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The Power of Emotional Attunement

Emotional attunement may be the most important foundation for helping couples overcome obstacles and work together to make great achievements.

In couples therapy emotional attunement refers to what John Gottman makes reference to as:

awareness, tolerance, non-defensive listening, understanding, and empathy. 

These qualities, he argues, inspire confidence in couples, and the sense that despite the inevitable struggles, the relationship is enduring and resilient.

Increasing awareness is about paying attention to your partner’s emotional rhythms. All of us ebb and flow in our emotional stress and availability. Paying attention to these patterns of emotional flooding has everything to do with how we are able to respond to the needs of our partner.

If our partner is emotionally flooded (overwhelmed by emotion) at the end of a stressful day we may need to hold back on introducing issues to solve that require emotional energy . Finding less stress-filled time to process emotionally heavy issues can be the key to finding great collaborative solutions to complex issues.

Learning to tolerate and have empathy for our partner’s emotions creates safety in the relationship to work through disagreements. If there is fear that a disagreement will trigger a negative emotional reaction we will be afraid of having constructive debate. This fear of disagreement creates a condition in relationships which Patrick Leinconi in his book The Five Dysfunctions of a team calls “artificial harmony“.

The appearance of harmony when harmony does not exist in the end creates what Leinconi calls the “absence of trust” which is what he says is the foundation for all productive team work. His remedy for solving the problem of the absence of trust is to demand debate.

The cost of emotional estrangement is in most cases much higher in marriage than in business. The fear of talking about important issues in marriage causes the relationship to become less and less efficient. So while demanding debate is essential it is critical that this is done in attunement with our partner’s emotional needs.

The practice of non-defensive listening may be the foundation for attunement.  Non-defensive listening slows down our tendency to emotionally react to the emotions of our partner. Showing empathy and openness creates the safe conditions for working through the tension of disagreement.

The combination of listening and pacing our emotional engagements helps us to get in sync, build trust, and increase our problem solving efficiency. Becoming emotionally attuned to your partner will dramatically increase your problem solving power and create the conditions of great shared accomplishments!

To learn more about emotional connection in your marriage, give us a call for a free telephone consultation.

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