Tips for separation or divorce circles

As Marjeta Novak shared in this month’s story, The Circle Way’s simple yet powerful form is an ally in marking both beautiful and painful life transitions. Below are her wise and thoughtful suggestions for holding separation or divorce circles.

Find a circle host who can hold, and host, intense circle experience

In most cases, it is beneficial to have a circle host who can guide the circle process, to allow the couple to be fully engaged with themselves and with the community present. So as the separating couple, find a circle host you both trust. If you do not have one among your friends or colleagues, be open to finding one outside your usual circles; yet one who can hold and host an intense interhuman experience - somebody with vast empathetic skills, emotional maturity, and spiritual wisdom.

Extend a clear, honest invitation

Know that you are inviting people into something that is counter-cultural, which most likely will be a somewhat uncomfortable experience. The sheer idea of participating in a separation circle can trigger many doubts and fears: Is this a joke - or a fake feel-good circle to bypass all the pain that must be present? Is this indeed a joint invitation - or has one of them been coerced into this (usually the one who did not initiate the separation, and may be more wounded in the process)? What if one of them breaks down totally - how will we handle it? What if I break down, and make a mess of myself? ...

So as the couple separating, be very honest and clear why you are inviting friends into a circle-based separation ceremony: it may be because you need their support to move through the breakup in a good way. It maybe to share with them openly what really happened (stories and interpretations will be circulating around anyway - why not get them directly from you?). It may be because you want to thank for what you as a couple received from them in the past…

A clear and honest invitation is really important so that the people know what they are being invited to.  

Prepare a holistic circle ceremony - with room for celebrations and mournings

As circle host, prepare the process honouring the unique spirit of the couple.

When two people are separating, one might be further on the new path (perhaps towards new love) than the other. This person might not have that much energy/interest for preparing the ceremony into detail. Work with what you have - ensuring that both partners agree with all the key steps of the process. As always, leave some room for whatever will emerge. Compassionate, allowing space is key.

Some of the building blocks you may want to use:

  • Mark the shift from social to sacred space: with a song, intention-setting, silence, hand-holding ...

  • Pick a talking piece with meaning; one than can hold a lot of emotional intensity (maybe a large, soft heart).

  • Start with a check-in.

  • Use the bell to mark powerful pauses (there will most likely be many of them!).

  • Make rounds of both celebrations and mournings (with the talking piece passed around the circle

    • Either generally - whatever is very much alive in the participants, and wants to be expressed;

    • Or invite stories (what is one memory of the couple that will stay with you long after today?)

  • Find balance between couple’s sharing and other people sharing.

    • When the couple speak to each other, they may be seated in the center.

  • Use a symbolic gesture with which to mark this powerful passage into the new (perhaps using wedding rings - or anything else that honours the couple’s unique identity)

  • End with blessings for the future.

  • Find a good closure.

  • Allow some time to decompress; i. e. with a communal meal, music/concert; walk in nature ...


Prepare space for circle ceremony

Knowing that you are going to host a circle in which intense emotions may show up, prepare the space with extra care. Let the space be welcoming; the seats cosy; the centerpiece calming and beautiful. You may want to say prayers - or simply ask for compassion and grace to be with you. You can invite the support of your circle teachers and co-hosts: either in your mind’s eye, or reach out beforehand with a request to be at your back during the circle ceremony. After the circle is over, express thanks, and intentionally release all the energy that has accumulated.


Prepare yourself as circle host

As circle host, you will be holding space for a range of human experience; from deep gratitude to deep pain. Put intention and intention to how you want to show up - invite your own inner openness, compassion, guidance from forces greater than humans … If you have any rituals that help you be present and caring in times of heat and/or chaos, this may be a good time to practice them. At the end, express gratitude and mark the end of the circle also for yourself as host.

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Marjeta Novak designs and hosts processes in which people dialogue with and from what truly matters to them, to create bolder and more life-affirming futures for organisations, communities and themselves. For the past 15 years, she has worked as a dialogue host, consultant and trainer; in a range of settings – from complex multi-stakeholder strategic dialogues to participatory confererences to personal visioning retreats. She sees Circle as the blueprint of everything she does – inviting people to connect as humans who care; beyond the roles, positions, interests and divides that mark the usual social space.