By Seth Eisenberg
Researchers often try to identify the building blocks to marital satisfaction and causes of discord. In a recent study, Benjamin Karney, Ph.D., an Associate Professor at UCLA and co-director of the Relationship Institute, considers “how marriages change or remain stable over time, and in particular how relationship maintenance is constrained or enhanced by the contexts in which it takes place.”
Dr. Karney’s findings suggest under stress, many of the benefits of popular approaches to skills building become inaccessible to couples. That understanding highlights an important difference to marriage education built on a foundation of emotional literacy (the ability to understand, express, and navigate the range of emotional experiences in ourselves and others) versus a limited focus on communication, conflict resolution, and beliefs that contribute to sustaining commitment.
PAIRS Foundation’s work with thousands of couples in all stages of relationship, including many who are separated and pursuing divorce, has consistently demonstrated that emotional literacy is a fundamental building block to lasting love and intimacy. Exercises in PAIRS classes are designed to make it safe for participants to recognize and confide feelings – including highly charged emotions — in an atmosphere of vulnerability and empathy.
From that foundation, participants easily understand the difference between commitment, which is a contract, versus feelings of love, which naturally wax and wane as a result of various factors, including many that may be outside the typical sphere of influence of our significant others. Confusing the contract of the relationship with dynamic emotional experiences can lead to trouble for even the most well-intentioned couples.
Once couples learn how they can influence feelings of love that evolve from the anticipation of pleasure in their interactions with each other, the road map to creating a ‘happily ever after’ marriage emerges as a course that with good will and openness to learning, most adults can successfully navigate.
As graduates of PAIRS relationship and marriage education classes well know, what’s a pleasure at one moment in our lives may be entirely different at another. That’s where the ability to confide ourselves honestly and openly with another person, negotiate differences, and respectfully create our personal and shared journey to love, happiness, and fulfillment becomes the work of a lifetime.
Seth Eisenberg is President/CEO of the nonprofit PAIRS Foundation, an industry leader in relationship and marriage education.