PAIRS history, mission and pathfinders

Morris and Lori Gordon
Founders Lori and Morris Gordon

Strong, resilient marriages and families are the vessel within which men, women and children have the greatest opportunity to enjoy happy, healthy, fulfilling lives. Many of the social breakdowns that contribute to national challenges such as poverty, homelessness, violent crime, drug and alcohol abuse, teen pregnancy, incarceration and recidivism, abortion, school drop-outs, and similar trials can be traced directly to the far-reaching, lasting impact of marital and family breakdown.

More than thirty years ago, Lori Gordon, a Northern Virginia marriage and family therapist whose early career included extensive work with adolescents in residential treatment centers, realized that one of the most important contributions mental health professionals and educators could make to children was to help their parents’ own relationships. In 1975, as a faculty member at American University’s School of Counseling in Washington, D.C., Mrs. Gordon developed the concept of relationship skills training into a semester-long course to help graduate students best serve their future clients. The course integrated, adapted and wove together ground-breaking work from pathfinders such as Virginia Satir, Daniel Casriel, George Bach and many others.

From the beginning, the results were both remarkable and unambiguous. Soon after, Mrs. Gordon brought the course on the “practical application of intimate relationship skills,” known by the acronym “PAIRS,” to private practice clients struggling in their own marriages. Early assumptions about the potential for couples to achieve enduring breakthroughs through skills training in communication, emotional understanding, constructive conflict resolution, sensuality and sexuality, and other areas vital to healthy, love relationships were quickly and repeatedly validated; relationship skills founded on emotional literacy  delivered through curriculum-based educational experiences became a powerful model for saving marriages.

Mrs. Gordon began training other mental health professionals and clergy, presenting the results of her early work at conferences and in the media, and encouraging others to consider skills training as critical building blocks for work with couples in all stages of relationship.

In 1983, together with her late husband, Rabbi Morris Gordon, Mrs. Gordon established PAIRS Foundation as a non-stock, not-for-profit corporation to guide the growth and development of PAIRS approach to relationship education. As a 501(c)(3) non-profit, the foundation provided a vehicle for many others to contribute time, energy and money to enhance the original curriculum, develop effective training methods, conduct research, and expand the program to communities throughout the world. PAIRS Foundation primarily operated out of Mrs. Gordon’s offices in Northern Virginia before relocating to Florida in 2000, where it was also incorporated.

In 1987, the PAIRS trademark was registered by PAIRS Foundation with the United States Patent and Trademark Office through registration number 1,442,482. In 1988, the complete 447-page PAIRS semester-long curriculum was copyrighted by the PAIRS Foundation through registration number 2422429. In 1989, the PAIRS curriculum guide, an extensive training manual for therapists, was also copyrighted by PAIRS Foundation through registration number 2641343. Over the next decade and a half,  Mrs. Gordon and others operating under the umbrella of the non-profit, tax-exempt PAIRS Foundation created numerous derivatives of the original PAIRS program to provide a range of one-day, weekend, and multi-week classes. On October 1, 2004, Mrs. Gordon fully assigned the entire value of her interest in the range of PAIRS programs to an Irrevocable Trust, naming PAIRS Foundation as 100 percent beneficiary.

Mrs. Gordon’s early vision, fueled by the efforts and contributions of many others, gave birth to what is today one of the world’s preeminent marriage education/relationship skills training programs. Through a network of more than 2,000 program instructors trained and licensed by PAIRS Foundation, PAIRS classes regularly transform the lives of diverse participants of all ages, socio-economic, religious, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds.

In 2006, as a result of a multi-million dollar, multi-year federal grant provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, PAIRS Foundation began an exhaustive five-year study of the impact of relationship skills training through a demonstration project involving over 5,000 participants in Florida’s Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties. Early results of the ongoing study have consistently validated the significant, lasting impact of PAIRS most popular classes for couples and singles in any stage of relationship: PAIRS Essentials and PAIRS for Life.

PAIRS Foundation continues to oversee program development, refinement, ethics, rigorous quality management, and ongoing training for course instructors. Educators, counselors, health care professionals, clergy and lay leaders nationwide are regularly invited to partner with PAIRS Foundation to deliver programs that strengthen marriages, relationships, families and improve outcomes for children in their communities.

