Research demonstrates that PAIRS relationship skills training, a behavioral/cognitive educational approach developed, evaluated, and refined over a quarter century, has the potential to reverse the trend of marital and family breakdown and significantly contribute to strengthening families and improving outcomes for children.
By Seth Eisenberg & Amanda Falciglia
Strong families are critically important to the well-being of children and dramatically impact the health, stability, safety and viability of communities throughout the United States. Helping fathers improve their ability to create and sustain stable marriages and promoting consistent, active, responsible engagement with their children is vitally important to the well-being of children and communities.
Resilient marriages and families are built on core values and behaviors that are significantly influenced by early life experiences. Men generally prepare for their roles as husbands and fathers based on the examples provided by their fathers, who learned from their own fathers, and so on.
Through the middle of the 20th century, those examples primarily provided a model for marriages based on security, stability and raising children with men traditionally serving as primary breadwinners and women most often assuming primary responsibility for raising and nurturing their children.
As women increasingly entered the workforce to help meet the challenges of World War II and continued to pursue education and career opportunities over subsequent decades, gender roles and the basis of marriage gradually shifted to peer relationships sustained by love and intimacy (Satir, 1983).
Men who looked to the examples of their own fathers for models of relationship increasingly floundered, leading to significant increases in national rates of marital and family breakdown and generations of American children raised in single-parent households. Those children typically reached adulthood without the knowledge or skills needed to create and sustain their own marriages and parental relationships, contributing to exponential rates of divorce, greater numbers of children born to single parents, and millions of youngsters growing up without the critical involvement and resources provided within stable, two-parent homes.
These experiences have substantially contributed to social conditions that threaten the very fabric of American society, culture and potential for economic prosperity, including dramatic increases in delinquent and illegal behaviors that lead to juvenile and adult incarceration, illegal drug use, risky sexual activities, declining academic performance, mental and physical health consequences, increased poverty, and the squandered potential of children – our future generations.
Research demonstrates that PAIRS relationship skills training, a behavioral/cognitive educational approach developed, evaluated, and refined over a quarter century, has the potential to reverse this trend and significantly contribute to strengthening families and improving outcomes for children.
Brief Overview of the PAIRS Approach
For over a quarter century, PAIRS (Practical Application of Intimate Relationship Skills) classes have provided a comprehensive system to enhance self-knowledge and develop the ability to sustain pleasurable intimate relationships. PAIRS delivers a unique technology built on a skills-based approach to enhancing empathy, bonding and emotional literacy. PAIRS curricula integrate a wide range of theories and proprietary methods from psychology, education and psychotherapy and presents them in an educational format in classes ranging in length from nine to 120 hours. PAIRS acts to bridge therapy, marital enrichment, and marriage and family development through a cost-effective group educational approach to reducing marital and family breakdown. This study evaluates the impact of PAIRS most popular brief programs, PAIRS Essentials (9 – 12 hours) and PAIRS for Life (12 – 18 hours), delivered in public group settings by non-mental health professionals.
PAIRS programs focus on enhancing competencies in three areas: (1) emotional literacy; (2) skills for building and maintaining intimacy; and (3) practical knowledge, strategies and attitudes for sustaining positive marriage and family life with the goal of enabling couples to create relationships that both partners can live with joyfully (Gordon, 1996). For this to happen, each partner must be able to identify his or her own feelings and needs, communicate them in such a way that they can get met, and integrate skills that lead to constructive conflict resolution based on empathy, good will and a shared relationship vision.
The PAIRS Facilitator
The PAIRS Facilitator plays a vitally important role establishing rapport, personal and organizational credibility, group safety, assuring ethical practices, guiding exercises, and empowering each participant’s personal journey through the curriculum. Qualities most important in effective course leaders include:
- Personal warmth, optimism, authenticity, poise, and maturity;
- Speaks clearly with appropriate pacing and expression, is easily understood, avoids wordiness, professional jargon and terminology;
- Emotionally stable and comfortable with emotional intensity;
- Relevant and appropriate self-disclosure;
- Ability to maintain a safe educational environment, including appropriate boundaries;
- Use of appropriate humor;
- At ease with groups and establishing group rapport, appropriately evaluates and reads participant responses;
- Authentically models tools and values;
- Stays within boundaries and topics of each class,
- Effectively teaching existing curriculum content and covers all required material and exercises within time allowed;
- Knowledge, understanding, and adherence to PAIRS standards of ethical practice and licensing;
- Asks for help when needed;
- Understands and respects the vulnerabilities of class participants;
- Identifies and recommends improvements based on group feedback;
- Consistently receives positive evaluations from class participants.
Related Literature Review
- Children raised in stable, two-parent families have an overall higher standard of living, receive more effective parenting, experience more cooperative co-parenting, are emotionally closer to both parents, and are subjected to fewer stressful events and circumstances (Amato, 2005).
