Attunement Exercise



Attunement Exercise

Quick summary: In building an empathetic ability it is very important that people first advance their ability to attune to another person. I will briefly explain attunement, then I will offer a practical – easy to use – intervention.

Why Attunement is positive: Attunement is an operating strategy in which the participants are trying to be fully absorbed in the experience of the present moment. When we attune to another person we are becoming fully immersed in the emotional world of that person in the present moment. This leads the person who is feeling ‘attuned to’ to feel as though they are being deeply understood and that their present need and emotional reality is being ‘held’ by the listener or receiver.

Where attunement develops in Humans: Human babies cannot talk… so in order for their needs to be met, the primary caregiver(s) must be able to attune to the baby’s emotional reality to a degree that they can arrive at what the baby needs (food, more or less stimulation, a diaper change, a hug etc.) Human adults are not always very good at expressing what they need 😉 … so Attunement allows the listener to arrive at a need that may not be expressed very clearly using verbal communication.

Attunement has intrinsic and instrumental value: When a person feels attuned to they often are able to get a need met (get their diaper changed) – so attunement does have a significant instrumental value. Attunement facilitates a feeling of ‘secure attachment’ – you feel understood, as a ‘we’ (therefor not alone), safe, hopeful and connected. Such feelings are the building blocks for helping an individual to have courage in there authenticity such that they can achieve their fullest potential. So attunement is not simply a tool for getting concrete needs met… this method of operation creates meaningful connection.

What an ‘un-attuned’ experience’ feels like: We are trained and pre-programmed to primarily view our environment (and people) using one of two operating strategies = (1) logic, and (2) unconscious (automatic) labeling of the environment (and people) into three categories: Threat, Pleasure, and Neutral. The result of such operating strategies is somewhat a of ‘distanced’ feeling interaction with other people… this is because we are often not ‘seeing’ or ‘understanding’ other people as they truly are in the present moment; instead we are projecting unconscious and conscious conclusions onto them. The listener will therefor ‘understand’ or be able to parrot back the ‘correct’ information about a story, but they will have no insight into how the speaker felt while conveying the story in the moment, nor will they have insight into what the emotional and existential significance of the story was to the speaker. The result is that the speaker will feel alone and possibly a bit hopeless that the listener will actually be able to meet a need.

Attunement is the Solution: Often times the world presents us with problems that do not really have concrete solutions… in these instances feelings attuned to by another person facilitates a place of safety and connectedness that relieves the burden of the current problem.

Attunement and Empathy – Empathy is when the listener is able to affectively convey an understanding of the speaker’s internal emotional reality back to the speaker. Without attunement one’s empathetic ability is significantly disadvantaged as they would only have access to a very limited amount of information.

Empathy and Compassion – what we typically call empathy is actually empathy with compassion. Empathy is simply the ability to “put yourself into another person’s experience” to “put yourself into another’s shoes” and to be able to communicate this understanding. After doings such it is compassion that would guide you to offer kindness and support to that person’s emotional reality (as opposed to using your empathic ability to manipulate/exploit another person).


Attunement Intervention Exercise

There will be a Listener and a Speaker for this Exercise (and a therapist if applicable)

* Note: the speaker is always directed to speak toward the listener while holding as much eye contact as is comfortable. The speaker and listener should be facing one another.

Direction to the Speaker:

  1. Tell me a story about something that you are really grateful for… OR
  2. Tell me a story which that expresses who you are as a person OR
  3. Tell me a story about a meaningful experience that was emotionally significant to you…

Additional guidance for the speaker: try and tell a story which has emotional significance, and when telling the story try and make sure that you are displaying affect and using emotional adjectives.

(Note 1 for therapists: often times these stories occur organically in a therapy session, if not, you can set it up for this enactment to occur.)

(Note 2: Ideally the story will be about both participants. Ex. A story about why the speaker is grateful for the listener)

Directions for the Listener

  1. Pay close attention to the speaker’s non-verbals and energy.
    1. Energy – how is this person’s emotional energy affecting the climate of the current environment?
    2. Non-verbals – what emotions are being expressed through body language that may be congruent or incongruent with the verbalized narrative?
  2. I want you to listen to the plot, but the most important thing is to focus on how the speaker:
    1. Feels while telling you this story in the current moment (ex. Relieved, nervous, and sad)
    2. How the speaker was feeling about the story that is being told while the story was taking place. (ex. In the story she felt very proud and hopeful and she felt very validated that I was there for her.)
  3. What the listener does not do: no plot corrections, no trying to be right, no adding to the plot, no thinking and waiting to speak instead of listening, no projecting your own emotional experience onto the speaker.


Optional: questions to deepen the experience of the speaker:

  • The therapist or listener asks the speaker a present moment somatic question…
    • “how do you feel in your body right now in this moment?”
    • “Can you point to where you feel more energy?”
    • “Does that energy have a color … a texture?”


The therapist or Speaker will then invite the listener to share:

  1. “What where the emotions that the speaker was sharing in this moment (in this office) while telling his/her story?”
  2. “And what were the most important emotions relevant to the story when it occurred?”

The Listener shares missing parts: The listener than is invited to share any additional emotions that were important.

Time for Reflection: Finally the listener and the speaker are invited to share their emotional reaction to the exercise.

Optional: The therapist or the listener deepens the experience with immediacy. (immediacy is when you point out non-verbal language and either 1 ask a question (ex. what did that mean when you bit your lower lip while talking about your partner?) or 2 make an interpretation (ex.I noticed that you were saying you were happy but your eye lid lowered as if you were sad)


William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.

Relationship Help | “My partner says that I don’t listen” | how to meet the emotional needs of your partner


I am going to talk to you about what you should be paying attention to and what you should not be paying attention to while trying to become a better listener in your relationship.


What you should not be doing if your goal is to be a good empathetic listener


1.) Do not look for ways to fix the problem.

  • This is patronizing and will leave the listener feeling misunderstood; we are generally looking for support and not guidance when we seek out an empathetic ear. If someone wants your opinion they will clearly ask for it… it is best not to assume that they are asking you to fix a hardship they are dealing with. (You are ‘fixing’ things in a way by simply listening empathetically – this is what they want).

2.) Do not think about your response while the person is talking.

  • This leaves the person feeling frustrated, rushed, flustered and as if they are not being listened to (as they aren’t being listened to).

3.) Do not look for inconsistencies in the story line.

  • This will make your partner feel as though they need to edit their words in their head and doing so with impact their ability to authentically express themselves. This also creates a dynamic where the plot is given far more importance than it deserves… it is the expression and not the precision of the storyline which is most important.

4.) Do not respond with explanations as to why they are wrong (and you are right). To not try and rationalize your partners emotional experience.

  • Being an empathetic listener allows your partner to share and to heal by allowing a space for an emotion to be expressed and understood… the speaker receives clarity and feelings of security from your empathy. Being right is irrelevant… your partner feels the way that they do despite your attempt to correct his/her perception. It is irrational and unhelpful to suggest to your partner that they should feel or perceive differently – for one, you are suggesting that perceptions and emotions are objective and consistent (which is not true) and two, you are discounting a perception that was already made and you are discounting an emotional disposition that is already present.

5.) Do not offer them an alternative way to perceive the situation and do not offer forced or contrived optimism.

  • This belittles their subjective experience and is generally both annoying and aggravating. An ability to reflect on their experience so as to come to a place of resolve is the speakers goal… you can help them by listening and reflecting their experience. People do not find it helpful to be forced towards a new perspective, instead they prefer the safety of your nonjudgmental ear… in this safety they will often find the optimism themselves. Forced optimism is different than authentic encouragement… gently saying that you are there for them or that you will support him/her until things are ok, is perfectly fine.

6.) Do not respond with defensiveness. If the narrative is about you it is important that you display an understanding of the person’s position as opposed to quickly defending yourself.

  • When you defend you put the attention on yourself… to be direct, defensiveness is rather selfish and it is horribly detrimental to your own self growth.  You tell the listener that your own emotional reaction to the speaker’s narrative is more important than his/her emotions. As opposed to supporting your partner you are essentially saying, “No, support me now and please enable me to not change by taking back everything that you constructively have said about me that makes me feel the slightest bit uncomfortable.” When you are being defensive you are focusing all your attention and energy on yourself as opposed to offering support and understanding to your partner.

7.) Do not counter critique, use tangents, or otherwise change the subject.

  • Allow the focus to stay on your partner… bringing up other issues will confuse the interaction and will distract you both from getting your needs met. When you counter critique (ex. Please put your dishes away,” is responded with the counter critique, “well you’re not perfect, you are the one wasting all our money on shoes.”) you essentially say that your partners feelings are invalid because you also have feelings (this doesn’t make sense if you spell it out). As the listener your job is to listen… at a later time you can have your space to be the speaker.

8.) Of course do not be contemptuous, slanderous, cuttingly witty, or mean. Do not use verbal aggression to attempt to steal power from the speaker.

  • Even as adults we do find ourselves engaging in rather immature behaviors. Being mean is a poor way of saying, “I am overwhelmed by what you are saying and feel the need to attack you to get you to stop.” Asking for space is perfectly appropriate if you need a bit of time to be fully available for your partner.


What you should be doing to be a good empathetic listener


1.) Clear your mind and focus all you attention on your partner.

2.) Pay attention to your partner’s non- verbal language and keep eye contact to the degree that makes the speaker feel comfortable.

  • Eye contact ensures that you stay present with the conversation and there is a plethora of information that is transmitted while looking into someone’s eyes.  The emotional experience of the speaker is far easier to deduce when you are focusing on their body language. Focusing on non-verbals dramatically reduces misunderstanding and helps the listener to avoid projecting their own emotional experience onto the speaker’s storyline. Quite simply you can see how they feel.

3.) When listening to your partner’s storyline you should primarily be attending to how they felt at the time of the story and how they feel right now as they are retelling the story.

  • Your partner wants your support and for you to be emotionally available, they desire for you to understand their emotional experience. It is rarely important that you understand the specifics of the plot (though you should pay some attention to the details as well.) to heal a person by listening, you must first be able to hear the emotional content even when it is not explicit.

4.) Acknowledge, accept, and validate your partners unique emotional experience.

  • The way that they feel is the way that they feel… it is never your job to try and change their felt emotional experience (though it ironically will change if you listen empathetically). People have a right to their subjective emotions and they do not necessarily choose their emotional reactions… validate their unique experience by allowing them to experience and express their unique truth. Accept that this is how they feel and allow them to feel that way by humbly noticing your judgments and labeling those judgments as objects of your own ego… this is not a time for your ego, so protect your partner (and yourself) from your judgments.

5.) Display your understanding by gently and unassumingly reflecting back the emotions that your partner has expressed.

  • This suggestion requires a bit of practice, so make sure that your partner is aware that you are working on being a better listener at a time of relative placidity – “I am trying to become a better listener so please be easy on me if I sound a bit inauthentic or like a parrot at first.” Example of reflecting – your partner says,” I had the worst day I arrived at our meeting thinking that today we were going to be talking about the turner property… when it was my time to talk I sounded like an idiot and my boss was clearly pissed.” – a reflection could be as simple as, “sorry honey that sounds really uncomfortable.” The goal of a reflection is to quickly show that you understand without distracting the speaker from their narrative.

6.) Be compassionate and offer them the felt sense of security that is the foundation of your relationship.

  • Often time the best things to do is to offer your partner a hug. Allow yourself to feel their pain while holding a firm understanding that this pain is not your pain. Non-verbal actions which display the strength and security of your relationship are often most helpful – your action depends on the tactile needs of your partner – some will like to be hugged, others will like a soft smile, and other will want you to hold their hand etc.

7.) Finally ask them if there is anything that they would like for you.

  • He/she may want your help, your opinion, your time, your arms etc. it is always best to ask as opposed to assuming.


William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.

What is empathy? How do I know if I am experiencing empathy?


Quick summary – Empathy is when a person opens up their emotional boundaries and allows another person’s feeling to be cradled and nurtured within the loving hands of his/her understanding. Empathy is holding a narrative of another person and allowing yourself to feel the person’s emotions related to his or her storyline while understanding that these are not your own emotions.

Selfless compassion – Empathy allows you to feel selfless compassion for a person… empathy allows you to feel the authentic emotions of another without those emotions being altered by your own judgments and beliefs.

Healing – Empathy is a healing device. Empathy is what most people (men and women) desire from a significant other when they are relaying their suffering.


Nurtured and Bonded – When a person receives empathy from another person they feel nurtured, understood, bonded, validated and accepted. Empathy is the most effective way to cure the feeling of loneliness.

Present without Judgment – Empathy has simple goal of being present and non-judgmental enough to truly understand another person.

Absence of solving behaviors – Empathy solves problems in that it ironically has no intentions to problem solve. When ‘Fix it’ behaviors are removed a person frees himself or herself to understand the emotions that are being shared in the moment.

  • To clarify, problem solving involves statement like: “have you tried_______” “you shouldn’t feel that way because_________,” “you should just tell that person ___________” “this would not have happened if _____________” I think that you should_________” I will just go and ________________” have you looked at the issue from this perspective?”
  • “What if _____________” and “No but _____________” are the most commonly used empathy killers.


Present moment – Empathy takes place in the present moment as a person frees themselves from thoughts which focus us on the past of the future. This is in contrast to problem solving which uses analysis to produce solutions for the future… analysis brings people into a cognitively dominated state where they are less available to feel the emotions of another person. Problem solving brings a person’s focus away from the present moment and into thought processes dictated by the past or the future.

Happiness through understanding – Empathy is often far more effective at reducing suffering and increasing happiness then problem solving strategies (especially in a significant relationship).

  • People find healing in understanding. Often when a significant other tries to “fix” a person’s problem that person feels belittled and/or misunderstood.


Knowing your self – When a person feels the emotions of another person in an empathetic way they are 100% percent aware that the emotions that they are choosing to ‘feel’ are the emotions of the other person and not their own emotions.

Another’s shoes – When you are being empathetic you figuratively put yourself into another person’s shoes to understand their experience… the whole time you keep awareness that your are in their shoes and not in your own shoes.

Emotional reaction to being empathetic – When a person is being empathetic towards another person he/she can have his/her own emotional reaction to the feelings of the other person. An empathetic person will know which emotions are there own and which emotions are the other persons.

  • An empathetic person will be able to relay, “The person in front of me is feeling ________ and I am noticing feeling _________ related to his/her feelings.


Enmeshment – Enmeshment is when a person feels the emotions of another person and is not able to differentiate between which emotions are theirs and which emotions are the other persons.

  • Enmeshment happens very commonly when a person is attempting to be empathetic. It is important for people to have a deep understanding of themselves so that they understand the boundary between themselves and another person… this deep understanding protects a person from enmeshment, which often arises from good intentions, but rarely is helpful to either party.


Understanding and recovery – When a person feels genuinely understood by another they are better able to understand themselves… this understanding offers safety, control, clarity and compassion which greatly aids a person on their journey towards recovery.

Empathy nurtures the intangible wounds that that we all carry from time to time.

Empathy makes a person feel significant and important


Empathy promotes security


Empathy gives love by selflessly listening

William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.

Empathy building exercise – learning to be empathetic – increasing emotional understanding


Quick summary: In difficult times often we really want someone to ‘just be there for us’ and to ‘show compassion and understanding for what we are dealing with’ as opposed to offering pragmatic solutions or taking initiative to ‘fix it.’ In short people very often simply want empathy and they can feel worse, alone, or misunderstood if their confidant goes into problem solving mode. In this post I will give you a methodology as to how to offer empathy to a person. The process might not feel genuine at first, but by understanding and utilizing this technique you will eventually grow a more sincere empathetic ability.

Can you teach someone to be more empathetic? YES …


  • I use this exercise in couples therapy all the time and I must admit that even I am extremely surprised with the results (the growth in empathetic ability for many of my clients has far exceeded my expectations).
  • This is not always easy for the client, when a client willingly breaks down their own emotional barriers they are often overwhelmed with a flood of emotions that they had left unattended for years. The courage and strength that I have witnessed in my clients as I witness them allowing themselves to open themselves up to their own and to their partner’s emotions has left me feeling humbled… incredible courage.


How can a contrived exercise teach a person to truly be able to understand and feel the emotions of another person?


Perhaps every one already is empathetic… some people just do not know how to hold a conscious awareness of the emotional content that they receive from another.

As a social animal it appears that we are ‘wired’ to be empathetic… we all have an innate ability to be empathetic. Neurological research is substantiating this… (Research surrounding mirror neurons and the intrapersonal dynamics of the brain are helping us to better understand the science behind our interconnectedness.)

  • I am suggesting that everyone has the ability to be empathetic, some people simply lack the techniques that facilitate an empathetic encounter and they lack an ability to recognize when to use their empathetic skills and when to use their ‘fix it’ skills.


I would hypothesize that we are conditioned or taught to use our problem solving abilities with greater frequency or instead of our empathetic abilities.

  • It appears that society rewards ‘problem solvers’ and people that offer tangible ‘fixes’ with greater effort than it rewards those you offer emotional nurturance. This system of rewards conditions people (especially males in many cultures) to engage in fixing behaviors as opposed to empathy behaviors.


To answer the question succinctly, this exercise teaches you how to facilitate an empathetic encounter and with practice you will learn to discern when to use empathy and when to use more pragmatic problem solving skills. (This of course is a false dichotomy as empathy guides an effective solution and offering empathy very often is the solution.)

What is empathy? what am I trying to experience and why?