Learn more at

PAIRS Foundation

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What is PAIRS?

Intimacy is critical to the process of developing and sustaining close relationships, now a major concern in our culture. Modernization has shifted the primary function of marriage from providing security, stability, and raising children to developing a lifetime of love and intimacy. In previous generations successful marriages depended upon duty and role competence. Modern marriages require greater interpersonal competence as well as equality between partners. Relationships are sought that not only create stable families but also provide partners with a lifetime of love and companionship.

The PAIRS (Practical Application of Intimate Relationship Skills) programs, developed by Lori H. Gordon, Ph.D., provide a comprehensive system to enhance self-knowledge and to develop the ability to sustain pleasurable intimate relationships. Gordon's approach integrates a wide range of theories and methods from psychology, education and psychotherapy and presents them in an educational format. PAIRS acts to bridge therapy, marital enrichment, and marriage and family development.

Programs: Courses and Workshops

PAIRS offers programs to the public led by PAIRS Trained Professionals (licensed health care professionals), and PAIRS Instructors (certified clergy and educators), trained under the auspices and supervision of Gordon and the PAIRS Foundation, the organization that officially oversees PAIRS programs, products and licensing worldwide. There are PTPs and facilitators around the world. Check “Finding an Educator” to find one near you or near one you love who may need PAIRS.

PAIRS is effective in all populations for which it has been adapted. PAIRS has relationship skills training programs for children and youth, PAIRS for PEERS, that are taught in schools, churches and agencies. PAIRS has programs for the Military, for use by chaplains and family service workers. PAIRS has faith-based programs for the Jewish, Catholic, and Christian church communities. PAIRS is currently developing programs and program delivery systems for disadvantaged youth, unmarried families, single parents, domestic violence, prison parolees, and related groups who can benefit from relationship skills training. PAIRS provides a vital ingredient to build stable marriages and healthy families with more hopeful futures for children. These programs for special groups will be taught by local agency workers and by specially trained community teachers and mentors. Research on PAIRS has demonstrated that PAIRS works for all groups under all circumstances evaluated. PAIRS is a modern technology adapted to our rapidly changing society in behalf of creating a saner, safer more loving world.

What you will learn in PAIRS

Sustaining a pleasurable intimate relationship does not work by magic. It depends upon a set of skills and understanding that can be learned. We learned most of what we know about intimate relationships through our early experiences in our families. Our personal history has a great deal of influence on what happens in our current relationships - on our behavior, our feelings, our expectations. We can change these influences if we become aware of them and wish to. It is well worthwhile to sort through what we inherited, keeping what fits for today and changing what does not.

PAIRS Competencies are specific skills that you will learn from PAIRS. These competencies focus in three areas: 1) emotional literacy; 2) conjoint partner skills for building and maintaining intimacy; and 3) practical knowledge, strategies and attitudes for sustaining positive marriage and family life. You may click on the above links to see a listing of the skills taught in PAIRS.

The Goal of PAIRS is a relationship that both partners can live with joyfully. For this to happen, each partner must become able to identify his or her own feelings and needs, and learn to communicate them in such a way that they can get met. This means communicating one's needs and desires without making the other partner feel resentful, smothered, burdened, manipulated, or inadequate. Easily and fully meeting each others' needs is the foundation of intimacy, fulfillment, and happiness.

PAIRS teaches specific easily learnable tools for successful communication such as confiding, complaining, and clarifying and for effective problems solving such as managing anger, expressing anger safely, fighting fairly for change and eliminating dirty fighting. PAIRS also guides the vast deepening of self-knowledge and develops emotional literacy. PAIRS addresses pleasure and satisfaction by teaching skills to enhance bonding, sensuality and sexuality in marriage. PAIRS teaches a profound but simple model, the Relationship Roadmap, to understand relationship success and to understand relationship mishaps and know what to do about them. PAIRS teaches over 60 skills that, after PAIRS, become the participants' PAIRS Tool Box for ongoing relationship maintenance.