- A 1991 analysis summarizing the results of ninety-three studies conducted over three decades confirmed that children with divorced parents are worse off on measures of academic success (school grades, scores on standardized achievement tests), conduct (behavior problems, aggression), psychological well-being (depression, distress symptoms), self-esteem (positive feelings about oneself, perceptions of self-efficacy), and peer relationships (number of close friends, social support from peers) (Amato & Keith, 1991).
- A meta-analysis of sixty-seven studies conducted in the 1990s found that children with divorced parents typically scored significantly lower on various measures of well-being than did children with continuously married parents and revealed that children with divorced parents continued to have lower average levels of cognitive, social and emotional well-being (Amato, 2005).
- Children in single-parent or other non-intact family structures are at greater-risk of committing criminal or delinquent acts, almost two times more likely to have pulled a knife or a gun on someone in the past year (Franke, 2005).
- Communities with high rates of family fragmentation (especially unmarried childbearing) suffer higher crime rates (Franke, 2005).
- Divorce – regardless of economic status – has been shown to strongly correlate with robbery rates in American cities with population larger than 100,000 (Willats, 1987).
- Compared to those with continuously married parents, children of divorce are more likely to experience poverty, educational failure, unhappiness, emotional problems, risky sexual activity, non-marital childbirth, marital discord, and divorce (D’Onofrio, 2008).
- Children born to unmarried parents are disadvantaged across a broad range of outcomes, including higher rates of infant mortality, lower scores on tests measuring cognitive abilities (math and verbal), and more behavioral problems in early and middle childhood. As adolescents and young adults, these children have higher rates of delinquency and teenage pregnancy, lower educational attainment, and more problems finding and keeping steady jobs. They also exhibit more mental health problems (Chase-Lansdale, Cherlin, & Kiernan, 1995).
- Over the second half of the 20th century, the basis of marriage shifted from security, stability and raising children to meeting each other’s needs for love and intimacy. Sustaining intimacy is a skill that can be learned (Durana, 1998).
- In 1996, the United States topped the list of industrialized nations in which children are growing up without a father in the home, with more than 21% of American children living in single-mother families compared to just over 4% in Italy. A child living in a single-mother family is five times more likely to live below the national poverty line (UNICEF, 1996).
- Criminogenic needs identified as predictors for incarceration and recidivism can be linked to the lasting impact of early childhood experiences on adults who grew up without the benefits of a two-parent home. Criminogenic needs include increased likelihood of anti-social personality, anti-social attitudes and values, anti-social associates, family dysfunction, poor self control and problem-solving skills, substance abuse, and lack of employment/employment skills (Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, 2006).
- By 1986, more than half of the inmates of state correctional facilities had grown-up without the benefits of a two parent household (Chapman, 1986).
- A Bureau of Justice Statistics study of 25,000 incarcerated juveniles found they were nearly three times as likely to have come from single parent homes than their non-incarcerated peers; a child growing up in a single-parent home is seven time as likely to be a delinquent (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1988).
- Incarceration rates have steadily increased in the United States, significantly within the most vulnerable communities, as minority men in particular increasingly turned to illegal enterprises such as drug trafficking and related activities, as options for economic survival and advancement. More than 2 million American children have a parent who is incarcerated in a State or Federal prison or jail (Grayson, 2007).
According to a 2007 PEW Research Center study, there is a growing generation gap in behaviors and values related to marriage, family structure, and parenting. While Americans overwhelmingly believe that births to unwed women are a big problem for society and they take a mixed view at best of cohabitation without marriage, these two nontraditional behaviors have become commonplace among younger adults, who have a different set of moral values from their elders about sex, marriage and parenthood. (Pew Research Center, 2007) Highlights from the study include:
- A Generation Gap in Behaviors and Values. Younger adults attach far less moral stigma than do their elders to out-of-wedlock births and cohabitation without marriage. They engage in these behaviors at rates unprecedented in U.S. history. Nearly four-in-ten (36.8%) births in this country are to an unmarried woman. Nearly half (47%) of adults in their 30s and 40s have spent a portion of their lives in a cohabiting relationship.
- Public Concern over the Delinking of Marriage and Parenthood. Adults of all ages consider unwed parenting to be a big problem for society. At the same time, however, just four-in-ten (41%) say that children are very important to a successful marriage, compared with 65% of the public who felt this way as recently as 1990.
- Marriage Remains an Ideal, Albeit a More Elusive One. Even though a decreasing percentage of the adult population is married, most unmarried adults say they want to marry. Married adults are more satisfied with their lives than are unmarried adults.
