Does College-Based Relationship Education Decrease Extradyadic
Involvement in Relationships?
Scott R. Braithwaite
Brigham Young University
Nathaniel M. Lambert, Frank D. Fincham,
and Kay Pasley
Florida State University
We used latent growth curve modeling to examine the effectiveness of a relationship
education intervention (Relationship U, or RU) on rates of extradyadic involvement in a
sample of 380 college students in committed romantic relationships. RU is designed to be
integrated into existing college courses; it educates students about partner selection, making
healthy relationship transitions, communication skills, and the potentially negative conse-
quences of cheating in romantic relationships and how to prevent its occurrence. Participants
who received the intervention reported trajectories of less extradyadic involvement over time
relative to control participants. Being female was not associated with less extradyadic
involvement at baseline, but it did predict less extradyadic involvement over time across both
intervention and control conditions. Implications for dissemination of relationship education
Keywords: relationship education, infidelity, dissemination, emerging adulthood
Relationship education is the provision of information
designed to help couples and individuals experience suc-
cessful, stable romantic relationships. It has progressed to
the point at which at least eight preventive interventions
have been developed and shown to be efficacious (Braith-
waite & Fincham, 2009; Jakubowski et al., 2004). However,
in a pattern that mirrors the wider field of clinical psychol-
ogy, these empirically supported interventions are not typ-
ically used in everyday practice (Barlow, Levitt, & Bufka,
1999). Thus, the challenge facing relationship educators is
not only to develop more efficacious interventions, but also
to further refine them and find methods of dissemination
that will increase the likelihood that empirically supported
treatments will be used, especially in target populations.
One target population identified by relationship education
researchers is college students (see Fincham, Stanley, &
Rhoades, in press). This population is important because
many individuals experience emerging adulthood in the
context of college (e.g., 57% of young adults between 25
and 29 have attended some college; Stoops, 2004). During
this period, many health-relevant habits are formed, and the
individual and contextual changes that occur throughout
college push to the forefront a host of risky behaviors that
can increase risk for immediate and future problems
(Braithwaite, Delevi, & Fincham, 2010). For example,
infidelity—defined as “a secret sexual, romantic, or emo-
tional involvement that violates the commitment to an
exclusive relationship” (Glass, 2002, p. 489)—occurs in
as many as 65%–75% of college students (Shackelford,
LeBlanc, & Drass, 2000; Wiederman & Hurd, 1999) and
is associated with adverse mental and physical health
(Hall & Fincham, 2009). When infidelity entails unpro-
tected sex, there is direct risk of exposure to sexually
transmitted diseases and indirect risk of exposing the
faithful partner to HIV and other sexually transmitted
diseases. In short, this population is made up of individ-
uals engaging in risky behaviors, developing relational
habits, and forming relationships that often culminate in
marriage (Blossfeld & Timm, 2003).
To increase the reach of relationship education, research-
ers have begun to examine the impact of interventions when
they move from the laboratory to the real world (Markman
et al., 2004). In contrast to efficacy trials in which strict
experimental control is paramount, effectiveness trials ex-
amine treatment outcomes under the more practical condi-
tions of everyday implementation (Flay, 1986). The present
research is one such trial and examines the effectiveness of
relationship education delivered as part of a college course.
Based on the Within My Reach curriculum (Pearson, Stan-
ley, & Kline, 2005), RU educates students about risk and
protective factors for relationship dysfunction and provides
tools to diminish the influence of risk factors and enhance
protective factors—it is designed to be applicable to stu-
dents regardless of their current romantic relationship sta-
tus. Over the 13 weeks of an academic semester, RU em-
Scott R. Braithwaite, Department of Psychology, Brigham
Young University; Nathaniel M. Lambert, Frank D. Fincham, and
Kay Pasley, Department of Family and Child Sciences, Florida
This research was supported by a grant from the U.S. Depart-
ment of Health and Human Services.
Correspondence concerning this article should be address to Scott R.
