By Joan and Rich Liversidge, Sandy Spring Monthly Meeting
FCE Leader and Trainer Couple
It takes a village to raise a child. Among Friends, the village is the monthly meeting. It is where we nurture and care for committed, long- term relationships under our care. For more than 350 years, Friends have taken couples/marriages under their care, after discernment and clearness. The couple covenants with each other and the Meeting, “before God and these our Friends”. This is a cherished practice.
Friends often have asked “How do we care for relationships/marriages? What does that care look like?” Those of us charged with carrying out that care take this seriously.
Friends Couple Enrichment leader couples have been helping monthly meetings apply Friends’ practices to care for couples under their care for nearly 50 years.* One very successful approach over the years has been to invite a leader couple to do a workshop (one day or longer). Very often, this has led to an invitation for the leader couple to help the meeting form an ongoing Couple Enrichment growth group after the initial experience.
What is a Couple Enrichment growth group? It consists of a small group of couples – usually five or six couples – that commit to meet on a regular basis to care for and nurture one another. This is done primarily through witnessed couple dialogue. Typically, it is a peer-led group, with leadership alternating among the participant couples.
Do you want to start up or participate in your own group? You can experience a couple enrichment program by contacting Friends Couple Enrichment and inviting a leader couple to come to your monthly meeting to lead couples through an introduction to Couple Enrichment. This could include consultation and guidance about starting and maintaining an ongoing group, as well as some follow-up consultation. Each group will learn how to share leadership through guidelines, a recommended format, and resources for skill practices and activities.
What has been our experience with Couple Enrichment? We married in 1981, when we were new attenders at Friends Meeting of Washington (FMW), in the District of Columbia. In 1984, we joined the meeting, and by then we had recognized our need for support and care from our Monthly Meeting community in a more formal, direct way.
With the support of FMW’s Marriage and Family Relations Committee. we invited a Couple Enrichment leader couple from Philadelphia to lead a weekend retreat. Several retreats and workshops later, and after we had become a trained leader couple ourselves, a small group of couples committed to meeting on a regular basis to care and nurture our relationships and those of each other. It was important to us that the group have shared leadership. This structure encouraged all to practice couple dialogue, with Friends holding each other in a sacred, worshipful space; “witnessed dialogue”. This approach helps couples feel responsible for the group’s success. We still meet.
The presence and commitment of several couples who knew and cared for one another has been a blessing. These relationships, within our Meeting community, have been enormously helpful and important as all of us navigated some very difficult passages, as all long-term committed relationships do.
As we approached our 25th wedding anniversary, we asked Sandy Spring Monthly Meeting to formally take our marriage under its care. And they did so joyfully!
Last fall, we offered a one-day workshop at Sandy Spring with twelve couples attending. The couples learned and practiced skills and experienced witnessed dialogue. Most of the couples wanted to continue this experience. We have helped one group start up, and expect a second also to begin soon.
This is just one way, albeit a very powerful and meaningful one, in which a monthly meeting can facilitate the movement of the Spirit and the Light in relationships for which it has pledged its care.
*David and Vera Mace are the Quakers who founded this ministry among Friends in the late 60s. They also founded Better Marriages (www.bettermarriages.org), an international non-sectarian organization.