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Marin Independent Journal

Marin Independent Journal
July 6, 2004

Drs Michelle & Patrick Gannon: Relationship Specialists
by Chris Lau

BURR PURNELL HAD just left for Singapore, France and Mexico in May for a business trip. It wasn’t perfectly timed – his wife, Jane, would be left to take care of their 7-month-old daughter, Ellie – but it was necessary for his job as a creative director for an advertising agency.

The Purnells have been married nearly three years and they say they have a very healthy marriage, but the days leading up to Burr’s business trip sparked some anxiety for Jane.

“I was a little nervous, being on my own without him for a couple of weeks,” Jane says.

After her husband departed, Jane, a stay-at-home mom, felt a bit uneasy upon returning to their Sausalito home. But that evening, she opened the linen closet and found a note written by Burr, saying “I love you!” Later that night, before going to bed, she found another note by her bedside that read “Sleep well. I miss you!”

“They were all over!” Jane says of the notes.

She instantly felt much better about the ensuing weeks, which was exactly Burr’s intention.

“I knew she’d find the little notes,” Burr says. “I was stoked she was so happy about them … and it made me feel good.”

The Purnells took a marriage class shortly after their Sept. 8, 2001, wedding. The class, Marriage Prep 101, is taught by married San Francisco psychologists, Drs. Michelle and Patrick Gannon. It is a popular research-based seminar for newlyweds, engaged couples and couples thinking about getting married about how to resolve conflicts, avoid unhealthy relationship patterns and build intimacy.

The most memorable part of the class for Burr is what the instructors call the “5-to-1 magic ratio for a happy marriage,” a goal to have five “positive interactions” with your romantic partner for every negative one.

The Gannons say a positive interaction could be anything – a kiss, a compliment, a favor. Burr Purnell recalls learning about how easily such an interaction can be accomplished. After all, he says, writing a few short love notes doesn’t take a lot of time.

But, it’s “such a loving gesture,” Jane says.

Michelle Gannon notes that “It doesn’t have to be a 10-to-0 ratio,” but being conscious of this goal helps couples minimize criticisms and maximize positive gestures. This is one of many things the Purnells took from Marriage Prep 101 and it still applies in their marriage.

“(The class) is enlightening because they approach the topics with honesty and reality-based situations,” Burr says.

Often, marriage and relationships takes a back seat to other things, such as jobs and kids, the Gannons say. Consequently, divorce rates hover around 50 percent. But it shouldn’t be that way, Michelle Gannon says, because the “relationship is as important as raising kids and careers.”

Marriage Prep 101, taught 26 times since September 2000, has helped about 400 couples work toward happy and successful marriages. While research has shown that couples who take any kind of marriage class have a much higher chance for a happy marriage, the Gannons’ class is unique because, A) it’s taught by a married couple that practices what it teaches, and B) it’s not based on any religious faith.

The Gannons, who have been married for nine years, both have Ph.D.s and their own San Francisco practices. They live in San Rafael with their two boys, 7 and 5, and have a date night once a week and a vacation without kids at least once a year. Much of what their class focuses on are examples from their personal lives, and they do that in a fun and relaxed way.

“Patrick and I role-play a lot from our own marriage,” Michelle says.

“Michelle and I are like stand-up comics,” Patrick adds.

Former students often attribute their own successes to the fact that the Gannons are able to share their own experiences with marriage.

“I thought it was so informative, educational and inspiring,” says Todd Schueler, a San Francisco resident who took the class in March while he was pre-engaged. “It really opens your eyes on how to have a long-term committed relationship. … Patrick and Michelle are very driven to helping couples become successful. Because of that vision, they continue to impact people in the most important way, which is having a full and happy life together.”

The class focuses on seven aspects of a relationship that cover everything from enhancing compatibilities between the two people, clarifying expectations, resolving previous issues, communicating well, resolving conflicts, enhancing intimacy and creating a bond.

Keeping perspective holds it all together. “We want them to think 50 years from now,” Patrick says. “What do they want to be saying about their marriage?”

Part of that answer has to do with a healthy sex life, Michelle adds.

“We teach the importance of romance, friendship and maintaining a pleasurable, fun sex life – even after the kids come,” she says.

Copyright and permissions

(c) 2004 Marin Independent Journal. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of Media NewsGroup, Inc. by NewsBank, Inc.
Record Number: 2255471

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