Yes, chocolate is nice, but if there is anything worth doing this Valentine’s Day, it would be to invest in your relationship, according to Family Service Agency’s relationship educator, Andrea Fuentes.

Strengthening your relationship can not only improve your personal happiness, but research shows that children are safer, healthier and more likely to thrive when adults in their lives have healthy relationships — whether or not they are married or romantically involved.

Maintaining any relationship requires on-going effort. Couples who want to do well over time should protect their bond by enhancing their friendship, interpersonal support and mutual dedication. But it’s easy to lose sight of the these aims when risk factors like substance use and negative communication patterns develop over time.

“Relationships are tough work, but between fairy tales and romantic comedies, popular culture fails to give us the tools to maintain a healthy relationship,” Fuentes said.

“Schools touch on character traits like citizenship and responsibility, but children and teens are not explicitly taught things like how to express their needs or why sharing personal expectations is so important,” she said.

“The onus has fallen on parents to model healthy relationships, yet it begs the question: How can parents pass on what they haven’t quite figured out for themselves?” she said.

With the increase of mental health problems in the community (many of which are traceable to familial distress such as divorce, poverty, and other adverse childhood experiences), focus has shifted to helping families and couples cope to manage the complexities of raising healthy families.

Extensive studies have explored what couples should be doing to be enhance their bond. Unfortunately, many people don’t realize how lost they are in their relationships until they are at the breaking point.

“Successful partnerships require a lot of work,” Fuentes said. “The good news is that the necessary tools are readily available to help couples achieve their goals in relationships and family.”

Santa Barbara’s Family Service Agency offers a research-based healthy relationship curriculum at locations throughout Santa Barbara County. The nine-week program addresses emotional safety, conflict management, successful communication, commitment safety, and having fun.

It builds on the existing strengths of couples and individuals to add critical life and relationship skills so participants create safer, more stable relationships, and by extension, better environments for their children.

“So as you and your partner ponder the many ways you can strengthen or express your love for one another this Valentine’s Day, consider a long-term investment in yourselves,” Fuentes said.

To learn more about Family Service Agency’s healthy relationship education program, visit or call 805-335-0126 in Santa Barbara, 805-928-4150 in Santa Maria, 805-743-4146 ext. 264 in Lompoc, and 805-343-1194 in Guadalupe.

For more about Family Service Agency of Santa Barbara County, visit or call 805-965-1001.