In January, 2019, Friends Couple Enrichment leader couples met for their annual gathering. This year, Jeff and Kathy Richman, leader couples since 1995, gave us food for thought with a presentation on commitment. Below is a brief summary of some of what we learned:
“Darling, you can count on me till the sun dries up the sea. Until then I’ll always be devoted to you” — Everly Brothers
This song may reflect the popular image of “happily ever after,” but there are few if any relationships in which neither partner gives the other “reason to cry.” What determines whether a couple stays together for the long haul?
One answer is commitment. One researcher, Linda Waite, found that couples who described their marriages as unhappy and five years later described those marriages as happy had not so much solved all their problems as outlasted them. In her words,
“A strong commitment to marriage as an institution, and a powerful reluctance to divorce, do not merely keep unhappily married people locked in misery together. They also help couples form happier bonds. To avoid divorce, many assume, marriages must become happier. But it is at least equally true that in order to get happier, unhappy couples or spouses must first avoid divorce. In most cases, a strong commitment to staying married not only helps couples avoid divorce, it helps more couples achieve a happier marriage.”
This is not a recommendation that anyone accept and live with abuse from a partner; rather, it is a recommendation not to give up too easily when there is conflict, something that is part of every relationship.
Caryl Rusbult, a Dutch-born scholar and professor, made it her life’s work to study committed couples. She developed the Investment Model of longevity in relationships. Satisfaction with the relationship is part of the equation, but not nearly all of it; relationships may go through periods of intense dissatisfaction and still continue and evolve, becoming more gratifying. In addition, members of committed couples don’t see other possible partners as attractive alternatives. They also stay in the relationship because of the amount of time, energy, and money they have invested, because of what would be lost were the relationship not to continue.
Rusbult also named the “Michaelangelo phenomenon.” We tend to think that there is a big discrepancy between our actual selves and our ideal selves. Our loving partners sometimes help us to become the people we aspire to be, like Michaelangelo, seeing the beauty inside us and helping us to grow towards that which we wish to be.
A committed relationship is a true gift. It is our touchstone and our anchor. These thoughts are echoed in another song, this one from Tom Paxton:
“You could send me away, and I would go I would go, but I would not go too far. You could send me home, but you would know Home to me is anywhere you are.”
In Couple Enrichment workshops we often experience a palpable sense of love as we physically gather together to share and witness our dialogues. But often, those with whom we bond during an event live far away — so how can we stay connected?
Friends Couple Enrichment (FCE) has been stepping into the world of online dialoguing over the past few years and we are excited by the possibilities.
Recently, we offered an opportunity for an online follow-up to a weekend retreat.
Dave, a participant from Pennsylvania, and a self-proclaimed non-user of virtual media, was surprised by the power of the video gathering. He had worried that the technology would not draw folks past the barrier of being in physically separate spaces. “But there was, as we listened deeply to each other, the intermittent loss of that barrier for me, much like in Meeting when the veil almost disappears,” he says. “The virtual gathering renewed that sense of accountability to what I had committed to with Bonnie during the weekend [in March].”
We have one pair of leader couples who have been sharing dialogues via Skype for almost a decade, with one couple in Australia and another in Canada. But as an organization, we stepped more slowly into the use of video conferencing. We began by replacing phone conference calls for business and committee work with video calls. Friends quickly discovered that having visual cues made doing business much easier than trying to listen to up to 30 people by phone. In 2017, we started holding optional video meetings 6 to 8 times a year for the Leader Couples to have witnessed dialogues, which we recognize as the core discipline of FCE.
During each 60-90 minute dialogue call, every couple has a brief chance to check in with the group. The remaining time is given over to couples who want to have a witnessed dialogue. Just as in an FCE workshop, the dialoguing couple face each other (with the computer nearby for audio) and those not dialoguing remain silent, while holding a loving and safe space for the dialoguing couple. The only interruption is the timekeeper noting when the allotted time is up. Just as in a workshop, if anyone comments on the dialogue, it is in gratitude for how the couple used the structured dialogue process, not on the content of the dialogue.
We have found the process to be delightfully enriching.
“When we can see each other, it brings a real feeling of being together, even though we are logging in from all over North America and sometimes from overseas,” says Kathy Richman, from California. “As a result, it no longer feels like such a long time between our annual Leader Couples Retreat each January, because we have grown closer over the course of the year.”
