by Paige, a loveisrespect Advocate
Healthy relationships require work from everyone involved—one person can’t make an unhealthy or abusive relationship healthy again by themselves. We often hear from people hoping to convince their partner to change, but unfortunately it isn’t that simple. In order for real, lasting change to happen, your partner must understand that what they’re doing is wrong and take steps to change the unhealthy behavior. Abusers typically are not able or willing to admit that their behavior is abusive, so confronting an abuser can actually put you in more danger. For this reason, we never recommend confronting an abusive partner. But what if your partner isn’t abusive? How can you make the most of things you can control in a healthy relationship? The acronym D-E-A-R M-A-N can be your guide.
What’s D-E-A-R M-A-N?
D-E-A-R M-A-N is an acronym used in dialectical behavior therapy, with the purpose of reminding people of the basic skills needed to get what you want in your relationship in a healthy way. Please know that a person is not guaranteed to get what they want every time they ask for it, no matter how good their communication skills, because people still have, and deserve, free will. It’s also important that communication in your relationship is in a healthy enough place for you to be able to safely express yourself and be heard by your partner. Part of healthy communication is listening, so make sure your partner is allowing you to fully express yourself before responding.
Use clear and specific language to describe your want or need, leaving little question about what you want and why you want it.
Be intentional and mindful, using a variety of expressive methods including facial expressions, tone of voice, gestures, and other nonverbal communication that support and emphasize the importance of your want or need.
Avoid aggression and/or passive aggressiveness when you assert your want or need. Be matter-of-fact about the points you’re making and try to be emotionally neutral. Remember that open communication does not mean no filter! In order to be healthy, communication must be respectful.
Ensure that the other person understands why they should respond to your request and the ways their response can positively impact the relationship for both of you. Remind them of positive outcomes, and be careful not to offer rewards that are unrealistic. Avoid pressuring, guilting, threatening, or using any coercive tactics, such as ultimatums.
- Stay Mindful
If the other person responds with defensiveness or hostility, do not engage with their emotional intensity. Instead, keep the focus on the point you are making and practice mindful breathing (focus on your breathing and keep bringing your focus back to it when your mind wanders), opposite action (doing the opposite of what your emotions urge you to do), and radical acceptance (accepting that something is the way it is even if it’s unfair). It’s always okay to ask your partner to take a break from the conversation if things are getting too heated and you need some space to calm down.
- Appear Confident
Strive to see yourself as confident and deserving of your want or need. Though our society often programs us to think prioritizing our own needs is selfish, that is definitely not the case! You deserve to feel happy and fulfilled in your relationship, and a respectful partner will understand that. If you appear unsure when expressing your needs to your partner, it may be hard for them to understand how important this is to you. To improve your sense of confidence, practice self-validation and other confidence-boosting activities.
If your ideal request cannot be met, see if you and your partner can meet halfway. Ask them to express their needs and what they’re willing to do, and tell them your limits and what you’re willing to do. In healthy relationships, all partners’ wants and needs are equally prioritized through compromise—one partner should never be making all the sacrifices. Your partner should also never put you in a position where you have to compromise your ethics, values, and/or human rights.
“Hey, I’ve been thinking of some ways we can work together to make our relationship healthier. I like it when you do X, Y, and Z! I think we’re good in the area(s) of A and B. I do want to work on some other areas, maybe starting with C. Would you like to help me think of what we can do to make C better for us?”
“Hey, I’ve been thinking about how to make things better for both of us. I came across this website, and I found some great articles. I want to know what you think and if you want to try any of these things. I think I’m going to try to do X, Y, and Z. What are some things you’d want to try?”
What if my relationship is abusive?
You can never be too careful when you have an abusive partner. As we mentioned earlier, for safety reasons, we never recommend confronting an abusive partner. While you absolutely deserve to be able to talk with your partner about your concerns, abusers usually are not able, willing, or interested in seeing their behavior as unhealthy. Since abusers seek power and control over their partners, confrontation can lead them to feel that their power and control are being threatened, which may lead to defensiveness, denial, blame-shifting, minimizing, and even violence as the abuser attempts to regain dominance. Know that there is nothing you could ever do to deserve to be abused in any way. Ultimately, you are the expert in your situation, and we always encourage you to trust your gut when making the decision to confront. If you feel safe talking with your abusive partner about a particular concern, keep the following things in mind:
- It may be better to let your partner know you’re noticing the good things they are doing and the healthy things they did in the past that you appreciated. Positive reinforcement may be a better strategy than criticizing negative behavior.
- Mention your concerns in a compassionate and understanding way, and even tell them upfront that you have no intentions of hurting them or making them feel attacked. You know your partner best, so trust your instincts on how (and if) you can safely bring up something that is bothering you.
- Try to keep the focus of the conversation on making the relationship healthier for both of you. If you don’t have concerns about how your partner would react, showing them a post from loveisrespect about healthy relationships, like this one on communication, may reinforce that your goal is for your relationship to be healthy.
- Offer some things you plan to do to work towards making the relationship healthier so that they feel like it is a joint effort. Know though that if your partner is behaving abusively, the only person who can stop the abuse is them.
- Ask them if they have ideas for new things to try. If your partner is abusive and regularly apologizes and/or promises to change but doesn’t, that’s a big indication that the abuse will only continue to get worse as time goes on. You can take this quiz to see if your abusive partner really is changing.
- Ask them ways you can help. Again, remember that you are not responsible for your partner’s choice to behave abusively, but if your partner is serious about changing and asks you for reasonable help (like holding their hand when they call to make an appointment with a therapist, for example) and you want to and feel safe doing so, go for it!
- Set goals and reach agreements together about areas to improve to make the relationship healthier. Some areas to consider include trust, communication, conflict resolution, setting and respecting boundaries, sharing responsibilities, respecting each other’s emotional and physical safety, and equal prioritization of both people’s wants/needs through compromise. Trust your instincts about what topics will or won’t be safe for you to address with your partner.
Need more support?
Reach out to our advocates on chat by selecting the Chat Now button above, by texting LOVEIS to 22522, or by phone (1-866-331-9474). We’re here 24/7!
Please keep in mind that advocates are different from counselors and have a focus on education and safety rather than on treating any emotional, mental, or behavioral issues. We also can’t give advice or tell people what to do because we respect your right to make choices that work best for you!