How to Maintain Healthy Relationships
Once we have established healthy relationships, it takes effort to keep them going. Relationships are not a “one-and-done” deal. Rather, relationships are like a garden: they require ongoing care, watering, fertilizing, weeding, and pruning.
DBT’s GIVE skill is a helpful tool in knowing exactly how to tend to our healthy relationships.
Approach others with a gentle manner. Avoid attacks and judgmental statements. When we approach one another in a manner of love and safety, we can make the most generous assumptions about one another before we even begin our conversation.
Act interested in what the other person is saying, without interrupting. This can be hard sometimes! If your spouse loves race cars, and you couldn’t even spot a race car on the street, it might be challenging to act interested in that topic. But, acting interested can involve asking questions to learn more, or even just taking time to learn about that topic as they speak.
Validate the other person’s thoughts, feelings, and wishes. Acknowledging and validating this allows one to feel heard, which increases our trust in one another.
E: Easy Manner
Have an easy manner. This allows you to connect more so that when something challenging arises when an easy manner might not be completely appropriate, we have built that security and trust with that person so we know we can sit in the challenge together. An easy manner can involve being lighthearted, smiling, going with the flow, or bringing a sense of humor into the relationship.
Like all skills, integrating these takes practice and awareness. Start by practicing with someone with whom you are close and intimate. If we can practice these skills with one person, we are able to generalize them to others in our lives as well.
We have two ways in which we think and process: emotionally and logically. While both are important, we cannot be completely logical, nor can we be completely emotional. When we are facing a challenging decision, or trying to figure out how to respond to a situation, it is important for us to integrate both our emotional mind and our logical mind. This is the skill DBT refers to as Wise Mind.
Emotion mind is the part of our mind that feels, loves, cares, gets angry, becomes passionate. Our emotions are powerful. With our emotions, we fall in love, we care for our pets, or we become activists about something we feel passionate. Our emotions guide us in reaching out to a friend we love, or caring for our family members. On the other hand, our emotions can be impulsive. We can act out in anger, only to calm down afterwards and wish we had responded differently. Our emotions are big, and when we feel them, they can be all-consuming.
Logic mind is the part of our mind that solves problems and processes the facts of a situation. Logic mind helps us make decisions based solely on facts, leaving out all emotion. Logic mind is helpful in that it can allow us to take a non-biased stance. But, operating only from logic mind is far from optimal because it disengages us from ourselves, from our loved ones, and from our communities. We can become robotic.
Wise Mind is the integration of these two minds. It is the optimal way in which we think and move through our worlds. Using our Wise Mind, we integrate both emotion and logic. Wise Mind is when we allow the hard hit of emotions to diminish, and we arrive at a grounded state of knowing. It’s the feeling when we know something deep in our gut to be the right thing for us to do. It is responding with both the calm, cool facts and the passion of our emotion.
Experiencing Wise Mind
According to Marsha Linehan, American psychologist and creator of DBT, states that we all have Wise Mind within us, we simply have to practice engaging our Wise Mind. Like any new skill, this takes practice! Here is one practice I use to engage my Wise Mind:
Riding the Wave of Emotion
This practice is actually its own DBT skill, but I find it helpful for engaging Wise Mind.
Imagine your emotion as a wave. It gradually, or sharply, rises. It hits its peak, and then it begins its decline. All of our emotions follow this trajectory. When I attempt to engage Wise Mind, I first notice where on this wave of emotion I am. If I am at the peak, this is not the time to make moves! Rather, it’s a time to move through the emotion.
When you start to feel your emotion rise, pause. Take a deep breath. Simply notice what you are feeling and thinking. Then, when you reach the peak of your emotion, repeat the practice. Finally, when you start to feel the decrease in the intensity of your emotion, notice what you are thinking and feeling. Once you feel that the intensity of your emotion has passed, your emotional wave has crashed on the shore, notice how your thoughts and feelings shifted between each of those phases. This practice helps us see how we engage our emotion mind and our logic mind, and once the intensity of the emotion mind has decreased, we can integrate the two.
Listen to our podcast next week for more information on Wise Mind, as well as a guided Wise Mind practice: