Program Length: 13 Lessons
Age Group: 14-24
Author: Marline Pearson, MA
Relationship Skills for Love, Life, and Work
Love Notes Evidence-Based Program Model (LN-EBP), condensed from Love Notes 3.0 Classic, is a comprehensive healthy relationship education curriculum that teaches adolescents and young adults (14-24) how to build healthy romantic relationships, prevent dating violence, and improve impulse control.
Its theory of change hypothesizes that preventing pregnancy must expand beyond teaching young people about the scope of contraceptive options. Rather, interventions must build young people’s skills for cultivating healthy relationships, selves, and sexual behaviors: planning and pacing relationships and sex, self-efficacy and resilience around relationships, proven communication skills, and understanding how family formation impacts children.
Love Notes EBP was evaluated in a 5-year $4.8 million study through the University of Louisville. It is included in the federal Office of Adolescent Health’s Evidence Based Program list based on statistically significant decreases in sexual activity, increases in contraceptive use, and avoidance of pregnancy.
Note: To assure fidelity with the Evidence Based Program Model (LN-EBP) of Love Notes, facilitators must be trained by a Dibble Master Trainer or a Dibble Certified Trainer from their organization before teaching the program. The Dibble Institute offers both LN-EBP Training of Educators and Training of Trainers throughout the year either at your organization or at a Dibble site. Call 800-695-7975 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Love Notes 3.0 integrates healthy relationship skills with pregnancy prevention and workforce readiness and uses practical strategies for motivating change. It features:
- A realistic context for learning that incorporates language, values, and scenarios that is relevant to this audience.
- An appeal to aspirations that helps youth cultivate a personal vision for love, intimacy, and success.
- Important motivations for behavioral change, such as exploring from a child’s perspective the impact of unplanned pregnancy and unstable relationships.
- Empowerment to achieve healthy relationships at home and at work through both knowledge and practical skills.
- Intentional exercises in every lesson to encourage participating young people to connect with caring, trusted adults—a proven protective factor.
Relevant to Today’s Older Teens and Young Adults
Loves Notes 3.0 covers timely topics that are important to young people today:
- Sexual consent
- Online pornography
- Sexual assault
- Drugs and alcohol—and their impact on relationships
- Technology and social media
Love Notes 3.0’s Core Messages
Love Notes 3.0 uses popular media and lively activities to engage young males and females in learning. Key topics include:
- Knowing yourself—personality style, baggage, expectations, mapping your future
- Forming and maintaining healthy relationships—knowledge, skills, smart steps
- Frameworks for assessing relationships and making decisions
- Recognizing unhealthy relationships and responding to dangerous ones, including all new content on cyber bullying, sexual assault, and ways drugs and alcohol affect relationships
- Effective communication and conflict management skills—the same employability skills young people need to succeed at work
- Intimacy, sexual values, pacing relationships, consent, and sex.
- Planning for sexual choices using a comprehensive sex education and harm reduction model
- Unplanned pregnancy and relationship turbulence through the eyes of a child
- Updates to the Success Sequence—how the order of school, commitment, and babies impacts your future
- A bonus lesson on the impact of technology on romantic relationships, sexting, and online porn
The Research Base for Love Notes 3.0
An abbreviated version of Love Notes 3.0, evaluated at the University of Louisville, found Love Notes is 46% more effective as an innovative pregnancy prevention strategy for at-risk youth. Federally funded, the study tested Love Notes’ innovative approach against traditional health/body-based methods. Read the Issue Brief and check out the Office of Adolescent Health’s report.
What’s the Difference Between Love Notes Classic and Love Notes EBP?
Love Notes EBP is a condensation of Love Notes Classic. Dr. Anita Barbee, in her evaluation of Love Notes, distilled the program to its key messages to create the Love Notes EBP. The EBP still contains 13 lessons. Lessons average about 45 minutes, with 2 lessons taking double that (1.5 hours).
