Bend Relationship Counselor: ATTUNEment in Relationships, Part 4: Understanding

July 1, 2014 by

You and your partner don’t have to agree on everything. In fact, it would probably make for a pretty boring relationship if you did. But disagreeing doesn’t have to mean the end of your relationship as long as you know how to handle your disagreements in a healthy way. When you and your partner are facing a conflict, you’re having what psychologist Dr. John Gottman refers to as a “sliding door” moment. In this moment, you can turn away from your partner and ultimately make the problem worse, or you can connect with your partner and build trust.

In order to successfully connect with your partner in a moment of conflict, Dr. Gottman recommends that you think about the acronym ATTUNE, which I’ve been discussing in this six-part series. If you haven’t already read my posts on Awareness, Turning Toward, and Tolerance, I’d recommend referring to those now. In this post, I’ll be covering the idea of Understanding before getting to Nondefensive Responding and Empathy in the last two parts.

Understanding Is Necessary for a Fulfilling Relationship

As humans, we long to be understood. When someone we’re close to says, “I understand where you’re coming from,” they’re affirming not that we’re necessarily right, but that it is valid for us to think the way that we do. This external confirmation makes us feel like we have a comfortable place in the world with our family, friends, or partner.

On the other hand, when our partner or someone else we’re close to says, “I don’t understand how you could think that,” they’re shutting us out. They’re essentially saying that it’s not worth the energy for them to try to understand how you’ve reached your viewpoint. This is incredibly detrimental to relationships, because healthy relationships need equal understanding. Both partners need to be willing to understand the other.

In order to understand your partner, you don’t need to grasp everything they’re saying in an impersonal but concrete way, nor do you have to fundamentally agree. What you do have to do is listen to your partner, recognize that their thoughts are valid, and affirm their right to their way of thinking by telling them, “I understand why you feel this way, now that you’ve explained it to me.” When you and your partner feel supported and affirmed, you’re in a better position to trust one another and reach a compromise.

As a Bend relationship counselor, I’d love to talk more with anyone who wants to learn more about strengthening their relationship through understanding. Feel free to contact me, and look for the final two parts of this series soon.