What Pro Athletes and Mucisians Can Teach Us About Love
Five ways that enhancing attunement can optimize your relationship.
Posted Jun 10, 2020
When it comes to our romantic relationships, being in sync is one of the key ingredients that takes our experience from good to extraordinary. If we examine non-romantic relationships among professional athletes and musicians, we can identify a few themes that, when applied to our romantic relationships, have the power to elevate our relationship satisfaction and enhance intimacy.
What comes to mind when you think about attunement in your romantic relationship?
Like many people, you probably think about the importance of emotional availability. Therapists encourage this assumption by overemphasizing the importance of feelings. After all, the majority of communication exercises for couples are built around understanding each other’s emotions. While this is important, it’s far from the full story.
What other skills are necessary for creating attunement in our romantic relationships?
We can learn a lot from highly attuned “couples” in sports and music. Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin, and Emmitt Smith played together for the Cowboys in the 1990’s. “The Triplets” as they came to be known, won three Super Bowls over a four-year period. Michael Irvin is quoted as saying, "I can't write my life story without Emmitt and Troy. They can't write their life stories without me. We're tied together forever."
We can find examples in popular music as well. Rolling Stone cites Simon and Garfunkel as one of the greatest musical duos of all time. These two, despite facing external and interpersonal challenges, harmonized for decades, creating music loved by multiple generations of fans.
What are the relationship secrets that led to such success of these athletes and musicians? And how can we apply them to our romantic relationships?
- They Learn Each Other’s Nonverbal Cues. Verbal communication skills are essential. But with time and practice, highly successful couples develop an attunement to nonverbal cues that makes it less likely they’ll have to talk every issue to death. The athletes and musicians I cited don’t have time to pause a concert or suspend a game to go through the whole, “When you did ____, it made me feel _____.” Because they pay such close attention to nonverbal cues, when a conflict or mishap occurs, both make micro-adjustments in their behavior that allows them to move on and slip back into harmony.
- They Balance Each Other’s Strengths and Weaknesses. We all have strengths and weaknesses. What makes some couples more successful than others is having a solid understanding of these differences, knowing how to step up and offer support, and when to step back and let the other lead. This is essential in both athletics and in music. It’s how harmony is created, and it’s the essence of teamwork.
- They Have Shared Goals. “Championship or bust” is a slogan often heard in athletics. Successful couples have a clearly identified purpose. It’s important not to lose sight of the forest for the trees, so to speak. Strong couples know that by working together, they can more easily achieve goals that are bigger than just their relationship. It’s easier to pick your battles, focus on the positive, and support each other when we keep our eye on the prize.
- They Know When to Put Other Problems to the Side. Part of the reason musicians and athletes like those I cited are so successful is because they know how to limit the effect of external problems on their performance. Somehow, most of us can put personal problems aside so we can give 100% at work, but we struggle to keep problems at work from affecting our personal lives. Yes, you want home to be a safe haven. Yes, you want to feel you can express concerns or challenges with your partner. But successful couples don’t let outside struggles continuously get the best of them at home. As my colleague Esther Perel says, don’t be guilty of “bringing home your leftovers.”
- There Is Give and Take. When a musician is completing rocking out on a drum solo, the rest of the band members instinctively know to hold back before beginning the next frame. When an athlete misses a shot or stumbles running for a catch, good teammates pick up the slack in microseconds. As I said before, when there is an overemphasis on the importance of being emotionally available to one partner, we lose sight of the (sometimes less apparent) needs of the other. Perhaps your partner needs more time with friends to unwind. Maybe your partner gets more fulfillment from their career than you do. Think of what nonemotional needs your partner may have and brainstorm ways you can support them. When there is greater balance and mutual support of the variety of needs we have as humans, there is a greater chance our partner will be there for us when we truly need them.
A Bonus of Strong Relationship Attunement
It is widely accepted that there is a strong positive correlation between relationship satisfaction and sexual satisfaction. When there is a high degree of attunement in the relationship, it makes it exponentially easier to experience harmony sexually. For information on how attunement can elevate sexual experiences from ordinary to extraordinary, be sure to subscribe to my blog.