You know how it is to be with people who are being fully present with one another, sharing, perhaps not their deepest truths but still, from their authentic selves? It feels holy to me, like I am connected to something much greater than myself.
Friends Couple Enrichment witnessed dialogue often feels like that to me. I bring my full self to listen and be present to whatever each couple brings. What they talk about is largely irrelevant to me because each relationship is utterly unique but I am always attentive to the feelings they share as they talk, the body language they use, and the “energy” that passes between them. When I am witnessing another couple’s dialogue, I feel humbled and grateful that I am able to be with them while they do the sacred work of tending to their relationship.
When I join with others to witness another couple in dialogue, we don’t do anything other than hold them in loving, non-judgmental attention. I generally think that using one of the FCE dialogue models is helpful but our witnessing is less about observing technique and more about seeing whether the way they communicate works well for them. If a couple invites reflections at the end of their dialogue, they will mostly hear observations about the love, respect, or deep feelings we witnessed and possibly some gentle suggestions for other approaches they could take while dialoguing. Friends Couple Enrichment is about building on strengths.
When my husband Mark and I are engaging in dialogue with other couples holding us in their compassionate attention, we feel supported to speak with one another with tenderness, and honesty. We are able to choose what we talk about, how deep we will go into it, and how vulnerable we are willing to be with one another in front of others. Within those parameters, I experience freedom to express myself with integrity knowing that I will be deeply heard, so that, even when Mark and I do not see eye-to-eye, he listens carefully and with heart-felt consideration to what I say.
I believe that all of life is sacred and this includes my marriage and all committed relationships. Thinking in this way helps me to see that engaging in dialogue with Mark, alone or in a group, and witnessing the dialogues of others is spiritual practice. And, like anything in life, the more we practice it, the better we get at it.
With this in mind, when the board of Friends Couple Enrichment discussed the idea of creating on-line dialogue opportunities, Mark and I gladly volunteered to facilitate. We are now hosting monthly dialogue gatherings for any couple who has ever participated in any Friends Couple Enrichment event via the Zoom video conferencing website. We gather together, do a brief review of how to dialogue and how to witness, and then invite couples to dialogue with the rest of us as witnesses. (Nobody has to if they would prefer to just witness!)
Our next two Drop-in Dialogue gatherings will be on Saturday, March 21st at 12:00 Central, and Friday, April 10th at 7:00 pm Central. If you would like to join us, please register for either or both sessions below. If you have questions, you are welcome to connect with us by email: Mark Wutka & Mary Linda McKinney mcwutka@gmailcom.
Saturday March 21, 2020 from 12:00-2:00 pm Central time REGISTER Friday, April 10, 2020 from 7:00 – 9:00 pm Central time REGISTER
It was a joy and delight to share Friends Couple Enrichment with Honolulu Friends and friends. The advocacy of Jenny and David Foster, former FCE facilitators (and current Honolulu Friends Meeting friends in residence), was instrumental in making it happen.
The six participating couples had been together from 6 months to 44 years. Many were long-time members/attenders at HFM, while one couple and two partners were not Quakers. We were reminded of the richness that relationship diversity, in all its forms, offers us, and how FCE events create a community of couples while deepening each couple’s relationship.
Couples in new relationships and those together for many years both affirmed the importance of the workshop skills in deepening their relationships. For those together for many years, it was particularly rich for them to rekindle deep intimacy and learn new communication skills for tending tender topics.
We heard gratitude for the ways participants grew and deepened their own relationships, and their relationships with the other couples, through sharing of laughter and tears, and tenderness mixed with playful opportunities; all grounded in the core practice of witnessed couples dialogue. Several participants spoke specifically to the power and sacredness of the witnessing presence when they were dialoging or witnessing dialogues.
For us there was a special sweetness in gathering with a group who shared deeply and supported each other with care through the weekend. We look forward to reconnecting with all participant couples and a future visit to Honolulu Friends Meeting!
Have you and your partner ever participated in a Friends Couple Enrichment event? Have you missed out on on-going opportunities for dialogue and support? Would you like to focus on your relationship by practicing dialogue and learning new communication skills from the comfort of your own home? We have just the thing for you!
Friends Couple Enrichment is excited to introduce our newest opportunity: free, online Drop-in Dialogue!
When: Saturday December 14, 2019 from 12:00-2:00 pm Central time Saturday January 25, 2020 from 12:00-2:00 pm Central time Friday, February 21, 2020 from 7:00- 9:00 pm Central time Saturday March 21, 2020 from 12:00-2:00 pm Central time REGISTER Friday, April 10, 2020 from 7:00 – 9:00 pm Central time REGISTER
Who: Any couple who has participated in any Friends Couple Enrichment (formerly known simply as Couple Enrichment) event where they learned the basics of dialogue. Mark Wutka & Mary Linda McKinney will be the hosts and FCE Leader couple for these online opportunities.
Why: To experience on-going support, learn new skills, and to have the opportunity to practice dialogue and witnessing dialogue with our partners.
Where: In the comfort of your own home! These gatherings will be held on-line in a Zoom video conference room. (If you are unfamiliar with this technology, we will provide a basic training 30 minutes before each call. A computer or smartphone with internet access is required for video. You can join by phone if you don’t have internet access.)
What will this cost? Nothing! We do, of course, welcome donations to support this ministry as we support you.
How: If you and your partner would like to join us for our inaugural Drop-in Dialogue gathering, please register below. You can register for any or all of these events. Each date has a separate registration link. We will send additional information and the Zoom link within a few days.
Friday December 13, 2019 from 7:00-9:00 pm Central time REGISTER
Saturday January 25, 2020 from 12:00-2:00 pm Central time REGISTER
Friday, February 21, 2020 from 7:00- 9:00 pm Central time REGISTER
Saturday, March 21, 2020 from 12:00-2:00 pm Central time REGISTER
Friday, April 10, 2020 from 7:00 – 9:00 pm Central time REGISTER
If you have questions, feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We hope you can join us!Mary Linda & Mark
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: