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Emotionally Intelligent Husband – from Attenuation to Attunement

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How well do you love? Connection with your wife can be a delicate process. In the last article, we talked about the need for the husband to be emotionally attuned to his wife. We covered the first of Dr Gottman’s ATTUNE skills – Awareness of emotions. Now, we will talk about the rest of the skills in this article.

A – Awareness of emotions

T – Turning towards the emotions

T – Tolerance of the emotional experiences

U – Understanding the emotion

N – Non-defensive listening to the emotion

E – Empathy toward the emotion

After you become aware of your partner’s emotions, the next ATTUNE skill is Turning towards the feelings. This skill tells your partner you want to connect to her senses by paying attention to her – stop what you are doing, look into her eyes, or even hold her hands. The tone of the conversation becomes what you are ready to do to make it better and not what is wrong with your partner. Both have the responsibilities to listen to each other’s out without judgment. ‘Turning towards’ shows that you care enough for your partner to want to connect positively.

I will use the example of your wife saying to you: “You don’t care about me. All you care about is your work!” to illustrate the ATTUNE skills. Turning towards, you may hold her hands and say gently, “I hear you. Please tell me more.”

Tolerance of the emotional experiences is the ATTUNE skill to find out your partner’s perspective of the same event both you and your partner experienced but may think and feel differently. You may debate whether the facts are right or wrong, but there is no right or wrong in your emotions. You don’t try to change your partner’s emotions or perceptions. It may sound unfair to you, but it feels suitable for your partner. Tolerance does not mean agreement or compliance, and it means we are eager to find out your partner’s perspective with curiosity.

Back to the example, you may reflect on what your partner said back to her and express your own experience: “You are upset with me because it seemed that I care more about work than you. Speaking from my heart, I do care about you.”

The next ATTUNE skill is to Understand emotion. To understand is to find out the backstory of what caused the feeling and what it means to your partner. There could be some past events or childhood experiences that may have escalated the hurt feelings. Your job is to understand and not to give advice or correct. You postpone your own needs to be understood so that you can listen to your partner.

Back to the example, you want to understand what had made your wife feel that you didn’t care. Instead of telling her all the different things you have done to show care for you, you may ask gently, “I wonder what I did to make you feel that way.”

The hardest part of the ATTUNE skill is the Non-defensive listening to the emotion. It is so easy to go into defensiveness when listening to your partner’s negative words. The key is to focus on hearing your partner out – listen to your partner’s pain while accessing your feeling of love and protection.

Back to the example, your partner may accuse you of not being helpful or even suspecting you of having an affair. In non-defensive listening, you make sense of your partner’s perception and empathise with her, and do not view the words as an attack or a problem to be fixed. “I wish I knew earlier you feel that way. When you needed help, and I told you not to disturb me, it looked like I did not value you as much as my work, and it hurts you.”

Please note that it is hard to be non-defensive when your relationship is running on empty. So, in good times, build up your emotional currency with each other with fondness and admiration, so your touching account is high to cushion the bad times.

The final ATTUNE skill is to show Empathy toward the emotion. Understanding is sometimes intellectual, but Empathising is always emotional, seeing your partner’s feelings through her eyes and feeling the distress and pain as if they are yours. This means you have to suspend your judgment and instead apply compassion and kindness. Show empathy for your partner to feel “felt”.

Acknowledge their emotions, for example, “I see you were hurt” and validate your partner’s sentiment, for example “, It is indeed hurtful for you because I told you off when you needed me”.

Here is a final note. As an emotionally intelligent husband, you must understand yourself before you can understand your partner. The ATTUNE skills require you to know how to identify your own emotions to identify yourself with your partner. You are a source of comfort and support to your partner as much as your partner to you. So, invest the time and energy to learn and discover your own emotions. Then, you can be emotionally attuned to your partner!

Written by: Timothy Thong, Counsellor, Fei Yue Community Services


The Science of Trust: Emotional Attunement for Couples, John Gottman, PhD, W.W. Norton & Company, 2011

The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert, John Gottman, PhD, Nan Silver, Orion Publishing Co, 2018