Give Your Valentine the Best Gift Ever: Emotional Attunement
Candy and flowers are lovely Valentine gifts for your special someone, but what happens after the chocolates are gone and the petals fall off the roses? Every day can’t be Valentine’s Day for couples … or can it?
In my experience as a couple’s therapist, I have noticed that the biggest predictor of marital happiness is something that I call “Emotional Attunement.” Long-term happiness can be difficult for many couples to achieve … especially when this factor, Emotional Attunement, is missing from the relationship. Lack of Emotional Attunement can lead to frustration and feelings of loneliness. In fact, it can feel more lonely to be disconnected within a marriage than simply being single.
What is Emotional Attunement? It is:
- an awareness and valuing of the other person’s emotions.
- the feeling that you know your partner extremely well on an emotional level
- an ability to understand your partner’s reactions and sensitive spots
- a mutual commitment to communicating difficult things with kindness and care.
Why do some couples have Emotional Attunement, and others don’t?
Most people learn how to be emotionally attuned during their childhood. When a parent treats a child with understanding, looks beneath the child’s behavior to respond to what he is feeling, and takes the time and effort to truly know her child, she is teaching that child Emotional Attunement skills that he will automatically apply in his relationships as an adult. If a parent unwittingly fails his child enough in any of these areas, he is letting his child grow up with a lack of these necessary skills (Childhood Emotional Neglect).
Even couples who possess these skills can easily slip into taking each other for granted and taking the easy road.
Here are some examples of poor Emotional Attunement:
- A husband fails to notice that his wife is overwhelmed, exhausted and feeling hopeless about it getting better after starting a new job
- A wife misinterprets her husband’s hurt feelings as anger, and responds with more anger
- A woman knows her boyfriend is sensitive about his hair loss, but points it out to friends for a laugh
- A man needs to tell his wife that she overdrank and embarrassed him at his company party, so he blurts out the following sentence, “You were an obnoxious lush last night.”
Here are some examples of good Emotional Attunement:
- A husband notices that his wife is overwhelmed and hopeless after taking a new job. He lets her knows that he sees it, and asks how he can help
- A wife sees that her husband’s sharp tone is covering his hurt, and instead of responding angrily herself, asks him some questions about what she suspects has hurt him
- Knowing her boyfriend is sensitive about his hair loss, the girlfriend says nothing negative about it to him, ever.
- To tell his wife that she overdrank the night before, embarrassing him at his company party, he waits until the right moment. Then he says, “Can I talk to you about something important? I feel a little embarrassed about last night. Do you remember…? Can you be more careful with your drinking in the future, especially at my company party?”
If you or your partner grew up without enough Emotional Attunement from your parents; if you feel your relationship is lacking, GOOD NEWS! There is a way to get back on track today … and to stay there all year long.
If you or your partner struggle greatly with these skills, I recommend that you start addressing your Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) right away. You can learn the skills now that you missed out on while you were growing up. To learn more about CEN, take a look at the ABOUT EMOTIONAL NEGLECT and THE BOOK pages of this website.
In the meantime, write this Valentine Pledge in your Valentine card:
“In the coming year, I pledge to work harder to understand you; to notice what you are feeling and to feel it myself; and to tell you what I am feeling and why so that you can understand me better too.”
The Valentine Pledge is the best gift you can give your significant other. It carries more weight than gold or diamonds, will outlast chocolates or flowers, and will add an ongoing richness to your lives that no romantic dinner can offer.
If you follow this Pledge, you can make every day Valentine’s Day. No candy or flowers required.
Dr. Jonice Webb – Bio
Dr. Jonice Webb is the author of Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect (Morgan James Publishing, October, 2012). Dr. Webb has been interviewed on dozens of radio shows across the United States and Canada about Childhood Emotional Neglect and has appeared on The Literati Scene in Boston. She has a PhD in clinical psychology, and has been licensed to practice since 1991. She currently has a private psychotherapy practice in Lexington, MA, where she specializes in the treatment of couples and families. Dr. Webb resides in the Boston area with her husband and two children.