SWKT Provo, UT 84602-5543. E-mail: email@example.com
Journal of Family Psychology
2010, Vol. 24, No. 6, 740–745
© 2010 American Psychological Association
0893-3200/10/$12.00 DOI: 10.1037/a0021759
phasizes the implications of “sliding” into relationship
transitions versus making conscious decisions, how to cre-
ate safe relationships, how to communicate effectively, the
potentially negative consequences of extradyadic involve-
ment, and how to create healthy boundaries to prevent its
occurrence. RU was designed to fit seamlessly into existing
college courses with the idea that such integration might be
a feasible way of disseminating this program on a larger
scale in colleges across the United States and abroad.
Notwithstanding its public health relevance, little re-
search has focused directly on interventions for infidelity in
emerging adulthood despite the pivotal nature of this devel-
opmental period when individuals are particularly focused
on romantic relationships. In this study, we therefore exam-
ine rates of change in extradyadic involvement over time in
response to the RU intervention. We hypothesized that
individuals who received RU would engage in less extra-
dyadic involvement. Because extradyadic involvement has
been shown to differ across genders in married samples
(Atkins, Baucom, & Jacobson, 2001), we also accounted for
the impact of biological sex on such behavior.
Participants and Procedure
Data from this study come from a larger study that
examined students in a three-credit university-wide course
(Introduction to Families Across the Lifespan) that met
liberal studies requirements in social science; thus, students
could potentially represent all programs of study available
at the university. At the beginning of the semester, all
students in all sections were invited to participate in “a
study examining the effect of this class on your relation-
ships.” The study was one of multiple options for students
to obtain course credit. Participants were selected for inclu-
sion in the study if they reported being in an exclusive
heterosexual romantic relationship; those in nonexclusive
relationships were excluded. To determine this, we first
asked, “Are you currently in a romantic relationship?” If
students indicated that they were, we asked, “Which state-
ment best describes your relationship?” followed by the
options “dating nonexclusively,” “dating exclusively,” “en-
gaged,” “married,” or “other.” Only those who indicated
that they were dating exclusively, engaged, or married were
included (only 23 students indicated they were engaged, and
only 8 indicated they were married).
The larger sample consisted of 770 (175 men, 593 women;
data were missing for two participants) students (64% White,
16% African American, 10% Hispanic, 10% other) with an
average age of 19.74 years. The subsample in this study
consisted of 380 (69 men, 310 women; one with missing data)
students (64% White, 16% African American, 10% Hispanic,
10% other) with an average age of 19.96. We examined
differences between those in the treatment and control condi-
tions on the basis of relevant demographic characteristics and
found no difference for age, t(377) ? 1.02, p ? .05; relation-
ship length, t(364) ? ?1.08, p ? .05; or parental divorce, F(1,
377) ? 1.13, p ? .05. The modal relationship duration for the
sample was 1–2 years (6%, less than 2 months; 12%, 3–4
months; 7%, 5–6 months; 13%, 7–12 months; 32%, 1–2 years;
and 26%, 2 years or more). Institutional review board approval
was obtained before any data collection.
After providing informed consent, participants completed
a battery of questionnaires at the beginning of the semester
and twice more at 6-week intervals. Assignment to condi-
tion was not random because students were free to sign up
for any available course section; however, students were
unaware of condition. Specific sections were designated as
treatment or control conditions before the semester began.
Students (n ? 312) in this condition had one class
each week (50 min/week for 13 weeks) in which they met in
small groups (20–30) and received the intervention. These
breakout sessions (but not the lecture sessions) were led by
graduate student and postdoctoral instructors (naı ¨ve to study
hypotheses) who had received a minimum of 24 hr of
training in curriculum delivery. These breakout sessions
were not extra classes; rather, they took the place of one of
the existing class sessions each week. A brief description of
the content of the 13 RU sessions can be seen in Table 1.
Owing to pressure from our funding
agency to offer the intervention as widely as possible, the ratio
of participants in the intervention condition to participants in
in the control condition received instruction that was identical
to that in the treatment condition except that they did not
receive RU content in one of their weekly classes. The class
content was based on a widely used introductory text (La-
manna & Riedmann, 2009) that provides an overview of the-
ory and research on marriage and families. Learning this kind
of information (e.g., information about mate selection, com-
munication in close relationships, “hooking up” and “friends
with benefits”) may serve to promote healthier relationship
choices, but the class as usual did not have an applied, skill-
based focus as did the RU breakout sessions.
