You know that feeling, you meet someone and it feels like the two of you just sync up and “get” each other? Ahh the sweet bliss of attunement, that’s what it is, you know? We all long for that partner that just “gets” us.
The What and The why
So what is attunement anyways and why is it so important? Let’s pretend you have a baby, or maybe you really do have a baby. You are sitting on your couch listening to relaxing music and sipping on your favourite hot beverage. Your taking in the aromas of that warm drink as the steams rises into the atmosphere around you. Suddenly, the screams of your barely 1-year-old shatter the peace. What the heck, you wonder, what’s wrong with him now? Well, one-year-olds don’t have language skills yet. He cannot communicate to you with words that he needs his diaper changed; or that he has an empty tummy; or that he is feeling overwhelmed. Mirror neurons allow us to tune into other human beings and mirror what’s happening with them.
Moms get lots of practice learning to attune to their babies needs and despite the absence of actual words, only endless screaming, mom’s can, generally, figure out what their baby needs. This is attunement. These moms have honed their attunement skills. However, attunement isn’t just important to mom and child, but also vital between couples.
There’s perceived intimacy with another: cuddles, sex, and physical connection; then, there’s actual intimacy which is attunement in it’s purest form. “Making love is perhaps the closest approximation in adult life to this intimate attunement between infant and mother. Love making… ‘involves the experience of sensing the other’s subjective state: shared desire, aligned intentions, and mutual states of simultaneously shifting arousal,’ with lovers responding to each other in a synchrony that gives the tacit sense of deep rapport. Lovemaking is, at it’s best, an act of mutual empathy; at its worst it lacks any such emotional mutuality” (Emotional Intelligence, Danial Goleman). Many couples never experience this beautiful synchrony, because they just aren’t attuned to each other. They likely aren’t fully attuned to themselves either.
What does it look like?
Attunement is the ability to read between the lines and interpret all the other subliminal messages and just “know” what the other person is feeling and communicating even when they fumble with their words. It’s the ability to absorb the other person’s inner emotions and mirror those emotions in a way that says. Oh yeah, I totally understand how you’re feeling right now.
What kills relationships faster than death? Lack of attunement is a major relationship Killer.
Often, when we are listening to our partner, something they say makes us angry, frustrated, hurt, sad, disappointed. Suddenly, we become emotionally dysregulated or triggered. The wires in our brain become completely raptured by the negative emotions lurching through our bodies. All we know is that we feel upset. Thus, when we aren’t attuned to our own nervous system, we react instead of responding. Our behaviour is chaotic, unpredictable, and usually unthoughtful. If you have never learned how to attune to your own body, you won’t be able to attune to anyone else. Attunement to others requires a calm nervous system. “Empathy builds on self-awareness; the more open we are to our own emotions, the more skill we will be in reading feelings” (Goleman).
Responsiveness = Attunement
Furthermore, Attunement allows us to be caring and responsive to others; it is largely about the non-verbal cues we either pick up on or miss completely. Attunement also requires our full attention being directed at the person we are trying to tune into. This is why it’s hard to attune to another person when we are having our own emotional storm occurring within us. Our attention is being diverted elsewhere: inward; thus making it hard to attune to ourselves or to our partners. Our attention can’t be fully directed at our self or our partner when it is divided between the two and we have become emotionally unbalanced.
Attunement is the life blood of marriages that are healthy and life-giving. It is something that we should learn as children; however, it’s impossible to learn without parents who are emotionally intelligent enough to be attuned. The good news? You can learn attunement as an adult by practicing attuning to yourself and those around you.
Want to learn more about attunement? Book a session and we will share more including valuable ways to practice this skill.