Lori Heyman Gordon

Creator of PAIRS

Lori Heyman Gordon (1929-2019) was an American author, marriage and family therapist, and widely recognized for pioneering the field of evidence-based relationship skills education, notably “PAIRS”, an acronym for “Practical Application of Intimate Relationship Skills.” Beyond the range of PAIRS educational programs she authored and co-authored, her most well-known books are Passage to IntimacyLove Knots, and If You Really Loved Me.[1] Gordon’s development of the field of interpersonal relationship skills training was substantially influenced by three primary mentors, whose contributions she adapted and wove into her original 120-hour semester-long PAIRS courses:

  • Psychotherapist Virginia Satir, known as the “Mother of Family Therapy”,[2]
  • Psychiatrist Daniel Casriel (dancasriel.com) who was widely credited with recognizing the deprivation of “bonding” (emotional and physical closeness with another human being) as a root cause of addictions, suicide, violence and other criminal behaviors, and a key factor in multi-generational poverty, and
  • Clinical psychologist George Bach, whose groundbreaking work with incarcerated murderers led to his development of novel, proven techniques for addressing interpersonal conflict that Gordon significantly adapted.

Gordon’s intensive study with these and other early visionaries in the fields of human potential, humanistic psychology, education, counseling, spirituality, and psychiatry led her to uniquely develop a series of “practical, proven, usable skills” individuals, couples and families could implement to strengthen the “triad of interpersonal relationship competencies” necessary for sustaining lasting pleasurable, mutually fulfilling interpersonal relationships, namely evidence-based communication and conflict resolution skills built on a foundation of emotional literacy (e.g. understanding emotions in the self and others).

==Early years==

Born Florence Heyman on January 31, 1929 in New York City, the second of two daughters of Russian emigrees, Bertha and Julius Heyman. Gordon grew up in Staten Island, New York and attended Curtis High School.

Gordon wrote: “I was born at the beginning of the Great Depression, in 1929, the younger of two daughters. My father, a dentist, had come to the United States in his teens from Lithuania. He was descended from a long line of rabbinical scholars, religious leaders, and philosophers – among them Martin Buber, who wrote of the new I-Thou philosophy.” (Virginia Satir: Her Life & Circle of influence, Science and Behavior Books, p.166)[3]

Her father, Julius Heyman (Jan. 10, 1892 – January 21, 1944), died of a heart attack at age 52. Her mother, Bertha Heyman [Hahn] (October 1, 1899 – October 5, 1945), a homemaker, died of cancer at age 46. By the age of 16, both of Gordon’s parents were deceased, leaving her in the care of her older sister, Selma.

As a child, Gordon enjoyed chess, sharing memories of accompanying her father to public chess events in the New York area. She credited those early experiences as important to validating her intellect.

As Gordon wrote in Passage to Intimacy (Simon & Shuster, 1993): “I learned early about both love and loss. My parents died while I was in my teens. My father died suddenly of a coronary when I was fifteen. He was a silent, but affectionate, father. He taught me to play chess on his knee when I was six. He validated my intelligence. My mother died at home a year and a half later of cancer, after a long and painful illness. I had been very close to her. At the end, it was a relief that she was no longer suffering. I learned early about the unpredictability of life and to wonder what life was about and why.”

She also wrote of her fascination with picture puzzles, particularly those with more than 1,000 pieces. Later in life, Gordon said relationships became her 1,000-piece puzzle as she set out to understand the varied behaviors, attitudes and beliefs that led some couples to sustain and strengthen intimacy while many others did not.

Although known to be shy and introverted, Gordon also enjoyed singing and learned to play the piano in her youth. “Music became a very strong element in my life. If not for my shyness and inhibitions, I might have pursued it as a career. Logistics were another obstacle. When I was 14, there was talk of my attending Juilliard_School of Music in Manhattan. That would have required my taking a ferry, a bus, and train each way. My parents vetoed the idea.[3]

“I became a doer of puzzles – intrigued with putting together picture puzzles. Eventually, the puzzle pieces became so large and complex, with so many obscure pieces to locate, that I spent sleepless nights obsessed with finding each missing piece. Finally, I gave up picture puzzles. Intimate relationships became my next puzzle.” [3]

Gordon’s family life was deeply influenced by the outbreak of World War II and the Holocaust.

“It’s very possible that if certain events in my teens had never occurred, I would have remained quiet and passive for the rest of my life. World War II erupted. My father’s extended family in Russia was wiped out completely. In the village of Kovno, where his older half-brother was the mayor, the entire Jewish population was shot and thrown into mass graves. Through newspapers and radio reports, I learned about the Holocaust, of the incredible slaughter of the Jewish people. There but for the grace of God went I. People were murdered for having a relative somewhere who was Jewish or even partly Jewish. I felt incredible terror at this dangerous world.” [3] (Kovno (yadvashem.org))

Funds from her parents’ life insurance policies enabled Gordon to enroll as an undergraduate at Cornell University’s Department of Child Development and Family Relationships in Ithaca, New York, where she began in September 1946 and earned her bachelor’s degree.

