At The Midtown Practice, we believe that improving the quality of our relationships is pivotal to improving our quality of life. We have found that many clients specifically struggle with articulating what they feel or need with their romantic partner. Although many therapies can address this dilemma, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), offers a framework to better understand and manage your emotions, while communicating to your partner ways he or she can be supportive. This process paves the way for your partner to speak more freely and effectively, allowing you to resolve difficulties and grow stronger together. This seems foundational, but is an important skill to maintain throughout any long term relationship. Here are 3 accessible lessons from DBT that can improve your relationship starting today!
1) Gain Control Over Your Emotions with DBT
When we engage in difficult conversations with others, it is often because we feel overwhelmed with emotions. When you interact with someone in an emotional state, and haven’t taken the time to really process how and why you feel this way, the conversation often results in a negative experience.
Psychotherapy can teach us the importance of checking in with yourself, and noticing (without judgment) what thoughts and feelings are present. When you start to examine yourself with curiosity, you begin to recognize what state of mind you are in. When we become dysregulated or in an emotional state of mind, it is usually not the best time to have a difficult conversation.
This mindful self-check in process serves as a necessary speed bump, by helping you slow down and get to a less reactive place before jumping into an emotional dialogue.
2) Increase Your Empathy For Others
One of the main tenets of DBT is the concept of dialectical thinking. This means viewing issues from multiple perspectives and accepting the existence of opposing viewpoints. No matter how upsetting or frustrating your partner’s behavior might be, there is a valid truth they are struggling to communicate. We refer to this as “the kernel of truth.” When fighting with someone, try to see past their behavior and better understand their emotional experience. Ask yourself “ what are they feeling right now? What vulnerabilities did I trigger? How is their behavior linked to these vulnerabilities?’ Remember, you are not a mind reader, and neither is your partner! If you don’t know the answer to these questions, get in the habit of asking the person directly.
Find The Kernel of Truth
Finding the kernel of truth means validating the other person’s point of view. It doesn’t mean that you have to agree, approve, or like what the other person is doing. You are simply understanding where the other person is coming from, and accepting that they have a valid truth just like you do. Accepting your partner’s truth does not make your truth invalid. Rather, it helps you better understand and empathize with them, creating more space for a healthy conversation.
3) Identify Your Goal
Not only is it important to slow down and better understand what you are feeling and what state of mind you are in, but it is also important to clarify what your goal for a difficult conversation is. DBT suggests that every conversation has one or more of the following goals: achieve an objective; build or maintain a relationship; or assert one’s self-respect. Prioritizing these goals before embarking on a difficult conversation is essential to being an effective communicator.
DBT provides a framework to help you establish your goal, and identify the most effective way to accomplish it. Depending on what your goal is, your tone of voice and body language will differ. For example, if your goal is to maintain the relationship, you will approach the conversation in a more gentle and validating way, than if your goal is to assert your self-respect.
Practicing these skills, which are derived from DBT, helps you understand your feelings, clarify your goal for the conversation, and identify the most effective way to communicate that goal to your partner.