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    A Council of Two

    reverendRecently a friend told me about a practice she and her husband have been doing for several years: holding a weekly council. This friend and her husband are both in their second (and last!) marriage, and are “elders of the tribe,” meaning wise elders who are models for other elders as well as younger folks who are moving through their middle years, approaching elderhood. The weekly council, my smart friend informs me, is the best thing she and her husband have done for their close, rich and deeply loving relationship.

    It’s pretty simple, but not necessarily easy. It is really worth it, however, if you learn to do it well and stick to it consistently.

    A weekly council is both a conversation and a ritual. Elevating a conversation to a ritual is a way to acknowledge the significance of what you are creating together: a regular, ongoing practice that is just as important as making love. In fact, doing the former may very well improve the latter!

    Choose a pleasing place to do it, such as in your home, somewhere in nature, or somewhere else that is quiet, lovely and private. Plan it for a time when you are both able to be available, and can leave everything behind. Be sure to leave your phones behind too.

    You can create a little added reverence if you like: soft music, a candle, incense, and/or flowers. You can serve cups of tea to one another. Plan a starting time and a stopping time. Perhaps begin by ringing a bell, and sitting together in meditation for a few minutes. Then ring the bell again before beginning.

    Since this is a conversation, it involves one person speaking at a time while the other person listens. It’s good to utilize what we used to call a “talking stick,” that is, a special item, which the speaker holds until she or he has finished speaking. My friend and her spouse use a small porcelain bowl.

    The rule is that a speaker brings up only one thing to discuss at a time. Do not come with a laundry list of your partner’s shortcomings or your own frustrations. This does not work! When it is your turn, pick up the talking piece and speak about one thing that you feel needs to be discussed. Try to stick to describing your point of view, rather than on how your partner needs to improve. We call this using “I” statements, rather than “you” statements.

    Don’t pontificate or filibuster. Just say your truth simply and without drama. Then put down the talking piece and allow a moment of silence before the second person speaks. Don’t interrupt. Instead, try just to listen to what your partner is saying without thinking about what you want to say. Each gets a turn to both speak and listen. In this way, you practice respectful exchange of what may be hard to say or to hear. By holding it in this way, you offer your most vulnerable self to one another, which is a tremendous gift. When you both feel you have reached harmony or consensus, you move on to a topic introduced by the second person.

    You may not resolve a particular issue you had hoped to clear up in a given session. It is good to allow this to be so. You are building a practice, a process by which you can slowly and carefully learn to exchange information with one another in a loving way. You learn to trust the process, yourself, and your partner more as you continue to do this.

    When finished, thank one another and ring the bell, or in some way formally close the council. Agree on when you will hold your next one.

    Like everything that is of great worth in this life, the practice of council in a marriage or a relationship takes time. Don’t desire or expect instant results. The results instead grow like a plant: slowly, and only with proper nourishment and attention over time. Its flowering can be one of the loveliest things you will share in your partnership.

    I bless you in your marriage council!

    Reverend Elizabeth River is an ordained Interfaith Minister based in the North Bay. For more information, please visit