A few months into their marriage, Deltona newlyweds Chara and Tarell Johnson faced some of the challenges familiar to relationships, such as difficulty communicating and trust issues.

With the recommendation of a pastor, the couple pursued what they thought would be traditional marriage counseling.

Instead, they learned how to talk through their problems and avoid arguments by listening to couples like them work through their issues with support from researchers from the University of Central Florida’s Marriage and Family Research Institute.

“It opened our eyes to a lot of things. What we thought we knew about each other, we didn’t,” said Chara. “The instructors made it so comfortable for us, it was almost like talking with your best friend. You don’t find that too often.”

Effective communication can decrease stress, build support and strengthen bonds, and it’s the key to a healthy relationship, said Andrew Daire, co-founder and executive director of the Marriage and Family Research Institute.

During the past decade, the institute has helped more than 7,000 individuals, including the Johnsons, learn to handle conflict constructively and communicate better.

The institute was started in 2003 by Daire and Mark E. Young, who both wanted to bring together students, researchers and community leaders to create healthy family environments, prevent child abuse and reduce the factors that lead to health disparities. Since then, the institute has received more than $12 million in funding.

Part of the College of Education and Human Performance’s graduate counseling program, the institute provides free services and resources for couples and singles. It also offers valuable clinical research experience for undergraduate and graduate students who study counseling and couples education.

The institute uses a collaborative, open environment to open the lines of communication among couples and encourage active listening.

Tarell Johnson said that it brought him closer to his wife and helped him better understand her needs, especially during a period when she was unemployed.

“By going through the program, I could encourage her and understand her in different ways. I could cultivate her spirit, lift her up and tell her not to worry about obstacles. We had to stick together and be one as a team,” he said. “We thought we knew each other, but we got to know each other deeper.”

The institute will celebrate 10 years of work Saturday, May 17, at an award ceremony and dinner celebration at the Radisson Hotel Orlando. Festivities will begin at 6:30 p.m., and registration is available.

The event will highlight the institute’s research and honor the staff and couples that have supported the institute in reaching this milestone.