“It was one of the great ironies of my life that, if not for the loss of my parents, I wouldn’t have had the life insurance funds to leave Staten Island and go to university.” [3]

On August 23, 1948, Gordon married Cornell law student Milton Eisenberg, whom she had met several months prior. Their marriage lasted 17 years and bore four children: Beth Suzanne (1950), Jonathan Neil (1952), David Leigh (1954), and Seth Daniel (1961).

As an adult, Gordon legally changed her first name from “Florence” to “Lori”.

In 1960, Gordon was awarded a National Public Health stipend that enabled her to continue her education at Catholic University. The stipend covered tuition and household help.

==Career as a marriage and family therapist==

Gordon wrote that she initially enrolled in Catholic University’s Graduate School of Social Work at a time of prolonged unhappiness and dysfunction in her marriage, anticipating her academic studies would offer answers to help her save her marriage. By that time, the family of five had settled in Bethesda, Maryland. Milton Eisenberg worked on Capitol Hill as the senior legislative assistant to New York Senator Kenneth Keating. Gordon became pregnant with her youngest and last child, Seth, born September 3, 1961, during her studies in Catholic University’s graduate school.

Gordon’s personal experiences and unanswered questions influenced her novel search for answers and solutions to the challenges of interpersonal relationships as much as her academic training and the mentorship she received from visionaries in the fields of marriage, family and, particularly, Virginia Satir’s “systems approach”.

Satir’s books PeoplemakingConjoint Family Therapy, and New Peoplemaking, George Bach’s The Intimate Enemy, and Daniel Casriel’s A Scream Away from Happiness were among the most significant that guided Gordon’s path to analyzing and resolving the “puzzles of intimacy”.[4]

“I set out on a search for answers. I met with couples and families, single and in groups. I searched out innovative teachers, everyone I could find who had useful insights about people, relationships, marriages and families. I searched and I questioned.” [3][5]

In her early work as a therapist in a mental health center, she learned, “Someone who goes along with a bad situation is as responsible for perpetuating it as the one who starts it. In other words, you are responsible even if you are not the one who caused it. If you accept it, you are perpetuating it. This lesson was profound for me.” [3][6]

Gordon went on to establish The Family Relations Institute in Northern Virginia as a vehicle for like-minded mental health professionals to pursue novel approaches to helping couples learn and implement building blocks to restoring and sustaining intimacy.

Gordon became among the first to create replicable approaches to address substantial societal changes in which western marriages long defined by traditional dominant/submissive male/female gender roles to meet families’ needs for “security, stability, and raising children” had evolved into an expected source of “love, intimacy, and friendship” between equals.

Gordon’s Institute began sponsoring well-attended lectures in the Washington, D.C. area for the field’s most pioneering practitioners, including Satir, Casriel, Bach and numerous others.


An important aspect of Gordon’s PAIRS psychoeducational approach is the integration of practical skills for deep emotional expression, particularly “exercising” often pent-up, historic feelings of anger, sadness and fear. She wrote of her earliest professional experiences, separately, with both Virginia Satir and Daniel Casriel that led her to incorporate profound emotional expression as a foundation of the PAIRS model.[7][8][9][10]

“In her healing and nurturing way, Virginia had me lie down. She encouraged me to get out these feelings. It was absolute, unadulterated grief – the pain from losing my mother and father 25 years earlier. Without even knowing it, I had carried it all that time. I had no idea that anyone could carry that intensity of emotional memory for so long. Later, I realized the repressed grief had affected me significantly … My memories, role-play, and emotional release combined into an important learning for me about how to offer healing.” [3]

At psychiatrist Daniel Casriel’s New York Institute for the Accelerated Rehabilitation of Emotions, Behaviors and Attitudes (AREBA), Gordon saw another aspect of the value of encouraging deep emotional expression. “Having arranged to sit in on one of his groups, I went upstairs for the session that was about to begin. About 30 people were chatting in a circle. Dan came in, sat down, and said something like: ‘I’m Dan, and I’m fine.’ The next person said something similar. Then, the third one said, ‘I’m Charles, and I’m ANGRY! Throwing back his head, this man let out a blood-curdling shriek. And then another and another – a whole series, the likes of which I had never heard. I was certain he had gone crazy right then and there … This was a mind-blowing experience for me. Around the room, nobody else seemed the least upset as Charles raged and screamed. When he could talk, he described what he was angry about and how he was going to make some positive changes in his life … In turn, other people used this same incredibly intense expression of feelings, screaming out whatever pain and rage and fear they felt … This intense emotional expression and bonding were things I had never experienced. Staying to interview people afterward, I heard incredible statements about the healing that had happened for them.”[3]