At each time point, participants in committed romantic
relationships were asked to report whether they had engaged
in several sexual or romantic behaviors with someone other
than their romantic partner in the previous 6 weeks. These
activities were kissing, sexual intimacy without intercourse
(two items; one specifically used the phrase “sexually inti-
mate without intercourse,” and the second assessed caress-
ing and hugging) and sexual intercourse (each coded 1 ?
yes, 0 ? no).
The sex of participants was coded as 0 ? male and 1 ?
female. Condition was coded as 0 ? control and 1 ? RU. At
baseline, 11% of participants admitted to extradyadic sexual
intercourse, 13% admitted to extradyadic sexual behavior
(nonintercourse), 44% admitted to extradyadic caressing
and hugging, and 22% admitted to extradyadic kissing.
The data were analyzed using latent growth curve (LGC)
modeling in Mplus 5.2. Because we used latent variables
741 RELATIONSHIP EDUCATION
consisting of our binary indicators of extradyadic involve-
ment, we first tested the fit of the measurement models of
the latent variables. Each of the models (for Times 1–3)
provided a good fit, with the indicators loading well onto the
latent variables. Estimation of this type of LGC model
requires measurement invariance of the factors at each time
point; thus, the loadings from the items that made up the
latent factors were constrained to be equal across each of
the three time points. When these constraints were imposed,
Heywood cases arose as a result of correlations between
items that approached 1. As such, we summed the items to
form a composite scale of extradyadic involvement and fit a
latent growth curve to this scale using a Poisson model for
count data. For the purpose of providing evidence of psy-
chometric validity, the measurement model can be seen in
Figure 1. In the growth curve model, the intercepts for the
three manifest variables were fixed to unity, and each of the
paths from the slope latent variable to the three manifest
variables was constrained to be equal to the number of
weeks from the baseline assessment (0, 6, and 12 weeks).
Slope and intercept were regressed on condition and sex. The
specified latent growth model can be seen in Figure 2 and
descriptive statistics for the two groups across time can be seen
in Table 2. Specifying the model as described provides infor-
mation about the impact of RU on patterns of change or
“growth” in extradyadic involvement over time. Because we
could not randomly assign students to condition, and in
any case, interventions that are completed by groups are
susceptible to clustering effects that can lead to Type I
errors (Baldwin, Murray, & Shadish, 2005), we ac-
counted for the effect of clustering by using the TYPE ?
COMPLEX with CLUSTER ? ID functions in Mplus.
Condition and intercept were significantly associated, sug-
gesting that those in the RU condition reported more extrady-
adic involvement at baseline (? ? .17, p ? .05); however, the
association between intercept and slope was not significant,
suggesting that scores at baseline were not associated with
rates of change over time. Condition predicted slope, such that
those who received the RU intervention reported larger de-
creases in extradyadic involvement over time relative to the
control group (? ? ?.47, p ? .05). Sex was also associated
with slope (? ? ?.44, p ? .05), such that being female was
associated with larger decreases in extradyadic involvement
over time irrespective of condition. To explore this finding
further, we conducted an exploratory analysis in which we
included a Sex ? Treatment interaction; the interaction term
did not significantly predict the slope of extradyadic involve-
ment, indicating that both condition and sex contributed reli-
of these two variables.
Description of Relationship U Intervention
To introduce students to the course, foster commitment from students to put forth effort, and seriously engage in the class
and create an educational environment conducive to implementing the intervention.
To help raise students’ awareness about their relationship beliefs, clarify how setting relationship goals can lead to
healthier relationship decisions, and illustrate the connection between family of origin experiences and relationship
To introduce students to the differences between sex, gender, and sexual orientation and how expectations surrounding
these constructs can influence romantic relationships.
To raise students’ awareness about their own personality traits and provide information about ways they can identify
positive and negative traits within themselves and within potential partners and illustrate how awareness of personality
and traits can lead to better mate selection and relationship decision making.
To raise awareness of students’ expectations regarding relationships, help students clarify which expectations they possess
that are realistic or unrealistic, and promote safety in relationships by identifying that expectations cannot be
appropriately addressed in unsafe relationships.
