Relationships can often be an afterthought or a thought some of us actively try to avoid, but at the University of Wisconsin Couples Lab, relationships are the only thought.

The UW Couples Lab goal is to understand how intimate relationships affect our day-to-day lives, as well as how we can help to improve our relationships and manage them effectively.

Dr. Lauren Papp, an associate professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies, started the UW Couples Lab in 2007 after joining the department in 2006. She said the lab has shown the power of a strong relationship.

“If your intimate relationship is going well, it can be the best resource in your life,” Papp says. “It can help you manage minor stress, day-to-day struggles, navigate life’s bigger transitions, make you feel really happy and keep you healthy.”

The lab is currently recruiting for two separate studies, according to a university statement. The first study focuses on the romantic relationships of young adults, and researchers are recruiting people between the ages of 18 and 25 who have been dating for at least a month, Papp said. She said the second study explores middle-aged couples that no longer have children living in the home.

There are 13 students working with Papp in the lab, including both undergraduate and graduate students, according to a university statement. According to Papp, the opportunity to work with undergraduate and graduate students in all aspects of her research was an integral part of why she started the lab in 2007.

“I wanted a place to be able to train and work with undergraduate and graduate people,” Papp says. “I wanted to be able to include students in my research, train students to conduct the research and teach students about the research.”

Shari Blumenstock, a second year master’s student studying human development and family studies, was invited to be a project assistant for the UW Couples Lab by Papp.

Blumenstock said in an email to The Badger Herald she works on the young adults dating study, managing a team of undergraduate research assistants. In her work, she oversees certain logistical aspects of the study and also gets to work with the participating couples, which she says is her favorite part.

“I’ve been really impressed by the amount of healthy relationship skills a lot of these young couples exhibit,” Blumenstock says. “I think it shows that these skills can be taught at any age and strong relationships can be cultivated early, which gives me a lot of hope for upcoming generations.”

Blumenstock plans to continue with a career in academia with the hopes of becoming a researcher, professor and outreach specialist.

So what’s one of the most important things to remember when it comes to relationships? According to Papp, intimate relationships are a huge force within our lives and how well we manage our relationships can determine how well we function.

“Never underestimate your relationship. These are really important parts of our lives and can be the best resource for navigating life challenges. But they take work, require effort and attention needs to be devoted to them,” Papp says. “Do not take them lightly.”

[Photo from Flickr user zoetnet]