The experiment among Leader Couples inspired Marsha and Mike Green, from North Carolina, to offer the experiment of extending a weekend workshop with optional witnessed dialogues via video. They queried participating couples at the Pendle Hill FCE workshop in March 2019 about whether to meet again, via video. Many participants said yes, and one person took responsibility for finding a date and time that worked for the majority of participants. Mike and Marsha provided the video conference link (using FCE’s paid ZOOM subscription.)
Five couples joined together for the call in May.
Like Dave (quoted above), Shari, from North Carolina, had the concern that the closeness of the weekend might not be present via video, but discovered that the connections made in person were still there.
“I was glad to be able to support my fellow group members, and we liked it so much that my husband and I are signed up for the next online session of the group!,” she says.
Looking forward, FCE is now planning to use virtual gatherings as part of the training for new Leader Couples — folks who are willing to further our ministry by offering FCE events in their own community or in other communities. Stay tuned for more details in the fall!
Have you experienced sharing dialogues via video? Tell us your story in the comment section below.
Laughter and Tears at Pendle Hill – a brief recounting of what happens during a Friends Couple Enrichment workshop.
Over the weekend of March 15-17, we (Mike and Marsha) facilitated a Couple Enrichment workshop at Pendle Hill, the Quaker conference and retreat center just outside Philadelphia. Nine couples attended, plus ourselves. They included a couple who were part of a workshop we led over a decade ago at an FGC Summer Gathering and also a dear couple whom we have known for many years.
The old saying among Friends is that we haven’t done away with the clergy, but we have eliminated the laity. We are all ministers and when leading a workshop we own this mantle. We understand that it is the Truth that heals and deepens us, and our job as ministers is to prepare, hold, and name a space where this spirit of the loving God can be heard, received, and followed. In preparation for this workshop, we sent in advance a link to Friends Couple Enrichment’s QuakerSpeak video and the guidelines we follow to create a safe, sacred space.
Our goal in the opening Friday evening session is always to hear everyone’s voice. It is a tendering experience to witness couples sharing a gratitude with one another. During that sharing the silence deepens and we come to know a precious stillness which is the foundation for the work we will do together. We presented the 5 C’s: commitment, without which our enrichment will be sabotaged; compassion for self; courage to step into the unknown; curiosity to know more deeply the gift of relationship; and connection, whether that connection comes through shared stories, words, touch, or acts of service. As Joseph Campbell wrote:
“In marriage you are not sacrificing yourself to the other person. You are sacrificing yourself to the relationship…that’s the problem with getting married. You must ask yourself, ‘Can I open myself to compassion?’ Not to lust, but to compassion.”
On Saturday morning we introduced the spiritual practice of couple dialogue and invited couples to explore the many “rooms” of a relationship, from the daily roles and routines of the kitchen, to the decision-making of the office, to the intimacy of the bedroom. Out of this exploration, each couple chose a matter to explore in the afternoon when we broke into small groups to practice witnessed dialogues. In the safety of these groups, each couple practiced listening deeply to each other and reflecting what they heard in order to show understanding, rather than listening in order to react with defensiveness or fixes. During these dialogues, each couple touched something tender and precious. As a group, we were able to hold and support the compassion and tears that come with being vulnerable with each other.
By Saturday evening the group was ready for something different. We invited light-hearted laughter into the space by starting a “good news/bad news” cooperative story (in which each person adds one sentence to a fantastical story, alternating good news and bad news). This was followed by asking everyone to write down two things they do with their partner that they consider intimate. We then scrunched the pieces of paper into small balls and, with one collective whoop, threw them up into the air. We then had the fun of tracking down two “snowballs” each and reading out the now anonymous intimacies. Nature (especially water) and nudity were common themes. To end the evening, we made Love Pills.
Sunday morning each couple spent time exploring their intentions going forward. To end the workshop, each couple stepped forward and had a brief 4-minute dialogue declaring an intention. This, too, was tender and we were softened by the seriousness with which each couple were prepared to till and tend their relationship. Each relationship is a gift and that jewel needs frequent polishing. We are planning a video conference in a month so the participants of this Pendle Hill workshop can check in with one another and share any more insights that Spirit has led them to.
One way in which couples can tell each other “the ways” is through an affirmation dialog. Partners face each other, look into each other’s eyes, and take turns speaking and reflecting back what the other has said, naming some of the qualities that each of them cherishes in the other and giving specific examples of those qualities.