  • Empathy is the ability for you to figuratively put yourself in the shoes of your partner so that you can feel what emotions he/she is holding.
  • You will feel these emotions while having a full understanding that these are your partner’s emotions and not your own.
  • You will allow yourself to be fully accepting of your partner’s emotions and perceptions… you validate him/her with your selfless attunement.
  • as you offer this empathy your partner will feel as though his/her emotions are being cradled and nurtured in your emotional arms… they will feel understood, accepted, connected, important, and loved… within these feelings all suffering can be nurtured towards resolution.
  • Existentially we fear being alone… and biologically we suffer when we feel disconnected. Empathy fosters the attachment which offers both existential and biological nurturance.


Empathy building exercise

(I will be using the term ‘partner’ for simplicity thought this exercise can be done with a friend, a family member, a colleague etc.)




There is one talker and one listener

The listener has the responsibility to understand the emotional and logistical content that their partner is sharing.

You should be able to understand and to relay back to your partner:

  • What was his/her perception of the occurrence?
  • What was troubling about this occurrence?
  • What were the emotions that he/she felt at the time of the occurrence?
  • What emotions are being expressed in this moment?
  • What does he/she need from you (which is often just to be empathetic)?


Start by taking time by yourself to practice using these skills on yourself… your ability to understand your own emotions will directly affect your ability to empathize with your partner.

  • Think of a difficult time that you experienced and answer all the above question related to your own perception and the resulting emotional experience.


Tip 1.) Allow yourself to be curious and open-minded

  • Allow yourself to listen as if your only job is to understand.
  • Allow yourself to listen without out using your preconceptions… allow yourself to know that you know nothing… everything you need to learn you will be learning right now.
  • Free yourself from trying to create consistency between your feeling/perceptions and your partner’s feelings and perceptions… for now just focus on understanding the unique experience of your partner.


Tip 2.) Act like a therapist – allow yourself to listen as if you are not personally responsible for the content.

  • Listen as though the narrative is not about you if you need help controlling your defensiveness or your guardedness.
  • Notice your bias and choose to not let it control your actions (see rules below).


Tip 3.) Be vulnerable and accepting of your body’s natural response.

  • If your empathy encourages you to experience strong authentic emotions of your own (as opposed to emotions related to suppression, avoidance, denial or defensiveness) let them flow as long as they are not disruptive (anger) and hold an awareness of which emotions are yours and which emotions are your partners.
  • Feeling the sadness of your partner may make you cry…
  • Know that your time for expression will come… your ability to meet the emotional needs of your partner will best prepare them to do the same for you.


The talker has the responsibility of allowing himself or herself to be vulnerable enough to transmit the emotional content.

  • To do so generally necessitates that he/she allows an honest emotional expression.
  • The talker will allow himself or herself to feel the emotional impact of the narrative as opposed to talking about the subject in a guarded ‘matter of fact’ type of way.
  • If the talker is disconnected from his/her emotions then it will be very difficult for the partner to be empathetic – it is hard to understand or identify an emotion that is being guarded, avoided, distracted from, repressed etc.
  • Be clear about the way that the narrative affected you emotionally.
  • Say things like, “this experience left me feeling really ________ at the time… right now I am feeling really ___________ about the whole thing.”
  • It is easiest for your partner to hear you when you take responsibility for your own emotional reactions. Actions or situations don’t make every person feel the same way… explain why the action encouraged your unique emotional response.
  • Explain why the event was significant to your past. We all have early life experiences that influence our emotional reactions in the present… help your partner to understand why the example causes an increased emotional response from you.
  • If you are the talker tell your partner what your need… if you just want them to listen tell them, “I just need you to listen to me… I really am not asking for any solutions of for you to try and fix it… please trust that listing will make me feel better.”


Rules or codes of conduct – things that you should not do… behaviors to avoid

 (these rules are helpful in general, but hey are specific to this empathy exercise – I am not saying to never defend yourself.)


Some rules are more important for the listener and some rules are more important for the talker.


1.) Avoid Being ‘Right’– avoid using your logic and reason to attempt to ‘disprove’ the validity of your partner’s emotional reaction or narrative.

