Archive: Two by Two: Creating Partnership Circles

October 1, 1999
By Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea

This post has been moved from its original location at and archived here, so you can continue to access it.

Each month The Circle Way offers an illustrative story of how someone is effectively using circle practices and principles to change or enhance a gathering, team, committee or other group in business or personal life.

In recent years we have been asked to introduce The Circle Way councils to a number of couples who seek to benefit from circle in this most intimate arena of our lives.

Partnered readers of Calling the Circle may have been drawn to experience this after reading about our own commitment at the end of the book. "Every Sunday morning Ann and I do an hour of council on the beach… we carry mugs of hot tea and toast and head for the water’s edge… this is ‘church.’ This is spiritual practice… constant realignment of intention. We walk a ways.. settle down, make center out of whatever is gathered before us… choose a talking piece and begin with two long monologues speaking to the deeper level of what’s happening inside us. Then we enter a period of slow, thoughtful dialogue, passing the rock back and forth. We do not rise until we are calm, centered, aligned with each other and ready to enter the coming week." (CtC, Bantam edition, page 197)

In September we held a Couple’s Adventure workshop at T’ai Li Lodge on Desolation Sound in British Columbia, and were reminded that couple’s councils are some of the most profound and surprising circle work we do. Sitting around a campfire on a granite point, six couples watched the full harvest moon rise over snow-capped peaks and cast a golden pathway across the water before us. We shared stories of our days sailing, hiking, and kayaking. We spoke appreciation for our partnerships, and shared the challenges we feel being committed partners in the 90’s with responsibilities for children, jobs, and keeping up in a fast-paced world. We filled our days with adventure in this remote part of north Georgia Strait islands and interspersed these times with private councils within our respective partnerships. The instructions for couples in council are simple, but may lead to profound insights.

  • Find a comfortable, quiet place, preferably outdoors.
  • Sit together quietly. Listen to the wind, the birds, the water.
  • Create a center of natural objects between you.
  • Acknowledge that there are three of you in this council: each partner and the entity of your partnership itself.
  • One partner speaks uninterrupted for ten to fifteen minutes, the other partner listens attentively.
  • Then for several minutes the listening partner reflects back to the speaking partner what s/he heard.
  • Intentional speaking and attentive listening roles are reversed.
  • Conversation between the couples ensues from the sharing.
  • If the partners reach a stuck place, there is the option of falling into silence and each one asking the listening third presence of the partnership to help them find their way.

Council is closed with a moment of silence, or some other ritual meaningful to the partners.

In conversations that tap into long-time issues in a relationship, the use of council provides both a mutually acknowledged moment to bring topics forward, a respectful way to speak and listen, and a safe "place" to leave the conversation and go on about our lives. What to do about children, money, sex, aging parents, taking a new job, moving are complex issues that benefit from a series of councils in which both partners speak their piece and then have a way to let it go.

One young mother reported confidently, "I know we will revisit the big decisions we’re trying to make more often now that we have a way to speak of them, set them aside without avoidance, and speak of them again." A husband said, "I learned that council provides a much better boundary for hearing each other than those sound-bytes in the kitchen in the morning. I like being listened to, and I like knowing when I’m supposed to be listening."

During our time together, "councils of two" occurred on shoreline boulders, in the sleet hulls of double kayaks, tucked on futons in platform tents, or deep in the Arbutus/Fir forests of the island we were visiting. They happened spontaneously before and after outdoor activities or sometimes over breakfast at a solitary table on the lodge porch. Councils of the whole happened every evening and created an important community weave for shared stories. The combination of living together, playing together, and sharing our stories together created a memorable experience for us all.