How Can a Meeting Care for Committed Relationships?

By Joan and Rich Liversidge, Sandy Spring Monthly Meeting
FCE Leader and Trainer Couple
Photo by Matthias Zomer from Pexels 

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.   

Learn more about bringing Friends Couple Enrichment to your community. 

*David and Vera Mace are the Quakers who founded this ministry among Friends in the late 60s. They also founded Better Marriages (, an international non-sectarian organization.


2018 Annual Gathering of Leader Couples

MLK_2018_GroupOver Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, 8 of our leader couples were able to travel to chilly Chicago for the annual leader couple weekend. Joining them via video technology (at various times during the weekend) were leader couples living in China, New Zealand, Alaska, and California.

This annual event is a time of renewal, a time for business decisions, and a time to share what we have learned by leading couple workshops and events, and a time for fun and fellowship.

If you and your partner have attended one or more Friends Couple Enrichment events and are interested in being trained as a leader couple, contact us.

Fairbanks Leaders Expand Beyond Quaker Community

     Chena Ridge Friends Meeting (CRFM) in Fairbanks, Alaska started sponsoring biannual Couple Enrichment Workshops in the mid-1990’s, hosting five different leader couples from the Lower-48. This effort had been discerned by Ministry  and Council as a concrete way to honor its commitment to supporting couples married under the care of the meeting. Meeting covered the workshop fees for these couples and invited any other interested member/attender couples to participate. In 2006, Scott Bell and Cathy Walling of CRFM went through formal Couple Enrichment leader training and began offering one or two local workshops per year and in 2015, Tom and Sharon Baring did the same.
     Given so many opportunities, most interested members and attenders of CRFM had participated in several workshops by, say 2008. As a happy outcome, when people from the wider community inquired, having learned of CE from their Quaker  friends, leader couples felt liberated to open their workshops beyond Quakers and to reach out intentionally.
     As of 2017, we have offered several workshops in the Unitarian Universalist (UU) Fellowship facility with many UU participants. Last spring, the UU Fellowship asked Scott and Cathy if they would offer a workshop for its congregation, and the Fellowship handled the workshop logistics. This fall, Sharon and Tom scheduled a one-day intro course at a local Presbyterian Church. It was a joy to connect with the Presbyterian Pastor and community and plan the event.
     We are building connections to the wider community and feel we are spreading the peace-making gifts of couple enrichment: the appreciations, trust and risk-taking exercises, and reflective listening dialogs. We also feel we’re sharing a bit of ourselves. Friends’ approach to Couple Enrichment is informed by the Quaker clearness process, and while non-Quaker couples sometimes feel stretched by the novel opportunity to dialog in the presence of witnesses, most usually come to respect the healing and spiritual power of sharing in community. Also in line with Friends’ values, all committed couples, including unmarried, interracial, same-sex, and those with nontraditional or evolving gender identities are welcome. If this is a stretch for some participants, over the course of a workshop, we come to know each other as individuals and the significance anyone may have given superficial characteristics recedes as our common humanity, joys, and challenges are revealed.
     We plan to continue reaching out to different populations of Fairbanks, feeling enriched and stretched, ourselves, as we do this work which we find so valuable.
— Submitted by Tom Baring, Sharon Baring, Scott Bell and Cathy Walling

A “GLAD” Exercise, and 6 Critical Messages

Tom and Sharon Baring, of Fairbanks Alaska, recently shared two exercises they have used in workshops. Try these out with your partner — or anyone you wish to become closer to! (And don’t forget to investigate our “exercises” section for other activities.)

Mindfulness Activity:

Reflect, separately and/or together on the following prompt: G*L*A*D*

Gratitude – one thing you are grateful for about your partner/ relationship or as a result of your partner/relationship.

Learning – one thing you have learned as a result of your relationship, in general, about your partner, or about yourself.

Accomplishment – one thing you have accomplished, or are accomplishing now, as a result of your partner/relationship.

Delight – one thing that gives you delight about your partner/relationship.


6 Critical Life Messages

 Parenting and teacher educator, Barbara Coloroso, names six messages we each need to “hear” in a variety of ways, every day, for healthy development. She calls them “critical life messages:”

  • I believe in you.
  • I trust you.
  • I know you can handle this.
  •  You are listened to.
  • You are cared for.
  • You are very important to me.


6 Critical Life Messages for Couples

(Adapted from Barbara Coloroso)

Separately first and from your own experience, consider the relative strength of each of these critical life messages in your relationship today.  Rate them on a scale of 1-5 (1-weak, 5-strong.) Are there some that are easier to say than others? Are there any you are willing to work on? Share with your partner.

  • I believe in us.                                                 ______                      
  • I trust us.                                                        ______                      
  • I know we can handle this.                         ______                      
  •  I listen to us.                                                  ______                      
  • I care for us.                                                  ______                      
  • Our relationship is very important to me. ______

Separately, again, choose one Critical Life Message you will work on to strengthen your relationship.  List 3 things that will help you to do so.




from Sharon and Tom Baring, adapted from Barbara Coloroso’s work. 7/17






Doing Business Virtually


On May 3, 2017, most of the active leaders within Friends Couple Enrichment were able to join together virtually for one of our business meetings. It was delightful to combine 21st century video meeting technology with the 400-year-old Quaker practice of seeking unity on decisions rather than voting. Among other things, we approved a budget, launched a new adhoc committee to look into videos about Friends Couple Enrichment, and — most important — shared with each other about why this ministry continues to blossom in our lives.

Summary of a Weekend Retreat at Quaker Center, Ben Lomond, CA – January 27-29, 2017

Kathy and Jeff Richman, Leader Couple

Eleven couples gathered Friday evening, giving thanks that the torrential winter rainfall of January had recently subsided, giving way to clear skies.  Previous rainfall had caused widespread flooding, mudslides and road closures throughout the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Partners appreciated the opportunities throughout the weekend to practice communication exercises and to have or witness couple dialogues.  Many couples commented how different a dialogue felt from other conversations, in that each partner felt truly heard.  Several couples remarked that they had discussed the same matter many times before and yet in a short period of time had arrived at a point of understanding beyond what they had reached before. Speaking and listening tasks may appear simple, yet it takes a dedicated and active practice for a couple to internalize this way of communicating.

All of us found helpful the research findings of relationship psychologists John and Julie Gottman, concerning habits of couples that have stayed together for a long time. Successful couples had frequent positive, turn toward responses to “bid” messages (requests for connection), that partners send each other throughout the day. “Masters” of Love responded to bids with turn-toward responses three times as often as the “Disasters” of Love.

Saturday evening, partners put pen to paper and wrote love letters to each other.  And singing, with guitar accompaniment, occurred frequently.  Songs included Tom Paxton’s “Home To Me Is Anywhere You Are”, John Lennon’s “Starting Over”, and many more.

Jeff and Kathy found the weekend very satisfying and felt energized to continue the work of Friends Couple Enrichment, a ministry to which they feel called.