Monthly Archives: December 2009

“How are you? I’m fine.”

Mother Teresa: "Bring love into your home for this is where our love for each other must start."

It’s a script repeated daily by millions.

“How are you?”

“I’m fine. You?”

“Fine, thank you.”

For many, the words, “I’m fine,” are just as often a sign of surrender, resignation, and withdrawal than an authentic reflection of what someone is truly feeling.


Perhaps we’ve surrendered our wishes, hopes, dreams and passions. Perhaps we’ve become resigned to the pain and sadness in our gut that once cried out for connection and possibilities. Perhaps we no longer have energy for uninvited advice and “guess what happened to so-and-so” stories repeated with the best of intentions by friends and family alike. Perhaps we’ve just given up.

In homes, neighborhoods, schools, offices, grocery stores, gas stations, shopping malls, highways, even in churches and synagogues, we see daily reminders that many of those closest to us are not fine; not because anything is broken or defective, but because they’re not getting needs met that are too often forgotten.

Sometimes we see the truth through the sadness in their eyes or a slump in their shoulders; often through reactions to others or the world at large. Some leak tears, confusion, and sadness; others may flood angry outbursts, sarcasm, and tantrums.

Whether the expressions are active or passive, they signal something fundamental may be missing. In western society, for those who have food, shelter, health and sustenance, most often it’s a cry for bonding.

“In the West, there is loneliness, which I call the leprosy of the West. In many ways it is worse than our poor in Calcutta. The biggest disease today is not leprosy or tuberculosis, but rather the feeling of being unwanted. It is easy to love the people far away. It is not always easy to love those close to us. It is easier to give a cup of rice to relieve hunger than to relieve the loneliness and pain of someone unloved in our own home. Bring love into your home for this is where our love for each other must start.”

~ Mother Teresa

From the moment of his first breath just five weeks ago, our newborn son knew he had a need for bonding. Practically every awake moment since has included either an urging for nourishment or a plea for comforting human connection. As parents, my wife and I have become 24/7 detectives, studying the nuances of each sound, movement, and expression to interpret our baby’s communications and doing our best to meet his needs.

Newborn son naturally reaches out for bonding.

Our newborn son naturally reaches out for bonding.

The needs he’s so comfortable expressing as a newborn will continue throughout his life, yet the reactions he experiences from others – especially his parents — during his earliest months and years will powerfully influence how he seeks to get those needs met and impact the very fabric of his life.

Consider for a moment:

What messages did you get from your earliest cries for connection? How did you interpret (and eventually internalize) the reactions of others about your own feelings and needs? What did your interpretations lead you to decide about yourself that may have had little, if anything, to do with you? What did you decide about getting your needs for bonding met?

Bonding is the unique combination of emotional openness and physical closeness with another person.

Understanding the importance of bonding particularly — defined as the unique combination of emotional openness and physical closeness with another human being — has led to a paradigm shift that has powerfully influenced our understanding of human development and behavior. The results have included significant changes in birthing practices, physical and mental health treatments, recovery and wellness programs, care for seniors, parenting, fatherhood and marriage education, immigrant absorption, and even rehabilitation and re-entry of convicts. In fact, the more we understand about the human need for bonding and the symptoms of deprivation, the more we’re discovering about its connection to many of society’s most urgent challenges.

Too often, we become distracted by the symptoms of bonding deprivation that we miss the most important signs. Many interventions – from pharmaceuticals to counseling, therapy, psychology and psychiatry – have become multi-billion dollar industries with treatments that do little more than mask the symptoms of deprivation, leading countless millions to survive in lives of quiet desperation, knowing deep inside that something profound is missing, yet resigned to the habits, behaviors, and rituals we’ve mastered to disguise our ultimate surrender.

Thousands of times over, I’ve had a front row seat to the miracles and possibilities that unfold in relationships between couples, parents and their children, and entire families as participants in PAIRS classes realize the price they’ve paid in their lives for not getting their needs for bonding met and not meeting the bonding needs of those to whom they’re closest. For young couples beginning their lives together, understanding the centrality of bonding provides layers of protection, security and resiliency to their most treasured dreams and potential — far beyond the most well-intentioned advice, counsel, or treatment.

Relationship Road Map

Many of the symptoms of unhappiness that result from not getting our needs for bonding met are prevalent in homes, neighborhoods, schools, offices, houses of worship, shopping malls, and elsewhere. (PAIRS Foundation, Dr. Daniel Casriel)

From the depth of that understanding emerges a road map to relationships that don’t merely survive, but lasting opportunities to thrive through the natural chapters, challenges, transitions, and obstacles masterfully built into every human experience.

As we pause to enter the second decade of a new millennium, contemplate what it would mean for your life – and for those most closely connected to your life – to know daily that your actions create an environment in which you and your loved ones can be emotionally open and physically close to one another. In the quiet of your mind, imagine how it looks and feels to be someone in whom others can confide, be vulnerable, and reveal the wonder and uniqueness of their individuality without judgment, criticism, or ears that listen, but a heart and mind that doesn’t hear. What does it look and feel like for you to have the strength and courage to confide in others, to be fully human, including embracing the parts of yourself that are learning, growing, works in progress? And what does it look like to be someone with whom those closest to you can be physically close — affectionate – where it’s safe and natural to embrace one another in love and comfort? What does it look and feel like for you to be someone who can reach out for the affection you need to thrive within your most cherished relationships?

