“Social media has enabled us to advance our mission to help create a safer, saner, more loving world in ways we couldn’t have imagined 30 years ago.”
by CARSON ABRIR
Terms such as “love knots,” “emotional allergies,” “daily temperature readings,” “emptying the jug,” and many more are taking on new meaning to people across the globe as a longtime industry leader in marriage and relationship education shares daily lessons to help more than 100,000 worldwide Facebook fans use social media to learn skills that strengthen love and intimacy.
“Social media has enabled us to advance our mission to help create a safer, saner, more loving world in ways we couldn’t have imagined when PAIRS was founded 30 years ago,” said CEO Seth Eisenberg.
“At a time when many are more connected to smartphones than each other, we’re helping turn those devices into tools that create a more loving world,” he said, stressing that PAIRS is not about providing relationship advice, but skills to help couples find their own answers that fit for their unique circumstances, values and ambitions. “When it comes to love and intimacy,” Eisenberg said, “there’s no cookie cutter approach. No matter how much they share in common, each person, relationship and family is unique.”
Over the past 30 years, Eisenberg watched the field of marriage and relationship education evolve from an experience participants often kept secret from their closest friends to learning that’s become increasingly popular and socially accepted.
“In the span of a decade, we’ve gone from struggling to recruit a handful of people to classes to regularly reaching audiences that could fill a football stadium,” Eisenberg said.
PAIRS, an acronym that stands for “Practical Application of Intimate Relationship Skills,” was established as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit charity by marriage and family therapist Lori Heyman Gordon at the end of 1983, It was the first comprehensive program that sought to teach singles and couples skills to work out relationship challenges on their own. “I wanted to give couples answers to questions they didn’t even know to ask when it came to love and intimacy, along with practical, usable skills that could make an immediate and lasting difference,” Gordon said.
Originally offered only as a semester-long, 120-hour course taught by mental health professionals, the nonprofit began developing brief programs in the late nineties.
“We recognized the semester-long course was accessible only to a fraction of the people who could benefit,” Eisenberg said. “In terms of money [the class generally cost a couple $2,400 or more], time and availability, barriers to participation in the 120-hour course were just too high for the far majority of people,” Eisenberg said.
The foundation developed their brief skills training programs as courses that could be taught by educators, clergy and others without mental health backgrounds by completing a minimum of 32 hours of PAIRS professional training.
After winning a $5 million dollar Healthy Marriage Initiative grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families in 2006, Eisenberg led the foundation’s efforts to research and refine PAIRS intensive classes to make sure graduates had the best chance of achieving their relationship goals.
“Recognizing how much people have at stake when learning relationship skills, we wanted to be sure we were consistently delivering experiences that would make lasting contribution to those we served,” Eisenberg said. “The multi-generational consequences of marriage and family breakdown are too great to give couples anything less than the best skills and opportunity to succeed.”
As part of the federally funded initiative, Paul Peluso, Ph.D., a leading author, professor and researcher in the field of marriage and family, analyzed longitudinal data from thousands of participants in PAIRS brief classes and found statistically significant, enduring benefits for the far majority of participants.
Since then, PAIRS short programs, such as the nine-hour PAIRS Essentials course, have been recognized by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Planetree as best practices for “marriage enrichment” and the program’s impact strengthening connections among “family, friends and social supports” that improve health outcomes, while maintaining a greater than 99 percent client satisfaction rate.
“Our commitment is to help people become competent when it comes to the foundation of their lives,” said PAIRS Foundation’s Outreach Director Mooed Ishrat. In terms of relationships, he said that means “learning effective communication skills, understanding emotions in ourselves and others, and being able to work through differences in ways that lead to greater closeness.”
A Coast Guard veteran who helps lead the Operation Sacred Trust initiative to end homelessness for Veterans, Ishrat said his experience with homeless veterans has shown that preventing relationship breakdown goes beyond love and happiness. “Relationship breakdown is a primary factor in homelessness and poverty,” he said.
“Nearly every Veteran who becomes homeless first experiences the breakdown of key relationships,” Ishrat said. “Helping Veteran and military families learn skills to prevent relationship breakdown is an important factor to both preventing and overcoming homelessness among this population,” he added.
Stephanie Berman, CEO of Carrfour Supportive Housing, Florida’s largest nonprofit developer of supportive housing, said integrating PAIRS relationship skills training into the organization’s services to residents has made a difference for many formerly homeless individuals, families and their children. “PAIRS helps our residents learn skills to build healthy relationships with family members, neighbors, co-workers, and become more accepting and loving towards themselves and others,” she said.
Ishrat and Eisenberg agree that making skills training widely accessible through social media helps normalize the challenges that are typical to close relationships while offering people everywhere the chance to learn time-tested tools that give their relationships the best chance of succeeding.
“For many,” Ishrat said, “those lessons will be passed down for generations to come, truly helping create the more loving world that has long been our mission.”