In Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) terms, the ability to get what we want in relationships, and to get out of relationships that aren’t good for us, is a skill called “interpersonal effectiveness.” It is one of the four core skills of the DBT program, and one of the skills we teach in our DBT Group as well as in our individual therapy with clients. When I talk about learning how to get what we want in relationships, sometimes people think I’m talking about being manipulative (and perhaps I am). Here’s the thing – we all need to get what we want in relationships. Quite frankly, that’s the reason we have relationships – because we get what we need out of them in a mutually beneficial, symbiotic fashion. Sometimes, however, we have a habit of getting in our own way.


Why is it that we have difficulties with interpersonal effectiveness in our relationships?


Sometimes it’s because we don’t know what we want! Other times our emotions get in the way and even control how we behave. Many times we forgo long term goals and plans for short term benefit. Alternatively, sometimes other people get in our way! Finally, sometimes our own thoughts and beliefs about ourselves and others mess things up.

What are some of the myths that get in the way of achieving our objectives in life? For a lot of people, it’s the mistaken belief that we don’t deserve to get what we want or need. Other times we may see a request as a sign of weakness – that is, we should be able to figure it out, or do it all on our own. Do you ever have a hard time saying, “no,” to people? You’re not alone. Often we get tied up in the belief that saying, “no,” to anyone is inherently selfish, or we should sacrifice our own needs and wellbeing for others.


What about relationships?


One of my favourite stumbling blocks we fall into in relationships is the idea that we shouldn’t have to tell our partners/friends/family what we want, or what we need – they should just know! I don’t know about you, but I haven’t developed the skill of mind-reading yet, and I’m pretty confident that most people haven’t. Yet, especially when we’re under stress this often becomes our implicit, if not explicit expectation of others. Why we do this is a very good question – I believe that it’s because it’s our desire that we are known by those closest to us in such a way that our needs are known and met; sometimes this does happen! Not because we can read minds, but because we have this thing called intuition. The problem comes when we expect this all the time and then believe that we don’t have the responsibility to tell others what our wants and needs are. Ironically, when we are able to relay our wants and needs to others in an effective way, the chances of needs being met skyrocket. Go figure!

One of the important steps to take to be effect in interpersonal situations is to clarify our goals. In DBT terms, we need objectives effectiveness, relationship effectiveness, and self-respect effectiveness. In layman’s terms, we could summarize these three goals as questions:

1) What specific changes do I want from this interaction and how do I get there?
2) How do I want this person to feel about me and what do I have to do to keep this relationship?
3) How do I want to feel about myself and what do I have to do to get there[1]?

In our DBT groups, we teach specific skills that answer these three very important questions. We all want to know how to get what we need from another person, how to keep and improve our relationships, and how to keep and improve upon our own self-respect. In fact, this is why DBT Skills can be great for everybody!


If you’d like to learn more about Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT), or just how to get more of what you need in relationships and how to set healthy boundaries for yourself, please contact us, we’d love to hear from you! You can reach us by phone at 604-283-7827 or by using our contact page today!


[1]From DBT Skills Training Handouts and Worksheets, Second Edition, by Marsha M. Linehan, 2015.