Stephanie and Seth Eisenberg reflect silently in a moment of prayer.

It’s the answers to those questions that participants discover during their training in PAIRS classes — practical, usable skills for deepening communication; expanding empathy and compassion; understanding emotions in ourselves and others; reexamining decisions made as a result of past experiences, hurts and disappointments; and processes for addressing differences. Those tools, such as Daily Temperature Readings, Talking Tips, Caring Behaviors, Emptying the Emotional Jug, Fair Fight for Change, Powergram, Untangling Love Knots, and Transforming Emotional Allergies become their tools – often called a “treasure chest” — for nurturing, sustaining, and vitalizing love.

As the clock approaches midnight this Thursday, many will resolve to be better fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, sons and daughters in the new year. Again in the words of Mother Teresa, “Prayer without action is no prayer at all.”


The Gift that Keeps on Giving

Viviana and Francisco Robledo

Confiding is the lifeblood of intimacy.

The Lifeblood of Intimacy

Confiding is the lifeblood of intimacy, yet many  – including loved ones – stop confiding because of the reactions and responses of others. As a result, we can lose the potential of our interactions with those who matter most in our lives.

For many, the most meaningful gift we can offer during this holiday season and throughout the year is the gift of listening with empathy, with our heart. Learning to listen with empathy to those closest to us is a gift that offers a lifetime of rewards.

Consider how often you really listen to another person; not just to their words, waiting for a chance to insert your own thoughts, experiences, and perspective, but to the rhythm, meaning and intention beneath the words?

Michael and Lauren DelGandio

Listening with empathy begins with being fully present to each other.

Listening with empathy begins with being fully present to another person, surrendering – at least momentarily — your own ego, including the temptation to interject, judge and give advice that isn’t invited. It’s also about separating ourselves from distractions – not just television, iPods, cell phones, text messaging, laptops and the like, but also from the wanderings of your own thoughts and prejudices that can get in the way of truly hearing another person. It’s a commitment to listen to understand another person’s feelings and experiences.

Especially during times of stress, anxiety, and uncertainty, there are few gifts we can offer that are more enduring and meaningful than listening with empathy.

Emptying the Emotional Jug

Emptying the Emotional Jug is one of the most powerful exercises taught in PAIRS relationship skills classes. Both in workshops with adults and youngsters, we regularly witness a depth of connection and sharing as a result of the exercise, far beyond what most couples, parents and families typically experience.

The exercise begins with being fully present to each other and agreeing that the Listener will simply listen with empathy, promising not to judge, comment, or react to anything the Speaker shares beyond showing empathy and validation for the experience of the Speaker.

If, afterwards, the Speaker wants to have a conversation about anything shared, the Speaker can choose to talk about anything they’ve confided in more detail, or not to. The Listener agrees from the outset to respect the Speaker’s freedom to choose whether or not to have a further discussion.

The Speaker should recognize that this is not an opportunity to attack or blame the Listener. PAIRS classes offer other tools and exercises for confiding and releasing emotional energy when two people want to address issues within their relationship with each other. This exercise is for confiding about issues that aren’t about the Listener.

Ideally, when this exercise is done in person, the Speaker and Listener should sit together facing each other in a Leveling Position (where you can have natural eye, knee and hand contact). It’s best to do this privately so that neither the Speaker nor Listener will be influenced by other people during the exercise. When appropriate, PAIRS encourages participants to hold hands during the exercise.

If doing this exercise with a child, the adult should be the Listener, not the Speaker.

The exercise has a beginning and an end. Once begun, it’s important to complete the exercise. Generally, this takes 15 to 30 minutes, although it can be shorter or much longer. If there are time constraints, establish those before beginning.

What are you MAD about?

When you’re ready to begin and in a Leveling position with each other, the Listener starts by asking the Speaker:

What are you MAD about?

This is an invitation for the Speaker to look deep inside to see and feel what’s in their gut that’s connected to feelings of ANGER and to express those feelings in words. It’s not a speech, lecture or conversation, but a chance to connect with the feelings that are inside and express them in words.

As the Speaker shares, the Listener should stay focused on the Speaker’s eyes and words, listening much more with the heart than the mind.

After the Speaker has shared, the Listener says, “Thank you. What else are you MAD about?” The Speaker continues to look inside and share whatever is there.

Again, after the Speaker shares, the Listener continues to express appreciation to the Speaker for sharing and asking what else?

“Thank you. What else are you MAD about?” [Depending on time constraints and the depth of confiding, the Listener can continue to ask or can move on to the next step.]

When the Speaker indicates they’ve expressed everything they’re mad about [or you’ve used about a quarter of the time you’ve agreed upon], the Listener says, “Thank you. If you were MAD about anything else, what would it be?”

This step is very important, as often the deepest feelings come out last.

What are you SAD about?

Again, the Listen expresses appreciation, “Thank you,” and then asks:

What are you SAD about?

After the Speaker has shared, the Listener says, “Thank you. What else are you SAD about?” The Speaker continues to look inside and share whatever is there.

Again, after the Speaker shares, the Listener continues to express appreciation to the Speaker for sharing [by saying “thank you” or through a gesture such as an embrace] and asks what else?

