Five Tips for Teaching Healthy Marriage and Relationship Education in Schools

October 29, 2018
Youth Services, Strengthening Families, Healthy Marriage & Responsible Fatherhood
Strengthening Relationship Education and Marriage Services (STREAMS), 2015-2022 | Learn more about this project
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  • Pages 6
  • Published 2018


Healthy marriage and relationship education (HMRE) practitioners need more research and information on HMRE programs for youth. From 2011 to 2015, about half the participants served by HMRE grants from the Office of Family Assistance were under age 18. However, most research on HMRE programming focuses on adult couples in existing, committed relationships.


This brief provides five practical tips for HMRE practitioners interested in teaching HMRE in high schools. The tips are primarily for HMRE practitioners developing a school-based program for the first time, but they also have use for practitioners looking to improve or expand an existing school-based program. The brief is part of the Strengthening Relationship Education and Marriage Services (STREAMS) evaluation, a five-site, random assignment evaluation of HMRE programs funded by the Office of Family Assistance.

Key Findings and Highlights

  1. Start with the basics. When planning a new HMRE class for high school students, choose an introductory curriculum that covers basic HMRE topics, such as the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships, what goes into a successful relationship, and what to look for in a romantic partner.
  2. Make it relevant. Give students the message that even though they might have a hard time seeing themselves in an adult relationship right now, they are likely to get married as adults. Many will also live with a romantic partner in the future.
  3. Offer something for everyone. Choose a curriculum with a mix of activities and discussion topics, to engage students in different types of romantic relationships and with different levels of commitment in their relationships.
  4. Emphasize that good relationships require specific skills. When teaching lessons on relationship skills, motivate the lessons by explaining that relationships are not something people are either good or bad at; successful relationships require specific skills that people can practice and improve.
  5. Expect to talk about gender norms. When students talk about relationships, these discussions naturally give rise to related conversations about gender norms and stereotypes. Be prepared to manage these discussions.


The tips presented in this brief draw on data from multiple sources. The main source is a survey conducted by Mathematica Policy Research as part of the STREAMS evaluation in two Atlanta-area high schools. The brief also draws on findings from relevant national surveys of adolescents and adults.


Goesling, Brian and Julia Alamillo (2018). Research to Practice Brief. Five Tips for Teaching Healthy Marriage and Relationship Education in Schools. OPRE Report #2018-101. Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.


Healthy marriage and relationship education
Strengthening Relationship Education and Marriage Services
Last Reviewed: December 18, 2018