Talking Peace in Intimate Relationships: The Spurtle Factor

Image by Laurent Scheinfeld on Flikr Creative commons

Image by Laurent Scheinfeld on Flikr Creative commons

Too Busy to Communicate?

Even with the simplified lifestyle that we’ve chosen to adopt, my partner and I find that we’re sometimes too busy to communicate properly. Our exchanges become limited to the practical and logistic and this leaves us feeling disconnected and emotionally distant from each other. To add to that, when unconscious habits lead to friction, having little time to focus on each other makes it easier to just ignore the gripes and get on with tasks, rather than face the possibility of heated discussion.

Slowing Down to Free the Time

In a conscious relationship, one that prioritises awareness and mutually supported growth, the intentions of those involved include some very important aims around communication. To begin with, we agree to slow our individual lives down and reduce commitments outside the relationship in order to free up time to be fully present to each other. It also means assigning frequent time periods to working on’the relationship, not just in it. These commitments in themselves can inspire deeper communication. Truly honest and open relating of this kind calls for a willingness to experiment and to be vulnerable in each other’s presence and this is easier to do when we know that the other partner is equally committed to the process.

On one occasion when my partner and I realised that we’d dropped the ball in terms of straying away from our intentions to communicate openly and honestly in this way, I ventured the suggestion that we try using a form from The Way of Council, known as dyadic council – literally Way of Council for couples.

Practicalities of Dyadic Council

As with many excellent ideas, the principles of dyadic council are very straightforward. Firstly, we use a talking piece. This is an object, anything that can be easily handheld and passed between the partners. We decided to use a porridge spurtle. (A spurtle is used for getting the lumps out of porridge – we thought it might encourage us to deal with the lumpiness of our communications!)

Our well-worn porridge spurtle

Our well-worn porridge spurtle

The idea is that we take it in turns to hold the spurtle/talking piece. Whoever is holding may speak. The other person listens, without responding verbally until the talking piece is passed to them. Secondly, there are 4 guidelines, known as the 4 intentions:

  • To speak from the heart – This is about expressing our truth in the moment, from a place of honesty and openness.
  •  To listen from the heart – Listening deeply, to what’s between and behind the words as well as the words themselves, to tone of voice and the energy and emotions expressed.
  • To speak with lean expression – This is about keeping it short and sweet, to aim to be concise and to the point.
  • To speak spontaneously  – What we’ve found is that when someone else has the talking piece, it can be all too easy to start rehearsing  what we’re going to say in response and that this detracts from deep listening. So speaking spontaneously means not even thinking about what we’re going to say until we’ve got the spurtle in our hands, and then, of course, to speak from what’s arising in our hearts in the moment.

There are some wonderful benefits that arise from simply introducing a talking piece into a conversation and from following the 4 intentions.

Benefits of using a talking piece.

1.       Slows the conversation down – each person has to wait their turn to speak.

2.       Reactions have space and time to be witnessed (internally and externally) and reduce in heat before being expressed.

Benefits of the 4 Intentions

Speaking from the heart: Calls us to get in touch with what really matters to us, our deeply felt human needs (rather than our superficial wants); heightens awareness of honesty; cuts through reactionary responses to access the deeper truth beneath our conditioning.

Listening from the heart: Broader, deeper understanding of how the other is feeling, what they’re experiencing, what’s important to them, their values and concerns; listening between the words triggers compassion;  greater feelings of connection ensue; also feelings of support, not only from the other (beloved) but also from the co-created energy in the relationship and in that particular dyad.

Lean Expression: Attention paid to most important points and issues;  also to focus on modes of expression; consideration given to the other in how what is expressed might be received; reduced distractions and divergencies.

Spontaneity: Fosters honesty, trust in ourselves, the process and the co-created energy of the dyad; sounds more truthful and credible to the other than something rehearsed; leads to increased appreciation and respect.

As a result of our first experiments of using dyadic council for important conversations we decided to adopt it as a preferred method for ‘slow chats’ – those where we need to talk through deeper or more challenging issues in our relationship.

If you’re sincere about growing through conscious relationships, I encourage you to explore this territory with your loved ones using dyadic council. A simple reminder might be to use a talking piece for talking peace.


4 Responses to Talking Peace in Intimate Relationships: The Spurtle Factor

  1. Diane Kutz November 29, 2013 at 7:54 am #

    Sally, this is a lovely reminder of heartful and heartfelt communication. Truly listening to the other person, showing real respect for them and yourself. Thanks, Diane

  2. Ali November 29, 2013 at 9:09 am #

    Thank you :) ! perfect timing !!!!!!!!! would love to be modelling this more securely, though we do try so it will catch eventually – our ten year old at present, on the sight of the talking stick runs off as fast as she can.. your four intentions will hopefully lead to it being a safer space for all

  3. Sally November 29, 2013 at 9:42 am #

    Diane – I like what you say about respect. At first it seemed quite natural to feel greater respect for the other(s) when engaged in Way of Council, but it wasn’t so immediately obvious to me how much this contributed to my respect for myself. I would add trust in there too, especially when it comes to speaking spontaneously and from the heart. I can be attached to planning what I want to say, out of fear of ‘getting it wrong’ probably. But the 4 intentions pulled that particualr rug out from under my feet and the effects were surprisingly liberating. Thanks for your response.

  4. Sally November 29, 2013 at 10:00 am #

    Ali – You raise an inportant point about creating a safe space. Children can be inclined to wander off anyway, I’ve found, however safe the space is. Also, I’ve seen some adults asking to leave a circle when an issue comes up that they’re not yet ready to be present with. All of that is ok, in that it’s in keeping with the spirit of Council to allow people to be where they want to be. In those kinds of circumstances, though, if the behaviour becomes disruptive for the group, then there are various ways to handle it, both within the circle and as a separate discussion with the person concerned. If it’s not addressed, then the circle can start to feel unsafe, so it is something that needs to be discussed, in my experience. Hope that helps and do email if there are specifics that you’d like to chat through.

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