When people in relationships decide to embark on couples therapy, they are often looking for tangible tips and tools to help improve their communication, feel more connected with each other, experience decreased conflict, and generally feel more content, safe, and understood in each other’s presence.
A skill I often discuss and incorporate in my work with couples is the DBT GIVE skill. This is a skill that is part of the Interpersonal Effectiveness module of DBT therapy. Interpersonal effectiveness skills focus on building communication skills in order to feel increased satisfaction in our relationships and interactions, get our needs met, build self-respect, and feel effective in expressing our feelings, boundaries, and perspectives.
I find that the GIVE skill is particularly helpful to couples, as it provides an easy set of guidelines for how to develop healthy, safe, and nurturing relationships. In this post, I will go through each part of the GIVE skill, along with explanations of each step, so that you can begin using these concepts within your relationship and feel more connected and close to your partner.
The Four Parts of the GIVE Skill
G: (be) Gentle
Being gentle in your relationship encompasses many behaviors. Behaviors that exhibit gentleness include:
Being fully present and attentive to your partner.
Avoiding distractions when communicating with your partner, such as your phone or the TV.
Being mindful of your body language and avoiding negative body language, such as eye rolling, shaking your head, or sighing.
Maintaining a calm presence.
Appearing willing, receptive, and open to your partner’s thoughts and feelings.
Avoiding judgmental or contemptuous statements.
Avoiding accusatory statements, such as “you” statements (i.e. “You never do anything nice for me.” “You always put yourself first.”)
Avoiding yelling, name calling, or insults.
Avoiding threats and punishments.
If you are struggling in your relationship, chances are that some of the above harsh behaviors are occurring in your interactions. These behaviors erode the foundation of any relationship. Learning to be gentle with your partner is the natural antidote to these behaviors, and is the gateway toward a more loving and emotionally safe relationship.
If you and your partner struggle to be gentle with each other, I invite you to explore the obstacles that stand in the way of being more loving. What did your family of origin model as normative relationship behavior? Do your current communication patterns with your partner feel entrenched and immutable? Does being gentle provoke vulnerable emotions that feel unsafe to expose? Or does it feel unnatural to be gentle if this is a way of being you’ve never practiced?
These sorts of questions can help to build awareness of what is getting in the way of being more loving and gentle toward your partner, perhaps paving the way to start practicing more kindness and tenderness.
I: (act) Interested
DBT is a therapy that promotes the concept of dialectics, which is when several opposing ideas can be true at the same time. A common relationship dialectic is that two people can love one another and not always be interested in the same things. While you and your partner were likely drawn to each other over common interests and values, it is also likely that you each have hobbies, interests, and experiences that are not inherently interesting to each other.
The idea of acting interested is to demonstrate engagement with your partner about something that is important to them. It is about prioritizing the health of your relationship by showing your partner that they matter to you by expressing interest in who they are and what they care about. Say that your husband went to a football game and comes back home wanting to talk more about the game, however you have absolutely no interest in sports. An example of acting interested is asking him about the game, his favorite parts of the night, remaining present and focused on him as he talks about the game, and not getting distracted by your surroundings.
It is important to note that acting interested is an act of service toward your relationship. It is not about being inauthentic toward yourself or faking behaviors. It is about going into your relationship with a willingness to tend to it lovingly and as such, show interest in the things your partner cares about, as a way of establishing deeper closeness and helping your partner feel seen, heard, cherished, and understood.
Validation is one of the most vital, crucial, and important aspects of creating a strong and healthy relationship foundation. Validation is the act of acknowledging your partner’s reality as meaningful and worthwhile. I recently wrote about the value of learning to understand your partner and shared about the immense importance of validation in relationships.
Validation can take on many forms. Essentially, it is about being able to hold space for your partner’s truth even when you and your partner have differing realities and viewpoints. It is about being able to put aside your sense of what is “right” and seeing that there are two valid realities and emotional experiences within any one situation. It is about being able to disagree while dialectically being able to express to your partner that you see why they feel the way that they do, and that the way that they feel is valid and reasonable. It is about trying to find a synthesis that honors both of your experiences at the same time.
E: (Use an) Easy Manner
Discussing difficult topics with your partner can feel heavy, contentious, awkward, and uncomfortable. Sometimes, couples approach an unpleasant conversation from a confrontational, defensive stance. This tends to set couples up for failure when talking about difficult subjects as both partners are likely to shut down and shy away from a difficult conversation if they feel they are going to be attacked, disrespected, or belittled.
With the GIVE skill, using an easy manner means to approach difficult topics with humor, a light touch, and equanimity. Conflict does not have to equate with contentiousness. You CAN have a difficult conversation AND be light-hearted. You can talk about something your partner did that frustrated you AND be kind as you speak. Both can be true - a lovely example of a dialectic.
Something I love about DBT therapy is that it offers skills that are easy to remember and apply. Couples that I work with have found that integrating the GIVE skill into their communication has helped to significantly improve their relationships. Most couples seeking therapy want their relationship to improve, and simply don’t have the roadmap or guidance for how to begin changing their patterns for the better. The GIVE skill is a wonderful entrypoint toward improving your connection, communication, and closeness in your relationship. I hope it helps you make the progress you are seeking with the person you love.
Seeking couples therapy or DBT therapy in Boca Raton or the South Florida area? Feel free to reach out to schedule a free 15-minute phone consultation to see how I can help you with your mental health therapy goals. Call me at 917-843-7803 or at firstname.lastname@example.org