To reinforce the ideas of smart love (being thoughtful, purposeful, and judicious in negotiating relationship transitions such
as initiation of a sexual relationship), demonstrate how active decision making in the present can affect the future of
relationships, introduce the concept of “sliding versus deciding,” and help students identify barriers that prevent healthy
To integrate the material from the last two sessions (“Being smart in reaching relationship goals” and “sliding versus
deciding”) and explore ideas about commitment (negotiation, compromise, sacrifice) and what makes a marriage choice
To help students identify the differences between good and bad communication, briefly familiarize students with the
speaker–listener technique, and identify situations in which it might be usefully applied.
To continue to explore the speaker–listener technique as a guide for good communication, focusing on active listening;
provide students with additional practice of active listening through role-plays and coaching; and introduce the concept
of time-out as a strategy for enhancing communication through deescalation.
To assist students in continuing to practice and use the speaker–listener technique, review and practice using time-outs, and
introduce and assist students in practicing XYZ statements.
To continue to explore the use of XYZ statements, briefly explore ideas about problem solving in relationships, provide an
overview of the elements of good communication, and assist students with practicing the speaker–listener technique.
To help students identify sources of social support in their lives, have students recognize conditions that suggest the need
to end a relationship, help students learn how to break up effectively, and increase students’ sense of self-worth in
relationships by emphasizing the importance of safety and respect for healthy relationships.
To help students reflect on their goals in relationships and help students gain closure on the course.
742 BRAITHWAITE, LAMBERT, FINCHAM, AND PASLEY
Regarding the clinical significance of these findings, we
examined the occurrence or absence of each of the behaviors
of extradyadic sexual intercourse; the reduction in the control
group was 33%. Being sexually intimate without intercourse
was reduced by 50% among RU participants, whereas it in-
creased by 50% among control participants. Caressing and
hugging decreased by 37% for RU participants, but increased
by 8% for control participants. Extradyadic kissing reduced by
52% among RU participants, whereas it remained the same
among participants in the control condition.
To rule out the possibility that the changes were being
driven by socially desirable responding, we analyzed an
alternate model in which social desirability (scores from the
Marlowe–Crowne Social Desirability Scale; Reynolds,
1982) was added as an exogenous predictor of the slope and
the intercept of extradyadic involvement. Social desirability
predicted the intercept but not the slope of extradyadic
involvement and did not attenuate the associations between
treatment and slope, indicating that individual desire to look
good influenced initial reports of how much extradyadic
involvement the participant was engaging in, but not the
change in extradyadic involvement over time.
Our results suggest that RU reduces the overall frequency
of extradyadic involvement among college students over the
course of an academic semester. We found that individuals
in the RU group reported more extradyadic involvement at
baseline, but examination of the association between base-
line scores and individual slopes showed that initial rates of
extradyadic involvement were not reliably associated with
changes in extradyadic involvement over time, whereas
condition did reliably predict trajectories over the 12 weeks
of the study. In addition, we found that being female did not
predict less extradyadic involvement at baseline, but it did
predict less extradyadic involvement over time across both
Figure 2. Latent growth curve model. T1 ? Time 1.
Figure 1. Measurement model for infidelity variables at each time point. ?2(12) ? 2,736.21, p ?
.01, comparative fit index ? .99, Tucker–Lewis Index ?.99, root-mean square error of approxi-
mation ? .06. T1 ? Time 1.
743 RELATIONSHIP EDUCATION
Why would being female predict changes in extradyadic
involvement over time across both treatment and control
conditions? It is possible that our education-as-usual control
condition was more potent than we had anticipated. Recall
that the control condition was identical to the treatment
condition in terms of course content with the exception of
the weekly breakout sessions. Perhaps the information
taught in the introductory family science class was sufficient
to change female students’ behavior (but not male students’)
without the addition of the RU component, which would
suggest that RU may be more beneficial for men and that
non–skills-based relationship education may be sufficient to
change women’s rates of extradyadic involvement, but fur-
ther research is needed to examine this question more spe-
cifically. A selection bias for an introductory family science
class may also be possible—these students (in particular, the
women for whom there was a significant main effect) may
be more interested in improving their relationships and thus
more likely to respond not only to our intervention, but also
to the class as usual. If this is true, however, it also suggests
that the RU intervention had a higher hurdle to clear to
demonstrate incremental decreases in extradyadic involve-
ment than if we had compared it with another class that
taught unrelated content (e.g., an introductory biology
course). This question would be interesting to explore in
Implications for Dissemination
This study shows that relationship education can be ef-
fectively delivered as part of a college course. Even with all
of the practical limitations imposed by the structure of a
college course (e.g., the need to meet university curriculum
requirements), RU can be seamlessly integrated into exist-
ing college courses, especially those in family science or
psychology departments. This fact is important to establish
because one of the obstacles to implementing relationship
education in colleges is that it is not feasible or desirable to
start new courses that are designed to serve only as a vehicle
for relationship education and that have little relevance to
the other goals of universities.
