological effects of stress and emotion on the body and how to manage that. Couples that attend the course gain proven skills such as; effective communication, showing value, commitment, conflict resolution, and intimacy; as well as mindfulness and stress management skills.
Couples between 25 and 44 years of age account for 55.2% of those participating in the program even though it is open to any couple over 18. This is the age range for most couples raising children. Of those, 90.5% agree that they have an increased understanding of prioritizing the relationship by making a committed effort daily and considering how personal choices affect the relationship. Another unique aspect of Elevate is its versatility. It delivers a method and curriculum that reaches, not only young couples raising children, but also couples entering their retirement years, facing empty nest as children leave the home, or those actively involved in caring for grandchildren. This is important due to changing dynamic of today’s family.
What the participants are saying;
One couple entering retirement years attended the session 6 series in Manatee County. They actively participated and shared and became well respected and enjoyed by everyone in the class. I often witnessed them sharing personal stories, challenges, and experiences with younger couples and always with a touch of humor. Other couples seemed to relate to them and look to them for advice. They were always eager to share in class or answer questions. On the last evening in week 5, I was approached by them. The man said, “Thank you so much for this. We were really in trouble at times and this class has helped so much. We appreciate it”. – name withheld.
Upon completion of the Elevate series, one woman commented that attending the class and participating in the activities with her partner was like, “falling in love all over again”…
A middle aged couple attended class and actively participated; sharing stories, answering questions, and doing activities and homework. I watched the woman after class making connections with other women in the class and networking with them, as well as, telling stories. Often the class would be complete and they would linger well beyond while I was cleaning up. One evening she approached me to say, “This class has answered a prayer for me. I pray for fellowship and support from other couples, especially other women that share my faith and values and God brought me this class. Aside from gaining so much information to help my marriage, I have connections with other women and the fellowship offers so much support and sisterhood.” (name withheld) It was not a statement I had heard before or considered but I think very powerful.