Marriage Education is touching the lives of couples, families and children across the country. “I Am ME” profiles individuals and couples teaching relationship and marriage education classes in their local communities. We call this series “I Am ME,” both because “ME” is an acronym for “Marriage Education” and in honor of a poem by the same name written by the late Virginia Satir, a pioneer in the field of marriage and relationship education. Satir’s “I am Me” remains one of the most powerful declarations on self-esteem ever written.
Patricia Merrill of Tucson, Arizona has been a certified PAIRS marriage education instructor for the past four years. She is currently working on her Masters Degree in Education with an emphasis on Human Relations that she expects to complete next year. Patricia has been married to her college sweetheart, Alan, for 26 years. They have three grown sons. The oldest, 24, is a 2nd Lieutenant in the Air Force. Their middle son is now a student at the University of Arizona. He spent a year as an exchange student in Japan and recently returned to graduate from the university. The youngest, 21, is studying to become a missionary and plans to return to Mozambique to work with AIDS orphans.
Patricia works for a non-profit organization, Arizona Youth Partnership. They partnered with the Head Start programs in Arizona to offer PAIRS classes to their couples. Over the last four years, the program has served over 800 couples.
1. What led you to want to teach relationship and marriage education classes?
I am the Director of Family Education for Arizona Youth Partnership. I was familiar with the PAIRS curriculum and when we had the opportunity to include it in our Healthy Marriage grant, we quickly did. Our evaluation results have been very positive and our program was selected as a Promising Practice by the Office of Family Assistance. In this current economy, we have seen many families in strife. I help them use the tools from PAIRS. Stress levels are often reduced because participants are able to discuss very tough issues without anger getting out of control.
2. How are the challenges facing young couples today different than those you faced?
I don’t think the core problems are much different. Since we work with Head Start couples, they are already living at or below poverty level. My husband is a teacher. When we started out, we had very little, but together we have been able to build a life and pass on to our children legacy of hard work and community. The one challenge I do see is the influence of the media on children. Parents are having to learn to safeguard their children from easily accessed media.
3. How has being a marriage education instructor impacted your own marriage and family?
Being an instructor makes me very aware of how I communicate with my husband and other family members. My oldest son recently got married and I was able to encourage him in learning good communication skills with his new bride. Being a marriage instructor affects every part of my life, from work to family and friends. My marriage is definitely better since learning the skills and information in PAIRS. It is a legacy we are helping new families pass on to their own children. Children watch their parents communicate effectively and learn how to do that for themselves.
4. What are some favorite hobbies you enjoy sharing with other members of your family?
When our boys were all at home, we would play lots of sports. As a family, we would go to the local middle school and do some batting practice. We also owned every board game and athletic equipment available. We had family game night, plus we also went to church together as a family. I quickly became ‘Mama Pat’ to many of our sons’ friends.
5. What three qualities would you like your children or spouse to most admire about you?
Faith, integrity and a good work ethic. God and family first.
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