A couple who befriended on a class to save their battered marriages closed themselves after breaking up with their spouses, falling in love, and coaching people with relationship problems.
Happily married for 15 years, Emma and Matthew Pruen met in 2001 on a self-development course in East Sussex that they and their partners attended separately – in the hope of exploring the failures of their relationships and better understanding their own role in their demise .
They clicked as people and supported each other as they tried to get their marriages working just for their friendship to become romantic after realizing that their differences with their respective partners could not be resolved.
Now that they split their time between London and France, their thoughts led them to start their own self-development courses, according to Emma, who said, “The only person in control is you.
“When your relationship is in trouble, you can’t change anyone, the only person you can change is you and that is the principle that underlies all of our relationship courses.”
They run courses outside of the London dormitory as part of the Hoffman Institute and also run a four day residential course at their home and retreat center in south west France.
Established 50 years ago, the Hoffman Process on which their coaching is based gives people the tools to make behavioral changes, either to improve their relationships or, when they’re really over, help them cope with breakups and Divorce help.
Emma said, “Matthew is very good at pouring oil into troubled waters.
“I was lucky enough to fall in love with a peacemaker, which means I have a relationship I’ve never dreamed of.”
But Emma and Matthew, a former restaurateur, have come a long way in the years since meeting as they – like their respective spouses – worked hard to find a way to make their marriage a success.
They stayed in their relationships for another two years, confiding in each other as friends and sharing their insights into each other’s lives from a male or female perspective.
According to Emma, it took her and her nearly ten-year-old husband – with whom she ran a business – a month-long Christmas trip to Thailand to realize that their marriage was at an end.
She said, “We went with no stress, no work, no pressure and it was just beautiful there, but we still had the worst argument ever so it wasn’t a joke. We knew we were finished. “
When she returned to the UK, she received an email from Matthew, who was also having a bad Christmas, saying he and his wife would split up after being husband and wife for 20 years.
His plan was to move to Spain for a few months so that he could think about his new life.
But Emma’s reaction to his message surprised her.
She said: “I overreacted massively and instead of thinking it was great and a really good move, I realized that I would miss him terribly, which I thought would be a bit extreme if he was just a friend.”
But Emma and Matthew agreed that he would stay with her in Brighton, East Sussex, for a two-year reunion from the course they’d first met.
During that visit – both freshly singles – they became romantically engaged.
“I noticed Matthew and I were sitting closer and closer together on the sofa, so I asked him, ‘Is something going on here?’ and he just said, ‘Would you like something to happen?’ “said Emma.
She added, “I was concerned because this was my best friend and I didn’t want to lose him, but it was like something out of a Christmas movie and everything was wonderfully respectful.
“And it turned out that we were compatible both physically and emotionally.”
Matthew returned from Spain and moved to Brighton to live with Emma who raised with her ex-husband Iskander, now 25 and a film graphic designer.
She made a fresh start in her career too – she worked for the Green Party in Brighton for 18 months when Caroline Lucas became the party’s first MP in 2009.
In 2011, she even introduced herself as an MEP and ran a two-year campaign from which she then resigned to allow the candidate to top the party list.
Meanwhile, Matthew had been invited by the Hoffman Institute to become a facilitator and had therefore begun his training as a couple counselor.
Two years later, Matthew proposed marriage on Emma’s 40th birthday and the couple married in November 2005 – and had a child, Chris, 15, who identifies as non-binary.
Matthew also has two children from his first marriage, Tom, 37, an entertainer, and Rosey, 35, a photographer.
In 2013 the couple bought a € 180,000 rundown four bedroom house and huge barn in Poitou-Charentes, southwestern France, and spent € 300,000 converting it into a center – The French Retreat – where they now live and operate couples. Retreats and leasing the room to other teachers and healers.
They charge £ 1,200 for a four day, full board retreat and also offer two day courses in London that cost £ 300.
Emma said: “Matthew grew up in Lebanon in the Middle East with an English father and a Middle Eastern mother, so he grew up between two different cultures and is very good at conflict resolution.”
While Emma has trained extensively in family counseling, Emma says Matthew’s childhood experience made him a natural in the field.
However, she cautions that while we tend to find a romantic partner who will bring in the missing pieces in the relationship, doing so can also create problems.
She said, “We are all drawn to something else, but that can create challenges and conflict. because at some point we notice how different we are and then feel repelled by our partner.
“The other factor is that when we go to bed with someone, we are also going to bed with their parents, their families, their belief systems, and their way of life.”
While Emma is thrilled to have a compatible and fulfilling marriage to Matthew, she says that while a huge aspect of her job is helping couples resolve differences, when a relationship is really over, she becomes one, too lead to a friendlier separation.
Still, hoping that people like her will be lucky enough to find their soulmate, she says, “Matthew is very real and funny, and a natural and gifted peacemaker. We are very happy.”
Meanwhile, Matthew feels confident that by helping others in their work, they will grow their own relationship.
He said, “The way we got to know each other was great because we got to know each other very deeply and very quickly, warts and such.
“Working together as a relationship coach only deepened that, because by sharing our ups and downs with others, we learn more and more from each other. ”
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