by SETH EISENBERG
How can nine hours in a marriage and relationship education class change someone’s life and potentially affect generations to come?
Significant, scientific research provides strong validation for the lasting impact of several evidence-based marriage and relationship education programs, yet many are left wondering how such significant change is possible from lessons learned over a fraction of a single day – most often in just nine hours of training.
How is it possible that couples speeding towards separation or divorce suddenly embrace each other with a renewed sense of purpose, hope, and passion?
How can singles, including many experiencing levels of distress that long sabotaged their pursuit of human connection, trust, and attachment suddenly find themselves open and eager to embrace the possibilities of intimacy?
After personally teaching classes to thousands of couples and singles from all walks of life and stages of relationship and training more than a thousand course instructors throughout the country, I have a good idea of what makes that possible and why our approach consistently earns the highest praise from course participants.
With the exception of programs that have sought to replicate the PAIRS model, our approach to the work and paradigm of relationships is unique in the world. That’s much to the credit of founder Lori Heyman Gordon, the marriage and family therapist who crafted PAIRS over more than a quarter century into a healing, empowering, skills-based technology built on the same values of acceptance, respect, vulnerability, and authenticity that are the foundation of healthy, fulfilling, joyous relationships.
PAIRS is not successful simply because we teach communication and conflict resolution skills, as other leading programs in our field also do quite well. It’s that skills for confiding, listening, and resolving differences become powerful and accessible when people understand “bonding” as a biologically-based need – a concept recognized and extensively developed in the 60s and 70s by Psychiatrist Daniel Casriel in his work treating addictions. Dr. Casriel, like Gordon, Virginia Satir, and George Bach, is one of the pioneers of the PAIRS approach.
As Dr. Casriel often explained, bonding is the combination of emotional openness and physical closeness with another human being. Many of the maladies treated by counselors, therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, doctors and their prescriptions are, at the core, symptoms of bonding deprivation. Quite often, treating those symptoms offers a temporary band-aid. At worst, treatment can becomes a sentence to a lifetime of numbness and disconnection from ourselves and others. Unlike our other biological needs, such as eating, drinking, and breathing, bonding is the only need we can’t fulfill by ourselves. That understanding by itself commonly leads course participants eager to learn what it takes to become someone who can meet the bonding needs of loved ones and to get their own needs met too.
In fact, for most participants in PAIRS classes, the paradigm shift that takes place as they come to recognize bonding as a biologically-based need and the logic of the emotion of love quite simply as the logic of pleasure and pain is likely the single most important discovery in the program. It is the foundation for each and every skill and concept taught in PAIRS classes and the motivation for participants to practice, learn, and integrate those skills into their lives.
It’s not a mystery that PAIRS has been embraced by people of diverse faiths and backgrounds because the course addresses the very heart of what it means to be human in relationship with others humans – all of whom are living, learning, growing, struggling works in progress who most often do the best they can based on their own life experience, early models, and accessible skills. The program also deeply respects that each human being chooses the values and aspirations of their life. That same acceptance in relationships is vital to making it safe for people to confide, connect, respect, and truly celebrate the uniqueness and miracle of each other.
Seth Eisenberg is President and CEO of PAIRS Foundation, an industry leader in marriage and relationship education.