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.

The Lasting Effects of Couple Enrichment Weekend

A testimony Mark and Daphne, past participants in a Couple Enrichment Workshop:

“We went to a Couple’s Enrichment weekend at Woolman Hill Quaker Center ten years ago.  The workshop itself was both fun and enriching, the skills easy to learn and  immediately applicable. At home over the following six months, we returned to that form of dialogue from time to time.

“Then, a stressful period in our marriage forced us to return more diligently and exactingly to the process we’d learned during the workshop. The regular living through of these skills was suddenly essential and gradually transformative.

“Since then we have devoted one evening each week to communicating using the techniques taught at that workshop. This discipline has created a safe container in our relationship, has established a place of trust  where we now go automatically for communication that holds us to integrity and good will. This process has been invaluable sustenance for our growth as a couple.”

Friends Couple Enrichment in Alaska

— Notes from Tom and Sharon Baring, Leader Couple from Fairbanks, Alaska

On Oct. 29th, 2016, Sharon and I led our first 4 1/2 hour introductory CE workshop.  One of our intentions was to serve couples as busy as ourselves, with demanding jobs and full-on parenting roles.  As we both work in the schools, a shorter format works better for us too, at least during the school year.

Six couples and one man, whose partner was absent, participated. In addition, we had timed the event to include Mike and Marsha Green, visiting from Durham, NC, and Cathy Walling and Scott Bell of Fairbanks, both veteran CE leader couples, so there were 19 people total.

We introduced listening, speaking and witnessing concepts by, primarily, drawing out the wisdom and experience of the group. Eager for early and frequent practice, we included mini-dialogs for each of these three skills. We had 1/2 hour for lunch, and then split into three groups for witnessed couple dialogs.

Mike and Marsha led two follow-up opportunities for dialoging, one and two weeks later. Of the original thirteen participants, eight attended one or both of these events.  By this measure of interest, we deem the event a success.

One change we’ll make when we lead our next short format workshop will be to avoid a rushed lunch. We may shift the event to start at 9:00 am and offer an optional lunch when it ends at 1:30, having a hearty snack break midway.

The Anatomy of a Separate Reality

Annie Lange LMSW

How many of us have been taught to operate under the guideline, “If you don’t talk about it, it is not a problem”? The proverbial belief, that if we sweep it under the rug, we won’t see it or feel it. However, eventually the mounds of debris under the rug become a hazard. Yet, often even in the best of relationships, we do not have the tools or strategies to safely work through our differences.

Differences and separate realities are a natural part of healthy and connected relationships. As separate beings, wearing different lens based on varying experiences and temperaments we can encounter the same event or interaction as if we are in separate worlds, and indeed we are. For example, one partner might love the bells and cheering at a sporting event, while the other would rather put pins in her eyeballs, than be in the cacophony of noise and chaos.

In couple-ship, we often have a false belief that intimacy and connection is predicated on sameness. Additionally, we often believe that one perspective is “right”, while the other is “wrong”. The “both/and” paradigm is much more helpful. This means that both realities are true.

As a clinical social worker for over twenty years, I have been in the business of “listening”.   Yet, this “old dog” had a profoundly deepening experience related to listening and reflecting with my beloved in our first Couples Enrichment weekend retreat. To be in safe witnessed space, and have the structure to speak, listen and reflect for the sole purpose of understanding was sacred.

Merry Stanford and Peter Wood have developed their own five-finger model inspired by the model used in Mastering the Mysteries of Love/ Relationship Enhancement®.

The five- finger model tool begins with the thumb moving outward to the pinky finger. The five components are:

  1. The issue to be discussed
  2. The story I make up about the issue
  3. The feelings I have related to my story
  4. My concerns I have regarding the issue
  5. My desired outcome related to the issue

Essential to the dialogue process are the roles of speaker and listener. The speaker’s task is to speak completely from an “I” place. There is no inventory taking or speaking for the other. The listener’s role is to “Get It”. This means to listen fully for understanding of the speaker’s message and reflect it back. It does not mean agreement, nor at this point does it mean forming a response or a rebuttal. The listener eventually gets her turn to be the speaker.

In the interpersonal neurobiology world there is a phrase coined by Dan Siegel and Tina Bryson, “Name it to Tame It”. The five-finger dialogue model process facilitates this principle in a powerful way. The reduction in the fight/flee stress response is palpable when one has voice and feels heard and understood. Agreement is not an essential component.

My personal experience with the use of the five-finger dialogue model in my partnership is stunning. When my partner and I participate in this kind of conversation, our sense of connection and intimacy grows exponentially.

Recently, a dear friend of mine and I hit a very tender, scary, and angry place in our friendship. We dared to dialogue in the presence of our trusted circle. The healing result was nothing but a miracle. The five-finger dialogue model, when practiced with integrity provides an amazingly safe framework to navigate the sometimes very painful separate realities that occur in relationship.

Lastly, I have found this model to be incredibly helpful when working with couples and families in my clinical practice. When I coach couples in the five-finger dialogue model, and they effectively get to be listened to and have their truth reflected back, the energy shift in the room and within the couple is stunning. There is an amazing heart opening, which can be witnessed, in the physical, emotional and spiritual realms.

This is a process worth sharing !!!