The strength of the bonds between young couples affects their health, Yale researchers have found.

This January, researchers at the School of Public Health will launch a free intervention program geared towards low-income, at-risk New Haven couples between the ages of 14 and 25 who may otherwise be prone to disease and child neglect. Titled PARTNRS, the new program is the result of five years of research on the link between health and relationships and will focus on improving relationship functioning, sexual health, family planning skills and parenting skills.

“Learning [about relationships] on the go is hard to do when you’re 16 and have a baby,” Trace Kershaw, principal investigator of PARTNRS and associate professor of epidemiology and public health at the Yale School of Public Health, said. “We want to provide these couples with some guidance.”

Each of the 15 hour-long sessions that comprise the intervention project will involve six to seven couples led by a trained mediator who will share techniques on how to talk and listen to each other, how to resolve arguments more efficiently and how to better raise their children, Kershaw said. He added that after couples’ mental health has been addressed thoroughly, the program will focus on improving sexual health. Kershaw made clear, though, that this will not be a couples counseling program.

PARTNRS has been a five-year research initiative supported by the National Institute of Mental Health aimed at explaining the link between health practices and the strength of couples’ relationships. Based on their assessment of 300 young couples who volunteered to participate, researchers from the School of Public Health concluded that the strength of relationships greatly influences health, particularly sexual health. For instance, when couples are at risk of separating or have problems communicating, they are more likely to have multiple partners, and thus more likely to contract sexual transmitted infections, Kershaw said. He added that public health studies often omit the health of relationships.

“If I can’t talk to my partner about doing the dishes, how am I going to talk about using condoms?” Kershaw said.

Derrick Gordon, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry and one of the researchers, said that the program tackles the mistaken assumption that young couples know what form their relationships should take. He said the program is likely to succeed because of its emphasis on specific goals — such as raising their children — instead of abstract relationship advice.

Gordon, who focuses on men’s health, said that often public health programs have too great a focus on women’s and children’s health compared to men’s health. In fact, he said, young men are more likely to engage in risky health behaviors than women are.

The program will be advertised at different health centers throughout the New Haven community, including Saint Raphael’s Hospital and Yale-New Haven Hospital.