Evaluation of Relationship Support Interventions

Evaluation of Relationship Support Interventions

The Department for Education funded a two-year evaluation of relationship support interventions which was led by the Tavistock Institute for Human Relations. The other partners in the evaluation were the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), the Thomas Coram Research Unit (TCRU) and Qa Research.

Funding period

2011 — 2014


Department for Education (DfE)



The Department for Education funded a two-year evaluation of relationship support interventions which was led by the Tavistock Institute for Human Relations.

The other partners in the evaluation were the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), the Thomas Coram Research Unit (TCRU) and Qa Research.


The government would like to see more people benefiting from relationship support services and, in the case of couple counselling, using it before problems become severe and entrenched. Already they have invested £30 million in such services which highlights their commitment and belief that providing support and preventing breakdown, where possible, will produce financial and emotional benefits to couples and to their children.This evaluation focused on three specific kinds of intervention: 
  • Marriage preparation, delivered by Marriage Care through either Preparing Together, a one-day course for couples planning to marry, or FOCCUS©, a questionnaire-based exploration of essential relationship knowledge and awareness for individual couples and feedback via one or more sessions with a trained facilitator;
  • Let’s Stick Together (LST), a brief relationship education session lasting 45-60 minutes delivered mainly to mothers. Developed by the Bristol Community Family Trust (BCFT), it is delivered by Care for the Family (CFF) and during 2011-13 was rolled out in seven other regions of the country;
  • Couple counselling delivered by the Asian Family Counselling Service (AFCS), Marriage Care, Relate and the Tavistock Centre for Couple Relationships (TCCR), all providing support to couples or individuals facing relationship difficulties.


Aims of the evaluation:The main aim of this evaluation was to measure change over time for participants involved in the three relationship support interventions. There were several underlying objectives: 
  • Whether receiving the different types of relationship support resulted in 
    • Changes in well-being, relationship quality and communication;
    • Increased awareness and likelihood of using relationship strengthening behaviours;
    • Changes in attitudes towards accessing relationship support in future.
  • Whether providing different forms of relationship support offered value for money;
  • How more couples could be informed about and, ultimately, encouraged to access different types of relationship support opportunities.


Research methods:A literature review of national and international evidence to map out what was already known about the impact of similar interventions and any gaps in knowledge, to contextualise the research and identify research studies of relevance to the analysis of the value for money data.Quantitative surveys to explore the impact of the three interventions: a pre- and post-intervention survey with an achieved sample of over 800 interviews with those who attended an LST session, one of the two forms of marriage preparation, or contacted Marriage Care or Relate to receive relationship counselling. The surveys used three validated standardised scales (DAS-7, WEMWBS and ENRICH) to assess relationship quality, couple communication, and well-being, as well as bespoke questions tailored to each of the interventionsQualitative interviews to explore the experiences and views of participants and practitioners: interviews with 44 strategic, operational and delivery staff across six providers, as well as in-depth interviews conducted mainly over the telephone with over 100 individuals or couples who accessed LST, marriage preparation, or relationship/couple counselling with the AFCS, Marriage Care, Relate or TCCRA Value for Money analysis to consider the overall and unit costs of delivering Marriage Care and Relate couple counselling, as well as FOCCUS© marriage preparation, and the relationship of these to the resulting outcomes. 


Main findings:
  • Attending couple counselling was found to result in positive changes in individuals’ relationship quality, well-being and communication;
  • Receiving marriage preparation was associated with positive changes in relationship quality or well-being, depending on the type of preparation attended;
  • Attending a short LST session was not associated with any statistically significant positive changes, although many participants reported positive impacts of attending several months afterwards;
  • Attending any of the above promoted a positive change in the people’s attitudes towards accessing relationship support in future;
  • Couple counselling and FOCCUS© marriage preparation were both found to be cost effective, providing substantially greater savings to society than they cost to deliver.
This suggest that not only can these services make users feel better and improve (or save) relationships but they also have the potential to save money. Calculating the cost of providing the services and using figures provided by the Relationship Foundation on the estimated cost to society of relationship breakdown, the evaluation showed that, by reducing the risk of couples separating, every £1 spent on marriage preparation classes or couple counselling could save the public purse up to £11.50. Of course, some couples do separate even after using such support but the resulting separation could be less acrimonious, thus reducing the potentially negative impact on their children. 


Recommendations arising from this study on how more people could be encouraged to use such services included: 
  • Central and local government should develop a clear strategy and set of policies for relationship support; services should be advertised more widely, including in registry offices for marriage preparation, to increase awareness among the general public;
  • A quality assurance kitemark should be considered to generate confidence among would-be clients as well as professionals who make referrals to these services;
  • Professionals coming into contact with couples should be more aware of relationship support services and of the benefits of using them.
The full report can be download here.Researcher contact: Thomas Spielhofer, Senior Researcher (t.spielhofer@tavinstitute.org) or Judy Corlyon, Principal Researcher (j.corlyon@tavinstitute.org).

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