Strengthen your relationships for Valentine’s Day with UF/IFAS Smart Couples program

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — David and Caroline Garber had dated for three years and were set to be married in a matter of weeks. So, signing up for the University of Florida IFAS Smart Couples program would probably be just tweaking an already perfect union.

“The class was called ‘Before You Tie the Knot,’ and we went in thinking that we already knew each other pretty well,” David Garber, 33, said. “But, we came to realize that we have different communication styles, and that we need to acknowledge and address that to make our relationship better. We learned that I need to give her time to think and process information, so I can’t expect her to give me an answer or solution on the spot. And she learned why it’s important for me to tackle an issue quickly and not let it fester.”

UF/IFAS Extension faculty member Victor Harris created the Smart Couples program after receiving a $5 million grant to help couples, families and teens create and maintain healthy relationships.

Under the grant guidelines, Harris, a UF/IFAS assistant professor in family, youth and community sciences, and Extension faculty and staff for the SMART Couples Florida project teach people how to strengthen their relationships over the next five years.

This UF/IFAS Extension program is geared toward married, remarried, at-risk youth, those getting ready for marriage, parents and active military and veteran couples. It includes those who are low-income, low-resource, those with substance abuse problems, mental health issues, and histories of domestic violence and child-abuse issues.

While many participants are referred to the program by local community agencies, organizations and partners, others sign up after hearing about it from their neighbors, family or friends.

Harris started the program in July, and will spend five years in Citrus, Duval, Manatee, Palm Beach and Santa Rosa counties. These counties were chosen because they represent a rural and urban cross-section of Florida’s demographics, Harris said. The team plans to help strengthen relationships across income groups and ethnicities, and they hope to expand beyond those counties after five years.

Extension faculty and staff offer programs at county Extension offices or other community locations that will meet participant needs. A list of those Extension offices can be found at:

When participants arrive at these sites, they will take a federal online intake survey and a UF/IFAS survey to contribute to ongoing relationship research. And, an additional assessment will be offered to assess whether other community resources are needed.

Extension faculty and other staff will use the following curriculum to teach the four relationship education programs. They are called:

  • Relationship Smarts PLUS 3.0: A fun program designed to help teens learn how to set goals and make wise choices about relationships, dating, partners and more.
  • Before You Tie the Knot: A premarital program for couples who are striving to start their marriages on the right foot.
  • ELEVATE: A program for couples – dating cohabiting, engaged or married – who want to improve their communication skills and strengthen their relationships.
  • Smart Steps: A stepfamily program designed to strengthen relationships between remarried or re-partnered couples and their children.

“We’ve covered the spectrum of the kinds of relationships you can have,” said Harris. “That’s what we’re offering in these five counties, face-to-face.”

For more information, please visit


The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS works to bring science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents. Visit the UF/IFAS web site at and follow us on social media at @UF_IFAS.

By: Beverly James, 352-273-3566,

Source: Victor Harris, 352-273-3523,


Posted: February 2, 2017

Category: Money Matters, UF/IFAS, UF/IFAS Extension, WORK & LIFE

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