WHAT’S THE EMOTIONAL TONE OF YOUR MARRIAGE OR RELATIONSHIP? There’s a lot of chatter about what behaviors help strengthen a marriage or relationship. Much of that chatter points to the value of spending time together. We see numerous references to “shared values,” or “shared interests,” and “shared goals.” Couples who do things together are healthier than their counter-parts who don’t share activities or interests. Is this true? And if so, why is it true?
So, if your partner loves to water ski but you get your thrills at the movies, does that mean you’re not in a healthy relationship? Of course things are not as mechanical as this! But where is the truth or the balance in the thinking that partners with shared interests tend to be more successful than partners without common pursuits?
The key lies in what’s happening under the surface. What’s happening where the two of you connect, emotionally? What’s the “emotional tone” of the relationship? How are you relating emotionally with each other?
These test questions are getting at something important: whether the tone of your interactions promotes a natural development and unfolding of intimacy? Whether the emotional environment between you and your partner invites an ongoing connection between the two of you? Whether each of you works to strengthen your bond in ways that create and foster commitment?
The misconception with the chatter about sharing activity is that it’s the activity—the water skiing, or the gardening—that creates the emotional tone of closeness. But that’s slightly misleading.
The emotional tone of closeness is created by the active awareness of the other within the shared activity. Awareness promotes connection. It’s the active state of being tuned-in to the other within the shared pursuit that promotes intimacy.
What does it mean to be actively aware of the other? What does it mean to be tuned-in to the other? If you look closely at other couples, the ones who are emotionally tuned-in to each other are doing a few subtle things:
Signs of an Emotionally Attuned Couple Include:
-checking in with each other
-including each other
-using eye contact or physical contact to promote connection
-helping one another
-anticipating the needs of the other
-encouraging the other
-remaining curious about the other
As you may have gathered, being emotionally attuned to your partner means keeping yourself in a state of mind in which you are aware of the other person.
For some people, and for couples who’ve newly fallen in love, this comes easily! But for others, and for couples who’s relationships or marriages have become unsatisfying, this is challenging. To think about the other person raises all sorts of problems, including the question many partners who come to see me, angrily ask:
“But, what about me? If I’m thinking about my partner and my partner isn’t thinking about me, that feels awful! So, why should I risk that”?
The downward spiraling reflected in this quote is a danger sign that the partners are retreating to their corners, nursing their resentments, and growing apart!
The challenge is to understand the anger so the partners can reconnect and strive toward awareness of each other and toward greater emotional attunement. Sometimes this is possible without counseling. But this is what good marriage counselors do! A good marriage counselor can help resolve the anger with understanding and acknowledgment, and can also guide your relationship back to where you want it to be.