“Thank you. What else are you SAD about?”

When the Speaker indicates they’ve expressed everything they’re SAD about, the Listener says, “Thank you. If you were SAD about anything else, what would it be?”

What are you SCARED about?

Again, the Listen expresses appreciation, “Thank you,” and then asks:

What are you SCARED about?

After the Speaker has shared, the Listener says, “Thank you. What else are you SCARED about?” The Speaker continues to look inside and share whatever is there.

Again, after the Speaker shares, the Listener continues to express appreciation to the Speaker for sharing and asks what else?

“Thank you. What else are you SCARED about?”

When the Speaker indicates they’ve expressed everything they’re SCARED about, the Listener says, “Thank you. If you were SCARED about anything else, what would it be?”

What are you GLAD about?

Again, the Listen expresses appreciation, “Thank you,” and then asks, “What are you GLAD about?

After the Speaker has shared, the Listener says, “Thank you. What else are you GLAD about?” The Speaker continues to look inside and share whatever is there.

Again, after the Speaker shares, the Listener continues to express appreciation to the Speaker for sharing and asks what else?

“Thank you. What else are you GLAD about?”

When the Speaker indicates they’ve sufficiently expressed what they’re GLAD about, the Listener says,

“Thank you. Is there anything else you’d like to share that you’re GLAD about?”

Appreciation for Sharing and Listening

The exercise ends with a tangible sign of appreciation for sharing and listening, which is often a hug.

Learn More

You can learn much more about this exercise and other skills taught in PAIRS classes by participating in a complimentary webinar with a PAIRS national trainer. For information on upcoming events, visit PAIRS online, e-mail, or call 877 PAIRS 4U (724 7748).

Twenty Eight Days of Fatherhood

Zachary's first breath

Zachary takes his first breath, 11/25/09.

Zachary and I met 28 days ago today.

He appeared fully present at the moment of his birth; squinting briefly from the blinding, white lights of the operating suite before cautiously opening his newborn eyes to scan the nearby faces of each of the doctors; searching carefully, I imagined, for clues to interpret the momentary trauma that lifted him in an instant from the warm, comforting, solitary embrace of his mother’s then familiar womb into the strangeness of a cold, sterile delivery room crowded with menacing figures hidden behind hefty blue surgical gowns, oversized masks, and white latex gloves.

A minute later, I was accompanying a young nurse and my infant son to a room several yards away where he was gently cleaned, weighed, measured, and foot printed before his tender, fragile, innocent body and spirit was placed into my arms and protection with the responsibility to love, nurture, guide, and support for the rest of our lives.

For the third time in my 48 years, two decades after the birth of my first son, Alex, and seventeen years after my second, Michael, I had become a father; my first child born into a 21st century, borderless, digital world wired with widely accessible technologies for communicating, creating, contributing, and inspiring barely imagined the last time I welcomed a son into the world.

Father and Son's first moments together

Dad, eyes bloodshot from fatigue and tears, first holds his newborn son.

Eyes bloodshot with fatigue and tears — heart pounding with gratitude, soul singing in joyous celebration — I reached out as the nurse tenderly transferred Zachary to arms that prayed, wished and awaited his arrival long before his intentional conception 37 weeks earlier. Together, we briefly returned to the operating suite for Stephanie, now a mother, to meet our newborn son before she was wheeled to recovery and Zachary was taken to the hospital nursery for further tests and observations.

At those moments, neither Stephanie nor I yet knew that her beloved paternal grandmother, Berta Berman, had taken the final breath of her 104 years just miles away and hours before precious Zachary – her only great grandchild who could continue her family’s legacy — would take his first.

Berta Berman

Berta Berman

Less than two years earlier, in my very first conversation with Stephanie, now my wife – the moments when my heart, mind, and soul immediately knew I’d found my bashert – she shared meaningful words about her deep love, respect and admiration for her great-grandmother. She spoke of Berta’s constant presence in her life, how she’d always delighted over visits together and the chocolate chip pancakes she regularly ordered for the Sunday lunches when the family gathered at a Miami Beach eatery each week. We speculated over the source of her longevity, joy and the bright spirit that always surrounded her, wishing our lives could be so blessed.

Zachary reaches out for mother's hand

Zachary's tender, tiny fingers reach out for connection.

I had hoped to see the moment when Stephanie’s newborn child first peered into the eyes of his most senior, living ancestor and grasped her hand within his own for the very first time. When Stephanie’s mother, Regina, whispered news of Berta’s passing as Alex, Michael and I intently watched Zachary through the glass window into the nursery, I understood that her body had completed the mission begun a world away more than a century prior and that her spirit was with us now, and likely always would be with Zachary.

In the hands of the Mohel, Zachary prepares to enter his Covenant with the Jewish People.

Eight days later, as family, friends, and loved ones joined together at Miami’s Temple Menorah to welcome Zachary Berman Eisenberg into the Covenant of Israel, I imagined her there – watching, smiling, cheering. Zachary was given the Hebrew name of Abraham, the first of our Patriarchs, in honor of Stephanie’s cherished maternal grandfather, as his Jewish life began with rituals and traditions dictated by G-d himself as recorded in our holy Torah’s Book of Genesis and honored from time immemorial.

