Family Talk: Practicing art of attunement to gain trust
I am going to attempt to talk about understanding women, a subject to which I have devoted too little attention in my six decades of life. It’s singularly important since more than half our population, and exactly 50 percent of the people in my marriage, are composed of this gender.
Despite my apprehension and lack of qualifications to discuss this topic, here goes!
Last week’s column promised a serial review of the ambitiously titled book “A Man’s Guide to Women,” and Chapter 1 attempts to answer the question, “What Do Women Really Want?”
Drs. John Gottman and Julie Schwartz Gottman respond with a breathtakingly simple answer: TRUSTWORTHINESS. The Gottmans believe that trustworthiness is more than just being faithful, although that is very important. They say trustworthiness is this:
You are who you say you are and you do what you say you are going to do. It’s about reliability, accountability and showing up just as you are (but with good hygiene) ... She’s asking herself, even if she’s not consciously thinking about it, “Is he safe? Will he be there for me? Is he dependable? Is he trustworthy?” There is a reason that women think that firefighters are hot. They are a symbol of all of these qualities. Firefighters are heroes and you can be, too.
Personally, I think women think firefighters are hot for other reasons, but we’ll go with the Gottmans’ theory. The good doctors offer a prescription to become a firefighter-type hero called “attunement." You can’t buy it, but you can learn it, say the Gottmans, with this acrostic spelling out the word ATTUNE:
Attention. Give undivided attention when your woman is talking; put away your cell and turn off the television. ”Attention equals affection.”
Turn Toward. We men think we are together when we are side by side. Women believe they are together when they are face to face. Physically turn toward her when you’re talking.
Understand. The end game of conversations needs to be understanding, and you get there by asking questions (not cross examination). Try saying things like “How did that make you feel?” or “Tell me more about that?” Don’t try to “fix” problems. Listen for understanding.
Nondefensively Listen. If you are the subject of criticism in the conversation, resist the urge to defend yourself. Don’t split hairs by saying, “What you’re saying isn’t true! I’m not late every time I pick you up. I’ve only been late seven of the last 10 times!” Remember feelings are fact to the person feeling them. If you strive to listen nondefensively, you set the tone for attunement.
Empathize. Empathy goes beyond understanding, which is more of a mental pursuit. Empathy is an emotional pursuit. It says, ”I hear what you’re saying and feel what you’re feeling.” You might not actually “feel” what she’s feeling, but extend yourself to try. The Gottmans say, “The emotional part of the brain calms down when it feels connected to another person and not alone.”
Attunement leads to a sense of trustworthiness, and trustworthiness is a major key to connecting with, and understanding, women. Maybe it won’t get you to firefighter hero status, but it will get you on your way to a better relationship. And better is better.