April 9, 2024
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April 9, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Unlocking the Power of Communication

With the kids at play dates, dinner in the oven, and the weather a manageable 45 degrees, Jen is determined to utilize the next 20 minutes by taking a walk with her husband. Emotional connection: check. Physical health: check. Mental health: check. What could go wrong?

“Mark?” Jen calls to her TV-watching husband as she laces up her sneakers. “The kids will be home soon. Can we head out for a quick walk?”

“That sounds really nice but it’s the playoffs. I kind of need to watch the game,” Mark replies.

If Jen is like many of us, here’s what her thought process might be: Why doesn’t he want to walk with me? Doesn’t he love me? Maybe he doesn’t? Maybe he’s bored with me? Maybe he doesn’t want to connect with me? Why would he choose to watch TV instead of talking to me? And hey, wait a minute, shouldn’t he want to come just to make me happy? I do so much around here! I spent all day doing things for him and our family. Clearly he doesn’t care about me and this relationship…

Jen spends the rest of the night giving a bewildered Mark the cold shoulder. Jen and Mark both go to bed feeling hurt and isolated.

What if Jen had utilized the concept of dialectics—two things can be true at the same time? I am allowed to want to go on a walk, and I am even allowed to feel hurt that my husband didn’t prioritize walking with me and that my husband didn’t realize this was important to me. Missing that crucial information, he reacted to this request as if it was casual, when really it wasn’t.

Employing this skill and noting that her husband’s actions are neither targeted nor personal, can help Jen regulate her feelings. Once her feelings are regulated, we advance with effective communication. If Jen was utilizing the DEAR MAN (Describe, Express, Assert, Reinforce; Mindfulness, Appear confident, Negotiate) skill from dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), here’s what that conversation could look like: First, she would describe the facts (and only the facts) of the situation. It may sound something like this: “Mark, I asked you to come for a walk with me and you chose to continue watching the game.” Jen would then express her emotions using “I” statements: “I felt like you were disinterested in spending time with me.” Jen would then assert what she wants in the future: “In the future, I’d love for us to make it more of a priority to spend quality time when the kids are all out of the house.” If Mark reacts positively, Jen should reinforce this behavior by giving a gesture of gratitude such as a smile or a thank you.

Mindfulness can come into play if Mark would respond by going on the defensive, or bringing up a different issue. Mindfulness would keep Jen in touch with her goal (getting Mark to spend more quality time with her) and can stop her from becoming distracted or falling into a different or irrelevant argument about something else. Appearing confident is also key here—Jen should stand tall and speak clearly and calmly to stay goal-focused and avoid becoming emotional and off-topic. Finally, negotiation is crucial. Jen has to be prepared to hear that Mark is happy to walk with her most of the time, but really gets enjoyment from watching sports playoffs and would love the ability to do that if the kids are out of the home. This may lead to Mark watching TV in the afternoon, and Jen and Mark taking time that evening after the kids go to bed to sit and talk to each other or do an activity together.

Using a combination of dialectics and the DEAR MAN skill, Jen can avoid escalation and have a respectful, goal-oriented conversation with her husband. Knowing that she has the skills to communicate effectively can also help with Jen’s anxiety and coping overall. In mastering DBT skills such as DEAR MAN, we empower ourselves to navigate challenging interpersonal situations and also cultivate deeper connections and foster healthier relationships, enriching our lives in a meaningful way.


Shira Somerstein brings a wealth of experience and compassion to her clients at Collaborative Minds Psychotherapy LLC. Shira specializes in adolescent development, young adults going through life transitions, and general anxiety. Shira utilizes IFS, CBT and DBT, as well as other modalities to foster resilience, empowerment and practical skill-building in every session.

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