Using “D-E-A-R M-A-N” to Get What You Want

What on earth is D-E-A-R M-A-N and how is it supposed to help you get what you want in relationships?  Good question.  This mnemonic device was developed by Dr. Marsha Linehan as a component of Dialectical Behavior Therapy to help remind people of the basic skills involved in getting what you want in relationships in a healthy manner.  It is important in all of our relationships that we feel capable of communicating with others about our expectations in relationships.

Without this open communication, relationships can foster resentment, unmet needs, and hurt feelings.  One caveat to learning how to ask for what you need from others: you’re not guaranteed to get it!  Even the most skilled communicators don’t always get what they want.  However, there is a certain delicateness to learning how to gracefully accept hearing “no” from someone you care about.

DBT & Interpersonal Effectiveness: D-E-A-R-M-A-N

To begin acquiring some tools to help you along the path towards this aspect of interpersonal effectiveness, let’s explore the meaning of the DBT acronym, D-E-A-R M-A-N, adapted from the workbook Don’t Let Your Emotions Run Your Life (Spradlin, 2003):


Use specific words to describe to the other person what you want, explaining yourself through language as clearly as possible.  Leave little question as to what it is that you want or need.  Practice clarity with your words.


Don’t shy away from being expressive.  Part of learning how to effectively communicate, while still being intentional and mindful, involves using facial expressions, tone of voice, or gestures that capture the content and importance of your request.  There is a delicate balance to be struck here.  Work towards finding the happy medium of being expressive while maintaining a sense of self-control.  This can be tricky for those of us who have a tendency to get lost in or overwhelmed by emotions.


Work towards finding your own balance between asserting your needs and staying away from aggressiveness (this includes passive aggressiveness).  Be matter-of-fact as you assert your point(s).


Be sure that the other person understands exactly why they should respond to your request.  Remind them of whatever positive outcomes would come from this request.  Other people want to feel good about complying with requests – not like they are being coerced into meeting demands.  Be careful not to offer rewards that are unrealistic or that you cannot come through on.  Be true to your word.

Stay Mindful:

Don’t allow distracting thoughts or intense emotions to cloud your thinking.  If the other person responds with defensiveness or hostility, don’t allow yourself to engage with the emotional intensity.  Stay on track with what it is that you are asking for.  If you respond to the other person with your own defensiveness or aggressiveness, your efforts will be sabotaged – you will probably not get what it is that you are asking for (at least not in the long-term).  Rather than responding with intensity, practice opposite action, radical acceptance, and mindful breathing.  Maintain your focus.

Appear Confident:

If you have trouble believing in the validity of your request, so will other people.  Imagine yourself as confident, competent, and deserving of what you want or need.  When you take yourself seriously, others are more likely to as well.  Practice self-validation on your own to cultivate this skill.


When our ideal requests are not met, there is often a way to meet halfway – to find a solution that is “good enough” without compromising our values.  A big part of negotiation is about respecting other people’s limits.  It’s not just about you, after all.  When the other person believes that you are capable of negotiating, they are much more likely to see you as a reasonable person.  A positive consequence of this is that you are more likely to have successful interactions with this person in the future.  Win-win, right?

How can you practice using the DBT mnemonic, D-E-A-R M-A-N in your future interpersonal interactions?  What value do you see in learning how to be more mindful, intentional, and reasonable in your dealings with other people?  It may be self-evident that these are desirable attributes of a healthy relationship, but if you reflect back on some unhealthy past or current relationships it might be clear that this is easy to forget in the heat of the moment.

Learning how to stand up for ourselves while still respecting the needs and limits of other people can take a lot of practice.  Remember to be kind to yourself if some of these interpersonal skills are new.  Many of us have spent a lifetime learning unhealthy relationship habits or patterns.  The important thing is that you are making a choice now to do things differently.

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Spradlin, S.E. (2003). Don’t let your emotions run your life: how dialectical behavior therapy can put you in control. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

Featured image: typical holland blurr by mindfulness / CC BY 2.0


About Laura K. Schenck, Ph.D., LPC

I am a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) with a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Northern Colorado. Some of my academic interests include: Dialectical Behavior Therapy, mindfulness, stress reduction, work/life balance, mood disorders, identity development, supervision & training, and self-care.


  1. Elise on April 24, 2011 at 5:50 pm

    Great article Laura!! 🙂 I need to practice these on my next bf 😉

    • Laura on April 25, 2011 at 9:33 am

      Thanks, Elise! Glad you enjoyed this article. It certainly takes practice to become more skilled and effective communicators. I hope you are able to use D-E-A-R M-A-N in a useful way in the future!

  2. k.B. on March 22, 2015 at 6:16 pm

    I currently take a class with Marsha’s books,information that helps us to learn and it has helped me a lot! Brilliant lady.

  3. Brittany on May 13, 2015 at 4:54 am

    My aunt’s counselor told her about this a while back and just recently she explained it to me. She told me that the Dear Man process comes in handy when you find it hard to express what you feel or what you want politely. She said that I could use this thinking process to communicate with my dad because we always argue and he never understands what I am asking of him. I haven’t tried it yet, I wanted to be=ring it to my counselor’s attention first, so that I could practice using it with her and make it a habit. Thank you for creating Dear Man.

  4. Wanda D. Miller on August 26, 2015 at 1:37 am

    I’ve gone through several DBT skills training groups and I have found this therapy to be very helpful. I have major depressive disorder, ADD, and PTSD. These skills, along with a great therapist, have helped me immensely. I’m now trying to practice using these skills in my daily life. I have good days and not so good days, but I keep trying. My current challenge is trying to reconnect with someone I care about. He and I used be close, but . a series of unfortunate events caused us to become estranged. He means a lot to me and little by little he’s responding, but it’s a process. I think we’re both impatient people and I have to keep reminding myself that ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’. I also have to remember to respect and consider his thoughts, feelings, needs and boundaries. That’s hard for me. I can also overwhelm people, so I have to be mindful of that as well. My therapist also introduced me to Non-Violent Communication. I would strongly recommend using that as an adjunct to the DBT.

  5. Melissa on January 21, 2016 at 8:01 am

    I’m new at this, but really liked your way of wording. My counselor asked me to look this one up. I did see others online and they just didn’t seem situatuations familiar to me. Your explaination is perfect for me.

  6. Ed on February 20, 2016 at 11:44 pm

    All good very wise words. Love Mindfulness, it has helped to change my life really 🙂

  7. Meredith on May 26, 2016 at 5:17 am

    The interpersonal skills are so hard to put into practice when you’re dealing with someone who does not have these skills, such as the people you were supposed to learn these skills from. I’m struggling with setting boundaries because I have no way to enforce consequences and rewards in my current living situation as an adult living in my mom’s house. I’d love to see a post about protecting your boundaries in situations that may feel unsafe. I’m not physically unsafe but am dealing with someone who wants to control my actions. I know ultimately what I need to do is get a better job and change my situation, but I’m still struggling with action paralysis. I know these skills will help if I keep practicing them, but it’s sometimes demoralizing living in this situation.

    I feel guilty assuming that I may be the target of anger and rages for things such as asking to go out when that might not always be the case, but not knowing what to expect is difficult. I feel guilty when she’s nice to me too for thinking bad things about her when she’s acting out. I know her feelings are not my responsibility, but it’s still difficult. My mom does not have a diagnosis, but she has symptoms of a PD, and therapists have told me it’s a possibility. I try not to stereotype people with personality disorders because I know many people with PDs do not cause harm to others, especially if they are getting help. I don’t have a PD, but I have some symptoms as a result of my exposure and the related trauma. I’ve found the skills helpful for myself as well.

  8. Jennifer on August 14, 2018 at 8:46 pm

    I’m trying to find a way to communicate effectively with my childrens’ school and therapist. Their father is quite overtly neglecting them, but no one seems to be willing to talk to him. I can’t get across how frustrated I am about it and how terrified I am for them; even when I say, “I’m terrified because of A, B, C…”
    I’m hoping this technique will help me understand why no one seems to bother with helping my children.

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