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Love Notes 4.0

Program Length: 13 Lessons
Age Group: 14-24*
Author: Marline E. Pearson, MA

*Middle School (10-13) adaptation available

Relationship Skills for Love, Life, and Work

For a growing number of adolescents and young adults, unplanned pregnancy, single parenting, and troubled relationships derail personal goals. Love Notes was created for this vulnerable audience, some already pregnant or parenting. In 13 lessons, they discover—often for the first time—how to make wise choices about relationships, sexuality, pregnancy, partnering, and more.

Version 4.0 includes brand new and updated content important to today’s youth, including sex trafficking prevention, technology in relationships, navigating relationships in the digital age, online porn, sexual assault, consent—and their impact on relationships. Love Notes 4.0 includes the evidence-based content with supplemental materials that allow facilitators to go deeper on topics that are meaningful to young people.

Journals and other participant materials for Love Notes 4.0 have been translated into Spanish to better serve young people.

*Note: Training is not required but encouraged to facilitate Love Notes 4.0. To be certain, check with your funder. Both in-person and live virtual trainings are available. Group rates available for six or more people. Call 800-695-7975 or email for more information.


Rather than focusing on what to avoid, Love Notes builds assets and appeals to aspirations. Using a strengths-based approach, it offers young people new conceptual frameworks to help them make informed decisions instead of sliding into unplanned choices that can derail their lives.

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 the benefits of deciding when it comes to family formation.

Love Notes 4.0 includes the evidence-based content alongside supplemental materials that allow facilitators to go deeper on topics that are meaningful to young people, including pregnant and parenting teens.

Love Notes 4.0 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 benefits of planning for a child and the future.
  • 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

Love Notes 4.0 covers timely topics that are important to young people today:

  • Sexual consent
  • Online pornography
  • Sexual assault
  • Drugs and alcohol—and their impact on relationships
  • Cyberbullying
  • Sex trafficking prevention
  • Online sharing, sexting, sextortion, and digital consent
  • Planning and decisionmaking on use of digital/mobile technology
  • Greater depth in discussion of casual sex and “hooking up” and “hook up culture”
  • Essential conversations for helping both partners “get on the same page” when it comes to sexual involvement

Love Notes 4.0’s Core Messages

Love Notes 4.0 uses popular media and lively activities to engage young people 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 new content on sex trafficking prevention and updated content on cyber bullying, sexual assault, and ways drugs and alcohol affect relationships
  • Navigating technology in the digital age, with a special focus on online sharing, sexting, sextortion, and digital consent PLUS how to navigate technology in 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
  • New optional content on the impact of technology on romantic relationships, sexting, and online porn
The Research Base for Love Notes 4.0

In a five year federally funded random control trial of Love Notes EBP, researchers at the University of Louisville, found that at-risk youth in the Love Notes group were 46% less likely to get pregnant compared to the control group a year post instruction. Read the Issue Brief and check out the Office of Adolescent Health’s report.

What’s the Difference Between Love Notes 3.0 and Love Notes 4.0?

Love Notes Classic and Love Notes EBP have now been merged into the evidence based Love Notes 4.0 program. Classic contained all the comprehensive, robust content developed by the author Marline Pearson. EBP included only those sections from Love Notes Classic that were evaluated in the University of Louisville study. Now, both have been merged, which makes it easier for facilitators to follow just the EBP content or add supplemental content, depending on the needs of their young people and funding requirements.

Love Notes 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 condom and contraceptive use, and avoidance of pregnancy (46% less likely). Review the evidence-base for Love Notes below.

Research & Evaluations

The University of Louisville study tested Love Notes against a conventional  sexual health education program focusing on ways to reduce risky sexual behaviors that may result in pregnancy and STIs. This was funded by a Tier II grant to the University of Louisville from the Administration for Children, Youth, and Families.

Impact of a relationship-based intervention, Love Notes, on teen pregnancy prevention. Barbee, A. P., Cunningham, M. R., Antle, B. F., Langley, C. N. (2022).

Impact of Two Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Interventions on Risky Sexual Behavior: A Three-Arm Cluster Randomized Control Trial. Anita P. Barbee, MSSW, PhD, Michael R. Cunningham, PhD, Michiel A. van Zyl, PhD, Becky F. Antle, MSSW, PhD, and Cheri N. Langley,PhD, MPH, (2016).

Healthy relationship education programmes for young people: Systematic review of outcomes. Benham-Clarke, S., Roberts, G., Janssens, A., & Newlove-Delgado, T. (2023).

Distress as an outcome in youth relationship education programming: Change mechanisms of hope and conflict. Kanter, J.B., Lannin, D. G., Russell, L. T., Parris, L., & Yazedjian, A. (2020).

Teen Pregnancy Prevention Evidence Review. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

An Evaluation of the Love Notes Curriculum Implemented as a College Class. McClain, H. et al. (2020).

Evaluation of Love Notes and Reducing the Risk in Louisville, KY (pdf). Michael R. Cunningham, PhD, Michiel A. van Syl, PhD, and Kevin Borders, MSSW, PhD, 2016

Interview with Primary Investigator, Anita P. Barbee, MSSW, Ph.D. October 2016

Updated Findings From the HHS Teen Pregnancy Prevention Evidence Review (pdf). Julieta Lugo-Gil, Amanda Lee, Divya Vohra, Katie Adamek, Johanna Lacoe, and Brian Goesling, June 2016.

OAH Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program: Spotlighting Success 2016

Love Notes Tier 2 Evaluation Synopsis (2016)

Love Notes – CHAMPS Evaluation Abstract; Kent School of Social Work, University of Louisville (pdf). Program Director: Dr.Anita Barbee; Lead Evaluator: Dr. Michael Cunningham. 2016

A chart comparing the 12 month pregnancy rates between the intervention and control groups can be found here.

Interim Report

Sex Education in a Healthy Relationship Curriculum Could Lead to Reductions in Risky Sexual Behavior (pdf) 2012.Anita Barbee, PhD, MSSW; Riaan van Zyl, Ph.D.; Walter Murrah, III Kent School of Social Work, University of Louisville

Reports on Love Notes in YouthBuild Settings

Evaluation of the Youth Build USA Pilot Study of Love Smarts (pdf) April 15, 2009. Evaluator: Jennifer Kerpelman, Ph. D., Auburn University

The YouthBuild USA Evaluation Study of Love Notes (pdf) July12, 2010. Evaluator: Jennifer Kerpelman, Ph. D., Auburn University

NEW Content!

  • Sex trafficking prevention
  • Navigating Relationships in the Digital Age with additional focus on online sharing, sexting, sextortion, and digital consent.
  • Provide practice for essential conversations for “Getting on the Same Page, which includes an added emphasis on equality, kindness and caring.
  • Internet Porn. A unique approach using an interview with Billie Eilish.
  • Planning for Success: planning/making decisions on personal use of digital/mobile technology, encouraging young people to be in control versus the technology controlling them.
  • Two additional Journal pages have been added. Getting on the Same Page and Problem-Solving & Reflections.
  • To the original discussion of hormones and sexual arousal patterns has been added Safe Sex Re-imagined

* No new material has been added to the EBP content. New content is limited to supplemental materials.

Updated Content

  • Strengths-based approach:
    • Participants define for themselves a meaningful context and timing for sex.
    • The Benefits of Deciding
    • The importance of mutuality and being mutually informed so that both partners are on the same page.
    • Greater emphasis on the motivation for young males to be more proactive in STI and pregnancy prevention.
    • Child’s Wish List
    • The positive steps young parents can take to provide bright futures for children.
  • New research & updated stats:
    • Pathways and Sequences to Success
    • Digital technology including texting, sexting, social media
    • Sexual assault prevention
  • Medically accurate contraception information based on CDC recommendations.
  • Improved some Trusted Adult-Teen Connection activities for more interaction.
  • Many resources and activity cards updated, added, or removed to better fit with updated content.
  • Updated research:
    • Cohabitation—when it’s more or less risky—to help young people make informed decisions.

Changes in Delivery

  • Activities have been streamlined.
  • Videos, music, images are current.
  • Participant Workbooks now called Journals.
  • Scenarios, role plays, and language updated to be more diverse and inclusive
  • Ongoing focus on asset-building approach and framework
  • Introduction to Love Notes………………………………….iii
  • Instructor Tips……………………………………………………xi
  • Love Notes Video and Resource Guide……………….xv
  • Lesson 1: Relationships Today……………………………..1
    • Relationships Today
    • Defining a Vision
    • Choosing Reds or Greens?
    • Introduction to the Trusted Adult Connection Activities
  • Lesson 2: Knowing Yourself………………………………….23
    • Good Relationships Start with You
    • Understanding My Personality Style
    • Examining Family Origin
  • Lesson 3: My Expectations—My Future…………………43
    • What’s Important?
    • The Power of Expectations
  • Lesson 4: Attractions and Starting Relationships…..57
    • Relationship Pyramid
    • The Chemistry of Attraction
  • Lesson 5: Principles of Smart Relationships………….83
    • 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?…………………113
    • How Can You Tell?
    • Having Fun—It’s Important!
    • Breaking Up
  • Lesson 7: Dangerous Love…………………………………..133
    • Early Warnings and Red Flags
    • Violence: Why it Happens, What Helps, Signs of Greatest Danger
    • Sexual Assault and Consent
    • Sex Trafficking Prevention
    • Draw the Line of Respect
  • Lesson 8: Decide, Don’t Slide! Pathways & Sequences Towards Success………………………………………………….167
    • The High Costs of Sliding
    • The Low-Risk Deciding Approach
    • Making Decisions
    • Pathways and Sequences Towards Success
  • Lesson 9: Communication and Healthy Relationships………………201
    • Communication Patterns Learned in Family
    • Patterns that Harm Relationships
    • Angry Brains and the Power of Time Outs
    • The Speaker Listener Technique—When Talking is Difficult
    • Relationships in the Digital Age
  • Lesson 10: Communication Challenges and More Skills………….235
    • Complain and Raise Issues Effectively
    • Hidden Issues: What Pushes Your Button?
    • A Problem-Solving Model
    • A Brief Review
    • Constantly Connected — For Better or Worse
  • Lesson 11: Let’s Talk About Sex………………………………………271
    • Let’s Talk About Sex
    • What is Intimacy, Actually?
    • Am I Ready?
    • Risks of Sliding into Sex — Benefits of Deciding
    • Navigating Relationships in the Digital Age
    • Are We on the Same Page?
    • Drawing Intimacy Lines and Pacing
  • Lesson 12: Let’s Plan for Choices……………………………………317
    • Test Your Sex Smarts
    • STDs and HIV Are for Real
    • Planning for Choices
    • A Discussion: Internet Porn
    • Pressure Situations—Assertiveness Skills
  • Lesson 13: Through the Eyes of a Child………………………….375
    • Child Looking for a Family
    • What about Fathers?
    • Child Speak: Brighter Futures
    • Decisions about Living Together
    • Planning for Success—Wrap-Up
  • Appendix……………………………………………………………………437
    • Supplemental Activities: Designing a Personal Policy for the Digital Age; Cyberbullying
    • Background & Research on Screen Time and Social Media
    • Film Guide for Antwone Fisher
    • About the Author
    • Colored Activity Cards

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 (16-24 years of age) 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 was developed especially for 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 an adaptation from one other curricula authored by this author. It is Love U2®: Relationships Smarts PLUS, a teen relationship curriculum. Relationship Smarts PLUS has completed a five-year evaluation involving 8,000 diverse teenagers in the state of Alabama. Researchers from Auburn University conducting the study report sustained gains over time. Findings include increases in students’ realistic understanding of relationships and decreases in faulty relationship beliefs, broadened understandings of relationship aggression, and declines in aggression in relationships as compared to those in control groups.4

Within My Reach, co-authored with Scott Stanley and Galena Kline-Rhoades, is a decision-making and relationship skill program for adults who struggle with disadvantages and who are at risk for poor quality relationships and relationship instability. Within My Reach contains the research-based communication and conflict management skills of the nationally acclaimed Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program (PREP) that have been shown to reduce divorce and incidences of physical aggression, while increasing relationship satisfaction and communication. Love Notes, as an adaptation of Relationship Smarts PLUS, is listed in the National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices (NREPP), a service of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Within My Reach, as an adaptation of PREP, is similarly listed.

