Unhealthy relationships have been shown to cause lower test scores in children, increase stress levels, cause family violence and economically depressed communities. Relationships classes to couples would improve these deficits at home. The University of Florida IFAS Extension office in Manatee County aims to cultivate healthier relationships through educational programming that results in happier couples. Couples throughout the community are able to participate in the Elevate program, which is offered completely free of charge.
What makes Elevate unique is that it combines relationship skills with education on the physiological effects of stress and emotion on the body and how to manage these stressors. Couples that attend the course gain skills such as; effective communication, gratitude, commitment, and conflict management, as well as mindfulness and stress management.
120 couples have completed the Elevate Program since it was initiated in 2016. Couples between 25 and 44 years of age account for 55.2% of those participating in the program. Elevate is versatile and delivers a curriculum that reaches young couples, as well as couples entering their retirement years. All of the participants agreed that they would likely use the skills learned in this program, and 98% reported that since completing this program, they know how to better handle conflict with the partner/spouse. Response from class participants has been extremely positive. Elevate has contributed to helping couples through rough patches in their relationship and one participant said “Thank you so much for this. We were really in trouble at times and this class has helped so much. We appreciate it!” Another couple offered this statement: “It was like falling in love all over again,” and a participating mother claimed that the “This class has answered a prayer for me. I prayed for fellowship and support from other couples. Aside from gaining so much information to help my marriage, I have connections with other women.”
“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”
Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn (1991)
One of the aspects that we introduce to the participants attending the classes of Elevate is mindfulness.
According to the American Psychological Association, some empirically supported benefits of mindfulness include the following (Davis & Hayes, 2011):
• Increased awareness of one’s mind.
• Significantly reduced stress, anxiety, and negative emotions.
• Increased control over ruminative thinking (a major cause and symptom of depression and anxiety).
• Increased mental flexibility and focus.
• More working memory.
• Decreased distracting thoughts.
• Decreased emotional reactivity.
• Increased capacity for intentional, responsive behaviors.
• Increased empathy, compassion, and conscientiousness of other’s emotions.
• Enhanced immune system functioning.
• Increased brain density and neural integration in areas responsible for positive emotions, self-regulation, and long-term planning.
• Lowered blood pressure.
• Lowered levels of blood cortisol (a major stress hormone).
• Greater resistance to stress-related illnesses such as heart disease.
• Increased self-insight and self-acceptance.
• Increased acceptance of others.
• Increased compassion and empathy.
• Increased sense of morality, intuition, and courage to change.
• Increased control over automatic behaviors.
• Increased self-discipline.