Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of January 17, 2000
Counsellor offers tool for better marriages
By LELLA BLUMER
Special to the WCR
Jim Kiernan has seen his share of counselling programs and therapy techniques over the years.
Along with a professional career as a counsellor and a long list of academic accomplishments in the field, he's offered countless workshops on conflict resolution, anger management, and effective parenting.
"You could say I'm a walking encyclopedia on what makes relationships work," the Edmontonian says with a grin.
And when it comes to nurturing and sustaining a close marriage, Kiernan says he's found something that works better than any form of counselling he's heard of yet.
It's called PAIRS (Practical Application of Intimate Relationship Skills). Developed in Florida by Dr. Lori Gordon, the program has been operating for more than 30 years in the U.S., and has begun to make its way north.
After hearing about the program through a friend in Calgary, Kiernan attended an intensive training session in Florida in August and is anxious to start offering workshops here.
What sold Kiernan on the program is its combination of practical skills training and education.
"What PAIRS does that's unique," Kiernan explains "is focus not only on knowledge, but on acquiring a set of skills that allows couples to develop emotional intimacy".
It's not just for couples whose marriages are in trouble, he adds - it's a marriage enhancement program that draws "ordinary," couples closer by giving them practical ways to communicate, express concerns and resolve problems.
To illustrate, Kiernan pulls a laminated business card out of his wallet. On one side is the PAIRS Dialogue Guide, a series of statements designed to facilitate dialogue between couples. They are expressed as "I," statements ("I am frustrated by . . .", "I believe . . .") rather than "you," statements, Kiernan explains, to be less accusatory.
On the other side of the card is an exercise called Daily Temperature Reading.
"This is brilliant," Kiernan raves. "You begin with an appreciation statement. I love this because if you do it on a daily basis, you have to come up with things that are not banal. It forces you to think about your partner in different ways."
In his own marriage, he adds, the exercise made him realize how many things his wife did in a day. It also opened his eyes to what she noticed and appreciated about him and gave his self-esteem a boost.
The Daily Temperature Reading exercise also leads couples through sharing new information, talking about their concerns, and sharing their wishes, hopes and dreams.
"It's amazing how many couples don't do this on a regular basis," Kiernan says.
If all this sounds a little artificial, Kiernan admits it can feel that way at first. But to change your behaviour, you have to first understand it, he adds.
"It helps you understand that you can behave differently - you don't have to go into automatic every time a conflict arises."
By gaining a better understanding of and insight into the nature of relationships, Kiernan adds, people are more aware of the "behaviour loops" and "love knots" that can threaten their marriage.
"There are hidden expectations and assumptions that people bring into a marriage, sometimes subconsciously," he says, and these often arise when one or both partners are tired or run down.
While PAIRS is non-denominational in nature, there is a Catholic version of the program, developed and approved by a Florida diocese. Kiernan says he has approached the archdiocesan Family Enrichment Centre and a number of parishes around Edmonton to gauge their interest in the program.
Because of the sacredness of marriage as a sacrament, Catholics should be more inclined to work hard at making a relationship last, Kiernan says. But that's not reflected in statistics, which show the divorce rate for Catholics is the same as society at large.
"Studies have shown that a deeply satisfying, long-term relationship is better for you than any other element of your lifestyle, such as your career, diet or exercise."
The good news, he adds, is it doesn't take a significant change to make a huge difference in a relationship. And the effort is worth it.