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Special Collection: Building Collaborations Between Healthy Marriage & Relationship Education and Domestic Violence Programs

National Resource Center on Domestic Violence

This collection was developed by the The National Healthy Marriage Resource Center (NHMRC) in collaboration with The National Resource Center on Domestic Violence (NRCDV). Visit the NHMRC's online library of resources on Domestic Violence.


This Special Collection is designed to help practitioners, administrators and advocates in the fields of Healthy Marriage & Relationship Education (HMRE) and Domestic Violence (DV) - as well as those interested in these fields - understand and learn about the overlapping and complementary goals of each field, and to build bridges in order to effectively address and respond to domestic violence and promote safe and healthy relationships. This collection is based upon new research and lessons from emerging partnerships between these fields at the national, state and community levels.

Updates of Note

  • In July 2011, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released the program announcement for the 2011 Community-Centered Healthy Marriage and Relationship Grants. The NRCDV drafted a memo for domestic violence advocates to: 1) provide a basic overview of these grants; 2) identify some questions that advocates might ask if approached to partner in a healthy marriage or relationship program; and 3) describe resources that might be helpful. A copy of that memo can be found here.
  • Press Release: ACF announces over $119 million in Grant Awards for Healthy Marriage and Responsible Fatherhood - On October 3, 2011, HHS’ Administration for Children and Families, Office of Family Assistance (OFA) announced $119,393,729 in grant awards to 120 grantees to promote healthy marriage and responsible fatherhood. See the accompanying List of Grantees.
  • Webinar: Healthy Marriage and Relationship Education: What Domestic Violence Advocates Need to Know by the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence & National Healthy Marriage Resource Center - On September 19, 2011, the NRCDV hosted this webinar exploring questions such as: What is Healthy Marriage and Relationship (MRE) Education anyway? How have MRE programs worked with domestic violence coalitions and community-based domestic violence programs? What tools have been developed that might be helpful to our DV prevention efforts? Where are the opportunities for collaborative healthy relationship work going forward?

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Background and Definitions

This section provides key working definitions and terms, resources that present a brief history of the two fields and discuss their collaboration, and descriptions of the programs and services they provide.

Domestic Violence

Historically, the domestic violence field and the healthy marriage field have very different origins, funding sources and professional and advocacy bases. Until recently they have had little to do with each other, share many misconceptions of each other and sometimes seemed to be working at cross purposes. Yet they share a basic goal - fostering safe and healthy intimate partner relationships.

In 2006 the federal Administration for Children and Families funded Healthy Marriage and Responsible Fatherhood programs and required them to consult with DV experts to decide how domestic violence issues and concerns would be addressed in the program. This requirement arose from a response by government officials to concerns expressed by domestic violence advocates and others that joint exposure of a couple to some of the relationship education content could exacerbate existing violence, and put the victim at risk of harm. In the process of these consultations with domestic violence experts (who are often members of the local or state domestic violence coalitions), grantees are encouraged to develop written, site-specific "protocols," that is, guidelines tailored to the specific population and nature of the program.

Building Bridges Between Healthy Marriage, Responsible Fatherhood, and Domestic Violence Programs | (PDF document, 24 pages)
by Theodora Ooms, Jacqueline Boggess, Anne Menard, Mary Myrick, Paula Roberts, Jack Tweedie, and Pamela Wilson for the National Conference of State Legislatures and Center for Law and Social Policy (December 2006)

This guide shares key lessons learned at the “Building Bridges Between Healthy Marriage, Responsible Fatherhood, and Domestic Violence Fields Conference,” where participants focused on strategies for working together to achieve the goals all three fields have in common -- fostering safe and healthy intimate partner relationships and parent-child relationships.

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Excerpted from Ooms, T., Boggess, J., Menard, A., Myrick, M., Roberts, P., Tweedie, J., & Wilson, P., 2006.

