We formed our first Couples Circle in 2005 and it met monthly for over six years. During those gatherings we experienced plenty of laughter, a number of tearful moments, and a great deal of healing. Most of all, though, we learned that the challenges each couple had were not as unique as they first thought and that the pain, shame, and fear that most of us kept hidden was, when brought to the light, a burden we needn’t have carried. Within the structure and safety of the Couples Circle, the peer support, empathy, and love gave us strength and solace and helped each couple fortify and deepen their relationship. From the humble beginnings of that very first gathering, we have now facilitated over 200 Couples Circles in homes, churches, and meeting halls and we have done some of our most significant and deepest work amongst these committed, conscious couples.
Francine Beauvoir, Ph.D. and Bruce Crapushettes, Ph.D., founders of Pasadena Institute for Relationships, shared the Couples Circle concept with us in 2003 at the Imago Relationships International Conference in Atlanta, Georgia. At that time we were on an Imago educational track and hadn’t yet become certified relationship coaches. We were encouraged to move even more quickly towards certification after seeing the value of the Couples Circle and later, after implementing it as part of our practice, it became one of our most valuable processes. Not only does the use of the Couples Circle give credence to the Imago principle that we, as couples, do our own therapy within our relationship, Couples Circles take the practice of couples counseling beyond the office of the professional and into the homes of the couples themselves.
What, then, is a Couples Circle and why is it so effective?
It is a group of four to seven couples and a facilitator, that meet regularly for the purpose of deepening the individual and group relationships. Leadership prerequisites include:
1. Having a good understanding of the Imago Theory and processes.
2. Having taken a “Getting The Love You Want” weekend workshop, or
3. Having read “Getting The Love You Want,” or
4. Having completed 8-10 therapist led dialogues with a certified Imago therapist.
Participating couples should have at least a basic understanding of the Imago Theory.
It is recommended, but not required, that they have some experience with the Intentional Dialogue process. Unless the facilitator is an Imago therapist, it is highly recommended that no regressive work be done in the Couples Circle.
The key element in the success of the Couples Circle is that it is a safe place to share, therefore, confidentiality is a must. The facilitator should remind couples about this requirement at each meeting.
There is some flexibility in the format of the Couples Circle, but in general they work best in a form similar to this:
Arrive 15 minutes before the Circle begins for informal catching up and snacks, if provided.
The Circle begins with a prayer or short reading.
We then suggest a 10 to 20 minute lesson. The topic is chosen by the facilitator(s).
Following, or in place of the lesson, is a brief check-in (one minute per person) with comments restricted to the relationship. This is not a time to talk about work, children, new restaurants, etc. Share meaningful interactions you have had as a couple or important issues that affect your relationship. Brevity is important, but getting a sense of how everyone is doing sets the tone for the Circle.
Appreciations. Couples appreciate each other and mirror what is said, e.g. “I appreciate the way you listened to me yesterday when I was sad about…..” or “I appreciate you for coming to church with me on Sunday. I felt supported.”
Intentional Dialogue(s). One or two couples volunteer to be coached in an Intentional Dialogue. 20 to 40 minutes per dialogue. Both sides send and receive.
The group then gives feedback on the process, not the content, of the dialogue.
Couples Circles meet monthly or bi-monthly in a home decided upon by the participants. The home can be the same for each gathering or rotate among the couples. Tea and snacks are optional. The typical length of each Couples Circle is two hours, but with groups of more than five couples can be extended to two and a half hours. With a strong commitment by all couples, the Couples Circle is easily sustainable.
We cannot stress enough to you the value of the peer support of other couples. Since few of us were trained to be in relationship, the importance of sharing the ups and downs of our relationships with trusted friends is huge. Hearing another couple share their challenges can be very reassuring. We hear first hand that we are not the only ones that struggle. Normalizing conflict and dealing with it effectively in a structured environment can give us confidence to settle our differences more cooperatively. Lastly, friendships made in the sanctity of the Couples Circle can become much more meaningful than those made in typical social environments. The bonds made within the Sacred Space of the Couples Circle are profound and lasting.
About the Authors
Nevin Valentine and Darrell Holdaway are Relationship Coaches. They mentor couples and help them achieve a shared vision and a deeper connection. They believe that each of us is drawn to the perfect partner for growth and healing and that conflict is the greatest opportunity to regain our wholeness. They teach the Intentional Dialogue, a transformational communication process that promotes understanding, validation and empathy. This skill is also the primary tool they use in the workshops they lead. Learn more about Nevin and Darrell here.