Neuroscientists affirm that we are “wired for connection” from birth. Infant brains develop best when caretakers are in sync—attuned—with babies’ physical, emotional, and relational needs. Obviously, no caretaker is in sync 100 percent of the time; caregivers provide opportunities for relational repair when they realize they are mis-attuned to the physical, emotional and relational needs of the child.

Attunement is also important for our adult relationships because our need for emotional connection with others never ceases.  Attunement is one way to turn toward another person’s bid for connection. Relational experts John and Julie Gottman define attunement as a “special kind of listening” that builds and protects connection, especially during periods of conflict (The Science of Couples and Family Therapy, 2018, p. 36).

Relational Attunement

 In The Science of Couples and Family Therapy (p. 36), the Gottmans offer the following acronym to describe this special kind of listening:

A = Awareness of partner’s emotions. Do you know when your partner is happy, sad, angry, disappointed, fearful, etc.?
T = Tolerance that there are always two valid perceptions. Can you affirm that your partner’s view and experience of a conflict is as valid as your view, and that neither of you has an exclusive corner on “the way things are”?
T = Turning toward partner’s negative emotions. When your partner is sad, angry, fearful, etc. can you turn to your partner and say, “Tell me more about how you feel? Help me understand.”
U = Understanding partner’s negative emotions. Can you ask questions to help you see what is behind how your partner is feeling and validate your partner’s emotional experience?
N = Non-defensive listening. Can you listen without defending yourself to truly understand your partner’s negative emotions from his or her viewpoint?
E = Empathy expressed. Can you see things from your partner’s point of view so your partner won’t feel alone in his/her pain?


This website offers training modules to help you learn how to notice “micro-expressions” to enhance your emotional awareness.

Watch the short YouTube presentation by Brené Brown on empathy.

This TedTalk offers five ways to listen better.

Emotionally Health Relationships Day by Day (Zondervan). Peter Scazzaro presents an eight-week daily devotional guide to help you develop emotionally healthy relationships.  (See Week 5: Listen Incarnationally.)

The Relationship Principles of Jesus (Zondervan). In this 40-day devotional, Tom Holladay shows you how to develop healthy relationship principles modeled by Jesus. (See especially Day 11, Feelings Are Important.)

Guest relational contributor: Virginia Holeman, Ph.D. Co-Chair (Kentucky), Department of Counseling & Pastoral Care, Asbury Theological Seminary.

Executive editor: Russ Gunsalus  

Curator of content: Dave Higle