Skip to main content

Empowerment in Mutual Vulnerability: A Couple Become Focusing Companions

Empowerment in Mutual Vulnerability:
A Couple Become Focusing Companions

Marianne and Lance Thompson


How do two people from different backgrounds and with many conflicting interests develop an inner freedom enabling them to journey inside each other in a non-controlling way? Is there hope that this can happen between people who want to grow together while at the same time realizing that there is much that feels blocked between them? As we answer with our own resounding “yes” to these questions, we invite you to share in what we have learned.

Marianne: I was first introduced to Focusing over 12 years ago during a Focusing and Spirituality workshop. Although immediately drawn to the realness of the process, I felt myself hanging back, wondering whether I was willing to face the hurting, wounded, truck places inside myself that needed to be heard. Could I make the commitment to myself that I knew was necessary to become more whole?

As I began to get in touch with my own brokenness and began to sense the inner freedom this brought, I felt a strong desire to share this with our three children who were seven, five, and three years old at the time. I knew what a tremendous gift it would be if I could pass this on to them while they were still young. I was intrigued by the possibilities of what life would be like for them if they could be taught such a precious tool early in their lives. (I have written about this early teaching of Focusing to our children in “Teaching Children to Focus”) What would it be like for them right from the start to own what was real in themselves, rather than going through life haphazardly connecting to the stories beneath their joys, fears, rejections, anticipations, etc?

And so, I began to teach them Focusing, experiencing a realness and closeness to them that felt so right to me. I learned a way to be a mother that allowed them the discovery of being and valuing themselves. A freedom began to grow in me that said, “I don’t need to make everything all OK for them. They do not need to be fixed.” The children and I continued to Focus and grow together as the years quickly passed. However, as time went by another realization surfaced in me. This one did not carry with it the excited anticipation of the first. There was more hanging back as I sensed I was both frightened yet hope-filled at the prospect of perhaps Lance learning to Focus. While the children and I were growing in this journey together, Lance was on the outside. I became more and more uncomfortable with a gap that was developing between us.

But it was not until I was writing one day and felt a stuck place inside me that I realized I was carrying my relationship with Lance in a way that felt exactly like this stuck place. This new awareness gave me courage to be with how this how this feels, and then to share this with Lance.

I remember saying to myself that I could be with anything except my feelings about our marriage. Would facing this be the end? I wondered. My personal struggle toward wholeness makes me keenly aware of a growing gap between us. I had been very dissatisfied with Lance’s lack of presence to me and our family. I yearned for someone who could walk inside with me, who would help me risk going into my own scary places. Being in an intimate relationship this way seemed to be the only option we had for growing together. I asked myself, what is a marriage all about if not for this? My search for meaning and for wholeness seemed blocked. What was I to do?

It all seemed so hopeless, and I was scared that our marriage would fall apart. The painful owning of this, as I really carried it inside me, opened a new sense of freedom, which then gave me the courage to talk to Lance from this inside place. Lance: I did not realize how important this was to Marianne. I was not very aware of my lack of presence and how it was affecting my relationship to her and the children. I felt surprised and hurt that she felt a close ness was missing in our relationship. I was reluctant to face her concerns. Yet I knew vaguely that things were not right between us. I was somewhat more aware that my own inner life seemed in turmoil. Because of my love for Marianne and our commitment to each other, I decided to try Focusing with her. And so, more than three years ago, we began Focusing together.

Marianne: While I felt freed up from the need to fix the children, I sensed somewhere inside that this was different with Lance. As I was more honest with myself I realized there were things in Lance I could not accept, qualities in him that grated on me, that seemed to interfere with my desire for the two of us to grow closer together. I even thought this might be a stumbling block to any future growth. How could I be open to myself as I really felt about him, then be this same way with Lance? Some sentences from the book, Living in Sin, by John Shelby Spong, touched a deep truth in me. “The desire to possess godlike powers over another is a manifestation of the hardening of the heart of vulnerability. It is interesting to note that the climax of the Christian story is in the affirmation not of power, but of powerlessness, which is nothing other than the willingness to be vulnerable. How else can one read the story of the cross?” So, I knew that the answer for us lay in our willingness to risk mutual vulnerability in journeying inside with one another.

