Applying Dialectical Behavior Therapy to Your Relationships

This blog was written by a person who has gone through the DBT Program and describes in detail the application of the Interpersonal Skills.

“Is This Effective?” and Negotiating Interpersonal Relationships

Written by  J.H.

One of the most helpful things I’ve learned in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy is to ask myself “is this effective?” when trying to figure out how to react to a situation, or how to behave in specific circumstances. We all have goals – both short-term and long-term – and everything we do affects those goals. When deciding what to do, we need to weigh the effectiveness of our actions against our short term and long term goals.

For example, shopping soothes my anxiety. My long-term goal is to save money. Now, say I find myself in a distressing situation where my short-term goal is to feel less anxiety. Before I start shopping, I’m able to ask myself “is this effective toward my short term goal? Toward my long term goal?” While engaging in the behavior may support my short term goal of lowering my anxiety, it does not support my long term goal of saving money. That might help me decide not to engage in the shopping behavior and to find a different, healthy behavior that will both lower my anxiety and support my long term goal, such as going for a walk or reading a book, which will be both soothing and monetarily cost less.

This skill of asking yourself “is this effective?” also comes into play with interpersonal relationships. Many times, we’ll have three different focuses in any interpersonal situation: maintaining the relationship, getting what you want, and self-respect. By prioritizing those goals, I’ve been better able to act effectively in interpersonal situations toward both my short-term and long-term goals.

For example, if I need to address a bill that was overcharged, I first need to consider “how important is it that I maintain a good relationship with this person/company? How important is it that I get the bill corrected? How important is it that I abide by my personal values?” Especially if it’s a one-time bill, it may not be very important to maintain a good relationship with the person/company I’m negotiating with. It is probably very important that I get the bill corrected. However, it’s also very important that I act within my personal values while trying to get the bill corrected. Therefore, I might be persistent and confident in my request, but I will also be polite and respectful to the person I’m negotiating with.

Of course, this is much easier to put on paper than it is to enact in daily life. For one, not every situation I find myself in is as black and white as the examples above, and sometimes when you’re in a lot of emotional distress, it can be very difficult to step back and be skillful. A lot of it comes down to practice, and even more of it comes down to the willingness to act in my own best interest. But DBT has given me the skills and the confidence to pause and ask myself “Is this effective?” and it has been tremendously helpful in both curbing problem behaviors and improving the success of my interpersonal interactions.