Tanya Younce, M.Ed., LPCC


Focus Boards in Pirouette Times

Since I work with a lot of clients who are “on the fence” with whether or not to stay in or leave their marriages, I thought it was would be a good idea to share one tool that I’ve talked about in several of my sessions with them — a Focus Board (aka Vision Board).
If you’re like most people faced with a major decision, you might draw a line down the middle of a piece of paper and list pro’s and con’s.  In this case, you may even have The Clash’s song “Should I Stay or Should I Go” playing in the background.  
But it’s really not that simple…is it?
I prefer to get the client more engaged in considering both sides by not only talking a lot about it, in therapy sessions, but also creating a visual aid — a collage, of sorts — as a homework assignment.  Despite it feeling like an old arts-and-crafts project, it actually can be quite an eye-opening and healing experience.
Start by getting either some foamcore or poster board, then gathering a bunch of old magazines, scissors, glue-stick, and fat markers.  The process of going through magazines and discovering what you’re drawn to, may be therapeutic in itself.  Many people have lost sight of the things they’re naturally drawn to, because they’ve become accustomed to adapting to someone else’s tastes or choices.  Go with your gut on this experience — don’t question or edit why you like a certain picture or person or phrase — just cut it out and put it in a pile.  In a way, this is like Freud’s old technique of “free association,” so don’t give it much thought.  It may take several days to do this, and make sure you have a variety of magazines so that you can tap into as many attractions as possible.  
Once you have your pile of pictures, words, and phrases, sort through them and see if there’s a pattern to them.  Notice the colors, the themes, the sceneries that keep coming up.  These very well could be your inner desires.  Place them on the foamcore or posterboard and arrange them in a way that makes sense to you or is pleasing to you.  Once you have this, you can glue them all down.  Then take a step back and really look at your project.  Notice where you might need some more color or some artistic decorating to bring it all together.  Here’s an example of one:
I call this a Focus Board because when you’re going through the turmoil of circling in and out of your marriage, you often feel dizzied by the lack of focal point.  You know how dancers need a focal point when they do pirouettes, so they don’t fall down?  It’s the same concept with this type of sensation.   
GRAB A FOCAL POINT so that you don’t fall down.  
This project can not only do that, but can also help you see what your heart is aching for (so that you can ask for it, in your marriage/relationship), OR, it will show you what it might be like should you decide to leave the relationship and fulfill your own desires.
What I stress most, in this phase of indecision, is to go back to the root of who you are as an individual.  Explore that, because if there’s a big tangle in your marriage, then you need to trace it back to the source, which is YOU, as an individual.  Here are three things you might discover in this exercise:
  • You might be unfulfilled in your job or other area of life, so you’re projecting that emptiness onto your marriage and blaming that on your spouse (which isn’t fair).
  • You may have unresolved issues of abandonment, control, low self esteem, an inability to self-soothe, etc, that you’re expecting your marriage to fix (which also isn’t fair).
  • You may realize how much you’ve been missing out on Life, and feel like you need this change.
If….no, WHEN…either of these discoveries surface, you need to work with a therapist or life coach to deal with them.  Be honest with them and be authentic in your individual or marital counseling so that you can safely determine if these needs can be met in or out of your marriage.  
Peeling back the layers are essential in facing this crucial decision.  Bring forth your inner artist to get a visual understanding of what your heart is asking for — only then can you ask your spouse for the same thing(s).  If they can’t meet them, and you don’t see that they ever will be able, then it’s safe to say that you should leave the relationship.  
A Focus Board can also be used after you’ve made the decision to leave.  It helps to keep your “eye on the ball” in the midst of the emotional roller coaster that a divorce will push you onto.  Most of the time, the divorce process is like being tumbled by the hyper waves of an ocean — but remember to keep your eyes on your future, not your past, because that’s the direction that you’re going — forward, not backward.

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