What Is Emotional Attunement And Why It’s Important

Humans are social beings, and the vast majority of us require relationships with each other to be truly happy. But all relationships—family relationships, such as those between parents and children and between siblings, the bonds you share with your friends, the acquaintance with your colleagues, and romantic relationships—require effort on part of all those involved to be happy, fulfilling, and reach their full potential.

According to Gottman and Silver, authors of The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, to establish happy and fulfilling relationships, it is vital to understand the science of relationship building through emotional attunement.

So how does emotional attunement play in our romantic partnerships? Read below to find out.

Emotional Attunement: What Does It Mean?

Emotional attunement simply means understanding the underlying emotions of the other party in your relationship.[1] This means knowing that what they do and say do not always accurately reflect their emotions and being patient and understanding with them.

Think of it this way—you may have had a bad day at work, got stuck in traffic, and spilled coffee on your favorite shirt. When you come home, you might not greet your spouse as cheerfully as you usually do. You might be gruff and not as warm.

You know that what happened was not their fault in any way, yet your emotional state will reflect on your attitude unconsciously to some degree, small or large.

If your partner takes your unusual behavior in stride, does not mind it, and actively tries to make you feel better, it means that they understand that your actions are because of your underlying emotions. That shows they are attuned to you emotionally.

How to Use Emotional Attunement to Build Better Relationships

Any relationship that is built without a strong foundation will eventually crumble. The best way to get it right is by being honest about your expectations from the very beginning.

To build emotional attunement, it is vital to implement an array of behavioral strategies that will help you understand the other person better and help you embrace their underlying emotional state.

1. Be Intentional and Avoid Failing at the Mind

Be intentional and figure out the truth about your relationship. Think through all aspects— your feelings and thoughts, the other person’s feelings, and the external context. Regardless of the type of relationship you are starting, whether conventional or unconventional, some things are near-universal.[2]

It’s better to face the truth squarely in the face right now and address it rather than letting it sabotage your relationship in the long run. Unresolved issues have a way of coming back to haunt us. Do not let avoidable problems hurt what could be a lasting and fulfilling relationship.[3]

Also, remember that one of the biggest dangers in close relationships is assuming the other person is the same as you in their feelings and thoughts. Often enough, our emotional self doesn’t want to accept that the person we’re so close to is actually different from us—sometimes very different.

Remember that as humans, we are all unique. No matter how many things they have in common, even the best of friends, the greatest of lovers, and the most trusting of partners will have some things which they will disagree.

This is not bad since it makes us true individuals with distinctive personalities. The things you truly love about your partner are much more important than the few you don’t. Respect their choices, continue your efforts, and keep the big picture (i.e. your relationship) in mind.

2. Remove Communication Barriers, Use Tell Culture and Build Trust

You need to remove communication barriers for open and honest communication to work. Anything that prevents all concerned parties from being open with each other is considered a communication barrier.[4]

There is no better time to establish a strong understanding than at the very start of your relationship. Being open ensures that you have a clear idea of what you both expect from the relationship, be it small things like hobby preferences and lifestyle choices to bigger stuff like cohabitation, career goals, marriage, and having children.

It is always beneficial to know these things early so that you and your partner can gauge the long-term viability of your relationship.

Two people who are otherwise very compatible may disagree on major points that can doom their relationship in the future. Figure out your individual communication preferences and then compromise on something that works well for both of you.

A great way of doing this is to use Tell Culture.[5] Tell Culture is a communication strategy where you are open and honest about your feelings and thoughts about what’s going on with you, lowering your barriers, and being vulnerable and authentic.

It applies equally well to all the important relationships in your life, especially those with your romantic partner, as well as family and friends. Tell them things about yourself that you think they would want to know so that the bond of trust between you develops and grows stronger.

However, for Tell Culture to work, it’s vital for you not to expect immediate compliance with your request. Remember, it is an emotional plea, not a command.

These strategies will help you build up trust, which research shows is key to having happy, lasting relationships.[6] Since the dating stage is the beginning of your relationship, building a trusting relationship with your partner will prove highly beneficial for the future.

