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What is a Focusing Partnership?

Many people all over the country have a focusing partnership. This means that they receive a half hour of attention from another person, and then they give the person a half hour of their attention, at least once a week at a regular time, either in person or on the phone.

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Most people use the time to work on their main concerns that day, which might be inner experiences, their attempts to develop as people, or a difficult letter to write, the next thing to do in one’s work, or whatever one finds uppermost.

Your partner offers no advice, no judgments, no comments. We have learned that people can go deeper and arrive at creative steps forward, if the listener refrains from adding anything in. Judgments, advice and comments express the person who is giving them, not the person to whom one is listening. Your partner will not say that your talk is superficial, or that it doesn’t make sense, or that you are wrong, weak, or selfish, nor will the partner praise one thing and condemn another thing in you, or in what you say.

Partners need only say when they cannot follow you, so that you can rephrase what you said. But they pay close attention, and want to grasp every wrinkle of what you meant. There is no attempt to delve or probe or push more deeply into what you said. What counts is what you meant to say, what you wanted to convey.

Sometimes partners may repeat back and check: "You are saying ......". Of course they don't just repeat words. First they take in what you said, feel it in themselves, until that nodding "uhuh yes, makes sense". comes. Only then they might say it back, so that you can feel it and correct it, until it is exactly what you meant to convey. This "reflective listening" is a skill that anyone can learn. But most partners simply indicate when they have followed you, and when not.

You will find that you are with yourself in a way that is not possible most of the time, because other people usually need and demand something, or impact on you in some way. Neither can you sense yourself as deeply and easily when you are alone.

If you tell or even just quietly think about some business problem with your partner present, you will find that you can think about it more clearly. If you talk about something that makes you happy, you will find that it expands and makes you happier. If you tell about a personal problem, you will find that with this kind of safe attention you can stand to enter inside you, into "that unresolved thing, there." New steps and action-possibilities open where you were stuck before. This happens even if you were mostly quiet and only said that you were quietly working on something

Then you reverse roles. Now you are the listener. You are not expected to be wise, to know what the person should do, or how the person should live. You need not agree or approve what the person feels or says. You only take it in to sense whether you understand it. You ponder it a moment and find, yes, of course, you know what the person means to say. You are giving your full attention and presence, so that that person's meanings and feelings can emerge. These are often still puzzling and inarticulate inside the person, so that some silent times are needed for the person to sense them so that ways open to go further into them. You know this, so you don't mind sitting some minutes in silence. Out loud you say just the parts you want to say.

The partnership pattern

The person who is being listened to is in charge. My half of the time is for me. I need not use it for focusing or listening. I use it as I wish.

In my half of the time I might talk of some troubling situation. I might say everything I know about something, or only a little. I might talk of deep feelings without letting you know what situation they refer to. In that way I can be at my own edge without needing to share information. I say only what I am comfortable saying. I might focus silently some of the time, or all of the time, and want only your quiet attention. I might lay out the details of a work problem so that I can find how to go on with it, or I might tell you a story, talk about politics or some other topic I care about, read you a letter I received, or show you some photographs.

Partners assume the freedom to be quiet or to say only what they want to say. Therefore, when my turn begins, I feel how inviting my time is -- it is open just for me. I might know immediately what I need, and just start. Or, I might spend some minutes, scanning, sensing what I might like. I would think: "I might talk of this..., no, perhaps that..., well, perhaps first focus quietly... Let me see..." I could have any of those things.

 The time is divided exactly in half, and we keep track of the time. We keep exact track of time, and stop each other when the time is up. At first it may seem "mechanical" and inhuman to divide and keep track of time so exactly. But if that isn't done, one person takes more of the time, and the other is left to say politely, that it's OK. Then one partner has to become the more considerate person, or the more upset person, or the more important person, or whatever. Some people would constantly worry that they are taking too much time from the other person. Then there is no deep peace, and people stop as soon as they possibly can. Equality is a very deep thing which comes along with the seemingly superficial division of the time.