Love Notes builds skills and knowledge for healthy and successful relationships with partners, family, friends, and co-workers. It is designed to help young people make wise relationship and sexual choices. Wise choices will assist them in achieving their education, employment, relationship, and family goals, while poor relationship and sexual choices may create barriers to these goals. It is developed especially for high-school-age teens and young adults at risk for unstable and poor quality relationships, unplanned pregnancies, and for those who are pregnant or already parenting. That said, much of the content of Love Notes is relevant to any young person.
The communication skills and self-awareness components of Love Notes are key to all kinds of relationships in life. For example, these soft skills increase successful and cooperative interactions in the workplace. Employers report that soft skills are vital for the success of young people entering the workforce.
Love Notes also represents an innovative approach to both pregnancy/STIs and intimate partner violence prevention within the context of a positive youth development approach. These goals, typically addressed in separate programs, are integrated and embedded into one comprehensive healthy relationship skills program. This comprehensive approach was selected by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for a 5-year evaluation. Researchers found that teaching Love Notes to teens resulted in a 46% reduction in the teen pregnancy rates compared to the control group. This was the highest pregnancy reduction rate achieved for males and females on the HHS Office of Adolescent Health’s (OAH) list of Evidence-Based Teen Pregnancy Prevention Programs. In addition, the group of teens that were taught Love Notes also had the most positive outcomes compared to the control group on the OAH list, including less recent sexual activity, less frequency of sexual activity, and for the teens that decided to remain sexually active, those from the Love Notes group were more likely to use a condom; and for the teens that chose to remain abstinent, a higher percentage of those in the Love Notes group remained abstinent.1
Love Notes builds assets and strengthens protective factors. It appeals to young people’s aspirations, rather than merely emphasizing what they must avoid. Love Notes engages young people in learning more about themselves and supports them in cultivating a vision for their future. Love Notes empowers youth with the skills needed to further their own personal development, to form and maintain healthy relationships, to make wise sexual decisions, and to work towards success with education and employment.
All youth, regardless of sexual orientation, have attractions, emotions, and desires for healthy relationships. All youth need skills and knowledge to navigate their relationships and make wise sexual choices. This is a LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum.
Building Models and Confidence for Healthy Relationships
Many young people today lack models of healthy relationships. A recent Child Trends survey of disadvantaged youth reported that while respondents could list general qualities for healthy relationships, when asked if they saw many around them, they said, “No.” More sadly, they said they had little confidence they would be able to achieve a healthy relationship despite their aspirations to develop one.2
Love Notes offers young people—including young parents—knowledge of what a healthy relationship is and isn’t, as well as skills for handling the early chemistry of attraction and choosing partners wisely. Young people learn the building blocks of healthy relationships and are encouraged to identify relationship qualities they find personally important. They are provided several frameworks to help them assess relationships (past or present) and to make important relationship decisions. They learn the red flags of unhealthy and dangerous relationships and ways to exit those relationships safely. They identify what needs to change or improve for a relationship to continue. They learn how to handle break-ups and then move forward.
Improving Communication Skills
This program includes a powerful set of evidence-based skills to improve communication, negotiation, and the handling of conflict. These skills are adapted from PREP, the Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program. Youth practice new ways to handle anger and regulate strong emotions. They learn a technique for how to talk through difficult or sensitive issues. They learn how to more effectively raise issues and complaints, recognize hidden issues, and solve problems within their relationships. The communication skills components are also essential in increasing successful and cooperative interactions in the workplace.
Strengthening Intimate Partner Violence Prevention
Building robust knowledge and skills for healthy relationships provides a positive and proactive way to prevent intimate partner violence (IPV). It is difficult to steer clear of or exit a destructive relationship if young people have only experienced and seen unhealthy relationships, and they have no clue how to build a healthy relationship. This problem is compounded if they have little insight into themselves and their unaddressed issues. The vision building, skills, guides, and frameworks in Love Notes help raise young people’s confidence that they can develop healthy selves and healthy relationships. Love Notes contains activities to identify early warning signs of abuse along with how to set boundaries and apply them at the first sign of disrespect. It also raises awareness of how children are harmed by turbulent and destructive parental and partner relationships.
Sex – It’s More than Bodies, Risks and Protection
Love Notes contains an important missing piece in sexual decision-making and STI/ pregnancy prevention by addressing relationship issues. After all, sex is a relationship issue. For example, can young people make wise sexual choices if they:
- Have never clarified what’s important to them in a partner or relationship?
- Know little about how to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy and/or abusive relationships?
- Lack communication and negotiation skills?
- Have never defined a context for sex that is personally meaningful?
Youth are rarely asked to think about sex beyond the usual health paradigm of bio-reproduction, disease, and risk avoidance. If young people have never considered what deepening levels of physical intimacy mean to them (and how to discern if their partner is on the same page) then how are they to make wise sexual decisions and stick to their choices? Sex is not just about bodies, risks, and protection. It’s about power dynamics, knowing one’s self and one’s values, and possessing the skills to navigate this terrain. It is ultimately also about the heart and aspirations.
Love Notes takes a health- and heart-based approach to sexuality and provides unique ways to tap motivation. Sexual decision-making is embedded within a rich exploration of intimacy and the development of healthy relationships. Activities guide youth in cultivating their own North Star for sexuality. They are asked to develop goals, boundaries, and a context and pace for sexual intimacy that is responsible, protective of their own aspirations in life, and personally meaningful. Films, music, poetry, and stories are used to inspire and help young people identify their values. They also develop a personal plan for their sexual choices. Medically accurate information on pregnancy, STIs, contraception, and condoms is included. This information is reinforced through films from Scenarios USA, (written by youth and produced by award-winning filmmakers) as well as other visual media, and role-plays on negotiation and refusal skills.
It takes a lot of motivation not to slide into sex and to keep the boundaries and pacing of physical intimacy that one intends. It also takes a lot of motivation to use condoms and contraception correctly and consistently to prevent STIs and pregnancy if sexually active. The unique heart- and health-based approach of Love Notes offers some new ways to motivate.
A New Message on Pregnancy Prevention
Many of our pregnancy prevention messages focus on a young person’s self-interest in how a pregnancy would negatively affect him or her. Love Notes takes a different track. It encourages young people to step outside themselves and look more deeply at the consequences of unplanned pregnancy on children. By placing the child at center stage in the activities, participants see through the eyes of the child the consequences of sliding into an unplanned, first or subsequent pregnancy, and the relationship turbulence that often accompanies it. Examining how an unplanned pregnancy can disadvantage or hurt a child may tap a more powerful and positive source of motivation to more consciously plan to prevent a first or subsequent pregnancy. It helps bring home to young people why it really matters to avoid pregnancy and to wait to have a child (or a second child). Youth learn that doing some of life’s big things in a particular sequence really does matter.
In terms of positive youth development, one’s love life is never neutral; it’s one of the central developmental tasks on the path to adulthood. A troubled love life, especially linked with unplanned pregnancies, can derail everything. Helping young men and women assess their relationships, choose partners wisely, and acquire the skills and insights for forming and/or maintaining healthy relationships (and later healthy marriages if they choose to marry) can help them be successful. Encouraging deliberate planning for their own sexual decisions can reduce some formidable barriers in their personal lives as young people work toward their goals in education, employment, intimate unions, families, and parenting.
Love Notes is dedicated to the success of young people as much as it is to the success and well-being of their children. Clearly, children are affected for better or worse by the parental, partner, and other adult relationships in their families.
Young Parents and Co-Parenting Challenges
The approach embedded in Love Notes is especially important for young parents. We should not assume these relationships are all viable, nor all doomed. Some are workable, but these couples need support and skills to make their intentions of staying together a reality and not just wishful thinking. Young parents need guidance for taking a realistic look at their relationship and determining if it’s viable or not. If viable and safe, they need to be able to identify what they both need to work on. If not, they need support in leaving safely. This kind of assessment, for which Love Notes provides the tools, is important for them as well as for their child’s well-being.
Young parents need evidence-based communication and conflict management skills (included in Love Notes) to have a chance at a future together. How a couple communicates and handles conflict is perhaps one of the best predictors of how a couple will do over time. But they also need these skills to co-parent, whether they stay together or not.
