Some years ago when my husband and I were going through a rough patch in our marriage we had the good fortune of being referred to Chuck and Ellen Purcell’s relationship coaching program.

I credit the communication skills we learned, the insights we gained, and the friendships we made with other couples during the Purcells’ “PAIRS Relationship Mastery” program for saving our marriage and keeping our family together.

When you think about it, it’s remarkable — and very sad — that we can go through 12 years of elementary and secondary school education and four or more years of college and yet never be taught the fundamental communication or self-awareness skills that are needed to have successful relationships.

The Purcells’ nationally renowned PAIRS Relationship Mastery program fills this gap in our educational system. That’s why I recommend the Purcells to anyone who wants to repair a relationship that is drifting apart, or who simply wants to deepen and enrich their own self-understanding and improve their relationships at home and/or at work.

I asked Ellen Purcell to tell us more about her work so I could share it with our readers today.

What Is PAIRS?

PAIRS is the acronym for “Practical Application of Intimate Relationship Skills”. We work in a classroom setting to teach individuals and couples how to be in really close relationship, how to nurture that relationship, how to enliven it and how to sustain it through challenging times —including all the things that happen in the outside world beyond our personal lives.

The specific skills we teach — of listening deeply, communicating clearly and compassionately, resolving differences and dealing with anger — are also useful in work settings, with friends, with children and with families.

Our 4-hour workshops teach powerful skills that can be used every day to handle the natural ups and downs of relationships.

Our PAIRS Relationship Mastery Program meets one weekend per month from November through April and provides in-depth skills training in Communication, Conflict Resolution, Anger Release, Life Script Decisions, Sensuality & Sexuality, and Clarification of Expectations and Goal Setting for a happy life. We limit the enrollment in the Mastery Program to 12 people, and we are usually fully enrolled for the Relationship Mastery program one to two months before it starts in November each year.

The couples who go through the Relationship Mastery program say it is the best investment in themselves and their marriage that they have ever made. You do not need to be married or engaged to participate in this program. Couples of all ages and stages of their relationship — from dating couples who are trying to decide if they are a good fit for each other and whether they should go forward in their relationship to long-married couples who are contemplating divorce and trying to decide whether should stay together or separate.

We have also had singles in almost all of our classes. The singles are typically people who feel that they have not been successful in finding or keeping a relationship going in a way that they want. Sometimes we get people who simply come for their own personal development because they enjoy learning and growing and becoming the best they can be.

Interestingly our single participants are some of our strongest advocates because they have spent so much of the class just focusing on themselves and what they want to learn.

We have also worked with professionals – therapists, advisors and counselors of various kinds — who want to develop and strengthen skills that they can use with their clients. Their initial motivation in taking our classes is to develop their professional skills rather than working on themselves and their own relationships. But in the course of our classes they will often also recognize that their own personal and work relationships are also benefiting from the skills they are learning.

How Did You Get Interested In Becoming Relationship Coaches?

I was introduced to PAIRS by a friend who was familiar with the program and knew Dr. Lori Gordon who created the program. Dr. Gordon was a marriage and family therapist who recognized that a lot of couples coming to her did not need therapy. What they needed were better intimate communication skills and the therapeutic model that she had wasn’t helping them.

Dr. Gordon recognized that there was no book or curriculum that taught relationship skills. Most people are trying their very best to be a good partner in their marriage or relationship, but when they get stressed or frustrated they do things in their relationship that are not productive and wound each other.

So my friend was teaching classes for people who wanted to become PAIRS instructors and she recommended that I take the PAIRS training. When I took the training I realized I loved it and felt like it was a very natural thing for me to be doing.

After I met Chuck he went through the training as well and then we started teaching classes together to the public.

How Do You and Chuck Work Together in Your Relationship Skills Trainings?

My husband Chuck and I have been leading PAIRS workshops together as a married couple for 20 years.

Chuck is a real guy. He’s a retired fighter pilot in the Air Force and he has a black belt in tae kwon do. What makes him special is that he provides the men in our classes with a role model who knows how to be tough and assertive in his professional life and the outside world, yet who is also able to turn the “tough guy persona” off to be vulnerable, real and sensitive in his intimate married relationship.

This is a real eye-opener for a lot of men in our classes. In many cases it is the first time they have ever seen firsthand how can they can relate differently with their partner than they relate to people in the outside world where they may need to be competitive and assertive and combative to succeed in their work lives.

Are You and Chuck Licensed Therapists?

