Enhancing Couple Relationship - Part 1
Is there Telepathy in a Couple Relationship?
‘You should know my needs’, ‘if I need to tell you everything that I need from you, then it will be meaningless’
Some of these expressed statement of needs are common in the many couples that I have seen over the years. These statements speak of the desire to be emotionally attuned to each other in the relationship, to know that the partner cares enough to be sensitive to one’s needs.
However this ideal state or position can be far from reality in the couples that I have worked with so far. But this does not mean that the relationship is not close or bonded enough for this level of emotional attunement to happen.
Here are some reasons why:
1. Everyone has a different level of ability to be attuned to another person’s needs
We have different abilities, strengths and weakness. An example will be someone who is more talented in drawing compared to another person who is better with numeracy skills. This is somewhat similar to the ability to be attuned to someone else’s needs. In reality, some are naturally better in this ability than others. There are also different factors that may contribute to this differing ability like gender, life experiences, personality etc.
Generally I have seen more female partners who are more emotionally sensitive than the males. They are also more inclined to express care and concern.
2. The level of attunement does not equate to the level of care and concern
The danger is when we believe that if our partner is not as attuned to our needs as we hope or expect, we feel that he/she does not care enough. This is especially so when you feel that you have done so much for your partner, take initiative to care for him/her but do not receive similar responses from your partner.
I have seen some women who complained that their husbands could not remember what they wanted even though they had repeatedly told them. This can be more of the different levels of importance that one places on something than the issue of care and concern.
For example some may be more particular with how household chores should be done like clothes to be hung to dry in a certain way. However for some, this is not important. It can be frustrating for many couples to grapple with this different levels of importance and values. This does not mean that there is no care and concern. There can be many other different ways for care and concern to be expressed.
3. The length of time of the relationship is not proportional to the level of attunement
Another common expectation is that given the length of time of a relationship, the level of attunement should be better than before. This may or may not be true. It also depends on the quality of communication and closeness of the relationship. There are some couples who may be in the relationship for a long time, but they do not communicate much or share their thoughts and feelings with each other. Some may bond more on doing things together or engage in common activities.
4. Emotional attunement can be developed and improved through good couple communication and more understanding of each other’s needs
When our partner is not as emotionally attuned as what we hope, it is not the end. Remember that relationships are not static but dynamics. Relationships go through different phase of changes and transitions. Human beings also go through different phase of growth and self-development.
Emotional attunement can be developed or improved during the course of relationship building when we learn to express our needs to each other. Through good communication and listening, we become more aware of each other’s needs and concern.
What can be done instead:
1. Continue to communicate and express your needs to each other
Do not give up on communicating and expressing your needs to each other. Communication is one of the major contributors to relationship growth. Through good communication, couples grow in closeness, mutual understanding, learn to negotiate differences in their relationship and manage their conflicts.
Communication is not only talking but also active listening. Active listening is to listen not only to the spoken content, but to the needs, desires and emotions underneath the words. Learn to listen to each other’s emotions.
2. Give space and time for your partner who may not be as emotionally attuned as you
The reality is most of the time, couples find themselves in situation when they feel that their partners are unable to meet some of their expectations in the relationship. The next question is whether we are able to come to terms with these unmet expectations, allow time and space for our partners to grow and change and continue to find satisfaction in other positive aspects of our relationship.
3. Do not compare your partner to someone else who may be more attuned
Remember that everyone has differing strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes we can be tempted to compare the specific weakness of our partner to someone else who is better in that area. This can be detrimental to our relationship as everyone is different. We may fail to realise the other side of the coin, that is our partner may have other strengths that someone else does not have.
4. Take note of what is important to your partner even though it is not important to you
We place different levels of importance on different things in life. It is common for couples to have differing priorities and values in life. Usually conflicts happen when one feels that the other disregards what is important to him/her. The sense of being disregard is also translated to the sense that ‘I am not important to you’. However this is an issue of differing values rather than care and concern.
We can all learn to be more attuned by taking note of what is important to our partner, than focussing on our own values. Even though we may not be 100% perfect and attuned, the effort to be attuned and prioritise what is important to our partner is often appreciated.
5. Know that your partner cares enough to meet your needs if you are able to express them clearly
Sometimes it requires a change to our mindset. Rather than focusing on what our partner is unable to pick up on, it may be more helpful to focus on how our partner cares enough to meet our needs when we express them clearly.
I have seen couples when the husband often expresses the frustration of not knowing what the wife wants, and the wife expresses frustration with the husband not attuning to her needs. However when I facilitated the couple to express such needs in the couple therapy sessions, there was usually a liberation in the couple relationships. There is no more the need for mind-guessing games and the ‘punishment’ of not guessing the correct answer.
Remember that emotional attunement is a growth process and requires effort and good couple communication. We may not be 100% attuned to our partners’ needs, but we can always improve and get better. It is also important to give space for imperfection as no relationship can be 100% perfect.