How Mentor Couples Look at Commitment

By Claire Isaacson, MA LMHC PLLC
PACT Level 2 Therapist

I have been a therapist for over 30 years, and I can’t tell you the number of times I have heard my individual clients wonder if it’s even possible for a romantic relationship to last. 

They look around and see relationships on the brink, under strain, marked by tension and dashed dreams. And if they come from a family where there was divorce or infidelity, they feel even more doubtful. It can be hard to think of a couple they look up to, learn from, or feel calmed or inspired by. They don’t see couples that give them hope. Maybe you don’t either. 

We all need to see, in real life, mentor couples, couples who give us hope. One of the many things I love about PACT is that it provides a structure to grow ourselves into mentor couples. And that’s good for all of us.

I have been married for a bit longer than I have been a therapist, and my husband is also a therapist. We have a solid, happy marriage, but you can’t go this many years without time and stress and kids and aging showing you where the cracks are.

Wired for Love Costa Rica

So in 2019, with a lot of curiosity and excitement and some nervousness, we registered for Wired for Love Costa Rica, a week-long PACT couple retreat on the wild and beautiful sands of Sugar Beach. We didn’t go for the professional experience. We went as a long-married couple, hoping to strengthen what we had, stretch into some new skills, and wrestle with some skeletons. 

It was a remarkable experience, sharing our wisdom, our troubles, and our dreams with other couples, hoping to build toward something better. People volunteered to get up in front of the group of us, 30 couples in total, making themselves vulnerable as Stan listened and watched and worked with them. 

My husband remarked that he was falling in love with every single couple. It was true. Every couple’s struggle was recognizable to each one of us, and as we learned from each couple, we did indeed fall in love. For my husband and for me, spending our much-needed vacation at a retreat that was focused on gaining skills and strategies was our first step toward becoming a mentor couple. 

Our kids took note. They asked us questions about why we went and what we learned. We stopped disagreeing with each other in front of friends and family.  We shared stories of what had worked for us, what hadn’t, and how we leaned on and learned from each other. We felt better about who we were in front of others and, more importantly, about who we were to each other. 

We Do Book Club

But, of course, new skills fade if they aren’t practiced regularly. About the time we needed it, a lovely couple in New York reached out to the Costa Rica cohort, inviting us to a Zoom reunion. It was Covid time, late 2020, and we were all getting our legs with these virtual meetups. A few responded, and out of that grew our We Do Book Club, based on Stan’s book of the same title. 

About once each month, three couples met virtually to discuss a chapter from We Do. Between meetings we practiced the exercises and, when we met, we talked about our experience of ourselves and of our beloveds through the exercises. For us, the exercises themselves could spark conflict, and we had to work to remember what principles guided us, who we were as a couple, and how we could move more effectively toward repair. It wasn’t easy, but it was so rewarding. 

As a group, we shared family and cultural influences and supported each other through medical and environmental and professional crises and transitions. Though we were all at different places in our lives, we learned from each other and felt an always-renewing commitment to our marriages and to our friendship. We slowly and subtly grew as mentor couples — for each other and for our communities. We finished the book, but our group continues to meet. We count on one another. 

Others began to take note. Our youngest son’s girlfriend borrowed my set of Wired for Love CD’s, listening to them on her commute, sharing what she was learning with our son. He took interest. We left our worn copy of We Do on our coffee table. Folks picked it up, took a look, asked about it. Our oldest friends shared Thanksgiving with us and stayed the night. They got up before we did and were already talking about We Do when we joined them for coffee. It was enlivening. It was remarkable. 

The Mentor Couple’s Commitment

We do this for ourselves, and we do this for each other. In our work toward becoming that couple we want to be for the duration, we can become that sturdy couple for our friends, for our families, for anyone who takes note. To be a mentor couple, you don’t have to be a therapist, you don’t have to be trained in PACT, you don’t have to participate in a retreat. You just have to be steadfast. 

What is asked of a mentor couple is a commitment to acts of mutual care and respect.

  • Put your relationship first, above kids and work and other demands. 
  • Wrap up conflicts quickly and fairly, aiming for the win-win solution. 
  • Seek balanced negotiations, as opposed to compromise, such that what is good for you can be shown to be good for your partner. 
  • Cultivate transparency. 
  • Be generous of heart, giving and vulnerable. 
  • Protect your partner; resist making jokes at their expense, throwing them or allowing someone else to throw them under the bus. 
  • Live by the rule that it’s not about intention, it’s about impact: seek to understand your partner’s experience and apologize specifically and without defensiveness. 
  • Model your commitment to shared power and authority. 

As a mentor couple, you are kind and just to each other, shouldering this responsibility because you want to and because it means something. This commitment to create a shared sense of security is transformative, showing others much-needed roads through tough times, offering guidance and hope. People will take note.


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