3 Quaker Values to Strengthen Your Relationship

3 Quaker Values to Strengthen Your Relationship


Quakerism (also known as The Religious Society of Friends) offers powerful wisdom for founding and strengthening relationships on these three values.

When I worked in a public library, I enjoyed learning the reading trends of our patrons. Many of the trends were unsurprising—religious inspiration, crime novels, and children’s fiction were all steady favorites. But one surprised me. One of the most popular genres in our collection was Amish romance.

I’m not sure why Amish romance novels were so popular. Maybe it was because nearby Amish Country was a popular destination for food, shopping, and gawking. Perhaps these outings made folks curious about the private lives of the Amish. Indeed, the surprising combination of “Amish” and “romance” is alluring.

I also wonder if folks are searching for a better story about romantic relationships. What the rest of us are doing isn’t working, so we wonder if the Amish have a secret to help us find our way. They are different in a way that inspires both uneasiness and longing. We long for a version of romantic love that is less prone to shame, abuse, and heartbreak.

Whatever the reason, Amish romances keep selling. To my knowledge, this trend has not expanded into a new genre called Quaker romance. But if the genre does take off, I’ll be ready. I have a story of my own from lived experience. It involves no bonnets, Pennsylvania Dutch, or scandalous rendezvous with the English. But it does involve wrestling with traditional takes on love and faith, and finding romance in settings like a rusty car, a nature sanctuary, and a Quaker meetinghouse.

The 3 Quaker (Relationship) Values

My Quaker romance novel would have three parts, each named after the values we seek to embody: Spirituality, Equality, and Community.

Spirituality: In the Car

My partner, Ashlyn, and I met at a Quaker seminary. The poet Rainer Maria Rilke defined love as the joining of “two solitudes that meet, protect, and greet each other.” That fits us. In some ways, we were quite different “solitudes.” I was a Midwestern Quaker boy in his late twenties who had already been married and divorced. Ashlyn was a Southern girl with Baptist roots who had not dated at all. She was passionate and adventurous, with a cute Southern accent. I was understated and ready to put down roots and had a penchant for puns and dad jokes.

We also had a lot in common. We both cared deeply about faith and spirituality. Both of us left behind parts of our evangelical upbringing, but Jesus’s life and teachings remained central for us. This led to long discussions about our spiritual journeys and theological ideas. We also shared concerns about social justice and had robust discussions (and debates) about political issues.

Ashlyn often gave me a ride home in her old Chevy Lumina after class. It was a short drive, but we would end up talking in her car for lengthy periods of time before I went home. It is said that “marriage is a long conversation,” and it soon became clear that Ashlyn was someone with whom I wanted to keep talking.

Quakers teach that romantic relationships should have a spiritual center. This doesn’t mean couples should spend all their time reading the Bible and listening to Christian music, but rather that healthy relationships require strong spiritual bonds to endure the inevitable struggles of life together. The Quaker way can be tough; it’s not easy living a listening life in a culture of noise, or being peacemakers in a culture of violence. So, couples need to prioritize spiritual nurturance and stay united in their core commitments.

To encourage that spiritual unity, Quakers have developed a practice called the meeting for clearness. In this practice, a group of trusted Friends join a couple in a worshipful space to ask open questions, listen closely, and hold them in prayer. It provides space for the couple to ponder relational dynamics, spiritual promptings, and other factors guiding their decision. Together, the community discerns if the couple is “clear” to move forward into marriage.

Equality: In the Woods

We wanted our marriage to be what fellow Quaker Walt Whitman called “a union of equal comrades.” So we proposed to one another. While that may not sound romantic, it was one of the most romantic (and spiritual) experiences of my life. The proposal was carefully planned by both of us. We travelled to a favorite trail at a nature sanctuary in southern Ohio that was special to us. The trail begins at the top of a ridge and winds downward through caves and ecological niches, ultimately reaching a peaceful waterfall.

On our journey, we made four stops. At each turn in the trail, we paused to exchange words and gifts—each of us gifting a token that represented an aspect of our relationship. Then, beside the waterfall, Ashlyn and I took turns getting down on one knee and proposing to the other. With laughter and tears, blessed with waterfall splashes, we both answered “yes” to a lifetime together.

Community: In the Meetinghouse

For Quakers, marriage is the uniting work of God, not the state or clergy. Religious Society of Friends founder George Fox wrote: “We marry none…we are but witnesses.” Traditional Quaker weddings have no officiant leading the ceremony. The wedding is considered worship, so the group gathers in silence, as is traditional for Quakers. When the couple feels compelled, they stand up and make promises to one another.

True to form, Ashlyn and I adapted the practice. We gathered in a Quaker meetinghouse, but a favorite professor and minister officiated the service. We broke tradition by singing a hymn and serving the Lord’s Supper. But one aspect of traditional Quaker practice we incorporated was the Quaker marriage certificate.

The Quaker marriage certificate is a document signed by everyone present, since they are all “witnesses” to the uniting work of Spirit. Sometimes people refer to the traditional Quaker wedding as a “self-uniting” ceremony, but that isn’t quite right. It does rely on individual consent and a couple’s sense of divine leading, but it’s also a deeply communal act. Quaker couples are married “under the care of the meeting.”

So, when the witnesses sign their name to the marriage certificate, they are making a spiritual commitment to support the couple. Marriage is wonderful, but hard; it’s even harder without friendship, nurture, and spiritual community. Couples often display their certificate in their bedroom as a reminder that they are not alone, but enfolded by a loving community.

Quaker Romance Asks: What Does Love Require?

In a previous piece, I wrote about the Quaker practice of “queries”—asking open questions to invite individual and communal reflection. A common query among Friends is: “What does love require?” We have to discern the shape of love in our particular relationships amidst our responsibilities and opportunities. Despite our Quaker romance story, Ashlyn and I still face challenges in our relationship and need to ask ourselves what love looks like in a particular situation. The answer is guided by our commitments to spirituality, equality, and community.

You’re probably not living an Amish or Quaker romance; you might not even have much romance in your life at all. But I suspect that those three values could improve any relationship you have now and better prepare you for future ones.

What does love require of you?

Learn more about Quaker queries here.

3 Quaker Values to Strengthen Your Relationship

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