The effort it takes to be kind and supportive is one that goes a long way. It means just participating in things, events, projects, thoughts, ideas and conversations that are special with our partner. Or, it might entail going places we would not go ourselves, as it would not be our preference. We might attend primarily because our partner is interested. Or, it means making a special something that is not our favorite but we know is our partner’s. Rather than being a description of sacrifice, this is one of deliberate and meaningful regard of self and other.
All these efforts take thought, consideration and conscious awareness of our partner. Something that is of no stress for us might be hugely stressful to our partner. Something we love may be what he or she disregards. Yet, what a small thing it is to pay attention and provide the support to be in tune with our partner. Even if we disagree, we might voice this as another viewpoint without squashing the enthusiasm of our partner. What an opportunity to give to our partner rather than discourage or disparage just because it is not our way.
The previous situations describe a psychological principle that begins when we are born called attunement. It means getting enough of the correct mirroring and feeling from experiencing close enough connection with parents. Attunement originates from the parent to the child but the child also sends cues of need and desire to the parent. The same principle happens in adulthood when we send cues to our partner. As adults we might ask the following questions. Are the cues honored and how? Are they picked up? Do we misinterpret? Do we fail to explain by expressing our feelings?
The combination of misunderstandings and understandings of when attunement is on and when it is off have large effects. They are part of the small but significant pathways necessary for establishing communication. When misaddressed, they can cause havoc between people. On the other hand, looking out for them and paying attention can bring us closer to our partner and to ourselves. We gain in the areas of reflection and awareness that the whole process of being attuned requires of us. We gain by listening to the voice, the body language, the distancing techniques and emotions and the ones that draw us closer.
Attunement does not rely on the intellect of psychological knowledge per se. It relies essentially on the instinctual cognition. It is basic and cuts through the artifice and façade that we may adopt due to hurt or pain. Attunement is being there, present, with support, honesty and truth. It is the bedrock of love. Being attuned means paying attention to the body, mind and soul. It is not fancy but the intricacies bring about growth, and can be difficult.
The simplest expressions oftentimes are more complex than we realize yet the simple and the complex bring connection and the feelings of attunement in the richest sense.
Susan Schwartz, Ph.D.