the holiness of witnessed dialogue

by Mary Linda McKinney

March 2020

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!)

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