History and origins

The DV movement dates back to the ‘70s, when the first shelters and battered women's programs were set up and grassroots activists worked hard to get critical legal protections in place, educate police, and increase public awareness. Congress passed legislation in 1981 to create a federal funding stream for core DV services throughout the country. The Violence Against Women's Act (VAWA), passed in 1994, was the first federal legislation to acknowledge domestic violence and sexual assault as crimes and provide federal resources to encourage community-coordinated approaches to combating violence. Since the mid-'70s, more than 2,000 community-based DV programs have been organized throughout the U.S. In addition, state, tribal, and territorial coalitions have been established; comprehensive training and technical assistance networks have been developed; and collaborative efforts to enhance health care, criminal justice, social service, and community responses to domestic violence have been initiated. These programs and services are funded through many different state, federal, and private foundation funding sources.


DV programs typically provide 24-hour crisis hotlines, individual and group support and counseling, legal and medical advocacy, support groups for adults and children, and other specialized services. A major emphasis of these services is safety planning with DV victims. More than half of these programs also provide emergency shelter to family members who are not safe in their own homes. Some large programs also provide employment services, respite care, and childcare programs; and some also offer batterer intervention programs, either directly or through a collaborative relationship. Many programs are actively involved in community education and awareness activities and conduct violence prevention activities (e.g., in schools). Although the network of DV services is now extensive across the U. S., there are too few programs available in rural communities and for Native American and migrant populations.

Understanding Domestic Violence: Definitions, Scope, Impact & Response | (PDF document, 18 pages) 
by Anne Menard for the National Healthy Marriage Resource Center (NHMRC) (2008)

This guide includes a working definition of domestic violence and an introduction to the network of domestic violence services that has been built in the United States over the last 30 years. An overview of key research findings related to the scope of domestic violence and its impact on adults, teens and children is also included.

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Excerpted from Ooms, T., Boggess, J., Menard, A., Myrick, M., Roberts, P., Tweedie, J., & Wilson, P., 2006 &Derrington, R., Johnson, M., Menard, A., Ooms, T. & Stanley, S., 2010.

The traditional definition of domestic violence* most widely used and accepted within the DV field is some variation of the following:

Domestic violence is a pattern of coercive behavior in which one person attempts to control another through threats or actual use of physical violence, sexual assault, verbal and psychological abuse, and/or economic coercion.

This is the type of violence most often reported to the authorities; is characteristic of victims seeking legal, health, and social and support services; and is measured and tracked in agency data. It has been graphically portrayed in the widely used Duluth model Power and Control Wheel.

Scholars are using new terminology to describe differing instances of domestic violence, such as "intimate terrorism," "situational couple violence," "characterological violence," and "violent resistance." Michael Johnson (2006) says that "intimate terrorism" is being used to refer to violence that is highly gendered and nearly always perpetrated by a man terrorizing a woman. It corresponds to the definition used broadly by the DV community (see above).

"Situational couple violence," a term that Johnson coined, is when a disagreement turns into an angry, nasty, two-way argument that then escalates into violence-hitting, shoving, biting, or worse. "Although this type of violence is almost as likely to be perpetrated by women as by men, men do more serious damage and their violence is more likely to introduce fear into a relationship and get the authorities involved" (Johnson, 2006). "The violence can be mild or severe; and, although often an isolated incident, some couples have a recurring pattern of such violence that is extremely dangerous."

A great deal more discussion, debate, and research are needed to explore two key questions:

  1. How do we best distinguish between domestic violence and others types of conflict and violent behavior that occur within intimate relationships?
  2. What are the implications of these definitions and distinctions for the policies and practices of HM and RF programs, particularly as they relate to recruitment, screening and assessment, and staff and volunteer training?

* The terms domestic violence, spouse abuse, battering, sexual assault, intimate partner/couple violence, intimate terrorism and so forth generally refer to physical or psychological violence that occurs between a male/ female couple who are married or sexually intimate, or a same-sex couple. Family violence is a broader term and includes child abuse and elder abuse as well.

