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Focusing & Divorce: (Part 2) The Right Distance

Focusing & Divorce: The Right Distance (Part 2)

{5 minutes to read}  PART 2: The Right Distance

The right distance is the second Focusing concept we are exploring as it relates to divorcing couples.

By the right distance, we mean getting some space between the client and the issue he is up against. Of course, this is not literal mileage, but simply a way of approaching and working with an issue that helps make overwhelming or triggering matters manageable. 

In divorce, parties must delve into many topics that can be upsetting and threatening - custody, support, reentering the workforce, moving, and so on. These issues can upend the foundations upon which lives and identities are built and rattle even the basic security upon which we depend. 

Rather than steeling ourselves and diving headfirst into unknown, turbulent waters, setting the right distance can make the work of divorce less traumatic and more viable.

What is the right distance?

The right distance is an individual measure for each person. It is the place where you can be with a concern without re-experiencing it, or re-enacting its effects — address a past trauma, for example, without being retraumatized. The right distance approach prioritizes safety; it is a way to proceed with caution. A way to attend to a difficult issue, without being transported into an unwanted place by it. 

Gene Gendlin said, and I paraphrase, "You want to smell the soup. You don't want to submerge your head in the soup." In this simple, brilliant analogy, it is clear: the chef must be at the right distance, in the right relationship with the soup in order to cook, season, taste, and prepare it.

Walking through New York City, you may be standing beside a building, but unable to appreciate anything about it as a whole structure.  From an adjacent point of view, you can usually only see a few details, panels or even your own reflection. Its height, dimensions, architecture cannot be gleaned while you are abutting it.  A different distance from the structure is required in order to understand and contextualize what you are seeing. 

How do we take figurative distance?

Here are some actionable ways to experiment with the right distance:

  • Take a few moments with the issue at hand before launching into it. Can you back up a few paces? Would an aerial view be helpful? Even asking these questions can provide a bit of spaciousness and relieve some intensity.

  • Slow down and find the words that precisely describe the issue. Defining exactly what you are up against creates parameters around it, clarifying and containing it. Demanding issues tend to roost in sweeping generalities and flood other matters making everything into an impossible tangle of indistinguishable emergencies. Taking the time to be specific puts you in command.

  • Once you have identified the issue, stay with only that one issue — it will want to move into many overlapping issues, (see above) but continue to return to the main one (the other things can be taken up in turn).

  • Check in with your body regularly. Is your stomach tightening? Throat constricting? Limbs feeling light? Jaw clenching? These are good indicators that you might have fallen into the problem and need to readjust your distance from it. Remember, you cannot taste the soup if you are the soup. Take some breaths, stand up, stretch your legs, take a break.

  • Use your imagination. Take a walk around the issue to view it from different angles. What does the back of the issue look like? Describe the issue in all its dimensions — does it have a color, scent, sound? If there is a strong feeling that comes with it, describe that. Check where you would need to stand or orient yourself in order to be able to stay with the issue and feel secure and at ease. Where should you be in relation to the issue so that you are larger than it? In all of this, your felt sense is the guide. Continue to adjust. Ll

  • Consider these questions: How can I work with this issue and be separate from it/ feel okay while working with it? What do I need in order to be able to work with this in a friendly way? A peaceful way?

Taking literal distance is always available. You may need to table something, take time to reflect, or just step away for a bit. Even taking a few good breaths can help you reset.

It’s worth mentioning that there are times when achieving the right distance necessitates moving closer to an issue. You might be looking at things too remotely or too theoretically, and need to approach the issue from a more proximate vantage point while still maintaining safety. Know that you do not need to suffer dysregulation in order to deal with all that is required of you. You are entitled to repeatedly return to a resting place, to regroup, and recharge before continuing. These focusing approaches offer some ways to help make difficult things more manageable.


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