Relationship and 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.
Sanford Rosenthal has faced a lot of curve balls in his life. Despite fully losing his vision as a young adult as a result of the disease retinitis pigmentosa, Sanford completed college, earned a Masters Degree in Social Work, traveled the world, and more recently led a group of other visually impaired and disabled writers to author and publish “Behind Our Eyes: Stories, Poems and Essays by Writers with Disabilities.”
In December of 2003, Sanford heard PAIRS CEO Seth Eisenberg talking about efforts to help homeless kids living on the streets of South Florida on the Miami NPR radio station. Inspired by what he heard, Sanford reached out to help and began joining Seth Eisenberg and more than a dozen other volunteers walking the streets of Fort Lauderdale to make sure caring adults were offering the homeless kids someone they could talk to who could help them get the resources and support needed to stay alive.
Seth soon introduced Sanford to PAIRS, where he became a trained instructor and began offering weekly classes to young people in foster care, independent living, adults receiving psychiatric outpatient care, and many others. Last year, Sanford introduced PAIRS to adults living with severe disabilities to help them strengthen self-esteem, self-worth, and bonds with peers, family members, and caregivers.
1. What led you to want to teach relationship skills classes?
When Seth Eisenberg and I began working with homeless kids on the streets of South Florida, I was impressed with what I learned about the importance of just listening to them and helping the teenagers share their feelings. After I found out the skills that were making a difference such as Talking Tips and Emptying the Emotional Jug were from PAIRS, I wanted to learn more and became trained to teach PAIRS relationship skills classes. Although I’d worked for many years as a Social Worker leading groups for people with mental illness and others trying to make it through life’s curve balls, I found the practical skills from PAIRS among the most important I’d ever discovered for empowering people to help themselves.
2. How are the challenges facing young couples different today?
Relationships are not just about happiness and pleasure, they can be about life and death for people with disabilities and others. Many people grew up without good examples of what it takes to create healthy relationships. They often just follow the example of their parents, who also had struggles. Today, more and more people treat relationships as disposable, keeping them as long as they’re in the infatuation stage and running away at the first signs of trouble. That’s sad because for many people it gets them stuck in a revolving door of always starting over with someone new or finding themselves feeling alone in the world. It also means never having the chance to experience the much deeper feelings of love and acceptance that come from working through differences. That’s where true love begins.
3. How has being an instructor affected your life?
The classes are a path to wisdom. That’s really what it’s all about, giving people the support and tools to understand themselves and those around us. The tools have helped me in my own relationships with friends, family, and co-workers. More than anything, they’ve helped me appreciate my own wisdom and the ability to help others find theirs.
4. What are some of your favorite hobbies?
I enjoy kayaking, sailing, tandem bike rides, yoga, working out at the gym, and collecting unusual art. I have an almost eight foot taxidermed Western diamond back rattlesnack in my house, a set of longhorns mounted on my wall almost seven feet wide from tip to tip, and a beautiful authentic tree stump that I just finished restoring.
5. What qualities would you like to be admired for?
I hope people see in me a living example that life is not about what happens, but about how we deal with what happens. Instead of reacting to the curve balls life throws at me, I’ve tried to act with insight instead of merely reacting. I’d like people to appreciate my sense of humor, concern for humanity, and being unstoppable in the face of adversity.
Editor’s Note: If you’d like us to feature a Relationship and Marriage Educator in your community, please e-mail their name, contact information, and a brief statement about why you’d like to see them profiled on the FatherhoodChannel.com to firstname.lastname@example.org.