Young parents need a heavy dose of healthy relationship education. Research tells us that relationship instability and multiple partner fertility is highly likely among these young unmarried parents.3 Young parents will do better if they can either take a break from relationships on the one hand or work to strengthen their relationship on the other hand, and if they avoid having a second child too soon. Focusing on their child and parenting and pursuing their school and employment goals will benefit themselves and their child. But also critically important is learning to choose a partner more wisely and cautiously with their next relationship, since most will have subsequent relationships. The skills embedded in Love Notes can help young parents slow down the relationship-go-round that is so common as much as it can help those young parents who wish to improve and stabilize their relationship. Their future success and their child’s future success will be strongly linked to their ability to form and maintain a healthy intimate relationship, or to at least stay single and away from unstable or destructive relationships as they focus on their own development.
An Activity- and Media-Based Approach
Love Notes is packed with lively activities that use real-life relationship, work, and parenting scenarios, written by diverse teens and young adults, that are LGBTQ inclusive. It incorporates popular music, music videos, film, stories, drawing, and sculpting. It appeals to males as much as females. It includes an engaging, interactive workbook where they can apply all the concepts to their own lives. Finally, there is a Trusted Adult Connection activity for each lesson to build a bond by communicating with a caring adult or mentor on these very important issues.
Love Notes is on the HHS Office of Adolescent Health’s (OAH) list of Evidence-Based Teen Pregnancy Prevention Programs. In a federally funded, 5-year random control trial conducted by researchers at the University of Louisville, those participating in Love Notes were 46% less likely to have a pregnancy as compared to those in the control group. It also achieved four other outcomes: increased use of contraception and condoms, a greater number who remained abstinent, less recent sexual activity, and less frequency of sexual activity. These outcomes are impressive and especially so since the target audience for the study was vulnerable teens. 21% had been or were in and out of home care, 82% were low income, 16.6% were LGBTQ, 9.3% refugee, 88% African American.
1 Barbee, A. P., Cunningham, M. R., van Zyl, M. A., Antle, B. F., & Langley, C. N. (2016). Impact of Two Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Interventions on Risky Sexual Behavior: A Three-Arm Cluster Randomized Control Trial. American Journal of Public Health, 106(Suppl 1), S85–S90. Doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2016.303429. For the OAH evidence-based list, see this link.
For more on the research behind Love Notes, see: the Research & Evaluations Tab.
2 Child Trends Research Brief (October 2009) Telling It Like It Is: Teen Perspectives on Romantic Relationships. childtrends.org
3 McLanahan, S. “Family Instability and Complexity after a Non-Marital Birth” in Carlson, M. & England, P. editors. Social Class and Changing Families in an Unequal America (Stanford University Press, 2011; for a compilation of research articles on various aspects of fragile families see “Fragile Families” in The Future of Children (Princeton-Brookings) Vol. 20, Number 2, Fall 2010.
- Introduction to Love Notes………………………………….v
- Instructor Tips……………………………………………………xii
- Love Notes Video and Resource Guide……………….xv
- Lesson 1: Relationships Today……………………………..1
- Relationships Today
- Defining a Vision
- Choosing Reds or Greens?
- Film Opportunity
- Lesson 2: Knowing Yourself………………………………….25
- Good Relationships Start with You
- Understanding My Personality Style
- Examining Family Origin
- Lesson 3: My Expectations—My Future…………………47
- What’s Important?
- The Power of Expectations
- Myself—My Future
- Lesson 4: Attractions and Starting Relationships…..63
- Relationship Pyramid
- The Chemistry of Attraction
- Lesson 5: Principles of Smart Relationships………….85
- Smart or Not-So-Smart?
- Seven Principles of Smart Relationships
- Seven Questions to Ask
- Three Sides of Love
- Lesson 6: Is It a Healthy Relationship?…………………107
- How Can You Tell?
- Having Fun—It’s Important!
- Breaking Up
- Lesson 7: Dangerous Love…………………………………..131
- Early Warnings and Red Flags
- Violence: Why it Happens, What Helps, Signs of Greatest Danger
- Dangerous Love: Impact on Children
- Draw the Line of Respect
- Sexual Assault
- Lesson 8: Decide, Don’t Slide! The Low-Risk Approach to Relationships………………………………………………….163
- The High Costs of Sliding
- The Low-Risk Deciding Approach
- Making Decisions
- The Success Sequence
- Lesson 9: What’s Communication Got to Do With It?………………189
- What’s Communication Got to Do with It?
- Angry Brains and the Power of Time Outs
- The Speaker Listener Technique—When Talking is Difficult
- Lesson 10: Communication Challenges and More Skills………….217
- Communication Patterns Learned in Family
- Complain and Raise Issues Effectively
- Hidden Issues: What Pushes Your Button?
- A Problem-Solving Model
- A Brief Review
- Lesson 11: Let’s Talk About Sex………………………………………239
- Let’s Talk About Sex… and Sliding
- The Six Parts of Intimacy
- Emotional Risks and Emotional Benefits
- Are We on the Same Page?
- Am I Ready?
- Drawing Intimacy Lines and Pacing Relationships
- Lesson 12: Let’s Plan for Choices……………………………………275
- Test Your Sex Smarts
- STDs and HIV Are for Real
- Risky Situations
- Pressure Situations—Assertiveness Skills
- My Personal Plan
- Lesson 13: Through the Eyes of a Child………………………….317
- Child Looking for a Family
- What about Fathers?
- Father Absence, Relationship Troubles
- Child Speak: Brighter Futures
- Decisions about Living Together
- Planning for Success—Wrap-Up
- Teens, Technology and Social Media Supplemental Appendix Lesson
- In-depth Film Guide for Antwone Fisher
- About the Author
- Colored Activity Cards
Evaluation of Love Notes and Reducing the Risk in Louisville, KY
Cunningham M. R., van Zyl, M. A., & Borders, K. W. (2016). Evaluation of Love Notes and Reducing the Risk in Louisville, Kentucky. Final Evaluation Report to the University of Louisville Research Foundation, Louisville, KY.
Anita P. Barbee, Michael R. Cunningham, Michiel A. van Zyl, Becky F. Antle, Cheri N. Langley. American Journal of Public Health: September 2016, Vol. 106, No. S1: S85–S90.
Interview with Primary Investigator, Anita P. Barbee, MSSW, Ph.D.
Professor and Distinguished University Scholar
President-Elect, International Association for Relationship Research
Kent School of Social Work
University of Louisville
Reports of Building Brighter Futures
Building Brighter Futures Helps Parents Meet Child Support Obligations. Judi Jordan and Kay reed. 2015.
Positive Youth Development
What Others Have to Say
“Love Notes provides a venue of hope for our kids’ future. The facilitator gave sound [guidance] on the Traits, Morals, Values and Authentic guidelines to identify whether the relationship was healthy or toxic. She was so encouraging and enthusiastic … in motivating our students to conquer healthy relationships.”
Kimberly Patton, Educator
YouthBuild, Schenectady, NY
“I asked the students if they felt like they actually learned anything from the whole process – A few of them were pretty positive that it really had made a difference for them in how they handle things now. One said that she felt that participating in the group had given her perspective. Now, instead of just “buggin” when she and her girlfriend get into it – she backs off and gives the situation more time. She says she feels like she is more in control, that after allowing for some time and distance she is able to speak more calmly and actually gets her point across.
We have one young man was incredibly insightful during the lessons. He always offered up good objective thoughts as well as his personal opinion on many topics. He was truly able to discern between attraction/love or infatuation/love; but the ones that stand out the most are during the Decide, Don’t Slide (9) and Let’s Talk About Sex (10) lessons. A lot of the other students age-wise are much older than he is, but were acting somewhat immature, or simply not taking it as seriously. He said this lesson really got him thinking about what he’s done, and what he wants a real relationship to look like. When the other students continued with some of the off-color jokes, he firmly stated: (paraphrased) “Fine you go ahead and do all that. It’s your funeral. You’ll either end up killing the relationship or killing yourself with AIDS. All I know is the sex I have is far more meaningful with a partner I love; it’s making, really creating our physical love from the love in our heart, not just having sex.”
