Healthy relationships the topic at Y’s prayer breakfast

Les Parrott

Empathy. It’s a one-word answer to a sometimes thorny question: What makes a good relationship?

Les Parrott has the expertise to offer a long and researched answer. Yet the clinical psychologist, best-selling author and Seattle Pacific University professor sums it up with that one golden word.

Parrott, who with his wife Leslie Parrott has co-written many books on relationships, will be in Everett this month as the featured speaker for the 56th annual Good Friday Prayer Breakfast, sponsored by the YMCA of Snohomish County. It’s scheduled for 7 a.m. March 25 at Xfinity Arena’s Edward D. Hansen Conference Center.

In a phone interview this week, Parrott said that when their book “Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts” was published, they appeared on “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”

“She asked for one bit of advice. We summed it up in a single word — empathy,” he said. “It’s the capacity to see our partner’s perspective accurately. It does amazing things in your relationships. I wish we could box it up.”

At the breakfast, he said, “I’m going to speak on how to make bad relationships better and good relationships great.” That know-how can help couples, parents, workers and friends.

The Parrotts — once high school sweethearts — have been married 32 years. Parrott’s wife is a marriage and family therapist.

In 1991, they founded the Center for Relationship Development at Seattle Pacific University.

They launched “Relationships 101” and “Marriage 101,” which Les Parrott said became “two of the most popular classes on campus.” Now they teach part-time, and juggle academic work with speaking engagements around the country.

“Our most popular is called ‘Fight Night,’ all about how to use conflict,” Parrott said.

More than 15 years ago, he was also involved in the early stages of eHarmony, the matchmaking website founded in 2000 by psychologist Neil Clark Warren. “I was there at the dining room table when eHarmony was first talked about,” said Parrott, who had a part in devising the questionnaire used to predict compatibility.

“When the company launched, they didn’t even put photos in the profiles. The intention was to make sure they were matching on things that really mattered,” Parrott said. He has no official ties to eHarmony today.

Along with “Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts,” their books include “Real Relationships,” “L.O.V.E.,” “The Parent You Want To Be,” “Trading Places,” “Love Talk” and many more. They provided support in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. And the U.S. military has invited them to help servicemen and women readjust to family life after deployments in Iraq.

While they work from a Christian perspective, “we’re not preachers doing seminars for couples,” Parrott said. “We are pilgrims not proclaimers.”

Scott Washburn, president and CEO of the YMCA of Snohomish County, said the Lenten breakfast tradition began in 1960. Back then, smaller breakfasts were held in several locations, sponsored by the Y and a local council of churches.

“The first formal prayer breakfast was in 1989,” Washburn said. Former Seahawks quarterback Jeff Kemp was the first of many high-profile speakers. This year, the Y is sponsoring the breakfast in partnership with Providence Regional Medical Center Everett.

The YMCA holds other fund-raising events, but the Prayer Breakfast isn’t held to make money.

“It’s held on Good Friday to celebrate the Easter season. There are historic roots,” Washburn said. “The YMCA was founded on Christian principles. In the early days, it was more of an evangelical organization. It has evolved since 1844.”

By 2018, Washburn said, construction is due to begin on a new Everett Y at 4710 Colby Ave., the former Everett School District service center site. The new Everett building and a YMCA now being built in Stanwood will advance an organization that’s been in Snohomish County since 1900.

The prayer breakfast is a way to give thanks and honor tradition. “It’s a community event designed to bring folks together,” Washburn said.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460;

Prayer breakfast

The YMCA of Snohomish County is holding its Good Friday Prayer Breakfast from 7 to 8:30 a.m. March 25 in the Edward D. Hansen Conference Center at Xfinity Arena, 2000 Hewitt Ave., Everett. The speaker is Les Parrott, a psychologist, author and co-founder of the Center for Relationship Development at Seattle Pacific University. Tickets: $40 at or call 425-374-5732. The deadline is March 18 or upon sellout.

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