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How to Communicate Better in a Relationship

Good Therapy San Francisco | Anxiety Therapy Specialists
By Tom McDonagh, Psy.D.
CA License #: PSY25741
WA License #: PY61408367

Very often relationships come down to communication. This has really been identified well with John and Julie Gottman using the Gottman method. And I really would ask people to reach out to people that have been Gottman trained, such as some of the ones at Good Therapy SF, where we work.

I’m going to talk about two non-Gottman skills, however, even though I say that. One relationship skill here is actually from Dialectical Behavior Therapy, and it’s called the DEAR skill. It’s a great way to have a difficult conversation. If you really don’t know what to say, it gives you a formula, right, for how to approach these difficult conversations.

D E A R Skill

The four parts are D E A R.

  • D stands for Describe the facts
  • E stands for Express the emotion
  • A is your Assert statement
  • R is our Reinforcing statement

I’ll go through each one of them. We always want to start with the D Discuss our facts first because people hear what we have to say most effectively when you start with facts.

If you start with emotions right away, you’re likely going to bring up some defensiveness with the other person. And the more likely, less likely to listen to what you have to say. So we start with the facts first. And then after you start with the facts, you’re allowed to give one sentence about how that makes you feel.

You’re frustrated, you’re sad, you’re angry. You’re allowed to acknowledge that. And then A, the Assert statement is often the most challenging, because really we don’t Often know what we want the other person to do. Often. We just want to express our frustration, but in order to have effective communication, the other person needs to have an ask of them.

So, try to think of your Assert statement as a closing sentence that a attorney might give a jury. It should be very clear to your partner, the person you’re talking to, about what you want them to do. And then lastly, the R, the Reinforcer, try to remember that people are more likely to listen to you if you provide some type of like positive, sometimes negative reinforcement, such as, thank you for listening to me.

An Example of D E A R

I’ll run through a quick example here using the D E A R approach. Describe the facts. I’ll do it about something simple like, taking out the trash.

So the facts are, “you said you would take out the trash last Tuesday and you did not take out the trash.”

“That makes me upset.”

My Assert statement is, “please take out the trash when you say you’re going to take out the trash.”

And then Reinforcement is, “thanks for listening to me.”

It doesn’t have to be any more complicated than that, but sometimes it’s really nice to kind have a bit of a formula that you can just touch on to let, you know, okay, I have something I want to say, and this gives you a way to approach that with the person you’re talking to.

D. E. A. R. and that comes from Dialectical Behavior Therapy, one of the teachings within that module.

“What Did You Hear Me Say When I Said X” Skill

Another skill set to try is something called the What did you hear me say when I said X? So essentially reading between the lines.

Very often we say something, and we think we’re being clear, but our partner or other people, that we’re talking to hear something a little different.

So it’s really good to check in with them and say, “Hey, what did you hear me say when I said this thing?”

So going back to the example about taking out the trash, “What did you hear me say when I said, please take out the trash.”

The other person might acknowledge, “I heard you calling me lazy.”

“I heard you calling me sloppy.”

“I heard you calling me a not a good partner.” And that might not have been the case at all. So sometimes it’s really good quick and fast way to cut through to what we’re interpreting or assuming in communication is to use this, What did you hear me say when I said X. So try that with your partner sometime and see how it goes.

And for more relationship communication skills, please feel free to reach out to a therapist here at Good Therapy SF or any licensed professional therapist near where you live. Take care.