The applied nature of this curriculum may seem to differ
somewhat from the usual content of college coursework, but
it is consistent with the stated goals of most universities. For
example, the university at which this intervention took place
lists as its primary mission “the development of new gen-
erations of citizen leaders, based on the concepts inscribed
in our seal: Vires, Artes, Mores—Strength, Skill and Char-
acter.” Thus, to develop not only theoretical knowledge but
practical knowledge—or skill—of how to develop and
maintain healthy relationships across the life span is surely
within the scope of a university education. Moreover, many
universities seek to discourage alcohol abuse and promote
physical and mental health; not only does promoting healthy
relationships complement these kinds of effort, but it may
also prove a means to improve outcomes across the multiple
domains university administrations seek to improve (Braith-
waite & Fincham, 2009). The college years are a pivotal
opportunity for intervention because risky behaviors predic-
tive of extradyadic involvement such as heavy drinking are
prevalent on college campuses (Graham, Fincham, & Lam-
bert, 2009; Slutske, 2005). Also, receiving college credit
provides a useful incentive to increase student participation.
As such, colleges and universities may become effective
platforms to administer empirically validated relationship
education without requiring much in the way of start-up
Although this research was conducted at a large univer-
sity, future research will ideally examine RU when it is
delivered at educational institutions that have higher pro-
portions of populations that have not traditionally received
relationship education, such as community colleges or col-
leges in rural areas. It may also be possible to adapt this
curriculum to high school populations, which would extend
the potential reach of relationship education to an even
greater degree and provide for even earlier entry of empir-
ically supported relationship education. This research is the
first step in showing that such a dissemination model is
Limitations and Future Directions
Inevitably, our study suffers from a number of limitations.
First, because this was an effectiveness study, we did not have
the experimental control of an efficacy study; specifically,
participants were not randomly assigned to condition. As such,
these encouraging findings need to be viewed as preliminary.
We have no reason to believe that the sections students choose
to sign up for, however, would have an influence on their
extradyadic experiences. Moreover, this limitation also repre-
sents a strength because it allows for an examination of the
impact of RU under the conditions in which it is likely to be
Means Across Three Time Points
Caressing and hugging
Values in parentheses are standard deviations.
744BRAITHWAITE, LAMBERT, FINCHAM, AND PASLEY
efficacy studies to examine the impact of these interventions
under the more practical conditions of implementation. Sec-
ond, it would be ideal if we could track students for longer
periods of time to see whether these gains are maintained. We
likely that the gains will be maintained given the fact that that
the interventions RU builds on have demonstrated robust and
lasting effects for newlywed couples (e.g., Laurenceau, Stan-
research is needed to examine the impact of this kind of
intervention on individuals who do not pursue higher educa-
tion; as previously mentioned, RU could easily be adapted for
late adolescents and young adults for delivery through com-
munity organizations or high school courses.
In conclusion, this study provides evidence that under
real-world conditions, RU constitutes an effective preven-
tive intervention for extradyadic involvement. Because cou-
ples therapists have indicated that infidelity is the third most
difficult problem to treat (Whisman, Dixon, & Johnson,
1997), it addresses early a behavior that, if left unaddressed,
is difficult to later treat. Finally, it also represents an im-
portant step forward in the dissemination of empirically
supported relationship education. As we continue to work to
find novel ways of extending the reach of relationship
education using existing structures such as colleges and
other educational institutions, we will move closer to the
goal of getting these interventions to the individuals who
will benefit from them the most.
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Received November 11, 2009
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Accepted September 9, 2010 ?
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