Why Attunement Is Essential In Relationships & How To Practice It
If you've ever felt like you were "on the same wavelength" as someone else, you may have been experiencing something called attunement. It happens between parents and their children, in romantic relationships and friendship, and even in energy healing like reiki. Here's what attunement is all about, plus why it's so important to cultivate in your relationships, and also with yourself.
What is attunement?
Attunement is the quality of being in tune with something, particularly a person. In psychology, it's thought of primarily as something that occurs between parents and children, such as when a parent mirrors their child's affect and emotions back to them, smiling when their child smiles or saying "uh-oh!" when the child drops something. But attunement also occurs in all relationships between people, and the concept is central to certain types of energy healing such as reiki.
Attunement as a conscious spiritual practice was developed by Lloyd Arthur Meeker in 1929 and is still practiced today. It involves sharing energy between two people, totally in sync, to promote well-being. Essentially, it's all about becoming harmonious with other people's energies.
Some experts believe attunement involves activating the brain's mirror neurons1, which are thought to be networks in the brain that respond to other people's emotions and actions as if they were our own, helping people bond with one another. That said, the research on mirror neurons2 is still ongoing and the concept debated.
In the context of relationships, emotional attunement involves being truly present and in tune with your partner, not unlike empathy. When we're emotionally in tune, we're able to deeply understand and even feel our partner's emotions. An emotionally attuned couple is able to be in a space of total harmony together.
As licensed psychologist and AASECT-certified sex therapist Megan Fleming, Ph.D., explains to mbg, "We want to be seen and heard and appreciated and feel connected as human beings. When it comes to attunement, nothing's sexier than mindfulness and being in the present moment."
Attunement in relationships.
Attunement is incredibly important within all kinds of relationships, as it allows for deeper connection, intimacy, and understanding. Though as therapist and certified sex therapist De-Andrea Blaylock-Johnson, LCSW, CST, points out, "It would be wonderful if our partners were mind readers, but what gets us to the point of attunement is clear communication early on in the relationship."
Without open and honest communication, she adds, we simply can't expect anyone to understand our emotions and needs. "It's on us to tell our partners how we're feeling so they can notice the signs going forward," she adds. In this way, the more you explicitly discuss your emotions, the more attunement will happen naturally, as you just "get" each other.
Attunement is also a large part of infancy, often occurring between children and their caregivers very early on. Say a child is crying, for example, and the parent realizes their baby needs their diaper changed. Or from the other way around, a baby may cry if they see their parent crying. These early connections are the foundational bond between parent and child and can have a large influence on attachment styles.
For reiki practices.
In reiki, a form of energy healing, there is an entire reiki ceremony dedicated to attunement called Reiju (Ray-joo) in which a reiki master opens and expands the main energy channels of the student's body. This is to allow universal energy, or chi, to flow more freely and deeply through them.
"Many will undergo an intense period of self-growth following their attunements," reiki practitioner Sharna Langlais previously wrote for mbg. "You can think of the attunement process like a transfer of energy: The master is passing energy off to the student, who will then possess it for life," she notes.
5 exercises to help you attune:
Do a body scan.
Self-attunement is just as important as attuning to others. After all, if we're out of touch with our own emotions, how can we possibly connect to someone else's?
Fleming recommends practicing body scans, because "part of attunement is to be embodied," she says, adding, "A lot of us are just living in our heads."
Practice bringing awareness to your body and where you're feeling certain sensations, such as happiness in your chest, fear in your stomach, or a lump in your throat, for example.
Hug or touch your partner.
Physical touch can be a great way to calibrate to your partner, says Fleming. Something as simple as hugging or holding each other to relax can bring you into a deeper state of connectedness. And Fleming adds it's very worthwhile to practice nonsexual touching, exploring what feels good for your partner, whether that's playing with their hair, touching their neck, etc.
Attunement is a very intentional and mindful thing, so practicing mindfulness is a good way to encourage that state of deep presence.
Both on your own and with your partner, Blaylock-Johnson says it's all about nonjudgment and being present with whatever it is you're feeling—and if you're with your partner, what they're feeling too. "I think that can also really help you be in tune with yourself so you can share what it is you're needing from your partner," she adds.
Here are a few mindful practices to get you started.
As Blaylock-Johnson points out, attunement won't be possible without open and honest conversation. In other words, it's important to not just assume you just know what your partner is feeling; you need to be able to directly talk about it together so that they can tell you what they're feeling.
It's important for those conversations to be intimate and without distraction, Fleming adds. "We live in such a multitasking culture, we don't often get undivided attention, and attunement means 'I'm here right now with you.'"
Look into your partner's eyes.
Eye gazing is another favorite of Fleming's that can do wonders to help two people attune. "I think when someone's holding your gaze and vice versa, we have these mirror neurons, and we're sort of wired to feel that sense of attunement and connection," she explains.
To try it, sit across from your partner, facing each other, and hold eye contact for two to four minutes without speaking or interruptions.
The bottom line.
Attunement will come into play in so many different relationships—whether it's there or not. When it is, we're able to connect to and understand our loved ones, and when it's not, we may simply feel like we aren't on the same page. But with a bit of open communication and mindful presence, anyone can become attuned to the people in their lives.
Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Writer, as well as a registered yoga instructor. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from SUNY Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.