If you want a lasting relationship, do things to build trust and gauge the other person’s trustworthiness. Exhibit vulnerability and openness, share secrets, and be generous in your offers to compromise.

If the other person proves trustworthy, increase commitment. If not, then re-evaluate your commitment as the relationship will likely not last.

3. Boundaries, Privacy, and Conflict Resolution

A key aspect of showing trust is allowing each other to set boundaries and permitting privacy.[7] Technological developments make it so easy for us to constantly communicate.

Just because we can stay in constant touch does not mean it is healthy to do so. You are still getting used to each other and leading largely separate lives, and it is essential to give each other the space you need to ensure a sustainable and happy relationship.

Similarly, this is an excellent time to establish boundaries. Talk to each other and share your ideas about what you are comfortable with and not. It will save you from painful and potentially permanent disagreements in the future and ensure that you both have an accurate idea of each other’s expectations.

Permitting each other to have space when needed, alongside avoiding pushing each other, helps create long-term happiness. Respecting boundaries and allowing privacy will do wonders for building up mutual trust.

If you go into a relationship expecting never to fight, you’ll lose out because the first fight might well end the relationship. Instead, learn strategies for healthy conflict resolution, and talk about them with your relationship partner before the fact.

Since you both have your own views, ideas, and individual perceptions, there will inevitably be some things that will make you uncomfortable. As you initiate your relationship, both parties should vow to avoid making assumptions and always be upfront when facing doubts.

If you find something the other person does to be hurtful or wrong, gently tell them that you did not like what they did and the reason why. Start any conflicts by highlighting how much you care about the other person and the relationship.

Avoid the blame game and be generous in interpreting the other person’s actions. If you discover you made a mistake, apologize quickly and profusely. If you find yourself dwelling on the past, orient toward better behavior in the future.

Focus on reconnecting and rebuilding emotional bonds strained by the conflict.

4. Remember That Two Individuals Form a Couple

Remember that you are in the relationship to fulfill your own need for companionship. So, keep your own goals in mind when engaged in any relationship.

Do not let it consume your life to the effect that you forget yourself. Your ideas, career, goals, and direction in life are just as important as those of your partner.

Respecting their choices is the way to go, but you have the right to expect the same from them. When you enter a relationship, make these things clear to your partner so that you both have an accurate idea of what you are getting into. Don’t allow the other person’s needs and desires to overwhelm your own.

Play by the rules of Tell Culture and be honest and open about your needs and desires. Encourage them to be the same way.

Otherwise, you risk building up resentment and frustration both for yourself and your romantic partner, damaging the prospects of a happy, long-lasting relationship.

5. Compromise Is Your Best Friend

When you begin dating, remember that your life and decisions now play a significant role in another person’s life and vice versa. Balance getting your needs met while meeting theirs as well.

Seek a mutually beneficial compromise on any areas of disagreement. The trick is to remember which battles need to be fought and which ones do not. Understanding each other and respecting each other’s underlying feelings is key to making successful compromises.[8]

The ability to compromise is essential to forming happy and lasting relationships.

Practicing Emotional Attunement

As you communicate with each other, try to understand the emotions underneath the words instead of just listening to what the other person is saying. Notice whether they seem stressed, sad, frustrated, confused, happy, angry, etc.

When you are in a new relationship and still learning about your partner, you may not get it right all the time—and they won’t either. However, with time, you will begin to understand each other better genuinely, and your relationship will be better off with patience and effort.

Pay attention to the tone of the voice, body language, what is not being said, and the content of the words. Such emotional attunement will level up your ability to understand the other person and respond in ways that lead to happy and long-lasting relationships.

Today’s society emphasizes individuality, but for any relationship to work, we need to get out of the self-centered shell and put ourselves in the other person’s shoes, understanding their perspective, thoughts, and feelings.


As you start a relationship, emotional attunement can ensure that your relationship will be a lasting success. To do so, you will have to apply different strategies to the various scenarios you will face together.

Patience, compromise, and empathy with each other will go a long way towards ensuring that you and your partner have a very happy and fulfilling time with each other.

Featured photo credit: Matt Nelson via unsplash.com


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