Excellent communication skills are crucial for a successful marriage and research shows that even for the happiest of couples, communicating effectively does not come naturally or easily. Recognizing this challenge, the Shalom Task Force offers training workshops to engaged and married couples to help them navigate the intricacies of conflict resolution and improve their communication skills in an effort to foster healthy relationships and minimize marital struggles.
Shalom Workshops operates mainly in the tri-state area and provides services to couples across the spectrum of Orthodoxy. But those demographics will soon be expanding. Recently, Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, the chief rabbi of Moscow, and his wife, Dara, visited the Shalom Task Force headquarters in New York in the hopes of learning how to implement similar workshops in Moscow.
“I heard about Shalom Task Force from their powerful ads in the Jewish publications,” said Rebbetzin Goldschmidt. “I was trying to find a model on which we could run training sessions for engaged couples to incorporate communication skills along with other preparations for marriage.”
In December, a daylong training session was organized for Rabbi Dovid and Mrs. Esti Lagunov, a young couple involved in teaching university students in Moscow.
“With our guests from Moscow, I explained the unique dynamic of commitment as it pertains to Jewish couples,” said Dr. Alan Singer, executive director of Shalom Task Force. “I stressed the research of John Gottman, who determined the importance of the marital ‘friendship’ as well as this crucial finding: With normal areas of perpetual conflict for couples, such as finance, in-laws, house chores, raising children, and intimacy, it is the regulation of conflict and not the resolution of conflict that matters most.”
Rivki Rosenwald presented an enhanced four-hour Shalom Workshop and Basya Kovacs, director of Shalom Workshops, spoke about the logistical aspects of coordinating a marriage workshop program. Ari Jacobovitz, outreach coordinator, touched upon the use of print and digital media for advertising and awareness.
“We believe that our day at Shalom Task Force was the first stepping stone in our dream to start a similar program in Moscow, giving a solid foundation of proper communication skills to couples,” said Rebbetzin Lagunov. “We appreciated the thought-provoking exercises and insights into communication that we learned, and we feel that we can help improve marriages if we can give them over properly.”
Once they get a program off the ground, the Lagunovs intend to set up a system in which the local batei din and chassan and kallah teachers send the couples for a session before getting married.
Shalom Workshops helps hundreds of couples each year, a figure that has grown exponentially since the workshops’ inception in 2007. To date, Shalom Workshops has worked with close to 1,600 couples—over 3,000 young men and women who seized the opportunity to equip themselves with the valuable skills needed to communicate effectively with their partners, either while they were engaged or in their first year of marriage.
“Pre-marriage education is crucial,” said Kovacs. “It’s like anything else you need to learn in life. The workshop should be taken by every person before marriage because it’s like studying a driving manual before getting a driver’s license.”
In recent months, the Shalom Workshops have garnered interest from additional Jewish communities across the world. Inquiries have come in from rabbis and communal leaders in Belgium, Canada, Israel, South Africa, and the United Kingdom, who all want to implement similar programs in their regions.
“We’re seeing a growing trend in the awareness that the workshops are necessary, and we’re here to serve that need,” said Jacobovitz. “Everyone is reaching out to us. It’s not about whether a couple is happy or having problems, it’s just what should be done. It’s becoming the accepted practice that people take pre-marriage educational classes, just like chassan and kallah classes.”
The Shalom Workshops have proven time and again to be effective in helping couples in several areas of marriage.
“One of the reasons our workshop is so successful and helpful to couples is that its foundation is research-based and its curriculum is research-tested,” said Dr. Singer.
The workshops are based on PAIRS—Practical Application of Intimate Relationship Skills. PAIRS programs provide a system to enhance self-knowledge and to develop the ability to sustain relationships by integrating methods from psychology, education, and psychotherapy and then presenting them in an educational format. PAIRS is research-validated as being effective in all populations for which it has been adapted, including Shalom Workshops.
“Shalom Workshops worked with PAIRS to tailor our program to the specific needs of the Jewish community,” explained Jacobovitz. “Our program has a broad appeal to Orthodox couples on all levels, from the more modern to the more religious, while still maintaining a consistent level of success and effectiveness.”
Participants reported that after attending the workshops, they saw improvements in their relationship, communication skills, and conflict-resolution techniques.
“The workshop did a superb job at going over key points of conflict that might come up in a relationship and highlighting important points and helpful suggestions and behaviors,” said Chaim Strassman, who attended a Shalom Workshop with his wife, Lindsey, just one week after they were married last fall. “Some topics focused on better communication, while others focused on everyday events and real world scenarios, such as money management. I would absolutely recommend the workshop to others because it provided a great environment to help build and grow as husband and wife and it is worthwhile to practice these skills and invest in growing. We firmly believe that actively working on our relationship is the best way to build a foundation for our future.” v