NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Relationships: Becoming More Attuned to Each Other

One of the most common problems I hear about in my private practice in New York City is a lack of emotional or sexual attunement in relationships (see my article: Are You Able to Express Your Vulnerable Emotions to Your Partner?).

What is Attunement in a Relationship?
Attunement in a relationship means the ability to connect with one another on an emotional and sexual level.

Becoming More Attuned to Each Other

Some couples connect well emotionally, but they're not attuned sexually.  This often occurs in long term relationships where sex has become less satisfying for one or both partners.

A lack of attunement can occur for many reasons.  Often this problem occurs when the couple isn't working together as a team.  This causes one or both partners to feel alone and emotionally unfulfilled. 

If the lack of attunement is also occurring in the bedroom, a couple often stops having sex to avoid the problem (see my article: Have You and Your Partner Stopped Having Sex?).

How to Get Emotionally Attuned to Yourself First and Then Your Partner
Rather than engaging in blame and conflict, which can destroy a relationship, each person needs to make a commitment to approach the problem as a team (see my articles: Moving Beyond the Blame Game in Your Relationship and Improving Your Communication By Eliminating the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse).

Becoming More Attuned to Each Other

In other words, there are no "bad guys." Instead, there is a recognition that the problems are co-created between both people, and if there is a willingness on each person's part to overcome this negative dynamic in the relationship, they can co-create the solution.

Becoming More Attuned to Each Other

Each of you can take some quiet time on your own to think and write about what you feel is missing and what you want more of in the relationship.

Start by focusing on yourself and where you feel you can improve rather than making a list of complaints about your partner.  

Are you attuned to your own emotions?  If not, take a moment to calm your mind and body so you can drop down into your own internal experience to get better attuned with yourself before you approach your partner.  

To get attuned, find a private quiet place without distractions.  

Close your eyes if you feel comfortable, focus on your breath and slow down your breathing (see my article: The Mind-Body Connection: Developing a Felt Sense of Your Emotions).

Expect to have distracting thoughts and when they come up, imagine you can put each one on a cloud and watch them float away (see my article: Basic Mindfulness Skills).

As you focus on your emotions, tune into your body to get a sense of where you can feel your emotions in your body.  Know that it's not unusual to feel conflicting emotions. Just acknowledge them and let them be.  Don't judge them or try to suppress them.

Afterwards take time to write down what came up for you and what you might want to share with your partner.

Emotional vulnerability is a pathway to intimacy, so if you can both share what came up for each of you, it could bring you closer.

On the other hand, if your emotional connection with your partner has deteriorated to the point where you don't feel comfortable being vulnerable, you can start with your less vulnerable feelings.

When you're listening to your partner, give your partner your undivided attention.  Listen without interrupting or getting distracted with other things (phones are off and put away).  

Becoming More Attuned to Each Other

After your partner has shared, instead of giving your perspective or opinion, tell your partner what you heard without criticism or judgment ("I heard you say you feel lonely in our relationship. Is that right?").  

If your partner says you didn't understand what s/he was saying, ask your partner to say it again in another way.  Repeat this process until you're really get what your partner is saying.

You don't have to agree with your partner's perspective.  You just need to let your partner know that you heard and understand based on what s/he said.

Then, it's your turn.  Follow the same steps.  Remember to slow down so you can be attuned to your own emotions as well as your partner's.

It takes time and patience to feel into and talk about your emotions, so don't rush through this exercise just to get through it.  If you do, you'll convey to your partner that you're not interested in hearing what s/he has to say or what you have to say to your partner.

You might experience some discomfort, especially if you're not accustomed to sharing your emotions on a deep level.  That's okay.  With practice, this process can get easier as you each work on these skills.

How to Get Sexually Attuned to Yourself and Your Partner
Many people feel embarrassed to talk about sex (see my articles: How to Talk to Your Partner About Sex - Part 1 and Part 2).

Becoming More Attuned to Each Other

Start by getting attuned to your own sense of sexuality in terms of what you like.  If it's been a long time since you have felt attuned to your own sexuality, start gradually.

If you have good memories of enjoying sex, you can begin by remembering times when you enjoyed sex in the past (see my article:  Reviving Your Sex Life By Remembering Your Peak Erotic Experiences).

Whether these memories involve solo sex or sex with a partner, what was it about those experiences that made sex enjoyable?  Was it your sense of connection? Was it your sense of playfulness or freedom to let go? Or something else?

If you have never experienced pleasurable sex, do you have memories of seeing movies or reading books that got you turned on?  What was it about those scenes that appealed to you?

After each of you have engaged in your own sexual self exploration, you can share your thoughts and fantasies with your partner (see my article: Finding Your Sexual Voice).

Once again, don't be critical or judgmental. Just listen.  Their turn-ons might not be yours, but couples often find sexual activities that get them both turned on (see my article: Don't Yuk Your Partner's Yum).

When it's your turn, try to be as open as you can about what you like and allow your partner to have his or her own preferences.

Getting Help in Therapy
It's common for couples to allow emotional and sexual problems to go unaddressed for months and even years.  At that point, it's hard to try to resolve them on their own (see my article: What is Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) For Couples?).

If you're struggling with a lack of emotional or sexual attunement in your relationship, you could benefit from seeking help in couples/sex therapy.

Sex therapy is a form of talk therapy.  There is no physical exam, nudity or sex during sex therapy sessions (see my article:  Common Misconceptions About Sex Therapy).

Individual adults and couples seek help in sex therapy for a variety of reasons (see my article: What Are Common Issues Discussed in Sex Therapy?).

Rather than struggling on your own, seek help from a licensed mental health professional who has an expertise with your problems so you can have a more fulfilling relationship.

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT, Somatic Experiencing and Sex Therapist.

I am a sex-positive therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.