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If it were a real life, you would have received instructions

“This life is a test; it is only a test. If it were a real life, you would have received instructions.”

My late mother loved to share those words at the start of PAIRS (Practical Application of Intimate Relationship Skills) workshops. Often, the seminar participants were incredibly accomplished professionals. Many had spent 20 years or more in school, had significant careers, but none had ever had a chance to learn the instructions for the foundation of life itself: how do we successfully nurture and sustain lasting, happy relationships.

Seth Eisenberg and Lori Heyman Gordon (2019).

Many of the participants in early PAIRS classes were lawyers, politicians, entrepreneurs, and military leaders who’d reached the pinnacles of their careers. They were extremely capable when it came to succeeding in those roles, but they learned the skills that helped them succeed as lawyers, warriors, and business leaders were often the opposite of what they needed to master to be successful parents and spouses.

Champagne Fountains and Picket Fences

So many marriages begin as a big gauzy fantasy of champagne fountains and picket fences — and end in a big fat mess of regret and recriminations. It’s not a pretty picture. But why are we surprised and shattered when our love lives fall apart? Unless we’ve been very fortunate in our temperament and our teachers (parents, churches, schools, media), we are woefully unprepared for marriage, badly trained to live intimately with another. Wounded one way or another as children raised in less-than-perfect homes and communities, we’ve learned to cope in maladaptive ways that make it hard to live openly and honestly with each other. We’re steeped in romantic illusions, awash in cultural myths, and enthralled by media and marketing. Marriage and parenting knocks us for a loop.

“We’re steeped in romantic illusions, awash in cultural myths, and enthralled by media and marketing.”

Red Herrings

Partnerships may appear to deteriorate because of problems about money, children, sex, overwork or boredom. But that’s not what’s really going on. These problems are merely red herrings, easy targets for blame for the loss of the dream of closeness, of being fully loved and cared for by another, of being fully seen and accepted, or being happy. Many people are not even aware of the deeper healing they seek in partnership; if they are, they don’t know how to find it.

Happiness is our Birthright

Happiness is our birthright. It’s just that we’ve been misled about how to attain it and are in thrall to misconceptions about personal fulfillment. In the western world, the entire archetype of marriage changed in the last century. Not so long ago, marriage was an institution driven primarily by economic and social considerations. We now marry for love … sort of. What we do is marry the person with whom we fall madly in love. But that’s romance and, wonderful as it is, it’s just a teaser. Today, we understand that it’s what happens after the bloom comes off the romance that counts. It is through the journey of intimate partnership that – if we are lucky and diligent – we get to give and receive the kind of love that fulfills our deepest needs. And that makes us very happy indeed.

Forty years to the day since mom began welcoming participants to PAIRS classes to learn the actual instructions for the journey of intimacy, nearly 2,000 PAIRS trained clergy and behavioral health professionals continue to support PAIRS mission of making evidence-based relationship skills training widely available on behalf of a “safer, saner, more loving world.”

Mom isn’t here anymore to see the amazing results of what she started, but I know she’d be proud.

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