3 Essential Relationship Skills

The Use of DBT to Create Effective Relationships

By John Imperatore, MS, Ed.

How are your relationship skills? When you experience relationship distress, what do you do? How do you feel, and how do you view yourself and others? Our relationship skills can determine how we feel, what we do, and how we see other people. We are social beings, and human connection serves as a foundation for security, love, and well-being. Our relationships are healthy and happy when we bring intention, authenticity, empathy and purpose to the way we engage with others. One empirically tested therapy approach that stresses the importance of relationship skills to reduce distress and improve lives is Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, or DBT.

What is DBT?

DBT is a behavioral therapy which trains individuals to regulate emotions, thoughts and behaviors, and to manage relationships skillfully and effectively. The term “Dialectical” views truth as the integration of two opposites, both of which contain elements of truth. The best way to “be dialectical” is to avoid extremes and find ways “to walk the middle path.”

For example, many of us know that we need to accept life as it is. At the same time, we need to change our way of being to achieve unrealized goals. Do we need to accept things, or do we need to change? Each idea may be true, even though the concepts seem to be in conflict. In this example, the goal is to find a balance between the extremes of remaining the same and creating change.

DBT views change as constant and transactional, meaning we are influenced by relationships and our environment, and at the same time, we can create change in our relationships and environment. Using DBT as a framework, we are not seeking to be perfect or even right, but are striving to improve our lives. The use of DBT, along with couples therapy, is highly effective in creating healthy, loving relationships.

3 Essential Relationship Skills

Relationship distress can be avoided, and effective relationships can be created, by using a DBT approach called Goals of Interpersonal Effectiveness. The 3 goals are:

Objectives Effectiveness – attaining one’s objective in the relationship;

Relationship Effectiveness – improving the relationship with that person; and

Self-respect Effectiveness – respecting our self, our values or our beliefs as we engage with others.

Objectives Effectiveness

DBT tools include the acronym DEAR MAN to achieve a specific outcome in an interaction, or to deny requests effectively:

· Describe the situation

· Express opinions clearly

· Assert one’s needs and wishes

· Reward others when they respond in a positive manner

· Mindfulness – staying focused on the objective

· Appear confident with body and manner

· Negotiate by offering alternatives when needed

Reminder: Things change in every interaction. Sometimes the cost of getting what we need generates uncomfortable emotions, like guilt, or changes the way we are perceived by others. If our sole intent is to gain our objective, we may risk damaging a supportive relationship, or feeling like we compromised our values and belief system at the expense of short-term personal gain.

Relationship Effectiveness

To answer the question, “How do I want the other person to feel about me after we speak?” DBT offers the acronym GIVE: be

· Gentle with other, and be

· Interested in their point of view;

· Validate what they have to say, and use an

· Easy manner as you interact with them.

These simple steps are consistent with the Gottman Method of couples therapy. Dr. Gottman’s extensive research shows that a gentle approach used with validation and interest in your partner are major factors in marital success.

Improving the quality of our connection with others is an important objective. However, ignoring or undermining our needs at the expense of improving another’s opinion of us can trigger painful emotions like anger. And surrendering our self-respect may foster a sense of being undeserving.

Thus, the third DBT tool to minimize relationship distress and improve interactions with others:

Self-Respect Effectiveness

The acronym FAST provides a framework when the focus is to maintain our integrity, or stand up for what we believe is important. Be

· Fair to yourself and the other person, with no

· Apologies for your position (you don’t need to apologize for what you believe is right).

· Stick to your values, and be

· Truthful and represent yourself accurately.

Self-respect, or self-esteem, is an important objective in any interpersonal interaction. Always defending a position or belief may be perceived by others as controlling, causing them to be defensive or avoidant – contributing greatly to relationship distress. That’s why fairness, gentleness, validation and a true interest in their point of view can balance the FAST approach to self-respect.

Personal Balance and Relationship Effectiveness

DBT helps individuals find balance and long-term effectiveness in their relationships. To utilize these three skills, it is important to consider each one in every situation. In addition, context and personal priorities are important in determining which skill to apply. Moreover, it can be helpful to reflect on your relationship history to identify whether you have successfully balanced these skills over time or if you tend to “get stuck” focusing on one area or ignoring another. For example, if you are a “people pleaser,” you are likely too focused on relationship effectiveness at the expense of getting your needs met and maintaining self-respect and self-worth.

Finally, it is important to consider the difference between being right and being effective. A focus on being right indicates a rigid focus on self-centered needs – and results in making the other person wrong. In couples therapy, we identify being right or controlling your partner as losing strategies. We can avoid this unfortunate situation by remembering all 3 components of the DBT process.

Our Center specializes in the most effective methods for dealing with relationship distress. We offer couples therapy and marriage counseling retreats through our Connections program. For more information about DBT and couples therapy, please contact us today.

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