From parenting teens in San Marcos, Texas:
“I learned how to work out problems about my child and about myself.”
“I’ve liked it because they talked to us about how to calm down when we have problems and how to go back to having a conversation. They’ve also taught us that physical abuse is not a good relationship. They also showed us the different stages kids go through and how to support them.”
“I liked that they talked about how to have a healthy relationship and how to know when to end or continue the relationship.”
Quotes from parenting teens in Texas taking the Love Notes Class
Increased Knowledge Regarding Healthy Relationships
“A big thing for me was that me and my boyfriend had a lot of problems and this program helped me because [facilitators] showed me I don’t have to live like that. I don’t have to take all of that from him just because I have a baby.”
Improved Communication and Conflict Resolution Skills
“I talk to him, I don’t hit him, I try to sit down and listen. We don’t really argue anymore, but when we do, I just say don’t get mad, stop and let’s talk. And now we just sit and he just calms down and we will take a couple of minutes and we will talk and everything will be okay again.”
“With this group, it helps us stay in school, helps us open our eyes to healthy relationships. It helps us get what we need to grow in ourselves, and also grow in our families, and grow in our children. And also, like I don’t know, it gives us hope!”
“I would first like to say thank you for allowing me to join your class. I learned a lot during class, it helped me see things I would not have otherwise.
“I was able to ask some questions that would have been awkward to ask my parents. It has helped me realize that even if you’re in a relationship for a long period of time, the use of condoms does not mean you or your loved one is cheating its – just to protect the both of you from unwanted pregnancy and STIs.I love that you can go to class and be yourself; talk about anything.
“This class has helped me learn the warning signs of physical mental and verbal abuse that I had no idea about and that had happened to me. Now I know it was wrong and will not let that happen to me again.When the class ended I didn’t let my learning experience end there. I kept my book and I go over it with my kids. I had no clue of this stuff when I was younger so I am very thankful from the bottom of my heart to been a part of your class and given the tools to be able to learn from this experience and pass it on to my kids. Once again, thank you”
Love Notes Participant
PREP Grant, Adult Preparation Topics
I frequently use Love Notes curriculum with girls at the Journey Home. Since they are navigating through dating and relationships out of treatment the content is relatable. I have found that it is valuable for the girls in recognizing red flags with potential love interest as well as what a mature relationship should look like.
Kim England M.S., ACMHC
The Journey Home-Program Director
Residential Therapy High School
ChildBuilders recently received a grant to reach Head Start children, teachers, and parents with our programs. Just about the same time we were notified our proposal was funded, a special package arrived at our office. Inside was copy of the new Love Notes curriculum, which we eagerly read from first to last page.
As soon as we read Love Notes, we knew it would be more appropriate for this population. We consulted with our contacts at the Head Start provider organizations, who also reviewed the curriculum and agreed 100%.
We then gave the curriculum to several parents to review for cultural and linguistic fit, and here are some of the responses the parents gave to our questions:
Do you think this program will be helpful for Early Head Start/Head Start parents? Why?
“Yes, because it teaches people what to look for in a relationship and what to expect.”
“This lesson will help us to break some cycles, wrong choices in dating, trouble in serial relationships, baby mama drama. I think it would be helpful for someone in a dangerous relationship.”
Do you think this curriculum is useful for people from your culture?
“I think it would be good for any culture because everyone needs a healthy relationship.”
And best of all: “I think it could be helpful to the world.”
Janet Pozmantier, ChildBuilders, Houston, TX
HHS Teen Pregnancy Prevention Evidence Review of Love Notes
Read the Love Notes 3.0 Issue Brief: Effectiveness of Healthy Relationship Interventions on Teen Pregnancy Rates (July 2019) here.
Here are just a few examples of the many successful settings that have implemented Love Notes.