“If we could just get in tune with each other . . .”

The musician was considering his stressful relationship with his wife. Somehow the refreshing romance had deteriorated into a routine reality, and a breakup looked inevitable. He did not want his marriage to end, but he could not see the road to recovery. In his emotional pain and grief he found that his guitar was his main source of comfort and satisfaction. It was always there for him, freely responding to his skilled fingers with appealing arpeggios and comforting chords. In the context of his love for music he observed mournfully about his relationship with his spouse, “If we could just get in tune with each other.”   
It is much harder to “tune a marriage” than it is to tune a guitar. If you’re like many couples, you’ll acknowledge serious issues about your marital music. Perhaps there’s no music at all, and you can even recall the specific day when the music died. Or, perhaps some music remains, but the marital blend is dissonant and discouraging. You miss the “good old days” when music filled your relationship. Your mutual music inspired, uplifted, and filled your days with joy and contentment. Your hearts were in harmony. But those days are gone. Your current marriage feels like musical misery, not the musical masterpiece for which you had dreamed.
What kind of music do you have within your relationships, particularly within your marriage? Are you and your spouse “in tune” with each other? Are you playing the same musical score? Are you on the same page? Relationship music is important. Clearly, a healthy marriage involves two people who are individually healthy and happy. Each person has already been generating beautiful music that reflects the joy and peace within the heart. The two “musicians” choose to join their hearts in marriage, and the resulting music surpasses what each had produced individually. But how do couples work toward making their relationship a musical masterpiece?
Learning to make good marriage music is a process that will take time—and lots and lots of practice. No one becomes a virtuoso classical guitarist or an accomplished vocalist without years of diligent and dedicated effort, involving both instruction and practice. Making the commitment and following through are necessary ingredients. I recall one young man who loved music who decided to become a skilled song leader at the church he attended. Ricky stood before the congregation to lead his first song. He announced the hymn number and then made the following announcement:  “As you know, this is my first time to lead singing. I ain’t good now, but I aim to get good.” His first attempt showed more courage than skill, but continued practice enabled him to achieve his personal goal. I admired Ricky’s courage, and I respected his commitment. You might be saying the same thing about the potential that you and your spouse have in regard to making beautiful marital music:  “We ain’t good now, but we aim to get good!” Basically, the process requires two important steps: getting in tune with myself and staying in tune with my spouse.

Step #1: Getting in tune with myself!

How can two people hope to get in tune with each other if they are not already “in tune” individually? Suppose that I take my personal guitar to a friend’s house for the purpose of playing several classical or folk pieces together. We take our guitars out of their cases and begin playing. However, suppose that my instrument is totally out of tune, and so is his. We start playing away, but the resulting sound is anything but pleasant! What’s the solution? You’ve already figured it out: “Get your own guitar in tune and you’ll be able to play together.” Right! We tune our respective guitars the same way, using an A-440 tuning fork or an electronic tuning device. When both guitars are individually in tune, the joint sound will be something a bit more pleasant to the human ear.
Years ago I learned that simply buying a good guitar did not automatically mean that the instrument would stay in tune. I recall frustration and struggle in my efforts to tune my guitar correctly, and my stress compounded because the strings would stretch and lose tune, particularly for several weeks after installing new strings. A big part of the problem was my lack of skill in “hearing pitch”—and not having a contemporary electronic tuner.
As a person I am the musical instrument. Like the guitar I’m not born automatically tuned and guaranteed to stay tuned. Imust get my instrument (that is, me) in tune before I can be in tune with another person. Regarding relationships, we unfortunately tend to get the “cart before the horse.” We want to jump into a relationship and make beautiful music when individually we are totally out of tune. What is meant by being “out of tune?” As a person I am irresponsible and immature. I’m not sure about who I am, and I don’t have a clue about my personal purpose in life. My understanding of my wants and needs is murky at best. Essentially, I’m unhappy and insecure. Therefore, my expectations of the relationship are unrealistic and inappropriate. But who cares? Let’s get together and make music! So we jump into marriage and hope that our new spouse will somehow magically cure our neediness and unhappiness. If one marriage doesn’t provide the music we want, we simply find another unhappy person with whom we repeat the same mistake. The alarming divorce rate within our society reflects the prevailing lack of preparation and readiness for marriage. The cultural emphasis upon selfishness and self-gratification motivates us to pursue what we can get rather than what we can give. The road signs are clear; traveling the highway of self-centeredness will lead to continuing relationship breakdowns. With such an inadequate approach to relationships it should be no surprise that the majority of marriages are highway collisions waiting to occur, causing tremendous personal and collateral damage.
Before I consider any type of serious relationship, especially marriage, I need to get myself in tune. To achieve that goal I work hard to grow and to mature to a point where I am a responsible and self-sustaining person who reflects a reasonable level of adulthood. Marriages are no place for teenagers or adults who lack that level of maturity. I reach an age at which I leave my parents’ home, and I complete some type of training that equips me for earning a living. I am no longer dependent financially or emotionally upon my parents or family of origin. I live a single lifestyle in a mature, responsible manner. I come to understand my purpose in life, and I commit to that purpose. I determine that all decisions in life, including choices about friendships and marriage, will help me to fulfill that purpose. Any decision to get married is based upon a desire to share my happy life with a suitable mature, happy person. The resulting marriage will enhance and increase the health and happiness that each individual already possesses.
Like most guitars, my classical model has six strings. What sound will I get if I tune one string correctly but ignore the other five? Or I tune three strings and leave the other three untuned? You can predict the results. An effective tuning requires that all six strings be tuned correctly, individually and in relation to the other five. When all six are in good tune, the resulting music can be beautiful. The application to life? My life contains many areas or compartments. All of my inner parts must be in good tune before the outward sound can be beautiful; outer beauty requires that all of my inner “strings” are in relative harmony. Clearly, this type of total tuning involves effort and experience, practice and patience, wisdom and work! When two people are in good individual tune, they are more equipped for a healthy relationship in which great music can be made.
Several years ago I was invited to speak to a group of college students on the topic, “Selecting Your Mate.” During the discussion an issue was raised about the best preparation for marriage. In my response I made the following recommendation. “No one should be allowed to get married until he has finished high school, moved out from the parents’ house, completed some type of education or training, lived a single lifestyle supporting himself for at least three years, and gained some understanding of what life is all about.” The reception to my recommendation was not very positive, since it goes counter to our cultural pressures to start dating at an early age and to marry before one is a mature, functional adult. However, if success is the objective, I do see great wisdom in the practice of getting my life “in tune” before getting into serious relationships like marriage.

