When we are “tuning in” to our partner, we create connection. “Tuning in” is being aware of, being intentional, compassionate, responsive and engaged. Tuning in moves us toward intimacy.
In my ebook How to Improve Your Marriage Without Therapy, I outline 5 simple, yet effective, practices you and your partner can do to improve your relationship now from the comfort of your own home. Today I want to talk about the practice of The Question of Attunement.
My teachers and mentors at The Couple Institute in Menlo Park California, Dr. Ellyn Bader and Dr. Peter Pearson, created this simple question that partners can ask of each other daily to help cultivate tuning in or attunement. The question can foster intimacy as well as bridge the gap when there has been conflict or disconnection or misunderstanding.
The question is as follows: “What can I do for you today that will help you feel loved, valued, and appreciated by me?”
Simple, powerful, effective. And yet this kind of conversation and interaction can be elusive in intimate relationships. We tend to avoid, dismiss, or minimize these kinds of questions. We tend to assume our partner knows they are loved, valued and appreciated. We tend to neglect this type of nurturance.
Whether our avoidance or dismissal or minimization is based on fear, anxiety, or a reluctance to engage more deeply when we forgo this kind of question we miss simple, powerful, and effective opportunities to connect in meaningful ways.
I talk to my couples about two parts of a conversation: the surface level conversation and the deeper level conversation.
The surface level conversation is the literal conversation. And then the deeper level conversation is the part of the conversation that represents the meaning underneath the words.
So let’s look at the question of attunement and the two parts.
The surface question orients both partners to a simple task or tasks that one can do for another. “What can I do for you…?” This part of the conversation is all about identifying a specific activity or way of being that will express love, value, and appreciation for the other.
After this is asked, responses could vary from: please make dinner tonight or pick up the kids; please remember to tell me you love me once today; please express gratitude for my hard work or my thoughtfulness or my humor; please throw a load of clothes in the wash or plan a date night for us.
These responses answer the surface question… and result in each partner feeling seen and listened to. The responses allow each partner to participate in bringing ease to the complexity of marriage, to daily responsibilities, and in the ongoing process of creating a life together.
The meaning communicated in the deeper level of the conversation underneath the surface question is this: “Who you are and what you bring to my life is valued and cherished by me. In asking what I can do to show you my love and appreciation, I am recognizing and honoring that. I am aware of your effort, your love, and the ways you show up in our lives. I want to create a life by living each day in ways that show how much you mean to me.”
So, the simplicity of this question is misleading because, not only does it create an interaction that leads to the joy of being kind, it also allows for us to live with an intention of respecting, honoring, and being attuned to the unique human being who is our life partner.
This question establishes a way of being together. A way of being that says, “I do not take you for granted; I am aware of your presence and how much you make a positive difference in my life.”
We have all heard it said that when we get to the end of our life, most likely we will not be wishing we worked longer hours or have earned more degrees or more money. What will bring us a sense of having had a life well-lived is how much we have loved others.
So what are you waiting for? Today is the day to go to your partner and express to them that they are loved, valued and appreciated by you. Ask them how you can demonstrate this to them in the most meaningful heartfelt way.
Tara Brach states, “How we live today is how we live our lives.” By asking this simple question, we commit to living a life of tuning in, being aware, being connected and loving to our fullest potential.