Education Health Marriage Education Military and Veterans News PAIRS Training

Marriage Education’s Invitation to Embrace Life


For many, learning to have conversations that matter about death and dying becomes an invitation to embrace the gift of life with passion and intensity.

Embracing life
Marriage education classes help couples learn to be vulnerable, confide, listen with empathy, and more fully embrace the gift of life.

by Seth Eisenberg

Since last Valentine’s Day, I’ve begun and ended nearly every day searching for news of the Army’s 101st Airborne Division, the Fort Campbell soldiers who are nearly all deployed in Afghanistan. As I read news this week of Specialist Jonathan M. Curtis, the 75th member of the Fort Campbell community to lose his life in Afghanistan since March, my heart again turned to the soldiers and family members who have continuously come together to bring comfort and support to one another through incredibly difficult times.

In September, after learning of the death of a Solider who had actively participated in our Valentine’s Weekend marriage retreat, I wrote to both the Chaplain and Commander of the 101st to express my condolences. Their speedy replies included appreciation for the depth and meaning of the experience we shared months earlier.

Our work with the couples facing imminent deployment included an optional exercise in which they were invited to confide in each other about death and loss; to intentionally share words that were in their hearts and minds, but hadn’t felt safe to say aloud.

The goal of the exercise was not to be depressing, rather to create an opportunity for couples facing the uncertainty of combat deployment to share meaningful words that would help carry them through the months ahead.

With one partner laying quietly, the other gently completed sentences as I read the beginning. Sentences such as:

  • What I will miss about you…
  • The good times I’ll remember…
  • What I wish I had told you…
  • The regrets I have…
  • The plans I had for us…
  • The puzzles I am left with…
  • What I forgive you for …
  • What I ask you to forgive me for …

Both in my work with the military and healthcare professionals, I hear increasing requests for structure to enable couples facing especially trying circumstances to have conversations that matter. Helping couples learn to be vulnerable, confide, and listen to each other with empathy is the very heart of PAIRS Essentials relationship and marriage education programs offered throughout the country. For many who choose to take part in the death and loss meditation, the opportunity to have intentional conversations about end of life issues becomes an opportunity to more fully embrace life itself.

Beyond the powerful death and loss meditation in experiential marriage education classes, I’ve also found much wisdom in Dying: A Book of Comfort by Pat McNees.

McNees, a former writer for The Washington Post, was one of the first journalists to bring public attention to the developing field of relationship and marriage education in the early eighties. Her book of comfort offers timeless selections around basic themes such as the intensity with which life is experienced by people who know they are dying, navigating emotions, guidance for loved ones, grieving, and the challenge of consolation.  While it is not a how-to book, her insightful selections are a tapestry of profound wisdom both for those facing death and loved ones seeking to bring comfort and healing to the bereaved.

Time and again, I’ve seen that it is the decision to accept the finitude of life that invites the greatest passion and intensity for each day, each moment.

My thoughts again return to the Solders and families of the 101st; with hopes for their speedy, safe return; gratitude for their courage and service; recognition of our nation’s sacred trust to each of them; and heartfelt prayers for the families who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

Seth Eisenberg is President of the nonprofit PAIRS Foundation, an industry leader in relationship and marriage education.

%d bloggers like this: