My Relationship is Failing Because We Fail to Communicate: HELP!

You get home from a long day of work, dishes are piled up, the kids are still awake, and your husband is watching television. He did not do anything to help you out. You are tired and lash out at your husband (who also had a bad day). The atomic bomb of fights ensues.

Does this sound familiar to anyone? YES! If so, have you ever tried using "therapy stuff" in your relationship that works? In this blog post, I will discuss the benefits of using Dialectal Behavior Therapy in your relationship and provide you will tools to assist you reaching satisfaction in your relationship.

It is important to understand what Dialectal Behavioral Therapy (DBT) is and why it was created. Per the Marsha Linehan Training Institute, "Dialectal Behavioral Therapy (DBT) is a cognitive behavioral therapy developed by Marsha Linehan, PhD, ABPP" (2017). She developed it to help individuals learn skills in a group and individual setting to provide them with strategies to live a meaningful life.

There are several components that make up DBT which are subsections within this therapeutic technique: mindfulness, emotion regulation, distress tolerance, and interpersonal effectiveness. Emotion regulation is designed to help you learn techniques to cope with and identify emotions. Distress tolerance is designed to help you learn how to deal with perceived stressful situations or crises. Mindfulness is to be present and in this section, it helps you learn how to be present with strategies. Lastly, interpersonal section of DBT helps you create meaningful interaction in interpersonal relationships using skills. Within each section there are corresponding lessons and worksheets to help you build the related skills.

According to Swensen (2016), "To set the stage for this discussion of using DBT's dialectal strategies, it should be stressed that the three core paradigms each provide a unique source of power that can be harnessed in concert to help the patient change her life, to get a life worth living" (p. 299). The three paradigms that Swenson is referring to are: change, acceptance, and dialectal (2018). The change paradigm provides the power of purpose within a life worth living. The acceptance paradigm creates the power of presence and the dialectal paradigm adds the power of improvisation (Swenson, 2016, p. 300-301).

It is important to understand the states of mind within the mindfulness section of DBT. This sets the stage for understanding where your mind is to elicit positive interaction within your relationship. The three states of mind are: rational, emotional, and wise. Rational mind is when you are using your brain and sticking to just the fact. In a relationship, this can feel cold and unsupportive to your partner. For example, your partner is asking you what you think about a letter they wrote to their mom about a fight they got into. If you are in a rational state of mind you may respond with no emotion. This may feel very distant to your partner due to not being in-tune with your emotional side and not providing your partner with validation. Emotional mind is when you are reacting irrationally, abruptly, or overreacting. For example, your partner shares with you about how they do not agree with your perspective and you blow up on them, as well as, start to call them names. This is being in an emotional state of mind. Wise mind is what I like to call an equal part of both emotional and rational states of mind. It is when your head is connected to your heart. We all should strive to be in wise mind, however, we are human beings!

 A book that I recommend to all couples that I am working with that helps bring the DBT strategies right to your door step is, The High Conflict Couple: A Dialectal Behavioral Therapy Guide to Finding Peace, Intimacy, and Validation by Alan E. Fruzzetti, PhD. I recommend that couples read this together aloud and then check in with one another when you are finished with the chapter to check your understanding. The book provides a great guideline to help couples incorporate the strategies within their relationship. 

The skills can feel very complicated and they are. According to Swenson (2016), “Change requires acceptance. Acceptance requires change” (p. 341). In order to change one must become self-aware. If you are closed to the change and do not accept responsibility, then things will stay the same in your relationship. DBT requires a sort of openness that is challenging to access if you have been burying your emotions. It is important to acknowledge that you will need to do the work, both partners, to get the desired results.

Two tools that you can try today are relatively complex in nature, but once you practice them they can become a normal part of your routine within your relationship. The first skill is identifying your state of mind. As I discussed above, the three states of mind are: wise, emotional, and rational in the mindfulness section of DBT. I like to draw the three states of mind on a board for the couples that I work with. Then you can identify what triggers the different states of mind. Once you learn your triggers that are associated with the states of mind then it becomes easier to label which state of mind you are in. The second tool that I like to work on with couples that I work with is the STOP skill within the emotion regulation section of DBT. The STOP acronym stands for Stop, Take a Minute, Observe, and Proceed Mindfully. For example, your partner comes home and they have had a bad day at work, as well as, the rent is due, and the kids are needing support with their homework. You request that they clean up their mess in a very demanding way and your partner starts to respond negatively then you ask for a minute. In that time, you are stopping your response, taking a minute to think about your partner’s circumstances/environment, observing what is going on at home, and then proceeding mindfully based on your observation. The outcome could be you tell your partner that you are sorry that you were not considerate of their feelings and stress. The STOP skill is one we work on throughout couple’s counseling.

In closing, DBT is a great versatile strategy to use with couples because it gives you tools to foster healthy communication in difficult situations and allows you to be present in the moment. Our brains are wired for story and connection. When we do not feel connected we fill in the blanks. Instead of filling in the blanks, why not try therapy using DBT? If you are interested in therapy services, please feel free to reach out to me via my website or phone number: and 907-204-0630.



Fruzzetti, A. E. (2006). The High Conflict Couple: A Dialectal Behavioral Therapy Guide to Finding Peace Intimacy, and Validation. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger. 

What is Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)? (2017). Retrieved September 4, 2018, from

Swenson, C. R. (2016). DBT Principles in Action. New York, NY. Guilford.


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