  • Doing so can lead your partner to feel belittled, patronized, powerless, insecure, misunderstood, oppressed, and attacked.
  • It does not matter that you believe that your partner ‘misperceived’ the event… your partners emotional reactions are related to his/her perceptions (and not a ‘fixed’ or ‘true’ reality) empathizing and understanding their perception will nurture your partner towards recovery.
  • Be interested and empathetic to your partners experience as opposed to being fixated on making their perception consistent with your perception (this is futile anyway as all our perceptions are subjective… yours is too.)
  • Example – your partner tells you that she is very hurt that you were not able to attend her graduation and you respond, “I told you months ago that I would not be there… you can’t be upset at me because you knew I had that business trip.”
  • Being right is very often wrong and ironically ‘irrational’ – in this example the feeling exists and requires empathy to be resolved. The response will make your partner feel worse… it is therefore irrational to be ‘rational’ as doing such in such an instance perpetuates the problem you are seeking to resolve.


2.) Avoid being defensive – avoid correcting the plot line. Avoid using justifications. Avoid correcting what you view to be a ‘misperception’. Avoid explaining why you did what you did.

  • Doing so can make your partner feel frustrated, unheard, confused (by your somewhat irrelevant retort), and unimportant.
  • The way that your partner perceived the event is all that matters. Allow yourself to notice your mind’s desire to correct the plot and then allow yourself to accept your partner’s subjective perception.
  • Example – your partner tells you that she was upset that you forgot to pick her up last Friday and you respond that it was last Thursday and you didn’t forget you were just really busy.
  • Can you imagine any situation in which the above response would make things better?


3.) Avoid counter critiquing – avoid responding to your partner’s constructive criticism with your own criticisms about him/her.

  • Doing so can leave your partner feeling annoyed, not listened to, invalidated, unimportant, frustrated, escalated, and desperate.
  • Often the narrative that you will need to listen to will be about you in some way… allow your partner the space for expression… this is his/her time.
  • Example – your partner tells you that he really feels unacknowledged when you don’t thank him for cooking dinner and you respond, ‘yeah well I do a lot of things around the house too that I don’t get any credit for.”
  • It is not that your response is invalid, rather your response takes the focus away from your partner’s feelings… your distraction or tangent will disrupt your (and his/her) ability to attend to his/her emotional content.


4.) Avoid generalizations – making overgeneralizations will lead to your partner feeling hopeless and therefore more likely to ‘tune out’. Being very specific allows your partner to better understand you.

  • Doing so can make your partner feel, hopeless, attacked, defeated, as if you don’t want a solution, as if you are being too excessive to relate to, and irritated.
  • Example – you want to tell your partner that you miss going dancing like you used to and you say, “ we never do anything fun anymore.”
  • Overgeneralizations tend to not have solutions and they catastrophize which is isolating.


5.) Avoid being contemptuous or trying to prove that your partner is inherently flawed. Avoid trying to attach permanent negative labels on your partner. Avoid pathologizing your partner.

  • In short being mean doesn’t help anyone and usually creates more guilt to manage later.
  • Doing so can make your partner feel abused, defeated, hopeless, wounded, in danger, scared, angry and like giving up.
  • Example – “yesterday when you told me that you locked the keys in the car before my meeting I realized that you are just stupid.”
  • How do you fix stupid and what is the emotion that this person would like empathy for?


6.) Avoid avoiding, tuning out, or putting up a figurative wall

  • Doing so can make your partner feel, alone, isolated, unimportant, frustrated, desperate, and out of control.
  • Stay emotionally available… track the narrative and the emotions being displayed. to not literally or figuratively leave.
  • If you are overwhelmed please ask for a break and take some time to cool down (as it doesn’t help if you get overly emotionally escalated to the point of losing control). When you take a break tell your partner what you are doing and when you will be able to return.
  • Example – your partner says, “Honey I am really worried about our son… I feel like a bad father.” and you respond, “yeah, could you pass me the TV remote.”


7.) Avoid Creating the Guessing game. Be clear with your needs and emotions… do not set your partner up to fail by requiring them to guess what you are feeling or to guess what you need.

  • Doing so can make your partner feel, inadequate, like a failure, incompetent, helpless, confused, guilty, and at a loss.
  • Always avoid saying one thing when your mean another… do not say it is ok if it is not ok.
  • It is a huge misconception that “if your partner loves you they will intuitively know what you need and take action to meet your needs.” the truth is that we are often very poor at identifying and meeting our own needs…
  • This expectation will leave you frustrated without your needs being met.
  • If you want something… ask for it.
  • If you want your partner to listen and to not fix it… tell them that.


you have the tools now go practice… remember to practice by yourself 1st… the first step in being empathetic to another is to learn how to empathize with your self (neurologically it is a very similar process).


Sound too difficult? This is what couples counselors are for… sometimes people need a little help… perhaps a little gentle mediation.


William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.