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Healthy Marriage


Excerpted from Ooms, T., Boggess, J., Menard, A., Myrick, M., Roberts, P., Tweedie, J., & Wilson, P., 2006.

History and origins

In terms of public recognition and government funding, the HM field is "the new kid on the block" (Ooms, 2005). However, its roots in marriage and relationships research and education programs go back to the ‘50s and ‘60s. The field then grew, in response to rising concern about the negative economic and psychological effects-on children and adults alike-of the increasing rates of divorce and out-of-wedlock childrearing. Existing counseling and therapy services offered to distressed couples provided too little help, too late. The belief, supported by new research, was that individuals and couples could learn the knowledge, attitudes, and skills needed to have a healthy and happy relationship, make wise marital choices, and stay successfully married.

In 1996, the U.S. Congress enacted welfare reform, which was the first federal law to establish promotion of marriage and reduction of out-of-wedlock childbearing as federal policy goals. The law encouraged states to spend funds from the new Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (TANF) on pursuing these goals. In 2001, the federal government began for the first time to fund marriage education programs around the country.


Marriage and relationship education (MRE) can be provided to the general public through media campaigns, Web sites, brochures, self-help books, self-guided internet courses, etc. Most often, MRE is provided in structured workshops, classes, or seminars offered to couples on a voluntary basis in the community, on campuses, in churches and schools, and on military bases. The curricula are generally taught in group settings, with information presented and skills taught through a mixture of lectures, structured discussion, videotapes, interactive exercises, and homework tasks. Programs have been customized for high school students, individual adults, engaged couples, married couples seeking enrichment, highly distressed couples, and remarried/stepparent couples.

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It is difficult to capture accurate statistics on domestic violence and couple conflict. Varying definitions and measures are used in different reports to document the prevalence of DV. Data regarding cultural, age, gender, racial and ethnic differences are presented. For additional statistics on domestic violence, see VAWnet's section on Research or select a particular population from the drop-down menu in Population-Specific Approaches.

  • Domestic Violence Counts 2010. A 24-hour census of domestic violence shelters and services |  (PDF, 16 pages) 
    by the National Network to End Domestic Violence (January 2011)
    On September 15, 2010, 91 percent of identified domestic violence programs in the United States participated in the 2010 National Census of Domestic Violence Services. The results were published in this report.
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  • Where Do “Domestic Violence” Statistics Come From and Why Do They Vary So Much? |  (PDF, 12 pages) 
    by Michael P. Johnson for the National Healthy Marriage Resource Center and the National (May 2009)
    Domestic Violence and Healthy Marriage advocates often appear to contradict each other when they report statistics on the levels and nature of intimate partner conflict. This research brief helps clarify some of the misunderstandings, errors and apparent contradictions which derive from treating domestic violence as a single phenomenon.
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  • The Facts About Domestic Violence |  (PDF, 6 pages) 
    by The Office on Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice (August 2009)
    This brief synthesizes the most current data available from a variety of sources that document the incidences of domestic violence for different populations by age, gender, sexual orientation, immigration status, and racial and ethnic background.
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  • Intimate Partner Violence, 1993-2001 |  (PDF, 2 pages) 
    by Callie Marie Rennison for the U.S. Department of Justice (February 2003)
    This brief summarizes statistical data showing rates of both fatal and non-fatal violent victimization committed by current or former intimate partners in the United States.
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  • Economic Stress and Domestic Violence |  PDF, 15 pages)
    by Claire M. Renzetti with contributions from Vivian M. Larkin (September 2009)
    This VAWnet Applied Research paper provides data on domestic violence rates across social classes, highlights the relationship between economic stress and domestic violence, and explores employment, social support networks, and weaknesses in social services.
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  • Full Report of the Prevalence, Incidence, and Consequences of Violence Against Women |  (PDF, 71 pages)
    by Patricia Tjaden and Nancy Thoennes by the U.S. Department of Justice (November 2000)
    The National Violence Against Women (NVAW) Survey sampled both women and men and thus provides comparable data on women's and men's experiences with violent victimization.
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A variety of studies, by a number of authors, using different data sets and measures have established that domestic violence is not a unitary phenomenon. Rather, "typologies" have been developed to describe different types of intimate partner violence and the context in which they occur. Each type has somewhat different causes and implications for marriage and relationship programs.