1 Barbee, A. P., Cunningham, M. R., Antle, B. F., & Langley, C. N. (2022). Impact of a relationship-based intervention, Love Notes, on teen pregnancy prevention. Family Relations, 1–20.

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. For the OAH evidence-based list, see

2 Child Trends Research Brief (October 2009) Telling It Like It Is: Teen Perspectives on Romantic Relationships.

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.

4 For more information on the Relationship Smarts Plus study see

Marline E. Pearson, M.A.

Marline Pearson is a long-time community college instructor in the sociology department at Madison Area Technical College in Madison, Wisconsin. Her teaching foci at the college have been Criminology, Marriage and Family, and Relationship Skills. Ms. Pearson’s longstanding concern for high-risk kids and families, combined with her focus on prevention, led to her interest in relationship building. In addition to sociology classes, Ms. Pearson has pioneered a unique relationship skills class as part of a student success initiative, which she still teaches at the community college. Watch author presentation.

Ms. Pearson’s first curriculum, Relationship Smarts PLUS (RQ+), was the subject of a rigorous, large-scale, five-year evaluation conducted by researchers at Auburn University in Alabama, involving over 8,000 diverse teenagers. Ms. Pearson also developed an adaptation of RQ+ for vulnerable older teens and young adults, Love Notes: Relationship Skills for Love, Life, and WorkLove Notes has been added to list of teen pregnancy prevention Evidence Based Programs (EBP) maintained by the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services. Love Notes was included based on statistically significant decreases in sexual activity, increases in contraceptive use, and avoidance of pregnancy.

Ms. Pearson is also co-author with Scott Stanley and Galena Kline Rhoades of Within My Reach (2021), a nationally recognized relationship skills and decision-making program for helping individuals — primarily single mothers and fathers who struggle with economic hardship—achieve their goals in relationships, family, and marriage.

Other publications include Youth-Focused Relationship Education” in Evidence-based Approaches to Relationship and Marriage Education, ed. James Ponzetti, Jr., Making a Love Connection: Teen Relationships, Pregnancy, and Marriage, co-authored with Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, a report commissioned and published by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy (now Power to Decide). Pearson developed content pages for New York State Health Department ACT for Youth teen sexual health website; consulted and developed  content on relationships and sexuality for the  WIRE website for University of Wisconsin-System students; authored “Can Kids Get Smart About Marriage: A Veteran Teacher Reviews Some of the Leading Relationship and Marriage Programs,” published by the National Marriage Project (formerly of Rutgers University), and “Reaching for Higher Ground: New Approaches to Teen Sexuality,” published in the Journal of Council on Family Relations. Her classes have been featured in numerous national media, including TIME Magazine, a PBS special, and a companion book.

Ms. Pearson is frequently called upon to discuss teen and young adult relationships. She has and continues to conduct trainings on these topics and her programs.   She has trained , co-taught and mentored staff in re-entry and adolescent delinquency prevention to deliver evidence-based healthy relationship and violence prevention programming.

Long active in educational improvement, Ms. Pearson created and taught The Critical Literacy Project, an active learning and teaching improvement program at her college for a number of years.

She lives in Madison, Wisconsin with her husband. Their two daughters have successfully launched their own adult lives. She holds an M.A. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison..

Here are just a few examples of the many successful settings that have implemented Love Notes.

Clear Filters
Georgia State PREP Case Study
Northern Ohio Recovery Association (NORA) Case Study
Bee Busy Inc. Case Study
New Hampshire Department of Corrections Case Study
Hospital Case Study
Dating Violence Prevention Case Study
Omni Youth Services, Wheeling, IL
Workforce Development Case Study
Temporary Assistance to Needy Families LA Case Study
Temporary Assistance to Needy Families Santa Monica Case Study

