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Focusing & Divorce: (Part 1) The One in There

Focusing & Divorce: The One in There (Part 1)

How can certain therapeutic approaches facilitate divorce mediation? And how can divorcing folks utilize therapeutic tools to move their divorce forward? Focusing Oriented Therapy offers many concepts and tools that can be practiced by anyone to help navigate complex relationships and challenging circumstances. This series of articles looks at three principles and practices of focusing and applies them to mediating divorce.

While much may depend upon a skilled mediator, the clients’ roles in their divorces cannot be overestimated. Clients who are willing to introspect and explore novel ways of approaching their situation, and one another, create more options for resolution. Focusing offers many helpful approaches that mediation clients can explore. When followed, these avenues can lead to better relating and better results.

The following are three focusing concepts, and attendant tools, for clients negotiating their divorce:

  1. The one in there. 

  2. The right distance. 

  3. Take nothing literally.

Each of these needs explanation and application. This article examines “the one in there.”

PART 1: The One in There

Focusing, a modality of therapy developed by philosopher Eugene Gendlin includes a fundamental concept called the one in there. I understand it as the aspect of the self that is indispensable and unchanging.

The one in there is the place in us that is always there, regardless of our age or circumstances. The one in there is the essential place in each of us that resides in everyone. It is our humanity, our commonality, our universality. It is something very young but also timeless. The one in there is the one that loves, grieves, and rejoices.

In focus-oriented therapy, the therapist aims to be on the side of the one in there, to make space for and relate to it. To help the client recognize, keep company with, and care for this self of selves. This instruction is grounding for a therapist when a client is at his worst, struggling against treatment, perhaps triggering the therapist’s countertransference. When the therapist seeks out the client’s one in there, the therapist fosters a kind of relating that can generate healing.

How does this relate to divorcing couples? 

In divorce, people are often at their worst (angry, disappointed, hurt, and afraid) while tasked with behaving at their best (analyzing complex scenarios, prioritizing the best interests of others, long-term decision-making). Adding to the difficulty, parties must continue to interact -- and interact effectively -- with the very person to whom they attribute their painful feelings. How can this be done? Or done better? By keeping in mind the one in there. Your own one in there that recoils at the shrapnel of hostile words, and the one in there of the other, the ex-spouse-to-be, who is possibly firing blistering words because of how frightened and desperate she feels.

To the extent we can return to a gentler, kinder regard for the little one who resides within each of us, who is always there, no matter how worldly and mature we might otherwise be, we can find a way toward a resolution together. It is, as with most things in divorce, a tall order, and, as with most difficult things, worthwhile. Holding this attitude with an adversary can help turn him into a collaborator.

What is the attitude towards the one in there? It is an approach of listening that holds the other lightly and gently, sans judgment, eye-rolling, and ax-grinding.

When we are approached with respect and kindness, we tend to thrive. When met with curiosity and interest, we light up. Conversely, when attacked, all our energies are exhausted by defending and protecting ourselves; we have nothing available for the thoughtful co-creating required in divorce mediation.

The approach of looking for the one in there can pertain to how we approach all things -- our own needs as well as those of our ex-spouse. Looking for the one in there, whether or not you locate it, fosters an intention of curiosity and thoughtfulness. The one in there is not the part that is acting out, but the deeper one that is the cause of the acting out. Not the temper tantrum, but the little one tantruming because he’s frightened and does not have another way to express the distress overwhelming his little system. While our automatic reaction to the tantrum might, understandably, be irritation and impatience, we must nevertheless repeatedly aim to overcome this; the frightened one calls for tenderness. The art is in listening. Listening with the intent to hear the rustle, the breath of the shaky one, beneath the thundering of the yelling one. 

In divorce, people thunder. Listening for the whispers, even when you fail to hear them, changes everything. The intent to listen as you would to someone dear, in need, without language, shapes the interaction so that cooperation can take seed.

In divorce, you are often in an adversarial position with the other whose cooperation you need. You may be at war with the one on whom you depend. Looking for the one in there while under attack is a Herculean challenge.  It is a practice. If you can keep the tender underbelly of the other in mind and continue to be in relation to that one, commonality and possibility form.  Even when you can hardly look at the other, you may be able to hold the hand of the other’s one in there.  This handholding is needed in a divorce where there are no single-handed solutions.  

You need not fully understand the other person’s inner self to practice listening for the one in there. You merely need to bring a willingness to listen for it.  

This simple approach may be a shorthand towards compassion: remember that each of us has had some experiences of receiving what we needed, and many experiences of not. When this is foremost in mind, empathy for anyone can follow.

Choose your presumptions well in advance. The default is fault. Make presumptions in favor of being on the side of the one in there — yours and the others.'


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