  • Making Distinctions Between Different Types of Intimate Partner Violence: A Preliminary Guide |  (PDF, 36 pages) 
    by Rachel Derrington, MSW, Michael Johnson, PhD, Anne Menard, BA, Theodora Ooms, MSW, and Scott Stanley, PhD for the National Healthy Marriage Resource Center and the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence (April 2010)
    This paper summarizes discussions held at an invitational conference designed to bring together key scholars and practitioners from the healthy marriage and domestic violence fields to address a complex issue-different types of intimate partner violence and their implications for practice.
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  • Differentiating Among Types of Domestic Violence: Implications for Healthy Marriages |  (PDF, 18 pages) 
    by Michael P. Johnson in H. Elizabeth Peters and Claire Kamp Dush (Eds) Marriage and Families: Complexities and Perspectivespp 281-294. Columbia University Press (2009)
    This updated explanation of Johnson's well known typology of intimate partner violence also discusses the challenges and implications of understanding distinctions for practitioners.
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Journal Articles:

  • Anderson, K. L. (2008). Is Partner Violence Worse in the Context of Control? Journal of Marriage and Family 70:1157-1168.
    This study examines whether the Johnson typology increases the ability to explain variations in the negative outcomes of partner violence as compared with the use of a continuous measure of violence. This study also considers whether the use of control to differentiate between types of violence helps to explain the negative consequences of partner violence.
  • Holtzworth-Munroe, A. & Meehan, J. C. (2004). Typologies of Men Who Are Maritally Violent: Scientific and Clinical Implications. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 19(12).
    The leading typologies of batterers are outlined. Clinical issues regarding the typology are discussed, including concern that the use of absolute cut-off points to identify subtypes is premature and consideration of using the typology to predict treatment outcome and to match interventions to subtypes . Regarding future research ideas, it is time to consider more immediate, situational and dyadic, processes leading to violence perpetration within each subtype.
  • Johnson, M. P. & Ferraro, K. (2000). Research on Domestic Violence in the 1990s: Making Distinctions. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 62(4): 948-963. Decade Review, Special Issue.
    This review of the family literature on domestic violence of the 1990s identifies two broad themes: the importance of distinctions among types and contexts of violence, and the interplay of violence, power and control. It also covers literature on coping with violence, effects on victims and their children, and the social effects of partner violence.


Two interviews conducted with a leading sociologist and a community psychologist provide insights into the ongoing efforts to understand domestic violence as it occurs in different cultural contexts. Both were participants and presenters at the conference titled Building Bridges Between Healthy Marriage, Responsible Fatherhood, and Domestic Violence Fields, at the Wingspread Conference Center, Racine, Wisconsin, on May 1-3, 2006. The conference was co-sponsored by the Center for Law and Social Policy and the National Conference of State Legislatures.

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This section compiles resources for program administrators and practitioners who have, or need to, implement a domestic violence component to their programs. Information regarding inter-agency domestic violence protocols and lessons learned in these partnerships is given. In addition, screening and assessment in the identification and response to DV is discussed.

Certain populations, like children, teens, men and various cultures, experience, or are exposed to, domestic violence at varying rates. In an effort to respond to the diverse experiences of victims and survivors of domestic violence, services must be individualized to meet the unique needs of each population and/or community. See VAWnet's Population-Specific Approaches resources, offering a starting point for considering the various issues that impact the lives of victims and survivors in specific populations.

  • Informing and Enhancing Response to Domestic Violence within Federally-funded Healthy Marriage Projects | (PDF, 4 pages) 
    by Eleanor Lyon and Anne Menard for the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence (July 2008)
    This report highlights findings from interviews conducted with healthy marriage programs and domestic violence partners about their experience with developing and implementing their domestic violence protocols.
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  • It's Not Healthy If It's Not Safe: Responding to Domestic Violence Issues in Healthy Marriage Programs | (PDF, 17 pages) 
    by Anne Menard and Oliver Williams for the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management (APPAM) (May 2006)
    This paper explores the challenges, opportunities and lessons learned in the course of providing consultation and technical assistance about domestic violence protocol development at sites currently receiving federal funds for healthy marriage activities, and with domestic violence advocates attempting to partner with these programs and others.
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  • Promoting Safety: A Resource Packet for Marriage and Relationship Educators and Program Administrators | (PDF, 110 pages)
    by Anne Menard for the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the National Healthy Marriage Resource Center (Updated October 2015)
    The Resource Guide was developed for relationship and marriage educators and program administrators to help them understand and respond to domestic violence issues that may arise within their programs.
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  • Assessment for Lifetime Exposure to Violence as a Pathway to Prevention | (PDF, 12 pages) 
    by Linda Chamberlain (February 2006)
    This document provides a brief overview of the research on lifetime exposure to violence and the long-term health consequences of violence. It also examines how assessment for lifetime exposure to violence can create a pathway to prevention.
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  • Building Bridges Between Healthy Marriage, Responsible Fatherhood, and Domestic Violence Programs | (PDF, 24 pages)
    by Theodora Ooms, Jacqueline Boggess, Anne Menard, Mary Myrick, Paula Roberts, Jack Tweedie, and Pamela Wilson for the National Conference of State Legislatures and Center for Law and Social Policy (December 2006)
    This guide shares key lessons learned at the “Building Bridges Between Healthy Marriage, Responsible Fatherhood, and Domestic Violence Fields Conference,” where participants focused on strategies for working together to achieve the goals all three fields have in common -- fostering safe and healthy intimate partner relationships and parent-child relationships.
    + View Summary
  • Promoting Safety Together: Domestic Violence and Healthy Marriage Programs - A Capitol Hill Briefing Seminar 
    by the National Healthy Marriage Resource Center and the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence (July 18, 2008)
    This briefing was organized to provide the policy community with an update on how the healthy marriage and domestic violence fields were beginning to collaborate to promote safety.
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    Guide for Purchase: (Limited supply available at no cost for domestic violence programs - Contact the NRCDV.
  • Collaboration and Partnership – Fatherhood Practitioners and Advocates Against Domestic Violence Working Together to Serve Women, Men, and Families by Jacquelyn Boggess, Rebecca May, and Marguerite Roulet for The Center for Family Policy and Practice (2007) is a guide that discusses the issues surrounding domestic violence and responsible fatherhood collaboration. The authors exchange information that service providers can use to find partners, lay the groundwork for an effective partnership and develop a common understanding of safety.
    Order the guide here.

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Some marriage and relationship education curricula directly address domestic violence. Other curricula resources, such as videos, may be appropriate to supplement a marriage/relationship education curriculum. Messages need to be appropriate for the audience and setting; some examples are listed below.

  1. Exploring Relationships and Marriage with Fragile Families
    The Center for Urban Families (CFUF) in Baltimore, MD, a nationally respected program providing a range of employment and support services to non-custodial, low-income fathers, and their partners, has over the years built a strong partnership with the House of Ruth in Maryland, the largest, most comprehensive domestic violence program in the area. This partnership has resulted in a number of joint activities in addition to the development of a curriculum.
  2. The Survival Skills for Healthy Families and Strongest Link: The Couple and Families Affected by Domestic Violence 
    Family Wellness Associates in Salida, CA has developed three widely used relationship, marriage and family education and enrichment programs tailored for use in multi-cultural environments and a variety of settings. The curricula they wrote include additional lesson plans that address domestic violence. Strategies for addressing domestic violence and strategies that are of particular use for families in the military and law enforcement are presented.
  3. Love Notes: Making Relationships Work is a healthy relationship program for youth ages 16-24 available from the Dibble Institutein Berkley, CA. The curriculum comprises 15 lessons designed to help young people make wise relationship and sexual choices and avoid the troubled, unsafe relationships and unplanned pregnancies which can so often derail their progress in school. The program is designed to help young people learn to recognize the early warning signs of abuse and unhealthy relationships, but importantly also teaches them to become clearer about the kind of positive healthy relationship they want to have and gives them the skills to achieve it.
  4. Within My Reach is a relationships skills and decision making program for individuals, especially tailored for those who have struggled with economic disadvantage. Developed by Prep Inc. in Denver, CO, it includes messages throughout on promoting safety and addressing domestic violence.

