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Building Trust with Attunement & Repair

According to research, couples who maintain long term healthy relationships consistently attune to each other and repair disconnect when it occurs.  Attunement, in this context, can be described in a number of ways.  When you and your partner are in attunement, you consistently acknowledge each other's experience with some form of verbal or nonverbal expression.  Attuning might include a simple "uh-huh", eye contact and a smile, affectionate touch, noticing a physical detail (like a new haircut), a question about or verbal reflection of what was said, a guess at feelings and needs, and/or an emotional / energetic resonance with your partner's state.

You and your partner's ability to attune with each other, allows you to feel a secure sense of bond.  This in turn engenders an easy acceptance of differences in which you both have space to be authentic and to follow your unique interests without it being perceived as a threat to the relationship.

Even though you are committed to being attuned to each other, attunement failures are bound to happen.  For example, imagine you have had a stressful day at work and you and your partner are on an evening walk.  She begins to share something vulnerable about herself and you are suddenly distracted by your dislike of a construction project in your neighborhood and start talking about it.  For your partner (if she is attuned to her own experience), there is likely a sense of hurt, loneliness, or jolt in that moment.  If either of you ignore this attunement failure, no matter how small you might say it is, trust begins to erode in your relationship.

Being able to repair small or large attunement failures, on the other hand, builds trust.  Over time you begin to trust that neither of you has to be perfect for the relationship to work.  You trust that one or both of you are committed to seeking repair when disconnect happens.  

Repair in the example above might sound like this:  "Hey, I just got distracted and cut you off.  I'm sorry.  Hearing you is important to me.  I'm listening, would you be willing to try again?"*  Just like attunement, repair can take many forms.  It might look like a few seconds of a warm smile, an acknowledgement of grumpiness, an expression of appreciation, an hour of empathy and honest expression, physical intimacy, etc.

If you are not repairing with your partner several times a week, it likely means that you are not catching attunement failures as they happen.  You can help yourself become more aware of attunement by simply asking your partner what contributes to a sense of attunement for her and sharing the same for yourself.


This week, pay special attention to how you are already attempting to attune with your partner.  Are you offering verbal reflection, curiosity, anticipating a need of hers, guessing a feeling?  What else?

 *For more details on repair see these articles on my website:

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2 Responses

  1. Mar 29, 2013

    I enjoyed this post. I was curious about the line. "If you are not repairing with your partner several times a week, it likely means that you are not catching attunement failures as they happen. "

    Reflecting on the practice of attunement it's something I think I do in my relationship. But I'm less clear about repairing. How could I bring more attention to this? Is it just apologizing? I'm curious to hear your thoughts.

  2. Apr 02, 2013

    Yea, repairing can be a very simple, "I'm sorry, I got distracted. Can you tell me again. I'm listening." or "I just interrupted, sorry."

    Little disconnects are easy to dismiss on both sides. Unfortunately they add up and distance grows over time.

    At the beginning of a relationship learning to disconnect can be a fun discovery process. This means finding out what specifically for your partner gives them a sense of attunement and bringing more attention to it.

    A way to do this might look like a couple taking time to talk about times they experienced the most attunment (sense of being seen & heard) and then talking about what the key elements were.

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