Relationship Effectiveness – Maintaining Important Relationships

Have you ever played an RPG video game? If you have, you know that you have a choice of reaction in each conversation in which your character engages. My favorite of these video games is the Mass Effect series. I loved playing through the entire thing three times. The first time, I played it exclusively being nice and polite to everyone I met, the second time exclusively “renegade”, not giving a single fuck who I pissed off, and the third time a combination of both.

In DBT and life in general, the goal would be the third option. Boundaries are important, but so is being an active, positive participant in your important relationships. The people that you care about deserve your full attention in conversation just as much as you deserve theirs.

Sometimes, giving that attention and remaining positive is very difficult, though. Let’s be real, conflicts occur in every relationship at some point. When you have a disagreement with someone you love, how can you resolve it in a way that saves the strength of the relationship.

We talked about Objective Effectiveness yesterday. Just like it’s important for us to protect our rights and boundaries in a relationship, it’s important that we respect others’ rights and boundaries, too. Have you ever gotten upset at someone you love and walked away, slamming a door on the way? Or maybe someone has refused to do something you request and you’ve said something like, “If you really loved me, you’d…” If these communication styles become a pattern, the relationship may become damaged beyond repair and you may lose someone you care about deeply. But that’s not the goal, right? The goal is healthy communication.


You know, nice, respectful, kind communication like this. (This is my “little” brother and I, we love each other and we are joking around in this picture. It’s New England for “I love you.”)

In the spirit of avoiding shouting matches with loved ones this holiday season, let’s talk about how we can interact with those people, even through disagreement, without hurling accusations, making threats, or trying to get them to either do or not do something out of a sense of guilt. I think, to an extent, we are all guilty of this at one point or another. We’re in a bad mood and we take it out on someone we love, or someone we care about does something that triggers our fear of abandonment or control and we flip out. I know I am. Our pasts frequently impact our present, and our emotions can feel all consuming. The question, then, is how can we be in relationship with someone without requiring everything be dependent strictly on our thoughts, feelings, and emotions at any given moment? How do we tale the power away from our emotion mind and give it to the middle ground, wise mind?

Guess what? There’s a DBT acronym for that! (OK, there’s a DBT acronym for just about everything, so I guess that’s not a huge revelation.)

For this particular skill set, the acronym is GIVE. Let’s get those bullet points out of the way again so that we can get to the meaning of GIVE. (How seasonally appropriate is that sentence?)

Remember how I said that each section of Interpersonal Effectiveness has associated objectives and questions to help you determine if it’s the right choice in any given situation? Here they are for GIVE:

  • Regardless of the outcome (if I get what I want out of this interaction), how do I want the other person to feel about me when we’re done talking?
  • If I want to keep this relationship, what do I have to do?

In what instances is GIVE most applicable?

  • When you want to act in such a way that the other person is not driven away and continues to like and respect you
  • When you need to balance your short-term goals (like conflict resolution) with the long-term goal of preseving the relationship
  • Simply wanting to improve and maintain a positive relationship with someone

Easy enough, right? Isn’t that our goal in any important relationship? Let’s get right to the specifics of how to achieve those things.

Gentle (be nice, be respectful)  – Don’t attack, don’t make threats, don’t judge, and don’t sneer. If someone you care about is upset, don’t tell them that their feelings are “stupid”, don’t tell them “you should…” or “you shouldn’t…”, express any anger you are feeling with words only. Stick to “I statements” instead of “You statements”. (Don’t say “You’re making me feel angry”, say, “I am angry right now because I feel I am not being heard.”)

Interested – be an active participant in a two way conversation. Listen to hear and understand, not to reply. Listen to the other person’s point of view and their perspective. Respect the other person’s boundaries, too. If they say that they need to have the conversation at a later time, agree and be patient with them.

Validate – with both your words and actions, show that you understand where the other person is coming from, even if you disagree with them. Try to see the situation from the other person’s perspective, then say something that shows that you understand. (Example: “I hear you saying that when I said [x], you felt [y].” “I see that this conversation is difficult for you.”)

Easy manner – If you’re both having a hard time, check in with your body. What are you feeling physically and how can you calm any tension? Try to keep your body language relaxed. Throw in some humor if appropriate. Try to keep your emotions in check. If you’re asking for something, uses a “soft sell” instead of a “hard sell”. Don’t demand, don’t be rude, don’t manipulate.

That’s it! That’s GIVE! Like all Interpersonal Effectiveness, this one takes practice and mindfulness, but going into the holiday with this in the forefront of your mind, I hope, will be helpful. It can be hard, especially if emotions are running high, but you and I know that close relationships are worth the hard work of preservation.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts! Do you find this information helpful? Drop a comment below, Tweet me @paradichotomy, or hop over to Facebook and join the conversation there! Speaking of Facebook, I spent some time doing a live stream answering some of the questions I’ve received through the blog email and Let’s Talk tab! If you missed it, don’t worry! You can watch it here! If you have questions, please email me at, hit up the Let’s Talk tab, leave them on the Facebook page, or Tweet them to me, as I’m already prepping for the next live stream. (The next one will come with more warning, I promise.)

Finally, be sure to check back tomorrow for the final installment of this triple header! Tomorrow’s post if all about maintaining your elf respect and values in communication and relationships. Very important information. You won’t want to miss it!


***********GIVE, Interpersonal Effectiveness, and all DBT skills were developed by Marsha Linehan. I am not a professional therapist and these skills are not meant as a substitute for therapy. I’m simply sharing things that I have learned and found helpful along the way.



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