We are not licensed therapists. We make it very clear to people who come to us that we are relationship educators and coaches – not therapists. In cases where there are issues of addiction or abuse or that sort of thing therapy is definitely needed but that is a different modality than what we provide. Therapy and PAIRS training can work together but they are two different things.

One advantage of our PAIRS classes is that they avoid any stigma associated with “being in therapy.” Military and government personnel often have legitimate concerns about qualifying for security clearances if they are perceived as going to therapy. Since PAIRS is a strictly educational program, it is a more comfortable option for people serving in the military or the government.

What Do You See as the Top Difficulties People Have in Their Relationships?

What we see time and again is that “love is not enough” to keep a relationship healthy and thriving.

A big reason why couples shut down or give up on each other is simply that they lack the communication skills that will keep their love alive and healthy. The truth is that we all need to learn and practice communication and relationship skills to keep our relationships healthy and thriving – especially when we live in a culture that encourages us to “do what feels good” and does not teach the value of staying together through life’s inevitable rough patches.

Participants in our PAIRS workshops get a valuable reality check as to what makes for a happy relationship. Many people enter into relationships hoping and believing that “we are always going to get along” and “we’re never going to disagree” and “we are always going to solve problems easily and without conflict.” This is completely unrealistic.

The old adage that “opposites attract” is very true. People attract people who are very different from themselves — and then they spend huge amounts of effort to make their partner more like them.

Most people have a childhood history of needs and expectations that have not been resolved. On an unconscious level we then seek out people who will provide us with an opportunity to learn and grow and heal. The irony is that when that happens we feel upset and tell our partners to “Stop doing that! I hate that behavior!” — instead of realizing that we have chosen this partner precisely because they provide us with an opportunity to learn more about ourselves and heal our inner wounds.

Our 4-hour Introductory PAIRS workshop offers couples who are struggling a wonderful opportunity to gain insight into things that might help them. But for truly significant changes to occur in a relationship, our in-depth Relationship Mastery course is what is needed.

As couples go through the Relationship Mastery workshops, they have the opportunity to witness other couples going through their own relationship struggles — and they get to see alternative and healthier ways of disagreeing with one another and being different from one another and still be a happy couple. Lots of times couples think “it’s just us going through this,” and then they will see another couple across the room that they think has it all together who is arguing about similar things and they will realize that they are not alone in their conflicts and struggles with their own partner.

By witnessing other couples dealing with similar issues and conflicts, we all get to see and appreciate that relationships can be hard and they do require effort.

It’s all about how you talk to each other and listen to each other. It’s about finding someone who is a little different and a little challenging and learning how to enjoy your partner without having to fix him or her — and grow from the relationship.

Very often a quiet person will partner up with someone who is outgoing and the life of the party which seems just nuts. But on a certain level each one is realizing that the one that is always the life of the party likes being with someone who offers quiet time and someone who will listen to them. And the quiet person recognizes that it can be interesting and fun to be more lively in their lives like their partner.

So if couples can let go of their power struggle it feels very satisfying and very connecting. We teach our workshop participants how to let go of the power struggle. Our participants learn a whole different way of being instead of just being blindly in love and expecting your partner to be perfect. They come to realize that that you will have differences and they learn the skills to work through their differences so they can have a happy life together.

What Are the Top Skills People Learn in Your Workshops?

The top skills people learn in our workshops are:

1. How to listen to your partner in a skilled way with empathy and what that means.
2. How not to jump in with fixes and comments when a person is being open and vulnerable about something they are concerned and upset about.
3. How to share. How to say when you are upset and how to give acknowledgement and appreciation in a way that the other person can take in.
4. How to understand yourself better so that when you do get upset you understand what is triggering you and that it may not just be your partner that’s the problem.
5. Understanding your personal history and learning what realistic expectations are in your relationship.
6. How to create a safe space between each other so you can be vulnerable with each other.

A lot of people in our classes just feel like they are not being heard or understood because their partner is not giving them enough time to express themselves.

It’s a very counterintuitive thing in the sense that it is not necessarily easy but it also is not that hard once you learn the skills. The skills are relatively simple but it can take maturity to be able to say “what I feel like doing is something that is not helpful but I’m going to pause and use these skills that I’ve learned.” But with practice this can become a more natural way of being.

When Are Your Next Workshops Being Held?

You can find our workshop schedule on our website at

Our short introductory workshops in 2019 will be held from 1-5 PM on March 24, April 14, June 9, July 15, September 15, October 6 and November 17 in Reston, Virginia.

Our next Relationship Mastery Program starts in November. It will be held one weekend a month for 6 months from November through April.

For more information, visit us at: or call us at (703) 476-5644.