Relationships are precious and they are vulnerable.  They bring love, companionship, and support. Yet sometimes, in a matter of moments, they can be broken beyond repair. Keeping your relationships healthy and alive requires interpersonal skills that can be learned from Dialetical Behavior Therapy.


We all know that relationships require attention. But do we really know what it means to pay attention? Paying attention means staying in the here and now–not thinking about what you want to say next or focusing on some memory. It means remaining present to what you see, hear, and sense emotionally. When you pay attention, you notice trouble coming before it overwhelms you, and gain time to ask clarifying questions that can help you correct misconceptions. Not paying attention–focusing away from the moment between you and others–can have a heavy price. You might end up missing cues about the other person’s needs and reactions, or worse, you might react negatively to something being said simply because it caught you by surprise (you didn’t see it coming).


Every relationship consists of two people trying to get what they need. Sometimes they need the same thing–companionship, recreation, calm, and quiet–and other times they need different things. Sometimes they both need something different at the very same time and are unwilling to compromise. For relationships to succeed, Dialetical Behavior Therapy tells us that you must know and say what you desire. You must notice or find out what the other person desires. You should negotiate and compromise so you can at least get some of what you want. And you must give what you can of what the other person wants as well. The trick is to find a balance. Paying attention to what each person desires and using assertiveness skills to negotiate conflicts is vital to maintaining healthy relationships.


Improving your interpersonal skills takes hard work. It is difficult to change yourself or your relationship patterns, but you know in the long run that if you work at it, you are bound to gain some amazing results.

Dialetical Behavior Therapy identifies six core interpersonal skills that can help you change how your relationship feels:

1- Knowing what you want. How do you know what you want in a relationship? The key is to pay attention and look for a way to describe what you’re feeling.

2- Asking for what you want. For starters, it is ok to want. You have a right to need things from others, a right to put yourself first sometimes, and a right to feel and express your emotions or your pain. You must put your needs into words that are clear, not attacking, and ask for specific behavioral change.

3- Negotiating conflicting wants. This skills assumes that each person’s needs are valid and understandable, and it draws on a willingness to compromise so that each person gets some of what he or she wants.

4- Getting information. This simply means finding out what the other person needs, fears, hopes for, and so on. The hardest part of obtaining information from the other person is not knowing how to ask or not knowing what to look for. Also, falsely assuming that you know what the other person wants or projecting your own fears, needs, and feelings on the other person, are counterproductive behaviors to obtaining the information that you need.

5- Saying no in a way that protects the relationship. If you say no in a powerless way, it just gets overwritten. If you say no in an aggressive manner it will alienate the person. However, if you say no  in an assertive manner that likewise validates the other person’s needs and desires while setting your firm boundaries, this protects the relationship and empowers both parties as they end up respecting the boundaries being set.

6- Acting according to your value. Acting in your relationships according to what you value is crucial in determining the nature of your relationships. Try setting positive intentions and values for each relationship and act in those relationships according to what you’re trying to achieve.

Practicing key interpersonal skills will help you be more effective in your dealings with people. It will improve your ability to get your needs met. It will help you negotiate conflicts without damaging a relationship. And it can strengthen your self-respect by giving you alternatives to old, damaging patterns of negative feelings and/or behaviors.


Relationships aren’t easy. But they are precious and worth preserving. Learning key interpersonal skills that can help you maintain a healthy relationship is absolutely worth the effort and hard work that must be put in, in order for the relationship to succeed.  Again, the most important thing to remember about key interpersonal skills is to keep working at them.  Persistence pays off. Shrug it off when things go wrong, figure out what happened, and then make a new plan. You have the ability to change your relationships and your life. All you have to do is keep trying!

Thank you for joining me in part five of this series. Please check back again for the last installment of the Managing Overwhelming Emotions series, where we put it all together.

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