Teen Reflections

“When I decided to take this class I had no idea this would be what we’re learning about but now that I’ve took this class I’ve learned so much I was in a very physically, emotionally , and mentally abusive relationship for over 8 months and didn’t even realize it until I took this class I never realized how little somebody could make you feel or how such small things in my eyes are actually classified as abuse you’ll never realize what type of situation you were in until you’re out of the situation. I’ve learned how to properly react to certain situations and how to address situations in a better manner at first I would become distant instead of dealing with the situation or leaving on a bad note because I didn’t want to argue because that’s what it always turned into I didn’t know how to address things without it turning into us arguing and that why I was distant and didn’t express to them how certain things affected me or how it made me feel I was very bad about using the word “you” and I would blame more than I realized I learned using the word “you” isn’t the best way to go when addressing situations instead use “l” or ‘We.” Before this class I had such low expectations and would let the boys I was with walk all over me and I never realized how bad it truly was. this class has taught me how to make better decisions and not to rush into things how to use my words and express my feelings in a positive way at first I thought this class was pointless and that I wouldn’t learn anything silly me thinking I know everything as I’ve been in multiple relationships but little did I know I was a lot of the problem and I can’t completely say it was all me but taking this class taught me that I say pretty toxic things out of anger and don’t think about how it will hurt/affect the other person and instead of arguing take a 30 minute break and come back and discuss what was said and why it turned into what it turned into. I also never believed in the 3 months rule I thought that if it was meant to be then it was meant to be I thought having sex the first few weeks of being together was okay or being manipulated was a way of them showing love when really it’s a toxic way of getting you attached to make you think they love you. I’ve learned a lot about relationships since I took this class and I don’t regret taking this class. It was a very good learning experience for me.” – Kansas Teenager 1

“I’m glad I took this class, it helped me learn so much about how relationships should be, I found out that everyone carries baggage from the past. Some are good, some are bad* I learned about my baggage, where it came from, and how to get rid of it« My baggage came from my ex and how he treated me, I was so scared to trust people with what I told them. I did\t know how they would react to how I was feeling. My ex would make me feel bad for telling him how I felt about what he was doing. Now I know that I shouldn’t feel that way and should be able to say how 1 1m feeling without being scared of how they will react. I know what I want in a relationship and how it should go, it’s my expectations, Here’s just a few of my expectations. I expect to trust each other, be faithful to each other, share how we are feeling, and just love each other. If this doesn’t meet your expectations, leave. You don’t deserve bare minimum. You deserve the best and only the best. You also have to have boundaries, If you don’t have boundaries you will get walked all over and it doesnt feel good* If they don’t respect your boundaries then they are not the one for you. If a guy truly loves you and respects you* he will respect your boundaries after the first time you talk about them. Being connected in a relationship is good, Being verbally* emotionally, and spiritually are great. You need to talk about those things in the beginning of your relationship. You probably want to talk about physically and commitment, If you want to do anything physical that is past your boundaries they need to know that. In conclusion, I learned how to have a healthy relationship and communicate with my partner. If you don*t have structure and communication it it’ll not work out with your partner, You need to know what you want and what you expect in your current or future relationship. I’m so thankful I took this class so now I know what I want and what to expect for myself and relationship.” – Kansas Teenager 2

“During this semester I’ve learned a lot about relationships and how to deal with certain things in relationships. This class has taught me that waiting for intimate relationships is better than sliding into them. It’s important to take your time and wait until you’re both ready. You and your partner need to communicate about pregnancy, STDs, birth control, and other things like that before getting intimate. Honesty plays a big part of relationships, if we aren’t honest with each other than our relationship won’t work. In     relationships, communication is also extremely important. If you don’t communicate, there will be no trust, loyalty, or honesty. Both partners don’t always have to be on the same page about everything but we need to learn to talk about things and decide something together. We shouldn’t pressure each other to do anything the other person doesn’t want to do. The biggest thing in all relationships is to have a plan for the future. We need to talk about accidental pregnancies and what we’d do if we were to get pregnant by mistake. It’s important to always be there for each other and support one another in our decision making. We’re going to argue like every normal couple but we can’t let that affect our relationship. Our future will be affected by our relationship now depending on how healthy it is. If one of us isn’t happy in the relationship then we shouldn’t be forced to fake being happy to make the other person happy. If one partner wants to get sexual but the other partner isn’t ready, the relationship is toxic and that partner is only there for one thing. This class has taught me that not all relationships are the same.” – Kansas Teenager 3

“How has this class changed my outlook on future relationships? This class has changed the way I feel about relationships in many ways. I’ve realized some of the wrong things I’ve been doing, that makes my relationships toxic. This class has made me realize what I want in a relationship. Whether that be stability, communication, loyalty, reassurance, effort, etc. I’ve realized that relationships need all of those things in order to stay healthy and happy. I’ve learned that it’s okay to argue as long as you aren’t constantly putting each other down. Communication is key in relationships for me I need to talk to my person. Not necessarily meaning we always have to talk, but rather enjoying telling each other about our day and celebrating the little things. Reflecting back, I think my most favorite lesson was my match profile. In this lesson I realized what I personally want out of a relationship. I should never expect the bare minimum, if he won’t someone else will so it’s best to end things and move on. I’d rather start over with someone 100 times other than going back to the same person who constantly hurts me and cannot meet my expectations. Loving someone so much and getting nothing in return is so draining, no one should ever put up with that. Losing someone hurts, but it can only hurt for so long, then you realize your worth and moving on gets easier. I deal with my relationships by being upfront with what I want. If you aren’t meeting my expectations then I no longer need to entertain you. I deal with my family relationships by expressing my feelings and concern. I think just being upfront about what you want is the best thing you can do to keep healthy relationships.” – Kansas Teenager 4

“I’ve taken Family Studies before when I was in the 9th grade. I thought the class was pretty boring back then and didn’t really learn anything from it because I probably thought the way I was acting in my past relationships was ok. I feel that I am more mature now and I can actually use a lot of this new information and different ways to complain, listen, and view my expectations. I’ve learned to never lower my expectations for anyone, because most of the time we all deserve more than that. You’ve also taught me to value myself more and to not just give myself to the first person who gives me attention. I’ve had 3 past relationships and I was not a kind person because I didn’t put up with their nonsense. I also just wasn’t nice to them if they started crying or trying to manipulate me. I now have a current boyfriend that I am going to be patient with and not just completely shut down and not communicate, because I actually want this to work out for longer than 2 months. I really believe that it can if I complain in the right way and not just call names and only hear things from one side of the story. I am also willing to wait and put up my sexual boundaries. I have seen relationships that just absolutely fell apart the instant the couple had sex. They put sex first before getting to know each other and ruined a relationship that could’ve been great. I am glad I took this class again and actually paid attention. I have learned so much more than I thought I would have only because I have a short attention span for a lot of subjects. It made me feel better the days I could open up and tell our class my feelings and my point of view on some things.” – Kansas Teenager 5

What Others Have to Say

“Just learning about, when you’re in a relationship, you have to wait three or four months to let the love chemical settle, then you see the person for who they really are and I’ve come to realize that in some of my own personal relationships”

Ariana Croft, Butler High School Student

“It made more sense to give teens the skills they need to have healthy relationships and healthy communication in life than try to help them afterward,” Luckett said. “Why aren’t we preparing them for life, instead of picking up the pieces?”

Kelley Luckett, Program Director, YMCA of Greater Louisville
Check out the YMCA of Greater Louisville Healthy Relationships Program Findings Report 2021-2023

“During our high risk sliding activity, someone I wouldn’t expect said, ‘I think she should have enforced it no matter what…and if he respected her he would have gotten tested. He was being manipulative, he knew what he was doing .’ What a concise response to “if you loved me, you would…” to say, “If you respected me, you wouldn’t.” ! I was so impressed with her! She’s not usually one to advocate for herself, but she’s really coming into her own!”

Facilitator, Thriving Families, MotherWise

“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

In a 5-year federally funded randomized controlled trial, researchers found that young people in the Love Notes group were more likely to choose to use condoms and contraception and engage in sexual activity less frequently. Most importantly, youth were statistically less likely to get pregnant.

In fact, the young people who were taught the Love Notes program were 46% less likely to experience pregnancy within 1 year compared to those in the control group. You can read about this outcome in the peer reviewed journal article by clicking here.

It is the 46% less likely to get pregnant outcome that makes the Love Notes program especially cost effective.

According to researchers at the University of Louisville, Love Notes actually saves the state more money than is spent on it. Here is a screenshot of their analysis, illustrating how much money the State of Kentucky saved due to the implementation of the Love Notes program and the subsequent prevention of numerous pregnancies.

While there may be some less expensive teen pregnancy prevention programs available, there are none that are more effective at teen pregnancy prevention for both boys and girls as Love Notes. This effectiveness in turn saves states more money than the additional cost of the Love Notes materials.