Today, Stephanie and I awoke to our 28th day with Zachary. He slept peacefully through most of the night after our close attention to updated nursing instructions and ointment prescribed by our pediatrician at yesterday afternoon’s appointment.

Brothers Alex, left, and Michael, right, comfort Zachary after his Brit Mila.

His brothers – 17 and 20 years his senior – have welcomed Zachary with love, patience, and curiosity, embracing him regularly with tenderness and warmth as we adjust to life with our newborn miracle, learning daily to interpret his cries, movements, and rhythm.

New brothers getting to know each other.

Many times over these recent 28 days I searched my mind for vivid memories of Alex and Michael’s earliest days. While it’s easy to recall the profound love that instantly expanded within my heart upon the birth of each son, the void of detailed recollections is a reminder of how much I’ve grown, learned and discovered through the curriculum of my own life over the two decades since I first became a father.

Many have said our children raise us as much as we raise them. More than ever, I realize the significance of the healing, wisdom, perspective, and lessons fatherhood brought to my life.

The morning of Zachary's 28th day, sleeping peacefully.

I recalled how I felt as a youngster and later when I perceived my own father much more involved in the life of the son he brought to the world with the woman he married shortly after his divorce from my mother; the confusing emotions I suffered long into adulthood when my half-brother, Justin, shared meaningful stories of our mutual father’s positive, consistent, loving guidance and involvement in his life; the senseless anger and resentment I felt towards him because he’d had our dad’s active involvement, guidance, and support in his life for the years I’d often grieved his nearly complete absence from my own; surely misplacing blame for events that look and feel almost entirely different with the perspective of my own life experiences. Zachary’s arrival brought a depth of understanding, compassion, and forgiveness for my own false assumptions — and towards others as well — that would have been unlikely even from a year with the most skilled of analysts.

In 28 days, I’ve already learned much from Zachary; some lessons emerging from seeds long ago planted, others freshly inspired.

Stephanie and Zachary.

Each call for attention urges a renewed sense of patience, peace, purpose and appreciation for the nuances of movement and sound.

Each precious smile compels acceptance and profound appreciation for the light, love, joy and potential born within each human being.

Each quiet moment of rest – weary eyes heavy yet still locked in awe at the angelic face of G-d’s child — renews my own spirit and faith in the seemingly invisible miracles that dance around us all, carefully hidden from the five senses, yet fully present.

Each new discovery, witnessed through the eyes and expressions of our newborn son, summons deeper compassion, empathy, respect and connection to life near and far.

Twenty eight days of fatherhood; each moment priceless beyond measure, each experience a world within itself.

A son born into the digital, wired, 21st century world that witnesses daily technological breakthroughs has reminded me that nothing is more powerful than the grip of a baby’s tender grasp, quiet breathe, or gentle smile.

Twenty eight days of fatherhood’s blessings and miracles.

Daily Temperature Reading: Five Steps to Watering the Garden of Your Relationships

Confiding is the lifeblood of intimacy. Whether we’re in the same room with loved ones or a world away, these five steps, in sequence, help nurture and protect our relationships – the foundation for happiness, health, wealth and success. In PAIRS marriage education classes that include dozens of practical skills to help couples, parents, fathers, siblings and entire families create thriving relationships, many graduates have said years later that the Daily Temperature Reading (DTR) – used regularly — is the single most important tool for deepening and sustaining intimacy.

The DTR was originally developed by Virginia Satir, a pioneer in the field of humanistic psychology. Satir introduced the original DTR in the seventies. Over the past quarter century, it’s been refined, adapted and shared by PAIRS leaders to many tens of thousands of diverse participants across the world, becoming one of the most powerful exercises for deepening and sustaining relationships.

While some have shared this exercise with extended family over multiple days, others have connected through letters, emails, phone conversations, video conferencing, websites, blogs and even text messaging. Ideally, when circumstances permit, it’s best to share a DTR in person, setting aside 15 – 20 minutes to truly water the garden of your relationship. In the beginning, as you’re discovering the power and potential of this exercise, allow yourself a little extra time. As you become familiar with the steps and integrate them into your regular connections with loved ones, you’ll develop your own, natural, flowing style. As with gardens and all living things, relationships need regular attention. Just as a garden would almost surely wither and die if fervently tended one day and then ignored for subsequent weeks or more (unless you’re raising a garden of cactuses), the same is often true of our closest relationships; they need consistent nourishment to survive, and active, regular investments of time and energy to thrive. The results are well worthwhile.

In a world of more than six billion people, those we are closest to become the witnesses, cheerleaders, and supporting cast in the story that is each of our lives. So much of how we see and feel about ourselves is impacted by our experiences with our personal witnesses. As you allow yourself the freedom to explore and integrate the Daily Temperature Reading into your life, consider whose lives are you truly witnessing? What messages do you want your actions to give those people about how you see them? Also consider who is witnessing your life? What messages are you taking in from their actions?

Begin by being fully present to one another; distance yourself physically and mentally from distractions to allow yourself to be grounded in feelings of gratitude for the relationships and people you most cherish as you navigate each of these five steps.

