Attunement in Relationships

After over 30 years of academic research into what works and what doesn’t in relationships, John Gottman (2012) appears to have summed up the essential elements of a successful relationship into a single word: attunement. So what is attunement? How do you get it? How does one get more of it? What does one do if it is missing in a relationship? These questions are the nuts and bolts behind successful relationships--and not just with lovers. Healthy attunement is the cornerstone of satisfying  friendships, healthy parent child relationships and even human and animal companion relationships (your writer is a self confessed dog nut). If attunement is so important to our relationships--which generally dictate the quality of our life experience--it makes attunement a very important topic worthy of further exploration.

According to the Miriam Webster online dictionary, to attune is to:

1. bring into harmony

2: make aware or responsive

Miriam Webster provides the example of businesses attuning  to changing trends.

In business this would mean following the characteristics of the population the business wants to maintain a relationship with--over a period of time.  It would be important for a business to get to know the characteristics, habits, history and trends of the population as these patterns have formed in the past.  A highly attuned business would ultimately be able to anticipate the emerging tends of the population they seek to serve based on their awareness of past trends and their interest in remaining flexible to emerging trends which could potentially lead to creating new trends before the population is even aware a need exists.

It makes sense that by responding in a manner that respectfully shows sensitivity toward the needs, desires and attitudes of prospective clients and responding with products, customer service and innovation that responds to the needs of clients, a business stands to gain many valuable responses from customers. People respond to those who understand them with appreciation, loyalty, interest and--in business--with investment of their resources. To achieve a positive response some businesses who have neglected to attune to the needs of their customers must change the way customers have been treated and raise the awareness within the target population of their intention to change.

 A company that ignores the needs of the consumer eventually loses customers. Companies that do not create products that the buying public finds useful become obsolete. Businesses know it is self sabotaging to ignore the consumer's complaints, needs and desires for long because in the end another business will appear that is able to serve the consumer's needs more satisfactorily.

In my work with couples, I frequently encounter individuals who ignore these very important rules of good business in their relationships.  People often come to couples therapy wanting their relationship to stop being negative but are unaware that the negativity within the relationship is largely cause by the lack of atttunement toward each other within the relationship.  A large part of the work to repair a relationship involves learning how to have disagreements in a manner that does not destroy the relationship or seeks to damage the partner. Another equally important part of making a relationship healthier requires engaging in opportunities to get to know one another, become aware of what the other person feels and treat this knowledge with care and respect.

Is the analogy of creating a healthy business really that different from what weneed to do in relationships? If we have a cash grab mentality in relationships where we want something: status, sex, money, security or to simply have a partner--we miss the point of attunement. The point, as Gottman has repeatedly stated over the years, is to get to know the person you are in a relationship with, to take regular time to continue to grow with them, to support them and allow them to support you, to treat each other as your best friend, to be honest and respectful and most importantly--to have each other’s back. That is attunement and the result is true intimacy.



Gottman, J; Silver, N., (2012). What makes love last. New York:Simon & Schuster, .