Don’t expect Tony Robbins, Les Brown, or Nick Vujicic to be giving you any tips in a Practical Application of Intimate Relationship Skills (“PAIRS”) class. Unlike many popular self-help and motivational training programs, PAIRS isn’t about the presenter; it’s about the participant. More and more, those participants are passing it on.
Since the seventies, participants in PAIRS classes are typically couples, family members, friends, co-workers, even teammates who will continue working their new relationship boosting skills long beyond the class bell. In fact, U.S. military Veterans are now experiencing the PAIRS program en masse across the United States, following the 2018 U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs purchase of licensing rights to the PAIRS Essentials curriculum as a foundation of an innovative, research driven approach to whole health. VA’s decision to license PAIRS evolved out of a decade of firsthand experience seeing positive outcomes.
PAIRS’ focus on its participants is partly due to its experiential nature. In PAIRS classes, participants move quickly from conceptual psycho-educational material to practical, real-world application. In the safe environment of the classroom, participants learn how to release upsetting emotions, have a fair fight for change, and co-create meaningful connections.
The unique classroom environment is created by PAIRS facilitators who are vetted and trained to create just the right mix of professionalism and vulnerability in the classroom. Program leaders say that environment is an important foundation of the program’s lasting impact.
About training the next generation of PAIRS facilitators, National Training Director Julie Macias says “It is essential to not only fully embrace empathy and self-discovery, but also master setting the bar for vulnerability through their own careful dialogue to create a confiding and transformative classroom experience.”
About its experiential focus, Purpose Built Families Foundation CEO Seth Eisenberg says “Hearing, reading or talking about swimming doesn’t do much to prepare you for the ocean. Metaphorically, PAIRS helps people discover that they know how to swim, strengthen those abilities, consider when to stay out of the water, and have the best chance of making the most of the experience.”
Participants leave with tangible tools in hand such as wallet cards and phone Apps they can pull out the next time they would like to bring up a concern and achieve productive results, or a list of their favorite ways to feel cared for that they can pin to the fridge as a reminder.
However, the skills that PAIRS teaches aim to go way beyond relationship cohesion and towards major societal change. PAIRS has shown research-validated success in increasing resilience and reducing the negative side effects of trauma on the Veteran community. Classes have been taught in schools in an effort to reduce bullying and school violence through increasing social support. PAIRS licensed trainers receive extensive training to integrate PAIRS into community-wide efforts that address the root cause of critical social challenges, including marriage and family fragmentation, relationship breakdown, parenting, school safety, homelessness, employment, recidivism, teen pregnancy, team work, and a range of other areas influenced by the capacity and resilience of human connection.
About recent efforts to aid the Parkland community and provide supportive services to homeless Veterans and their families, Seth Eisenberg says, “Overcoming trauma is about relationships, not only a conversation.”
Written for FatherhoodChannel.com by Jessica Loeb, a graduate student in Marriage and Family Therapy at St. Thomas University and a Senior Program Specialist for Purpose Built Families Foundation in Pembroke Pines, Florida.