Have you ever had an experience where you heard a song and instantly felt a connection? An emotional attunement to it? As if that song was made just for you. Every word of that song is telling the world how you feel? It creates a moment of synchronization and emotional regulation where you get in touch with your feelings, creating a shared narrative.
It’s a nice feeling, isn’t it? You feel seen, heard, and understood. It is a moment of shared inner feelings. Where else do we feel the need to match our emotional wavelength the same way? You guessed it right. In relationships. The need for emotional attunement is present in any kind of relationship.
An infant shares emotional attunement with their parents which is necessary for the survival of the child. Same way, it is necessary for the survival of any relationship, especially a romantic one. But what do we exactly mean when we say emotional attunement? And if it is so necessary for any relationship to go on, how do we develop and practice it? Well, let’s find out.
What Is Emotional Attunement In Relationships?
Attunement is the reactiveness we have to another person and a process by which we form relationships. Emotional attunement in relationships means being able to sense a person’s emotional state and respond accordingly.
We therapists love to explain this concept in emotional attunement therapy with the analogy of a parent and child. Infants have various emotional needs such as hunger, discomfort, and sleepiness, however, they aren’t able to express these. The caregivers are emotionally attuned enough to their babies to recognize what they need.
Parents usually get/do what their baby needs, even when the lack of language is a barrier. They are so emotionally attuned that they can even distinguish the “I am hungry” cry from the “I want to sleep” cry. This ability to recognize and work toward fulfilling these needs is emotional attunement.
This is especially important in romantic relationships, where emotional attunement strengthens the feelings of trust, security, and intimacy. An emotionally attuned relationship functions as a team, with effective communication, and the ability to resolve conflicts in a healthy manner.
One part of emotional attunement is feeling seen and heard, the other huge part of it is being consistently observant, connected, and present. The rhythm is so smooth that the partners are able to sense each other’s feelings and needs and do things accordingly.
Mia, who has been in a long-term relationship with her partner Chase, tells her friend, “Chase just gets me. He knows how I am going to feel about something and then does things accordingly. It’s so unreal.” This is emotional attunement for couples at its best, where the thoughts, emotions, and behavior – all three – are involved.
Related Reading: The 9 Crucial Stages Of A Long-Term Relationship
7 Tips For Practicing Emotional Attunement In Relationships
Some people are natural at being emotionally attuned to others. They can pick up subtle cues even in crowded spaces and are aware of everyone’s feelings. Our childhood experiences and relationship with our caregiver help us develop this ability. But it still needs practice. It’s not like a stone, it’s like bread, it has to be made and remade all the time.
This also means that emotional attunement can be learned even in adulthood. It just takes practice and consistency. If you are emotionally dysregulated, you can unlearn projection (attributing what is there in your mind onto others) with attunement, like we learn any other skill. We learn and unlearn beliefs and tendencies all the time.
If you yearn for a deeper connection, below are some tips and emotional attunement exercises you can do to learn and practice emotional attunement in relationships for a more fulfilling experience.
1. Be in touch with your own needs and feelings
We have learned as we grow up in society to repress our feelings – too many feelings or emotions are not a good thing. Therefore, we stop paying attention to our emotions and in turn lose sensitivity toward others’ emotions as well. We deem them dramatic or weak.
Well, we’ve been fed a lie. Being in touch with your feelings makes you a warmer person and also increases self-satisfaction, and that is powerful. Self-attunement gives way to connect with others’ emotions and form deep soul connections. It gives way for you to recognize the emotions of others as separate from your own, and so, reduces the projection of your feelings like we talked about.
Whenever you feel an emotional reaction to something, take out your feelings wheel and identify that emotion. You may be feeling anger, sadness, happiness, or something else. Give yourself permission to feel those emotions and accept them as a real and powerful cue to what’s happening within you. Welcome all your emotions, they are all acceptable.
A famous saying, often used in emotional attunement therapy, goes like this: “The key to understanding others is to first understand yourself.”
2. Validate their feelings
Everyone wants their feelings to be validated, especially by their significant other to feel emotional safety in the relationship. Validating your partner’s emotions encourages them to express themselves more. Using validating statements is super important because they make your partner feel seen and heard. Just active listening isn’t enough, you also need to encourage your partner.
There’s a distinction though. Your validating statements don’t have to validate the way they are acting or behaving. In fact, honesty is a paramount part of emotional attunement. You don’t tell your partner what they want to hear all the time. However, you can still validate them without validating the actions you disagree with, by saying something like “I hear you”, “I appreciate you telling me your point of view”, and other similar statements.
Invalidation leads to misattunement which eventually leads to bitterness, resentment, and relationship doubts. Invalidation is dismissing your partner’s feelings. It makes your partner feel that their emotions are unacceptable, insignificant, and inaccurate. This can lead to insecure attachment in the relationship as well. Remember, seek to understand before seeking to be understood!
3. Maintain honest and open communication
Being honest, clear, and open while communicating with your partner shows authenticity. It leads to mutual understanding and respect even with differences in views, interests, and needs. Emotional attunement isn’t possible without honest conversations. It helps you understand your partner better and be more aligned with them. It will also help both partners avoid misunderstandings.
Communication doesn’t just mean speaking, it also includes active and reflective listening. Take the opportunity that comes with a conversation to understand and communicate better with your partner rather than making it a space you use to just voice your opinions. Shift your focus to them. You can always take your time to respond once you’ve truly heard your partner.
Active and reflective listening is a way to understand your partner’s feelings and where they are coming from. When you offer them your undivided attention, both of you will together be encouraged to explore how your partner is feeling and they may open up more to you, which is a really important part of emotional attunement.
Related Reading: 11 Ways To Improve Communication In Relationships
4. Don’t just assume, ask
If at any point during those honest communications, you feel stuck, or if you don’t understand what they are saying or where they are coming from, ask as many questions as you can to clarify. This helps in making things clear between both of you. If your partner isn’t sharing, maybe asking questions around it might help them express themselves better.
If you are confused about something they did or you’re unsure what headspace they are in, ask them and be a good listener. You can’t read minds and it’s important that your partner is reminded of that. It also helps your partner feel seen and encouraged to express. This is a huge part of emotional attunement. It’s important that you don’t assume you know what your partner is feeling.
Once they open up about their feelings, ask them questions to clarify and identify their emotions, if needed. Remember to not invalidate their feelings while being curious. Remind yourself that your feelings of defensiveness show up because of your perception of the situation.
5. Pay attention to their non-verbal cues
Communication is both verbal and non-verbal, and while emotional attunement has a lot to do with verbal communication, non-verbal cues play a huge part as well. Your partner might not communicate every emotion they are experiencing verbally, but they may communicate through non-verbal ways.
Being emotionally attuned to your partner means that you are in tune with your partner’s non-verbal cues, so that you can sense when something is up even when they haven’t said anything. Non-verbal cues are different for everyone. But paying attention to posture, facial expressions, and energy levels can help you figure out what your partner is feeling even if they don’t say it out loud. It would also help you avoid communication mistakes in the relationship.
If you figure out that something is up with your partner, make sure to ask them about it to understand what they are feeling.
We learn a lot from non-verbal cues and they are a huge help in connecting the dots but they can never give you the whole picture. Your partner and you would still need to verbally express where both of you are. Mature love is when you want something, you directly ask for it. Communication is everything.
6. Keep your conflicts healthy
Conflicts are inevitable in a relationship. But when you have them, make sure they are healthy. What is a healthy conflict? Healthy conflict is when you realize that conflicts don’t necessarily mean there’s something ‘wrong’, and that it’s normal and natural to have them. When you take active steps to repair the rupture and resolve conflicts brought with it, it’s healthy.
When you have the need to act defensively, criticize, act with contempt, or stonewall to prove your point, attunement in a romantic relationship will not be possible. To keep the conflicts healthy, you must identify your own triggers. They are a form of stimulus that sets off our emotions. It is important to understand what your triggers are so that you can express them to your partner.
Talking about your feelings, building appreciation, taking responsibility, and self-soothing can be antidotes to unhealthy conflicts, helping both of you be more emotionally attuned to each other.
7. Practice emotional empathy
Emotional empathy in relationships is when you feel the same or similar feelings as your partner. For example, you feel sad when your partner is sad or you feel excited because your partner is excited. Although it’s important to be empathetic in every personal connection you have, it’s especially important to practice emotional attunement in a romantic relationship.
While emotional attunement is much more than just empathy, it is still a huge part of it. Putting yourself in their shoes, communicating about their emotions, withholding your judgments, taking responsibility in relationships, and being present when your partner needs it are some ways you can be more empathetic toward your partner.
This way, you let your partner know that you accept and understand what they feel. That they are seen by you and that they can trust you, which are vital for emotional attunement.
While you are practicing empathy, owning your emotions, and keeping conflicts healthy, it’s important to encourage your partner to do the same. Even if you are not able to do this right away, it’s important to give yourself and your partner space when you need time to process feelings. These actions will set you both up to overcome challenges together and become emotionally attuned as a couple.
With better attunement, also comes the ability to make more objective relationship decisions. You start to understand that your partner does not have the power to make you feel a certain way and vice versa. You are no longer looking at your relationship through the sole lens of your perspective and emotions or making your partner the screen for your projections. It also helps you recognise what you are looking for in a relationship.
Emotional attunement in romantic relationships is about seeing and carrying your partner through all of their emotions, be it good or bad. Being a rock to each other through bad times, just like lifting each other higher during the good times, will bring both of you closer. Emotional attunement improves every aspect of a relationship and truly transforms it.
It might seem difficult to imagine that we can learn and remember to attune in our adult relationships if we had a lack of emotional attunement in childhood which might also lead to separation anxiety in relationships. But neuroscience tells us that we are wired in the brain to feel empathy for others through mirror neurons. And so we can view attunement as being able to cross old defense and coping mechanisms to access our natural ability to empathize.
You can be emotionally attuned to your partner by practicing emotional attunement exercises such as being in touch with your own feelings and needs, validating their feelings, having honest and open conversations, having healthy conflicts, reading their non-verbal cues, asking them questions about their emotions, and by showing empathy.
Doing all of these will make sure that you are each other’s support system by being at each other’s side through thick and thin. This in turn will make it easier to be emotionally attuned to each other as well.
Emotional attunement for couples looks like seeing, understanding, and accepting your partner’s feelings. It might seem like a complicated idea but it’s nothing more than you taking action to engage with your partner’s emotional state. It looks like harmony, the way the river flows through the rocks in sync. Like a dance by the fire that instigates intimacy, it looks beautiful.
When you make genuine efforts to understand your partner’s emotions, you are being emotionally attuned to them. It is the courage to enter the world of emotions with our partner.
When you are tossing around in your bed, not able to sleep, and your partner picks that up and asks you what happened, that is emotional attunement. When a baby cries, and their caregiver suddenly realizes they need to change the baby’s diapers, that’s emotional attunement. When your friend hasn’t called you after her prom and you know that’s unlike her, you call her up because you know something’s up. That is emotional attunement.