Educational Videos:

  • Something My Father Would Do - Overcoming Legacies of Family Violence Directed by John Badalament for Futures Without Violence (2008)
    This fifteen-minute documentary shows the stories of three men who grew up with abusive fathers and had to grapple with their own behaviors as intimate partners and fathers. This educational film was originally directed to fathers who have used violence and designed to be used in supervised visitation centers. However, practitioners have used it effectively in a variety of settings, including batterers intervention programs, responsible fatherhood groups, child welfare, groups for adolescents and the criminal justice system.
  • NRCDV Video Resources
    This database of visual media is maintained by the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence (NRCDV) to assist advocates and others working to end domestic violence in selecting videos/films to use in educational programming and service provision. Because organizations and communities have different needs, the NRCDV recommends that you preview videos before purchasing. The NRCDV does not lend or sell the videos on this list. To arrange for a preview or to inquire about purchase price, please contact the distributors directly.

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Additional Resources

The organizations listed below provide technical assistance and training in collaboration with domestic violence, healthy marriage and responsible fatherhood programs.

Center for Family Policy and Practice (CFPP), Madison, WI, is a nationally-focused public policy organization conducting policy research, technical assistance, training, and public education in order to focus attention on the barriers faced by never-married, low-income fathers and their families.

Center for Urban Families (CFUF), Baltimore, MD, has four programs offered in the following areas: family services, workforce development, responsible fatherhood, and program planning and evaluation. All four areas are interconnected, each touching some aspect of the lives of Urban families. Participants in one program frequently utilize the resources of other program areas. Each of these program areas supports the organization's vision to assist individuals in regaining the personal power needed to benefit their families and communities.

The Domestic Violence Resource Network is administered by the Family and Youth Services Bureau's Family Violence Prevention and Services Program. The DVRN is a network of five centers that provide resource information, training and technical assistance to federal, state, local and tribal agencies, domestic violence programs, local community- and faith-based organizations, and other entities and individuals who provide services to domestic violence victims. The DVRN works to strengthen the existing support systems serving battered women, their children, and other victims of domestic violence. Each resource center promotes research and provides technical assistance and leadership in the development of effective domestic violence public policy.

The Dibble Institute is a nonprofit 501c3 organization dedicated to helping young people learn the skills necessary for successful relationships and marriages. They serve as a national leader in the field of youth marriage education. The Dibble Institute develops, publishes, and distributes materials that help teens learn how to navigate their romantic lives.

Futures Without Violence works to end violence against women and children around the world. Instrumental in developing the landmark Violence Against Women Act passed by Congress in 1994, Futures has continued to break new ground by reaching new audiences including men and youth; promoting leadership within communities to ensure that violence prevention efforts become self-sustaining; and transforming the way health care providers, police, judges, employers and others address violence.

National Healthy Marriage Resource Center (NHMRC) is a clearinghouse for high-quality, balanced, and timely information and resources on healthy marriage. It provides resources and training for experts, researchers, policymakers, media, marriage educators, couples and individuals, and program providers.

National Resource Center on Domestic Violence (NRCDV) has organized a number of key resources designed to support domestic violence intervention and prevention efforts at the local, state and national level.

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