  • APPRECIATIONS: Take turns acknowledging each other, sincerely and specifically. This isn’t the time to simply say, “You’re a great mother,” or “I appreciate that you’re kind and caring,” or slipping in requests, such as, “I’d appreciate you calling me next time you’re going to be late,” or “I appreciate you remembering to take out the trash — tomorrow.” Be precise and authentic.

    For example, “I appreciate all the effort you put into making a really wonderful, delicious dinner last night, especially that you cooked things you knew the kids would love,” or “I appreciate the text messages and pictures you’ve been sending me during the day to connect with me and show me our adorable baby!

    No matter what stage or situation your relationship is in – even (perhaps especially) during periods of stress, crisis, change, or uncertainty — we can always find something to genuinely appreciate in another person. Be generous in your acknowledgments and affirmations of those whose lives you witness. Your heartfelt words will help maintain goodwill, boost self-worth and self-esteem, and create an environment in which you can work together to constructively address the challenges, obstacles and differences that are a natural part of every active relationship.

  • NEW INFORMATION: Be intentional about keeping each other up-to-date on what’s happening in your life, whether it’s something significant or relatively minor.For example, “The kids want to go to Japan Inn for dinner tonight,” or “I got new prescription sunglasses yesterday and am so happy to be able to finally be able to see better when I’m driving during the day,” or “Veronica is going overseas tomorrow and I’m thinking about how we’re going to adjust to her being in a different time zone for the next two months,” or “I read an interesting article in the newspaper this morning about a new program being offered at the YMCA,” or “I lost my balance during my walk yesterday and I’m thinking about making a doctor’s appointment,” or “Your sister called to say she she’ll arrive next Wednesday and can’t wait to see you and the baby.

    Sharing the events of our lives, including allowing significant others to know what we’re thinking about and feeling, is vital to the experience of bonding – a need we all have as humans. Too often, even in a world with technologies for sharing information that were unimaginable not long ago, couples and families can lose each other in the hustle and bustle of our busy lives with consequences that can last a lifetime. Keep each other up-to-date.

  • PUZZLES: What are you wondering about that’s connected to someone important in your life? What assumptions are you making that you haven’t checked out that could be affecting your own attitude, beliefs or actions? Frequently in my work with couples who come to PAIRS classes on the verge of separation or divorce, their prior actions towards each other were based on a web of assumptions and reactions that weren’t validated. I’ve seen enormous distance develop within families, marriages and organizations as a result of puzzles that were never or only vaguely discussed, often resulting in awful decisions being made about people, events and relationships. Puzzles is your chance to ask questions about anything you’re wondering about. It doesn’t mean you’ll get answers – or that you’ll necessarily like the answers you get — but it’s an important step to make sure you’re not making and acting upon inaccurate assumptions.For example, “I notice you haven’t seemed very happy this week, I’m wondering what’s going on?” or “I noticed you looking at new cars on the Internet? Are you thinking about trading in your car?” or “Annie said she thought she saw you at East City Grill having lunch yesterday? Was that you? Who were you having lunch with?

    As you’re learning the DTR, especially if your relationship is in a fragile state, it’s important to be patient with each other; begin with smaller issues to give yourselves a chance to become comfortable with the process, develop good speaking and listening skills, and clearly establish goodwill. After you share a puzzle, the listener can respond with information to answer or shed additional light on your question, can let you know that they’ll give your question some thought and would like to talk about it later (as long as later actually comes), or can simply thank you for sharing and leave it at that. Asking questions doesn’t require the listener to answer, but it does offer the opportunity.No matter what the issue, remember to stay grounded in goodwill, respect, empathy, and openness to learning. If the answer to a puzzle is going to take more than a few minutes, it’s better to schedule time outside the DTR for a discussion since it’s important to develop a schedule of doing Daily Temperature Readings regularly in a relatively brief period of time that you can consistently devote to each other.

  • CONCERNS WITH RECOMMENDATIONS: We are all unique. Differences are a natural part of every relationship, very much influenced by our individual perspective, personal history, and life experiences, as well as our physical, mental, and emotional well-being at any given moment in time. Rarely are differences themselves destructive to relationships; frequently, however, the ways couples, families and co-workers deal with differences is destructive.Significant research has indicated that you can predict a great deal about the future of a couple’s relationship by watching the first minute or two of how they deal with conflict. When one person or the other responds to someone’s expression of disappointment, sadness, frustration, anger, or concern in a way that adds more fuel to the fire (actively or passively), we eventually deprive ourselves of the opportunity to fully know and accept each other, create an environment in which it’s safe to confide, grow, and work through concerns, and become closer through our successful navigation of the challenges woven throughout our love and life experiences. It’s vitally important to develop the habit of listening with empathy and a desire to understand when someone we love shares a concern. This is easier to do when we’re comfortable with our own sense of self-worth and can be quite difficult when our self-esteem is low.When sharing a Concern with a Recommendation, be specific about the behavior you’re concerned about (don’t attack, judge, blame or criticize), share how you feel (not think) when the behavior happens, and ask for exactly what you want instead.For example, “When we make plans to do something together and you change them 30 minutes before we’re supposed to go out, I feel sad and scared that I’m not important in your life. What I want instead is to talk through plans fully when we make them and that if something comes up where you think it will be necessary to change our plans, you bring that up with me at least a day in advance,” or “When I come home after a long day and driving through an hour of traffic and the first thing you do is begin telling me things that you want me to do, I feel frustrated that I don’t have time to first unwind and scared that I can’t do it all. What I want instead is that you give me an hour after I get home to just relax and get settled before bringing up things you want me to do.“As the listener, after you’ve heard a concern with recommendation, you can answer (yes, no, or yes with conditions, i.e. here’s what I’d need from you), schedule a time to follow-up with a more extensive conversation outside of the Daily Temperature Reading, or simply thank the speaker for sharing, knowing that you now have more information about what you can do to be a pleasure in the life of someone who is important to you.
  • WISHES, HOPES, DREAMS: There’s a popular myth that says when you really want something, you should close your eyes, wish for what you want, and don’t tell anyone for fear that then it won’t come true. As volumes of research and much popular literature argues, the exact opposite is more often true. Creating a life in which our dreams have an opportunity to come true involves actively (and passionately) sharing them with others; enrolling those closest to us to support and encourage the fulfillment of our goals and ambitions; and waking up each day learning the lessons and taking the actions necessary to breathe life and potential into those dreams we most desire. Whether it’s the special meal you’d like this weekend, the baby you’d like to create together, the test you want to ace, the vacation you want to enjoy, the home in the mountains where you hope to retire, or anything in between, regularly sharing your wishes, hopes and dreams – and encouraging others to share with you – brings us closer to each other, exponentially increases chances for our dreams to come true, and deepens our experiences of love, intimacy and connection.

