Bend Relationship Counseling: ATTUNEment in Relationships – Turning Toward

June 5, 2014 by

Bend Relationship Counseling: ATTUNEment in Relationships – Turning Toward

Building trust in a relationship requires multiple steps, and while the process starts with being aware of your partner’s emotions, you must also be able to respond appropriately to those emotions. If you notice that your partner looks angry, for example, you shouldn’t avoid asking them what’s wrong just because conflict makes you uncomfortable. You have to turn towards your partner’s emotions.

Turning toward is the second of six steps to trust building outlined by Dr. John Gottman in the acronym ATTUNE. The letters, as you may remember if you read the first part of this series, stand for:

Awareness

Turning Toward

Tolerance

Understanding

Nondefensive Responding

Empathy

In this post, I’m going to elaborate on the idea of turning towards your partner’s emotions.

Turning Towards Your Partner Is an Active Choice

When you recognize that your partner is distressed, you essentially have two choices: you can be active and turn towards your partner’s emotions by asking them what’s wrong, or you can be passive and ignore your partner’s emotions.

Dr. Gottman illustrates this idea nicely using a story from his own marriage. When speaking about trust in relationships, he talks about the time that he was hoping to finish a really good mystery novel before going to bed, but also noticed that his wife looked sad. In that moment, he had the choice to either pick up his book and block out his wife’s emotions or to set the book aside and ask his wife how she was feeling. He chose the latter, and by talking to his wife, he was able to strengthen their trust and intimate bond.

If Dr. Gottman or anyone else in a similar situation had chosen the passive route, they would have been turning away from their partner, an act of betrayal that diminishes trust. In some cases, they might rationalize turning away by thinking, “I don’t need to deal with this. I can do better.” This line of thought is incredibly damaging because it leads to one not fully committing to their relationship.

If you want your relationship to last, you need to practice the six parts of trust-building, including turning toward your partner when they need your emotional support. Keep reading this series from Bend relationship counseling to learn more about each component: in my next post, I’ll discuss the role of tolerance in relationships.