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.
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.
What’s D-E-A-R M-A-N?
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?”
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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!
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