PAIRS Foundation offers classes throughout the world and online to help couples master the steps of the Daily Temperature Reading, as well as dozens of other practical, usable, research-validated exercises for enhancing relationships. After experience with many thousands of program participants, I can say with confidence that integrating the DTR into your life and relationships will be one of the most important, valuable decisions of your life. Try it once a day for 30 days. With goodwill and openness to learning, I predict you’ll see miracles unfold in your life that you may have never imagined possible.


Seth Eisenberg is President & CEO of PAIRS Foundation, one of the nation’s oldest and leading providers of relationship skills education. Learn more at, e-mail, or call (877) PAIRS-4U (724 7748).

Family breakdown fuels increased homelessness

I returned to Atlanta this week for the White House Forum on Responsible Fatherhood. As I traveled the thirteen miles from Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport to the educational center at nearby Morehouse College, where Martin Luther King began his post-secondary studies at the age of 15, my thoughts returned to an image forever etched in my memory from a trip to Atlanta earlier in the year.

My wife and I had arrived in Atlanta on route to a four-day PAIRS training at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center in Augusta for chaplains and counselors serving soldiers returning from combat deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan. As we searched the downtown area late that evening for an open drug store after a much delayed flight from Fort Lauderdale, we saw a homeless family preparing to go to sleep for the night on a desolate street corner.

The look of hopeless surrender that I saw in the eyes of that mother and what appeared to be her four young children will be forever imprinted in my mind. Both my wife and I have worked extensively with the homeless, yet the image of that family – of a mother and her children stilled in silent despair surrounded by cartons and blankets in the cold darkness of concrete beneath a moonlit sky – desperately trying to watch over all that they had – each other – continues to evoke the strongest feelings of sadness and shame; sadness for whatever they had gone through in their lives that brought them with nothing but each other to the hardened pavement beneath Atlanta’s towering skyline of offices, condominiums and luxury hotels; shame because surrounded by wealth and resources unimaginable to billions of men and women across the globe, somehow these American children and their mother had fallen through every safety net of welfare and social services that represents our collective obligation to care for the most needy of our countrymen and children.

Some years ago, I spent countless hours working with other volunteers reaching out to youngsters living on the streets of South Florida. On Tuesday evenings, we’d walk the downtown streets searching for children who were struggling to survive in abandoned buildings, behind dumpsters and other hideaways in the hope of avoiding detection. We reached dozens of youngsters, some as young as 12, most in their teens, with offers of help and hope. The children we met had arrived in Fort Lauderdale from many parts of the country. Some were desperately trying to avoid being sent back to shelters, foster care or homes where they said they experienced merciless physical and emotional abuse; others had been forcibly expelled from the nearby Covenant House shelter for violating any number of the strict rules required of the runaway youth who seek sustenance and safety within their charitable walls. These children – aged far beyond their years — came from diverse backgrounds – some wealthy and middle class, most from poverty. Some had turned to substance abuse to mask the pain of their sense of isolation, betrayal and abandon. With very few exceptions, every one of these youngsters shared one common experience: they were innocent victims of family breakdown. Many shared stories of fleeing single parents – most often single mothers — who were no longer able to care for them emotionally or financially; others spoke of boyfriends or others who had entered their mother’s lives and brought with them violence and unforgiving abuse from which they could find no safe harbor until they escaped to a new darkness in which they hoped and often prayed they’d find solace.

According to a study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, five to eight million Americans will experience homelessness over a five year period, including millions of children.

My experiences with these youngsters inspired much of my passion to pursue federal funding for programs to strengthen family relationships, eventually resulting in receiving a multi-year, multi-million dollar grant in 2006 from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, to bring relationship skills training and marriage education classes to thousands of South Florida residents.

