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Jared and Allison had been struggling with their sexual relationship. She had some issues from her past that made sex scary for her. Through counseling they were both coming to better understand the impact of her past experiences. Jared became better at empathizing with her feelings and fears.

One night Jared was giving Allison a foot massage as a way to help her relax after a long day. He had been doing this more often lately, which helped his wife internalize that she was safe with him and could relax and let go a little more. She had learned that she could enjoy the pleasure of the foot massage without worrying about it leading to something else.

Allison was so thoroughly relaxing and enjoying the massage that Jared thought this might be a possible green light for him to go further. Slowly he began to work his way up her legs, massaging them gently. He felt her begin to tense up and emotionally shut down. Reading her cues, he quickly adjusted his approach and returned to casually massaging her feet.

Because we had previously talked about how women sometimes just need to be “talked and touched into it”, Jared wondered if this might be one of those times. While it had been more wishful thinking on his part, I acknowledged how wonderful it was that he understood her reaction and was able to adjust to where she was at emotionally.

Allison shared how reassuring it had been to see that Jared was able to read her and was willing to kindly adjust to her state of being rather than be upset. She ultimately felt so relaxed and close to him that she ended up allowing the interaction to go further ending in a very positive experience for both.

The Need for Tuning In

As I work with couples, I realize that the ability to “know” and “read” each other well is missing for many. Couples aren’t always good at reading between the lines. They aren’t especially adept at suspending their own perspective and empathically seeing things from the other’s point of view.

It’s a skill to be able to sense each other’s inner state and respond accordingly. Especially in the bedroom, much of the sexual communication is conveyed nonverbally.[i] It is important for couples to be skilled at sending and receiving effective verbal and nonverbal cues in order to tune in to each other well.[ii]

Couples spend a lot of time being mis-attuned to each other. Being tuned in to each other is a reward that comes only after a lot of time and effort has been expended. Couple attunement is “in-to-me-see” intimacy on a whole new level.

Connection at this psychological level has an upward self-perpetuating cycle because of the oxytocin that is released when couples tune in to each other effectively through touch, eye contact, and other emotionally supportive behaviors. Mirror neurons additionally help us read each other better and develop empathy, which continually improves the connection.[iii]

Knowing Each Other Inside the Bedroom and Out

Without being attuned to each other well outside of the bedroom, it is very difficult to “know” each other well within the bedroom. This article highlights the need to truly know your spouse, so that lovemaking can be a flow of reading and responding effectively to each other’s vibes. It’s not terribly romantic to say (or hear) in the heat of the moment, “Should I do this or that?”

A tuned-in couple can read each other’s nonverbal cues and communicate well about what goes on inside the bedroom when they are outside the bedroom. This helps husband and wife more confidently move forward inside the bedroom.

One couple was reminiscing about a recent intimate exchange they had. It was a great example of him being tuned into her nonverbal cues. He commented that he hadn’t been planning on kissing her at a particular moment. She later asked, “So, why did you?” He responded, “Well, I read your body language and knew it was a go!” That’s a real turn on for women to know their spouse will read them and confidently respond. It’s a powerful skill for couples to develop.

In order to truly know each other, husband and wife must both feel safe and be willing and able to expose their true selves to each other. Both need to know and accept each other’s idiosyncrasies as part of a package deal that comes with one’s spouse, and take those things into account within their intimate interactions.

Couples need to open up to each other, check assumptions, and get good at reading each other well. It is only from a place of emotional safety, openness, honesty and transparency over time that couples can come to truly know each other and be able to read each other well.

Tuning in is about reading each other’s verbal and nonverbal cues. You might compare it to listening to a song. The music is the nonverbal message, while the words are the verbal message. Tuning into and responding accurately to both messages takes a lot of practice and communication to become skilled. With repeated experiences of sharing your true selves, you both come to know each other well. That is when it becomes second nature to sense what your spouse is thinking or feeling at any given time.

In addressing the “Tenderness” “T” of female sexual wiring, I often suggest spouses start asking each other, “How can I make your day better today?” Here we’re working towards couples getting to where they already know the answer because they have learned to read their spouses well, and have developed the habit of regularly doing things that make their life better every day.

Being Accessible, Responsive and Engaged

Founder of Emotionally Focused Therapy, and researcher of adult attachment and bonding, Dr. Sue Johnson asserts that the key ingredients, the make-it-or-break-it elements in strong relationships, are the ability to be emotionally open, accessible, and responsive to your spouse. This means being able to tune into the psychological channel (thoughts and emotions) of your sweetheart by reading and understanding their emotional cues.

The ability to be seen, understood and “known” so deeply at an empathic level builds a bond profoundly safe and secure, because you know that they are always there for you. You know that they get you, and that they fully know you, and love you anyway. You can see it in their eyes.

It takes courage, and a willingness to be vulnerable, to be able to tune in and respond emotionally and empathically with your spouse.[iv] [v] In order to create this secure bond in marriage, partners need to be “Accessible” and “Responsive,” as well as physically and emotionally “Engaged.”[vi] You can remember these key components with the easy acronym A-R-E.

Not only are these factors necessary for knowing and tuning in to your spouse, they are also the foundation for the emotional foreplay necessary in lovemaking, which will help you create a “sextraordinary” marriage.

Self-Evaluation – “Tuned In”

To give yourself a guide as to how you are doing in this dimension, how would you currently rate yourself, and your spouse overall in the area of being “Tuned In”?

I am tuned into myself and my spouse sexually both “outside the bedroom” and “inside the bedroom.” I can read my spouse’s body language and nonverbal cues and respond effectively in both the emotional and sexual dimensions of our relationship.

RATING (0 – disagree to 10 – agree):             You ______ Your Spouse ______

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For help with improving this aspect of marital intimacy and the other 12 “T’s” read Knowing HER Intimately: 12 Keys for Creating a Sextraordinary Marriage by Laura M. Brotherson. This article was excerpted from Chapter 9 — “TUNED-IN” of Laura’s NEW book — Knowing HER Intimately: 12 Keys for Creating a Sextraordinary Marriage. Get your copy here for a fabulously discounted price…especially for Meridian readers!

Other articles in this series:

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BIO — Laura M. Brotherson, LMFT, CST, CFLE

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) and Certified Sex Therapist (CST), Laura M. Brotherson, is the author of the best-selling book, And They Were Not Ashamed: Strengthening Marriage through Sexual Fulfillment, and her latest book Knowing HER Intimately: 12 Keys for Creating a Sextraordinary Marriage. She counsels with individuals, couples and families in private practice (and online), and is the host of “The Marital Intimacy Show” podcast.

[i] Hess, J. A., and Coffelt, T. A., “Verbal Communication about Sex in Marriage: Patterns of Language Use and Its Connection with Relational Outcomes,” Journal of Sex Research 49(6) (2012): 603-612. doi:10.1080/00224499.2011.619282.

[ii] Granvold, D. K., “Promoting Long-term Sexual Passion,” Constructivism in the Human Sciences 6(1), (2001): 73-83.

[iii] Johnson, Dr. Sue, Love Sense: The Revolutionary New Science of Romantic Relationships. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2013.

[iv] Johnson, Dr. Sue, “The #1 Way to Build a Stronger Connection with Your Partner,” Mind Body Green, December 29, 2014, accessed April 28, 2016. http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-16781/the-1-way-to-build-a-stronger-connection-with-your-partner.html.

[v] Johnson, Dr. Sue, Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2008.

[vi] Johnson, Dr. Sue, Love Sense: The Revolutionary New Science of Romantic Relationships. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2013.