- Cohabitation Becomes More Prevalent. With marriage exerting less influence over how adults organize their lives and bear their children, cohabitation is filling some of the vacuum. Today about a half of all nonmarital births are to a cohabiting couple; 15 years ago, only about a third were. Cohabiters are ambivalent about marriage – just under half (44%) say they to want marry; a nearly equal portion (41%) say they aren’t sure.
- Divorce Seen as Preferable to an Unhappy Marriage. Americans by lopsided margins endorse the mom-and-dad home as the best setting in which to raise children. But by equally lopsided margins, they believe that if married parents are very unhappy with one another, divorce is the best option, both for them and for their children.
- Racial Patterns are Complex. Blacks are much less likely than whites to marry and much more likely to have children outside of marriage. However, an equal percentage of both whites and blacks (46% and 44%, respectively) consider it morally wrong to have a child out of wedlock. Hispanics, meantime, place greater importance than either whites or blacks do on children as a key to a successful marriage – even though they have a higher nonmarital birth rate than do whites.
Policy makers at every level of government routinely echo national sentiments regarding the importance of marital and family stability, yet public policy itself is often inconsistent, ineffective, or silent in areas in which concerted local, state and federal efforts could reverse the increasing generation gap and meaningfully improve outcomes for children, families, and communities. A coordinated national effort bringing together leadership of the public and private sectors is needed to incorporate evidence-based relationship skills training into America’s national educational curriculum – a fourth “R” for education: Relationships — including:
- Elementary, middle and high schools;
- Adoption, foster care, early childhood, special needs, and parenting education;
- Juvenile and adult detention, probation, rehabilitation, and reentry;
- Job training and workforce innovation;
- Welfare and assistance to needy families;
- Initiatives for active duty military, guard and veterans, especially those impacted by combat deployments;
- County and state support for premarital education;
- Early local interventions for parents in divorce proceedings;
- Immigrant absorption.
An effective, ongoing, concerted national approach reflected in state and federal policy will dramatically contribute to the well-being of children, strengthen America’s families, neighborhoods and communities, and enhance national productivity and prosperity for generations to come.
While the national cost to America for decades of increasing rates of marital and family breakdown are enormous, many special interests have emerged with solutions that both address and contribute to maintaining the status quo:
- Private enterprises that profit from increased rates of incarceration and recidivism. As of 1988, taxpayers spent an estimated $18 billion for costs related to maintaining 650,000 inmates [double the number of five years prior] in state and local prisons. (Joel, 1988). The largest prison corporation in the U.S., Corrections Corporation of America, trades on the New York Stock Exchange. In 2008, revenue was $1.6 billion with net income of $150 million (CCA, 2008).
- Residential developers, realtors, advertisers, lenders, and shareholders that benefit from increased rentals, property sales, and related fees as divorces increase demand for housing;
- Pharmaceutical manufacturers, advertisers, distributors and retailers that generate revenues from products developed to mask emotional experiences significantly related to the impact of relationship breakdown;
- Family law practices sustained substantially by revenues generated from divorce proceedings;
- Mental health professionals serving clients impacted by family breakdown with evidence suggesting therapy is actually harmful to preserving marriages (Doherty, 1999);
- Doctors, hospitals, diagnostic service providers, and insurance companies who benefit from costs associated with serving patients whose emotional experiences related to the breakdown of primary relationships are directly linked to significant physical health consequences.
In October 2006, PAIRS Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit headquartered in Weston, Florida, was awarded a multi-year, multi-million dollar grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, to conduct a marriage education demonstration project in South Florida. The project, “PAIRS Relationship Skills for Strong South Florida Families,” was envisioned and created by PAIRS President Seth Eisenberg, who has directed implementation of the initiative from inception, including significant adaptations to the original PAIRS curriculum; creation of multi-lingual print and multi-media teaching, training and marketing materials in English, Spanish, French and Creole; training of more than 200 program instructors, assistants, support staff, and referral partners; and recruitment, training, and oversight of a team of nearly 20 full-time and part-time professionals. Amanda Falciglia, PAIRS Foundation’s Research Director, oversees data collection and analysis.
To date, approximately 5,000 couples and singles have participated in brief (9 – 18 hour) classes in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties. Participants represent a highly diverse pool of adult men and women in all stages of relationship with significant inclusion of minorities and couples entering the program at high levels of marital distress.
In designing evaluation of the demonstration project, PAIRS Foundation collaborated with Dr. Andrew Daire of the University of Central Florida’s Marriage and Family Research Institute. The study utilizes a range of assessment instruments to measure marital cohesion and the level of pleasure couples experience in their relationships. Key instruments include the 32-question Dyadic Adjustment Scale (Spanier, 1976) and 6-question Relationship Pleasure Scale (Daire, 2008), a proprietary PAIRS assessment which has been validated by UCF as providing an accurate measure of key relationship dynamics. Some participants also completed the Child Behavior Checklist (Achenbach & Rescorla, 2006) and OQ45 Outcome Questionnaire (Owen & Imel, 2010). All of these instruments are provided in both English and Spanish.