Last year, those efforts brought our team to Carrfour Supportive Housing in Miami to offer classes to residents of their communities, all of whom had themselves once been homeless. Carrfour is one of the nation’s leading providers of permanent housing and supportive services to the formerly homeless. The nonprofit builds and operates communities in Miami-Dade county that provide housing and an array of supportive services to empower their residents with the skills and resources to live independent, productive lives. Our team delivered training over two months to dozens of residents of Carrfour’s Little River Bend and Royalton communities. Last week, PAIRS team members returned to Little River Bend to check-in with our graduates and provide follow-up services.

It’s impossible to spend time with the residents of Carrfour without being inspired by their generosity, faith, and spirit. Gathered together within the warmth of Little River Bend’s training room, we heard story after story of residents and staff looking after each other and others in the community who were less fortunate. Woven within their individual narratives of lives in which they’d once found themselves homeless, often addicted and frequently in trouble with the law, were stories of helping others – neighbors, relatives, and strangers alike, along with profound wisdom birthed from the pain and desperation from which they’d emerged, from which they’d survived.

Villa Aurora Grand Opening

PAIRS Team members, from right, Francisco Robledo, Seth Eisenberg and Lauren DelGandio with staff of Carrfour Supportive Housing at the grand opening of Villa Aurora in the heart of Miami's Little Havana neighborhood.

Recently, Carrfour completed construction of their newest community, Villa Aurora, in the heart of Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood, and opened the doors to nearly 100 families who were able to leave shelters and transitional housing to begin new chapters of their lives.

At this time in which so many families are gathered together in celebration of the many blessings in our lives, I hope each of us will think of those within our midst who are less fortunate – many of whom are alone, struggling, frightened – and reach out to offer tangible support. Whether a meal, volunteer hours, financial contributions, or time to listen with empathy and love, there is no time of the year in which it is more important to recall the commandment that lives within each of our souls – that we are our brothers’ keepers.

One opportunity to help those who are most vulnerable is to contribute to the success of Carrfour by purchasing and dedicating a brick with an enduring message remembering or honoring a loved one. The bricks will pave the entrance to their Villa Aurora community, one of the most significant symbols in our nation of what’s possible when we come together on behalf of those who are most vulnerable. Donations can be safely made online from this link.

I hope and pray this time of celebration and thanksgiving brings families across our nation closer to one another; that it’s a time in which petty differences and disputes are surrendered on behalf of what matters most; that collectively, each of us and all of us, reach out to those who are most loved and cherished in our lives, and, together, to those within our neighborhoods and communities who are most in need.

Relationship Skills Training for Incarcerated Fathers Critical for Strong Families and Safe Neighborhoods

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder addresses the White House Forum on Responsible Fatherhood, Morehouse College, December 15, 2009.

The White House and Department of Justice hosted a Roundtable and Forum on Responsible Fatherhood this week at Morehouse College in Atlanta. I traveled to Atlanta with PAIRS team members Lauren DelGandio, Francisco Robledo, and Tuly Wultz to learn more about the challenges facing fathers who are reuniting with their families following incarceration, particularly the impact on their sons, daughters and communities, and to share information about PAIRS Foundation’s unique experience in this field.

Panelists included U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, White House Special Assistants Michael Strautmanis and Joshua DuBois, former NBA star Allan Houston, senior staff from the Justice Department, and other national leaders with unique perspective and experience crafting innovative fatherhood initiatives for men who are incarcerated, both during their prison terms and throughout the re-entry process.

It was especially meaningful to be joined at the program by the Reverend Joseph Lowery and his wife, Evelyn. Reverend Lowery co-founded and later served as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He participated in most of the major activities of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and ‘60s, including organizing the Montgomery bus boycott after Rosa Park’s arrest in 1955. On behalf of President Obama, Mr. Strautmanis and Attorney General Holder both acknowledged Rev. Lowery for paving the way for the nation’s first African American President and Attorney General.

Michael Strautmanis

White House Special Assistant Michael Strautmanis addresses Roundtable on Responsible Fatherhood, Morehouse College, December 15, 2009.

More than 630,000 offenders are released from prison in the United States every year. Nearly two thirds return to prison within three years. The impact on society, their neighborhoods, and children is significant and frequently multi-generational. African-American families are especially impacted both by the absence of hundreds of thousands of fathers from their children’s lives and the increased likelihood that the sons of incarcerated dads will themselves become incarcerated in the future.

Historically, only limited resources have been devoted to efforts to rehabilitate offenders through educational programs that strengthen  attachment and bonding with their children and families. While there are many stories of men and women who have left prison and gone on to create productive, meaningful lives, these successes are more often the result of individual determination and circumstances – frequently impacted by efforts of local faith-based and neighborhood organizations and family members.

President Obama addressed the audience through a prerecorded video presentation, stressing the critical importance of a father’s active, positive involvement in the life of his children:

“In many ways, I came to understand the importance of fatherhood through its absence-both in my life and in the lives of others. I came to understand that the hole a man leaves when he abandons his responsibility to his children is one that no government can fill. We can do everything possible to provide good jobs and good schools and safe streets for our kids, but it will never be enough to fully make up the difference. That is why we need fathers to step up, to realize that their job does not end at conception; that what makes you a man is not the ability to have a child but the courage to raise one.”