Step #2: Staying in tune with my spouse!

Growing a healthy marriage is a challenge—even for the mature adult, similar to the years of hard work required to become an accomplished classical guitarist. Two well-tuned adults still may be challenged by the process of playing music well as a duo. The process of “staying in tune” involves several important tools, includinghonest self-disclosure, effective listening, and mutual understanding. These three tools are essential components of relationship harmony.
The tuning process begins as each spouse chooses to be open and self-disclosing to the partner. We share our expectations (what we want and need), our hopes and dreams, our fears and insecurities. We disclose our strengths and our shortcomings. We reveal our assets and our debts. We share our belief system about important life issues, including financial, social, and spiritual concerns. We reveal what we believe to be our #1 purpose in life and the plan of action we have for fulfilling that goal. Our self-disclosure removes the secrets that could threaten the future health of our marriage.
Effective listening continues the tuning process so that the self-disclosure already made brings about mutual understanding. Active listening involves specific skills that promote the likelihood of being understood. Hopefully, each spouse will feel accepted and affirmed by the partner following the self-disclosure and listening efforts. Without appropriate self-disclosure and adequate listening efforts the two spouses will never attain a high level of mutual understanding. And without accurate mutual understanding the couple cannot be “in tune” with each other and, therefore, they will probably not develop a strong level of relationship health and happiness.
These three “tuning tools” can be used to explore the key components (areas or issues) of the total relationship. Just as the multiple strings on my guitar symbolize the various components that constitute me as a person, so the additional number of total strings on two guitars reflect the many complex areas of a relationship, all of which need to be fine-tuned for health and harmony. 
Thinking wishfully, I’d love to provide Full Relationship Electronic Tuning Service for couples in therapy. In the F.R.E.T.S. program each spouse would be connected to the electronic tuning device, the “Start Tuning” button would be pressed, and voila!—one minute later the couple would be perfectly tuned to each other. With F.R.E.T.S.therapy every couple could get in tune in a single session. (By the way, please let me know if someone somewhere invents such a tuning device. I’d like to order one for my therapy practice!)
Playing solo is usually simpler and easier than trying to play with another person or a group. I recall the challenge of playing in a group class years ago. I felt a bit overwhelmed trying to play Guitar #3 for a classical piece written for four guitars. I’d make a mistake and pause, but the others would continue playing. I had to learn that there was no time for a “redo” or correction. How did they get five bars ahead? Catching up and playing in time was hard! Likewise, many people can make great music as individuals, but they become musical disasters when attempting to play a duet. Playing with another person involves mutual adjustments and accommodations, in contrast to solo playing in which I can play at any speed I want and with any unexpected variations I choose. Admittedly, life as an individual is often much easier than a lifestyle of relationships, including marriage. But, then, we lose out on all of the joys and benefits of relationships!
Couples who stay in tune spend a great deal of time together, similar to the time musicians spend together in order to produce great music. They agree to play the same musical score. They practice daily, and, over time, they learn to “hear” both the obvious and the subtle tones from each other. They sense the changing of chords or the shifting to a different key. Through sharing life together they train themselves to “hear” what is being said verbally and nonverbally. They discuss their musical journey, including their differences, openly and honestly. As their relationship matures, their marriage becomes a musical symphony comprised of several movements, each of which reflects and describes a significant stage of their adult life cycle. As the music is composed and played, the two hearts beat as one—two hearts in harmony. The long-term relationship composition is indeed something very special: a musical masterpiece!

Concluding thoughts . . .
A marriage without music is a tragedy, something to mourn and endure. Conversely, a marriage with music is a triumph, something to celebrate and enjoy. Good marriage music requires that each spouse is first in tune individually and then, secondly, that they learn through training and practice how to stay in tune with each other. Music—what a wonderful gift for the human heart, and for our human relationships!

I wish for you the very best as you learn to create marvelous music in your relationship journey.

VIDEO:  To watch a four-minute video clip in which Dr. Baker uses his love for classical guitar to discuss the importance of getting and staying "in tune" in relationships, click on the picture to the right or click here.

To listen to an audio version of this blog please click on the Play button below.



​                      (Blog HR#107) 



9340 Helena Road, Suite F123 • Birmingham, AL • 35244-1747 • p# - (205)305-3073

• Copyright © 2011 • Dr Bill