Who can be partners?

Partnership presupposes that you know at least a little focusing and listening. If you don’t have experience, you can get it in a number of ways:


The partnership pattern of dividing and owning half the time has now been used in many different kinds of settings.

It works best if the two people are not in a close relationship, but both really understand Focusing. People who are connected in other ways can be partners, although it is more difficult.

Two people who work together may use the partnership pattern at lunch or on the way to work. An exchange even of 10 minutes each way can help reduce stress at work.

A business person can focus and find the next step on a work problem and arrive at work already knowing how to tackle it. A social worker or a nurse can receive some time just for herself instead of only serving others all the time.

In college courses students can form pairs which meet for two hours outside of class. The class can be on any topic. The class changes from being the usual burden on the student. Now it is a source of life support. The students spend some of the time helping each other to understand the class topic and to write a better paper, but they know that their half of the time is their own. It just isn't partnership unless they can just as well use the time for anything but the topic of the course.

Can the person who is already my life partner also be my focusing partner? Some people have found it very helpful to add partnership time to existing love and friendship relations, but it can also backfire, or it can be quite impossible from the first moment. At any rate one must remain clearly aware that one cannot give or be given the neutral, open, pure attention that constitutes a focusing partnership. In a life partnership each person can listen and feel the other's meanings, but never without also feeling how one's own life is affected by them.

Is it safe?

Can you entrust yourself to someone who knows no more than you do, perhaps far less? Trust may certainly develop, but in a partnership you don't entrust yourself to anyone. You stay in charge of your own life and your own process, of course.

People cannot really be displaced from the driver's seat of their lives. In a Focusing Partnership, each person is well aware that the other is no authority. No money is exchanged. No one is the expert. Anything stupid is easily recognized as such, and discarded. From a partner you will not put up for ten minutes with what many patients go through for years with credentialed professionals. In a partnership, long before it could hurt someone, the person changes partners, or simply does not come to meet the partner anymore.

Partnership is not mutual therapy. Partnership is a new pattern. A partnership is a special relationship in which you can be safe to be yourself. It is not based on sympathy or shared topic of interest. It's not based on any content at all. It is based on sharing a certain kind of process together. Your work life and your inner life can have company and not get stepped on. You must make your own assessment about the value to you of any particular partnership. Sensitivity, confidentiality, and a deeply felt ethics usually develop in nearly every partnership.


We find that training is quite essential for focusing and listening, but it doesn't matter how one comes by that training. It is quite possible for a trained focuser or listener to train a partner, informally. In fact, informal training is one of the best kinds. There is no pretension and no pressure; one gives the other person what one knows, bit by bit, at appropriate times, as focusing and listening happen.

One can show a new listener a few times, just what to say: "Now I need you to say back to me: 'You feel unsure of what to do because...'" Then, later, when the listener tells me something intrusive, I just say "No, don't take me away from what I'm working on. Let me go further into it. Just say "that scares you." The listener feels a little artificial saying "That scares you", but when I then go silently into myself and come out with more, the listener is glad. The urge to tell me things soon drops out.

It is even easier to train a partner just enough so that we can do our own focusing. It only requires quiet attention. Then we can focus in our own time. We can teach focusing by giving small focusing instructions in the partner’s half of the time, when that is welcome.

The International Focusing Institute and trainers around the world offer workshops and individual sessions to train people in Focusing and Listening skills.

Do I have what it takes to be someone's partner?

Two things are required -- but every human being has them. One requirement is the capacity to shut up -- to keep quiet and to be unintrusive company. When the other person is talking, we control any urge to impose something. It means letting go of our many excellent ideas, interpretations, suggestions, and our desire to give friendly reassurances, or to tell what we did in a similar situation. And when the other person is quiet, it means keeping our attention on the person without hearing anything interesting.

The second requirement is to provide the company of a human being. You cannot fail to have this capacity, since you are a human being. It does not require a good human being, or a wise one, or any special quality. It does not require some special way of being or showing one's humanness. Just you, there.

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