Those experiences would change the course of Gordon’s professional career and significantly influence her development of PAIRS as an educational model.[11][12]

During the period Gordon visited Casriel’s AREBA Institute, she was working as a therapist at Fairfax House, a Northern Virginia residential treatment center for adolescents. “At the next group that the director and I led, one 18-year-old was expressing outrage. He’d been thrown out of school for using drugs, and he hated everyone. I intuited that Dan’s process would help him, so I tried to offer it in the group. The director laughed at my efforts to bring in this newfangled technique. The group members, including the angry young man, followed suit in dismissing my efforts. A week later, the young man committed suicide.” [3] As a result, Gordon left that treatment center, “knowing I could no longer work anywhere unless I could use all the processes that I had found effective. It was a matter of integrity.”[3]

==Development of the Practical Application of Intimate Relationship Skills Program==

In 1975, American University in Washington, D.C. launched a marriage and family counseling graduate program. Department Chair Dr. John Robertson invited Gordon to develop a graduate seminar to prepare future counselors with the skills that would strengthen their ability to be effective marriage and family therapists. Gordon integrated nearly two decades of work into a semester-long, 120-hour course that she named PAIRS, an acronym for the Practical Application of Intimate Relationship Skills. Students began telling Gordon that the skills were helping them in their own interpersonal relationships. As a result, Gordon began offering the PAIRS course to couples at her Northern Virginia Family Relations Institute.

She quickly discovered that her novel skills training approach was able to help even the most distressed couples restore love and intimacy, far beyond what she’d been able to accomplish through traditional marriage and family therapy.

Gordon ultimately evolved PAIRS into a psychoeducational model with a 1,000 page curriculum guide and extensive professional training program to allow clergy and mental health professionals to become certified as PAIRS facilitators along with programs for further professional advancements.[13]


In 2002, Gordon and John Gottman were recognized with the Smart Marriages Impact Award at the annual gathering of the Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples Education. Gordon was cited “for her pioneering work in creating the PAIRS Program and for visionary leadership in blazing a path for so many to follow.” In 2005, Gordon and husband Rabbi Morris Gordon were recognized with PAIRS Foundation’s North Star Award, for “empowering hundreds of thousands throughout the world on behalf of a safer, saner, more loving world.”


  1. ^Miami Herald (March 22, 2019). “Lori Heyman Gordon Obituary”. The Miami Herald. Retrieved 2023-07-22.
    1. ^ “California Social Work Hall of Distinction”. Socialworkhallofdistinction.org. Archived from the original on 2007-10-10. Retrieved 2023-07-22.
    1. Jump up to:a b c d e f g h i j k Suhd, Mel. “Virginia Satir: Her Life and Circle of Influence”. SatirGlobal.org. Retrieved 2023-07-22.
    1. ^ Yarrow, Andrew (February 18, 1987). “The first to marry are the first to divorce”. New York Times. Retrieved 2023-07-22.
    1. ^ Yarrow, Andrew (January 14, 1987). “Divorce in the 20s emerges as major demographic trend”. New York Times. Retrieved 2023-07-22.
    1. ^ Burtoff, Barbara (June 12, 1983). “Counseling helps couples look before leaping into matrimony”. Tampa Bay Times. Retrieved 2023-07-22.
    1. ^ Yarrow, Andrew (April 23, 1987). “Why young people divorce”. New York Times. Retrieved 2023-07-22.
    1. ^ O’Connell, Loraine (January 16, 1990). “Don’t fail to communicate”. Orlando Sentinel. Retrieved 2023-07-22.
    1. ^ McConnell Steele, Judy (May 8, 1990). “Program teaches ways to improve relationships”. Idaho Statesman. Retrieved 2023-07-22.
    1. ^ Dubin, Marray (October 26, 1994). “Divorce 103: Teens learning about divorce”. Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved 2023-07-22.
    1. ^ Levin, Julie (November 5, 2006). “Grant offers help for couples”. The Miami Herald. Retrieved 2023-07-22.
    1. ^ Dubin, Marray (November 11, 1994). “Teens get early shot at marriage skills”. Knight-Ridder Newspapers. Retrieved 2023-07-22.
    1. ^ Woods, Annie (September 2, 1990). “In PAIRS: Class helps couple skills”. The New Mexican. Retrieved 2023-07-22.
Lori Heyman Gordon
Born31 January 1929
New York, New York, US
Died21 March 2019 (aged 90)
Maryland, US
Alma materCornell University Catholic University
Occupation(s)Social worker, therapist, author
Known forPAIRS
Spouse(s)Milton Eisenberg (divorced 1965), Rabbi Morris Gordon (deceased 2006)
ChildrenBeth S. Redwood, Jonathan N. Eisenberg, David L. Eisenberg, Seth D. Eisenberg
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