I found myself poorly prepared for my part in this whole decision to begin Focusing together. I did not bargain on the need to let go of wanting to “fix him” over and over again that proved to be so vital if Lance was to own the truth of himself. As I still continue to sit with Lance in a Focusing way, gradually I am learning to hold gently in myself whatever is real in him as he begins to Focus. This allows me to grow in the inner freedom of not getting trapped or caught up in my own agenda. I needed to let go of a whole variety of things in myself: wanting him to succeed so he would not feel like a failure, wanting him to have a good experience of Focusing so he would continue with it, even thinking that I knew what was best for him to Focus on. Just the time and energy it took on my part to be present and open to Lance was filled with meaning. It was a gift that allowed me to be open to how all of that felt in me as well. In this way the pull of having to fix everything, to make it all better, or even the feel of having to make something happen is broken. All of this manipulating loses its hold on me whenever I can own how it feels inside. It is this freedom in me that somehow gives Lance the space to allow what is in him to surface and be owned.

Lance: I notice a tangible difference in both of us when she can be with me like this. Her quality of presence is different. She shows calmness as I quiet down and I am able to be more gentle with myself for longer periods of time. Letting go of her need to control lets me know that it’s O.K. to be with anything. I won’t self-destruct just because it feels so hurtful, shameful or guilty inside. A trust in our bodies’ wisdom to lead us toward wholeness begins to develop. A kind of softening begins to happen.

Marianne: It is like we are both enveloped in another kind of Presence that is gently allowing us to be with one another with all our pores open. Our vulnerability then becomes our gift to one another! It feels very much like two people walking together as one in the Presence of so much more.

As we have been Focusing together over the months, certain learnings have become our guidelines. We so often destroy ourselves, and each other and our relationships by trying to control, manipulate and fix each other. Certain guide lines help guard against such destructive behavior. As our bodies physically change in the way we carry the other person, this is communicated in the body-message of acceptance of the other. As long as either of us feels in his or her body a non-acceptance of the other as he or she is now- regardless of our best mental intentions- something will remain stuck between us. Each of us can feel non-acceptance if it lies within the other’s body. We both needed to be healed, through the graces of Focusing, of our need to fix and control each other in order to feel good about ourselves. On this journey, we have found the following learnings important.

1. Prizing our own brokenness: unconditional acceptance as invitation to journey inside.

As I reflect back over our months of Focusing together, what stands out for me as the essential ingredient in this way of growing intimately is allowing myself to own how I really feel about Lance and our relationship. It seems to me that in most relationships we are always trying to change the other, endlessly pointing out how he or she should be. It is as if we say it often enough, that person should be able to change to our liking. Our explanation and analysis of the situation may be completely on target. We may in fact know how this other person could be more productive, more of a success at work, more present. But the essential ingredient needed for inner growth is missing in all of this! What needs to be faced is how our very valid, often accurate insights and needs blind us to how we need to be with these vested interests in ourselves as we relate to the limitations of those we love the most. How can I be open and help the other risk going into what is unfinished and feared? That is the key that most of us miss as we struggle to grow together. The heart of self-renewal is being on the inside, where everything seems to be connected. It feels like we are being led along by a movement that is not of our own making, a movement in which a new identity is developing in our marriage.

It seems so natural for most of us to try running from or eliminating what we dislike, cannot accept, or do not understand in ourselves by having power over it. How many times have we all heard, “If I could just figure this out,” or, “If we could just understand the other person,” or, “If we could just talk this out, it would get better.” Or for those of us who have been Focusing, another very subtle attitude of control can creep in that goes something like this: “I’ll just sit with this today so that it will feel better and leave me alone.” All are forms of control that we use to make ourselves feel better.

As Lance and I have Focused together, we have learned to prize our own weaknesses. Whether it was Lance’s stubborn tenacity, at times refusing to Focus, or my attempt to convince him to Focus, we both knew we would have to let go into those areas in ourselves. Prizing these places gives the other the freedom to own and accept them. These fears, or controlling places, then become doorways, not obstacles to change.

One afternoon when we were first trying to Focus, I realized the discomfort I was feeling came from the fact that Lance had not asked me to sit with him for weeks. I knew that the regular owning of what is real in me as well as in him was vital if we were to continue to be gifted in our mutual openness and vulnerability to each other. I brought this up and said, “You know, Lance, if we’re going to continue growing together as a couple we’ll have to keep going with our Focusing together.” Pow! Even as I said it, I felt the control in my body as muscles tightened. The look on his face told me he felt it, too. Lance was quiet for several minutes and said, “Marianne, if I’m going to grow, it’s not going to be because you tell me I have to. It’s because I want to, and you are never going to force me.” I quietly took that in and said, “You’re right.” We both felt in our bodies I had slipped back again into the old model of me trying to make something happen. It is hard to let go of being in the driver’s seat! If we want to grow, it is imperative that we do! There was a felt sense of rightness in me to just let that be. Maybe we would decide not to continue with Focusing. I would just have to wait and be with how that felt inside myself. There was a kind of deep trust that in spite of myself I knew this would work out.

Two days later, while sharing small talk in bed, Lance said, “Marianne, you know I searched the world for you 18 years ago. I traveled through Europe, Greece, Israel, spent tow years working in Peru, all the while looking for someone I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. I’d be a fool not to continue with Focusing. I’d have so much to lose if I stopped now.” He continued, “I now see that my search for you had to do with my need to break through my own blockages and walls. I sense my own need to Focus.”

Holding our wounded ness with an open, caring, waiting attitude has taught me that strength comes when we can drop the reins together and trust the body’s innate wisdom to lead toward life. Empowerment happens when every attempt to maintain security fails, when we can allow ourselves to surrender into the uncertainty, fear, and confusion. When this letting go feels like we’re going to drown, then we are positioned to grow.

Gradually, we learn to prize and trust our own unfinishedness as a doorway into the greater Mystery. As grace begins to guide us, we know in our bones how it feels to be empowered in mutual vulnerability. Being with each other, all pores open, becomes our gift to each other. Strength develops in us when we can own our incompleteness. We then touch another kind of power, a power always waiting to be tapped, when through owning these places we become strong.

2. Risking mutual vulnerability as Focusing Companions leads to empowerment.

Addictive relationships, poor self-image, a negative attitude toward our selves invariably lead to the need for control and codependent behaviors. Our bodies already know the direction toward healing and wholeness. There is wisdom already in place far more profound than anything our minds can think.

Marianne: After months of sitting with Lance as he Focused, I realized something felt missing. It felt like I was seeing only half the picture. We could Focus alone, I could sit with him, but until we risked being mutually vulnerable by both of us Focusing and guiding in the same session, we seemed stuck on one level.

Being vulnerable together is the single most important aspect of our Focusing. It has literally plunged us into a deep awareness. A whole new tangible sense emerges between us, an awareness that our relationship is so much more than Lance and I separately. Our relationship has become an invitation to divine Presence and healing. There is nothing in us that cannot be opened up to grace. What I realize I really value is not if Lance fits into my script for him at all, but that we can be truly vulnerable together. That way of being together brings an intense freedom, a lightness and an OKness that is indescribable! What totally boggles our minds is that externals may not in fact change that sometimes things may even get worse, but there is so much hope, new life, renewed affection for each other when we can be vulnerable together. It changes the feel of everything. The closest we can come to describing this is to say it feels inside like it did when we were newly in love. It is fresh, soft, exciting and hope-filled. Our minds could not comprehend what was waiting for us on the other side of control! It almost seems as if our rational minds, are not made to imagine what grace feels like in our bodies! I suspect it would be hard to convince anyone of this in words. It is a reality, a gift that needs to be experienced before it can be understood. And my sense many heartaches and divorces could be avoided if we could learn to build our lives and relationships on another model, a model of Focusing in mutual vulnerability. The primary spiritual as well as psychological and community value is what happens between us in relationship when both have a chance to lead and be led. The empowerment is given in the relationship of mutual vulnerability.

My willingness to be vulnerable seems to break through Lance’s resistance as he starts to Focus, His words to me one evening as I had finished Focusing were, “As you Focused tonight, you seemed to draw me right into yourself.” The impact of his words felt so spiritual and so sexual to me. It is as if trust builds in him when he can be drawn into me like this, then not only does he have the courage to let go into his own resistances, but he also touches the key to greater intimacy between us. Owning his walls breaks down the walls between us. Then we literally become one body. We become one body in the greater Body. When we physically come together like this, another felt-sense grows between us, the sense of giftedness breaks through. There is MORE than the two of us! This MORE between us then becomes our gift to the Larger Body.

3. Having a regular routine for Focusing together.

Without a commitment from both of us to a regular time for Focusing, we found we could come up with a million excuses to skip just this one time. A regular time together seems vital so a basis of trust in the process can begin to grow, not only in us individually but also between us. Without a regular time set aside, I know our natural resistance to Focusing would have won out. Three times a week felt right for us.

4. The starting point is owning what is real.

If I can always be true to what is real inside myself I already have a sure-footed guide. A bodily wisdom is already in place, drawing me ever closer toward wholeness/holiness. We are so programmed into thinking that if we take a chance and own what is real inside, it will annihilate us; that somehow if we face how we really feel about ourselves, our sexuality, about those we love, we will be destroyed. Fear comes from expectations that if I let go into how I really feel, I will have no control over the outcome. Moreover, we usually fear not having control over the other’s Focusing. It is fear that needs to be gently owned over and over until it is ready to tell its story.

Marianne: In marriage where our relationship is the primary value, I thought as we grew older that risking how I really felt would be the beginning of the end. How can owning what is real in me bring greater wholeness and freedom?

One evening while Lance was Focusing with me, I was staying with a particularly heavy feeling in my chest. I sensed it was something about our relationship and I had to first stay with the fear of this being too much to handle. The words that surfaced, “Lance feels so heavy to me,: brought a surprised relief. I’m still somewhat surprised that the content of our stories never blow us away. I sensed the fear comes from being out of touch with the meaning beneath the heaviness and not from the story itself! The owning of what’s real and the sharing after Focusing bring a tremendous openness between couples because at some level both know when they are living a lie! When something feels stuck or unspoken or denied between us, it comes as a relief to recognize and own it.

5. Learning the Art of Waiting.

Marianne: Learning to wait with an alert awareness when “nothing” seems to be happening inside has come to be very important for me. The ability to be soft, gentle and caring with my hurt seems to create the right climate more than anything else. When I have invested so much time and energy and little seems to happen, I have learned the importance of the “back burner approach” with my unfinishedness. So much of our life story is always unfinished. This kind of patient waiting with prepares the soil beautifully for the next step.

Lance: Often as I begin to Focus, I find myself coming up against a wall of resistance. In my Focusing I can feel wanting to let go, but I also have a strong resistance of not wanting to let go. Sometimes a feeling of playing a game, a head trip comes up which tells me I am not willing to let go. At other times my critic, my wanting to be hard on myself, comes forward just as I want to be gentle with my feelings. It is a familiar pattern. I seem to cancel the whole process by taking on too much. Then I come up against a hard wall where everything seems impossible, and the harder I push against this wall the harder the wall becomes. It is like I am giving that wall additional strength and energy. My first reaction is to run! I have learned to make a space for this resistance by sitting next to it, going camping with it, making a promise to it I will return to it during the day.

I can feel the gradual chipping away of an old pattern in me. During one Focusing experience, I came up against the familiar thick wall. My body felt tight around the issue of control. As I took time to own what playing games and clinging to control felt like, the words, “I feel so weary hanging in like this” eased the tightness a bit. As Marianne and I were reflecting back on this experience, it moved again as I said, “The owning of what I feel in me makes me very vulnerable, and it’s the vulnerability that diminishes my control.” Marianne said the look on my face was one of a trusting child. I could not believe it. I have always said if I could just let go of this damned control, I would. But that has never worked. This time I let go by surprise!

Marianne: It is so necessary to check in during the day to be gently with the feel of an issue. Being with ourselves this way prepares the inner soil for growth when the time is ripe. Creating this kind of atmosphere with ourselves day in and day out is the key, we have found to nurturing further growth. My hands are tied and I have to sit and wait. I cannot do anything myself. Then this quiet waiting somehow creates a different inner climate. A deep knowing is tapped, a knowing that bypasses the usual frantic needing to have results, to manipulate ourselves and others in order to feel good about ourselves or in order to fit everything into our script for each other. There is a kind of knowing that somehow his waiting place is pregnant with grace. It is precisely in that waiting place that we have to be with each other, no strings attached.