Part of a fulfilling relationship can involve what psychologists refer to as “the Michaelangelo phenomenon.” Michaelangelo believed that the ideal figures he sculpted already lay within the stone, and that his job was to uncover what was already there. So too can the members of a couple support and encourage each other, in the process uncovering what makes each of them their best selves.
At the end of a Couple Enrichment workshop, each couple is given a heart, made of red plastic or cloth. Each partner takes turns hiding the heart in a place where the other will find it within a day or two. This might be inside a favorite pair of shoes, in the neck of a guitar, between the pages of a book, inside a favorite coffee cup, near the partner’s toothbrush, etc. Once the other person finds the heart, they hide it for their partner. It’s a simple, yet novel way to remind our partner that we love them. Enjoy doing this with your Valentine!
Friends Couple Enrichment continues to hold workshops and facilitate growth groups in many parts of the country. Our ministry is helping couples to grow in their relationships and strengthen their bond. Here are a few of the programs being offered during the next few months:
Making “love pills” is an exercise that Mike and Marsha Green have often used at the end of a Couple Enrichment event to help keep the deep sense of love and connection between partners alive after the event is over. But there’s no reason to wait for a Couple Enrichment Event to do this – you can do it any time!
The exercise was originally sparked by Gary Chapman’s books on the Five Love Languages, which describe different ways of expressing love: words of affirmation, quality time, gifts, service, and physical touch. Making “love pills” offers a whimsical way to challenge yourself to express love in different ways to your partner over the course of several weeks.
Friends Couple Enrichment received the news of the death of our dear Friend Peg Pearson on August 23, 2018.
Peg and Nils Pearson trained as Couple Enrichment leaders in 1995 and immediately began leading workshops. Those couples who trained with them experienced them as richly generous. Those of us whom they taught and mentored are grateful to have witnessed their love and presence. They were truly a gift to many people. They remind us all to never neglect to tell our partners how much we love and care for them.
Shortly after Peg’s diagnosis with ALS they were at a leaders meeting at a summer gathering of Friends General Conference. A Friend remembers: “We spent that session gathered around them as they dialogued. It showed how being faithful to the dialogue in the small things allows for transformation in the big and difficult things in our lives. They were incredible models to us.”
We are saddened that Peg and Nils encountered the travails they have. We so admire the grace with which they weathered the storms within the loving embrace of their family.
We remember Peg as a live wire and a wonderful spirit; a treasure we are grateful to have known.
We continue to hold Peg’s family, and especially Nils, in the Light.
When we (Scott Bell and Cathy Walling) were offered the opportunity to present a session on Love and Relationships at the young adult Friends “Continuing Revolution” conference at Pendle Hill in June 2018, it was easy to say, “Yes!” For years we have looked for opportunities to share Couple Enrichment with teens and young adults.
The six days of the conference included a day each on Work, Social Justice and Activism, Love and Relationships, and Spirituality. We shared the Love and Relationships day with Janaki Spickard-Keeler, a Quaker family counselor. She led the 2-1/2-hour morning session with a presentation on the science of relationships, including John Gottman’s work and Attachment Theory.
In the afternoon we used our 2-1/2 hours to focus on communication in relationships and used the Golden Threads as our outline, touching on communication (dialog), intimacy, and the creative use of disagreement during the session.
We began by briefly introducing Friends Couple Enrichment (FCE), then dove in by demonstrating a 10-minute reflective dialog on a small “pinch” we had recently experienced together. We invited the group to serve as a witnessing presence for us and afterward we welcomed discussion on the process. Questions on content came, too. We agreed to open the discussion to include content and emphasized we would never do this in a CE event as it could feel emotionally unsafe for the couple. However, in this case it felt like a way for Young Adult Friends (YAFs) to see into a long-term relationship (we were approaching our 25th wedding anniversary).
Scott ended this opening portion of the afternoon by asking the group what they noticed about dialoging. This led to a rich discussion of the speaking and listening skills involved.
We shared the modified Intimacy Checklist handout which includes 14 types of intimacies such as Emotional, Sexual, Time, Financial, and Intellectual Intimacy. It gave Young Friends an expanded sensibility of intimacy and provided content for their own opportunity to dialog. Because these Young Adult Friends were not paired off in couples, we divided into small groups of threes. This gave each person a turn in the speaker, listener, and witnessing presence roles. We allotted five minutes for each round.
Upon reflection, 2-3 people commented on how much energy it took to really listen to their speaker. Listening well enough to accurately reflect what they had heard took concentration and intention. One commented that his experience serving as a Witnessing Presence was the most profound for him thus far in the conference!