Relationship skills that help men understand emotions in themselves and others and create and sustain positive connections with their families through effective communication and problem solving abilities may be the most effective tool to reduce recidivism, create safer neighborhoods, and prevent a future in which millions of their children grow up to themselves become incarcerated.

PAIRS Foundation was one of the earliest pioneers to introduce relationship skills training to the prisoner reentry process. More than 15 years ago, Dr. Zev Appel of Israel’s Bar Ilan University began training graduate students to teach brief segments of PAIRS to prisoners and their spouses prior to re-entry. In 2004, I traveled to Israel for Dr. Appel’s presentation on the results of ten years of research in the Israeli prison system, showing sharp reductions in recidivism, with significant benefits for families, children and society.

As a result of early efforts in Israel, PAIRS Foundation began collaborating with the Shelby County Department of Corrections in Tennessee in 2007 to pilot a similar program in the United States. The results are highly encouraging. Combined, they offer a model that can help prevent hundreds of thousands of men and women from returning to prison, strengthen families, create safer neighborhoods, and empower millions of youngsters impacted by a parent’s incarceration with the resources necessary to fulfill their own human potential.

Over the coming year, PAIRS Foundation will be actively reaching out to potential partners nationwide to help strengthen fatherhood programs for incarcerated men in particular and encourage evidence-based relationship skills training founded on emotional literacy, bonding, and empathy as a central component in our national campaign for strong families and safe neighborhoods.

A New Angel in Heaven

A baby died today in Miami.

She was three months old. She didn’t have to die.

She should not have died.

She should have grown up to join other boys and girls at Edison Park Elementary, just blocks from the home on the 6800 block of NW 5th Avenue in Miami where her grandmother left her for hours in the back of the family car.

She died alone in a locked car yards away from thousands of motorists passing north and south on I-95, none of whom could have heard her anguished cries and prayers for help before the suffocating heat silenced her forever.

She suffered alone as her 22 year-old mother struggled to earn minimum wage serving patrons at the local McDonald’s, while her 16-year-old uncle struggled to pass a test requiring him to name 39 French speaking states and label them on a map, while her 50-year-old grandmother rested inside her home, struggling with her own demons and anxieties as her daughter’s daughter left in her care struggled for her final breath.

The baby’s father was deported from the United States. The grandparents live below poverty, unable to access critical social services for themselves or their children, allegedly because of past reporting errors.

More than 28,000 infants under the age of one die each year in the United States; more than 75 each day.

This little girl didn’t have to die.

She should not have died.

Even in a recession, she lived within miles of much of the world’s greatest wealth, public and private resources, unable to benefit from the childcare, counseling, medical, housing and food assistance that could have been available because she depended on adults who themselves were unable to successfully navigate the maze of paperwork and bureaucracy to obtain the support that could have saved her life – that should have protected her life.

I met her uncle last spring while teaching a PAIRS relationship skills class to teenagers in the night school program in a Miami-Dade county high school serving youngsters whose lives are enormously challenged. When I asked for a volunteer to demonstrate the Emptying the Emotional Jug exercise in front of the classroom, he courageously stepped forward. His girlfriend followed. I coached his girlfriend as she took his hands in hers and asked, “What are you mad about?” continuing to ask and listen from her heart as he shared a laundry list of grievances. She went on to ask, “What are you sad about?” listened intently to his responses, then followed with “What are you scared about?” and finally, “What are you glad about?

In a classroom where revealing tender emotions wasn’t likely to win empathy or compassion, the youngster cried through the exercise. I fought back tears myself as I listened to his words, especially when he shared about his anger and sadness because of the distance in his relationship with his father and his fears for his mother’s health – the same mother who left his sister’s three month old daughter alone in the back of the family car this morning.

After not hearing from him since shortly after the class ended last spring, he called me several weeks ago to say things weren’t going well for him – that he was living with his father, hadn’t seen his mother in some time, that neither of his parents were working, that he hadn’t been able to find work either, and that there wasn’t anything to eat at home or any money.

I met him that week and offered help with food and money. That weekend, I met his father and let him know he could call me for help.

Today, during his geography test, my wife was reaching out to social services that might be able to assist him and his family. He texted me after his test to let me know he’d gotten a C. When he left school at three, he texted me again to say that his three month old niece was dead.

As the news sunk in, I reached out to each of my sons and then came home to hold my own baby boy, born just two weeks ago.

My wife arranged for a social worker to speak with him and then he and I spoke again afterwards. He was anguished and afraid. His mother tried to hurt herself after realizing what she’d done, he shared. The police had taken her to a hospital and he was afraid she’d either be sent to prison or confined for psychiatric help. He didn’t know what to do.

I told him that all he could do was work as hard as possible to make the most of his life, that it was now up to him to do everything possible to live a life that mattered, to help create a world where other children don’t die, to help other youngsters more fully recognize the responsibility they take on when they choose to bring children into the world, to do what he could to be there for his sister and mother during these difficult days in all of their lives, that my wife and I would do whatever we could to help him and his family.

And I told him there’s a new angel in heaven watching over him, and that for the rest of his life, I suspected she’d be there cheering for him as he takes on his life; that now he had to do that for both of them.

My faith tells me that the baby’s soul lives on.

My heart and mind tell me that she didn’t have to die.

She should not have died.

It was up to all of us to protect her.