6. Owning our fears as a way to grow spiritually.

Marianne: As I owned a particularly heavy, frightening place inside myself one marooning, the image of an old turtle fit exactly how I was feeling. I could feel the heavy shell on my shoulders weighting me down so that I could hardly walk. My nose was only a few inches from the ground. Only my head and neck were out for air. Heavy legs added to the heaviness I already felt in my shoulders. I was dealing with the issue of my own mortality. Waiting for reports of blood tests from a recent visit to an oncologist always seems to plunge me into the heart of my control versus letting go. The words “I really can’t hold myself up,” came. I always feel there will be a reoccurrence of cancer, even after more than three years of a clean bill of health. I know it is one of the last really big issues I have ignored. With the words “I’m tired of trying to hold myself up,” came a very deep, familiar yearning in me really to step aside and allow myself to be taught another way, and I said, “It feels like the pain in my body is giving birth in me to a new kind of relationship with myself.” Lance said, “How does that feel inside, to be taught another way?” In a flash, a memory came of me 30 years ago in a classroom as a postulant in the convent. We were being given a talk by our spiritual mistress. She was telling us that if only we followed all the directives in the little black book she was giving us that day, we would discover God’s will in our lives. I remember clearly the deep yearning and hope that brought. If I could follow all these outside ways of behaving, then I would find the spiritual in my life. This particular morning the same yearning was there, but a very different realization surfaced: “My yearning to let go into more holiness has to be a letting go into this fear in my body and the heavy weighted down feeling in my own muscles. This is my key to spiritual growth, the owning of my own unfinishedness. The yearning for freedom and holiness comes right within my own body.” AS I paused with the rightness of these words, I was aware how they could never convey the texture of their feeling. The feeling was literally that nothing could come between me and my continued growth into more wholeness. “Deo gratias, or thanks be to God” seemed to say it best!

Some final Reflections

We have often wondered if there would be any noticeable difference in our boys as Lance and I continue to Focus together. Lately, we have noticed a definite “softening into himself” in David our 18-year old. It seems more than the ordinary “growing up” that we see in kids his age. In part, our sense of this change comes from Lance being softer with the boys as he learns to be gentle with his own unfinishedness. We value very much our 15-18 year old boys seeing their father a part of what could very easily seem to them a woman’s journey. Growing toward more wholeness, becoming more at ease in ones self, is for both men and women. Seeing their father involved in Focusing gives them special permission and courage to do the same as they grow into their identity as men. It gives them a concrete model. So for our teenage boys, this new pattern modeled by their father says to them: in the future when I am hurt or afraid, I will remember what Dad did when he was confused and weary. It is O.K. to be vulnerable! For boys to witness this model toward painful issues so different from the usual one of dominance or control is to break through generations of old cultural patterns. They will know their Dad pointed out another way.

As the years go by in our marriages, most of us inevitably get caught up in scripts we write for ourselves, our spouses and our kids, trying to manipulate and fix almost every aspect of these relationships. We demand that the other do things “my way or else.” All our manipulative, controlling tricks come out of the bag as we apply them to the situations we have no control over.

What has dawned on us as Focusing Companions is that Focusing dramatically changed this destructive pattern in our marriage. Together, the regular owning of what is real, more than anything else, has nurtured the bodily wisdom of our original attraction to each other. This one simple learning seems to turn everything around. We see this as the single most important step enabling couples to grow together! It is never too late for couples who want to make a change. It is never too late to grow more whole together. Our sense is that we can reverse so much of the heartache that exists in marriages today.

No matter how old we are, no matter how many mistakes we have made-and we have all made them in one form or another –it’s never too late to own what is real in ourselves now, letting the ripples of that inner wholeness touch those we love. Even if we did not Focus with our children when they were young, how many opportunities we have now as college-age kids come home and as a married children return. They still can be influenced by our growth. It is always time for fresh beginnings. The miracle of change is possible. We have found that this miracle of change can happen if both of us are faithful to the learnings we have just shared with you. For us, it feels like a grounded pathway to peace within ourselves and in others.