An attunement mishap is one of the most common triggers for arguments in personal relationships. Such an argument usually sounds something like this:
Partner A: “Why didn’t you do something?! Couldn’t you see I was uncomfortable?!”
Partner B: “I thought you were fine. I didn’t see a problem. Why didn’t you ask me for help?!”
Partner A: “I shouldn’t have to ask! Anyone could have seen I needed help! I would’ve immediately seen what was happening had you been in my place. I feel like you just don’t care about me.”
If you grew up being asked to attend to others’ needs or if you often occupy the role of caretaker, you likely have highly refined attunement skills. This means you easily track the feelings and needs of others from your own intention to offer care. When a close friend or partner doesn’t bring the same level of attunement skills, a tragic interpretation can occur.
You are likely to interpret their lack of attunement as a lack of caring. This interpretation tends to trigger a whole series of accusations about the other person, such as that they are selfish, they are lazy, they ignore you, they are trying to get back at you for something, they are trying to be in a one-up position, etc. Such a thought process leaves you feeling hurt, angry, and longing for caring and attentiveness.
If this pattern of lack of attunement and interpretations of the other as uncaring has gone on for a long time, it may be very difficult for you to consider that it is not an issue of a lack of love and caring for you. You may need to spend significant attention on memories of how they have cared for you over time. You may need to ask for and receive reassurance many times over. Once you have reached a point in which you are mostly clear that the other person really does care for you, you can begin to address the issue of attunement.
This process begins with releasing thoughts about what the other person “should” be able to notice, and getting grounded in what they actually are able to offer. From this place of acknowledging what’s true, the next question is whether or not the other person would like to learn how to attune to you and to meet your need for consideration. If the answer is yes, the process can be simple, though not necessarily easy.
Helping someone learn to attune to you isn’t about teaching them attunement skills. It’s about communicating that which you assume the other has noticed. Making assumptions is often habitual and unconscious. This is what makes the practice so challenging. It requires you to be more aware of what would meet your need for consideration in a given moment and to make an explicit request.
For the other person, it’s about creating a new habit of checking in more often. Frequently asking you how you are and what you need is the first step in cultivating more skills in attunement. When and how often the other person checks in with you could be negotiated between you. Three times a day when you are together for a whole day might be a useful minimum.
As you both make an effort, you will learn about yourself and become ever more clear about what meets your needs for care and consideration. As the other person makes an effort and receives your requests without defensiveness, they will naturally learn attunement skills and also more about how to love you. With consistent practice, perhaps over a few years, you both will find an ease in understanding and caring for each other with fewer words.
Take a moment now to reflect on what you have expressed or heard from others about meeting needs for consideration and caring. Do you find situations in which you were interpreting a person’s lack of attunement skill as a lack of care? Do you find situations in which someone was asking you to offer more attunement?