Maintaining effective communication within a relationship can be a challenging task, yet when individuals within a relationship are able to express their needs and wants appropriately, the relationship is much more likely to flourish and prosper. Expressing our desires to our loved-ones, however, can sometimes be difficult due to extraneous factors such as our fear of rejection, disapproval, or embarrassment for wanting something. Marsha M. Linehan, the founder of dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) and professor of Psychology at the University of Washington, has developed several skills to help individuals in relationships effectively express their needs and try to get what they want in an interaction with their partner(s). One way of remembering several skills used to get what we want in relationships is the term GIVE, with each letter referring to a different component of effectively communicating with our partner. Effective communication involves (being) Gentle, (acting) Interested, Validating, and (using an) Easy manner.
The GIVE Skills
- (Be) Gentle: when we interact with our partner, it is crucial that we do so in a way that portrays a sense of gentleness and warmth. One component of being gentle involves not verbally attacking or harassing our partner when expressing our needs. Our partner is less likely to respond positively to our interactions if we threaten, verbally attack, or express our anger toward them. Being gentling involves not judging our partner for how they respond to our needs as well as respecting the choice that they make, whatever it may be.
- (Act) Interested: part of having a conversation with our partner involves actually listening to and appearing interested in what they have to say. People do not actively engage in conversation with others when they notice disinterest in the people they are talking to. Avoiding eye contact, checking your watch, interrupting your partner, and sighing often throughout a conversation can be perceived as genuine disinterest and apathy about the conversation and possibly about the person they are talking to. Part of acting interested during a conversation involves maintaining consistent eye contact, head nodding to show you are engaged, and avoiding distractions including your phone and your surroundings.
- Validate: the third component of effectively communicating with your partner involves genuinely attempting to understand the other person’s thoughts, feelings, and actions. Even when we have a conversation with our partner and we do not necessarily agree with what they are saying, it is important to accept and validate why our partner may be feeling, thinking, or acting a certain way. Our partner is more likely to continue a conversation and understand our needs and wants if we say, “I understand that you think yelling at me will help me hear you. I think that when I am yelled at, the volume of your voice actually distracts me from listening to the words you are saying.”
- (Use an) Easy Manner: as with all conversations, incorporating an easy and lighthearted tone to your voice can significantly help your partner connect with you and attempt to understand what you want. When we smile and fill our conversation with light humor, we are able to soften ourselves and exude a sense of understanding, compassion, and willingness to compromise.
When the GIVE skills are implemented appropriately, they can have a significant impact on how we connect with our partners and voice our concerns and needs within the relationship. The GIVE skills are just a small glimpse of the tools developed and utilized in DBT. If you find yourself incorporating this acronym into your conversation with your partner(s), I encouraged you to seek services from one of our counselors here at Symmetry who has experience with teaching the skills found in DBT.
Linehan, M. M. (2015). DBT® skills training manual, 2nd ed. New York, NY: Guilford Press.