South Florida is home to one of the nation’s largest Hispanic/Latino communities, who represent the majority of participants in this study. The majority have minor children.
While the size of the research sample has allowed PAIRS Foundation to begin analyzing and interpreting data on a broad range of significant variables, the purpose of this presentation is to share a preliminary snapshot of key findings based on statistically significant samples.
Classes evaluated for the study were offered in a variety of formats, from weekend intensives to multi-week sessions that generally include three hours of instruction one time per week over four to six weeks, delivered in partnership with local faith-based, community, and educational organizations, including public schools, churches, synagogues, YMCAs, rehabilitation centers, and through providers of supportive housing to the formerly homeless.
Individual classes range in size from eight to as many as 150 participants, delivered by a primary facilitator, teaching assistant, administrative and research support staff. Generally, one additional teaching assistant is provided for every 15 participants beyond the first 20. All staff members involved in program delivery complete a minimum of PAIRS Level One Professional Certification Training (32 hours), including ethical standards, domestic violence, and grant operations modules. Facilitators are certified and licensed annually by PAIRS Foundation.
Assessments are completed by participants prior to the first delivery of services, at program conclusion, and again six and 12-months subsequent. All participation is voluntary.
Prior to the delivery of services, participants complete informed consents, demographic questionnaires, and assessments either online or manually, with the opportunity to review their answers for accuracy and completion upon arrival at their first class. Follow-up questionnaires are completed at their final class and by mail, phone, online, or in-person six and 12-months after program completion.
The majority of participants are referred to PAIRS by a friend, family member, colleague or professional in the community; others have been recruited in response to key-word advertising on the Internet, flyers, news articles, billboards, posters, brochures, newsletters, and previews. Most participants have at least one phone, e-mail or in-person contact with a member of PAIRS’ staff prior to enrollment. More than 99 percent of participants completing PAIRS say they would recommend the program to others.
Research has consistently confirmed statistically significant positive change across all key groups in terms of demographic, socio-economic, ethnic, and relationship status measures. Immediate benefits for couples who measure in the atypical low range are especially meaningful as is the fact that, individually, the far majority of participants experience statistically significant improvement both in levels of couple cohesion and the level of pleasure in their relationship.
PAIRS Research Team recently evaluated pre, post and six-month follow-up assessments from 419 adult male participants in PAIRS Essentials and PAIRS for Life classes to specifically review the programs’ impact on men, whose attitudes and behaviors are critically important to sustaining marriages and providing consistent, active, responsible engagement with their children. Prior research has confirmed statistically significant benefits for couples, adult women, and teenage participants.
Highlights of the findings include:
- 95% reported improvement in communication with their partner.
- 93% reported improvement in regularly sharing appreciations.
- 92% reported improvement in their ability to resolve conflicts constructively.
- 84% reported improvement in their physical intimacy.
- 89% reported improvement in their ability to confide emotions.
- 94% reported improvement in their overall relationship.
|SIX MONTH FOLLOW-UP
Adult Males; N = 419
|Very Little Improvement||16%||13%||18%||16%||16%||12%|
Reducing the Frequency of Family Financial Disagreements:
- 48% decrease in frequency of men always disagreeing, almost always disagreeing and frequently disagreeing with financial decisions.
- 35% increase in frequency of financial decisions in which men always agree.
Increasing Agreement on Ways of Dealing with Parents or In-Laws:
- 53% increase in men always agreeing with ways of dealing with parents or in-laws.
Increasing Agreement on Aims, Goals and Things Believed Important:
- 60% increase in men always agreeing on aims, goals, and things believed important.
Increasing Agreement on Amount of Time Spent Together:
- 30% increase in men always agreeing on amount of time spent together.
Increasing Agreement on Major Decisions:
- 50% increase in men always agreeing on major decisions.
Increasing Agreement on Leisure Time Interest and Activities:
- 89% increase in men always agreeing on leisure time interest and activities.
Increasing Agreement on Career Decisions:
- 65% increase in men always agreeing with career decisions.
Decreasing Frequency of Leaving the House After a Fight:
- 70% decrease in men always leaving the house after a fight.
- 29% increase in men never leaving the house after a fight.
Increasing Frequency of Confiding in Mate:
- 77% decrease in men who never confide in their mate.
- 32% increase in men who confide in their mate most of the time or all the time.
Decreasing Frequency of Quarrels with their Partner:
- 43% decrease in men who quarrel with their partner all the time.
- 85% increase in men who never quarrel with their partner.
A full report is available online. For more information, contact Amanda Falciglia, PAIRS Foundation, (954) 703-4533.