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What is the Best Way to Ask for What I Need In My Relationships?

By Eric Dean JD, MBA, MA, MA, LPC, CADC

Many couples struggle to communicate assertively, directly, and honestly about their needs which leads to mind-reading and making inaccurate assumptions about their partner’s thoughts and feelings. When couples act upon inaccurate assumptions, it creates misunderstandings and confusion in the relationship. The good news is that this can be prevented or alleviated by assertive communication.

When we do not ask for what we need from our partner, our needs go unmet, paving the way for future resentment. When we ask for what we need in an unhealthy way, our partner may be unreceptive to our request and get defensive or shut down.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) is an evidenced-based psychotherapy that is effective for numerous issues including substance abuse and anxiety, among others. One of the main pillars of DBT is interpersonal effectiveness, which gives us valuable guidance on how we can communicate assertively and respectfully.

DBT provides us with a skill that is represented by the acronym DEARMAN. To Illustrate this skill, I am going to use an example of a romantic relationship between John and Pat. Pat noticed that John forgot to do the dishes, which is the second time this happened in the current month. Pat would like John to do the dishes as previously discussed. In the steps below, part “A” is a description of that particular section of the skill and part “B” is an example of what the conversation could look like:

  1.     Describe
  2. Describe the current situation factually and objectively.
  3. “I notice that the dishes have not been cleaned. We agreed that you would do them.”
  4.     Express
  5. Express your emotions about the situation.
  6. “When you do not do what we agreed upon, I feel like you are not listening to me. I also feel irritated because our kitchen is messy.”
  7.     Assert
  8. Ask for what you want or need.
  9. “I would greatly appreciate it if you could do the dishes as we agreed.”
  10.     Reinforce
  11. Explain the positive effects (on you, your partner, and the relationship) of getting what you want. How will this benefit both of you?
  12. “I would feel thankful for you doing the dishes and be more trusting of you. I know how you value organization and I believe that having clean dishes would help us foster a less cluttered and more orderly living environment that we can better enjoy together.”

The second part of the skill provides guidance on how to communicate the above steps with our partner:

  1.     Mindful
  2. Stay focused on the current issue. Refrain from bringing up your partner’s past mistakes, as this will make them defensive. If there are unresolved issues, talk about them in a separate conversation.
  3.     Appear Confident
  4. Be conscious of your body language, tone of voice, and rate of speech. While what we say is important, how we say it can make a huge difference in how the message is received.
  5.     Negotiate
  6. Be open to discussing alternative arrangements (e.g., boundaries around household responsibilities) that may be better suited to you and your partner. Work together to identify the reasons for the dishes not being done and explore ways to support each other with household tasks.

The word “conflict” has a strong negative connotation, which is why many of us try to avoid it. Conflict does not have to be negative and can even have positive effects on your relationship. If you and your partner can keep conflicts constructive, you can learn more about each other and cultivate a supportive and nonjudgmental environment. A Symmetry therapist can help facilitate these discussions.

So, let’s get started – call Symmetry Counseling today at 312-578-9990 to get paired with a licensed counselor.


Pederson, Lane, and Cortney Sidwell Pederson. The Expanded Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Training Manual: DBT for Self-Help, and Individual and Group Treatment Settings. PESI Publishing & Media, 2017.

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