Opposite Action for Love

Sometimes, love stinks. Maybe you discovered something about the person you’ve been dating that you really cannot live with.  Or maybe things have really changed for the worse since the two of you moved in together. Perhaps you’re head-over-heels in love with a person you just met and struggle to take it slow.  Regardless of the situation, sometimes feeling love for a person can really get in the way of making wise decisions.  DBT has a skill called Opposite Action which can help manage ineffective emotions including love.  

But how can we change emotions?! We cannot simply will our emotions to change.  If we could, the common advice of “calm down” or “be happy” would actually work!  When we have loving feelings towards a person, we can’t simply just stop feeling them! Although we cannot change our feelings directly, we can adjust our thoughts or behaviors. Opposite Action hacks into our body’s wiring to change our feelings by changing our behavior. For example, acting brave when you’re actually afraid of rollercoasters will reduce feelings of fear.  

When should we use opposite action for love? Opposite action, in general, helps change emotions when they don’t fit the facts  and are not effective to express.  Love fits the facts when loving the person or animal or anything at all improves your quality of life or that of those you care about or when loving this person or animal or thing increases your chances of achieving your personal goals  So if a relationship doesn’t improve your or others’ quality of life or help you achieve your goals, then it doesn’t fit the facts.  This becomes really sticky when you really care about a person, have been dating for a long time, or this person is in your family.  You love them so you don’t want to hurt their feelings and you might have built your life around them.  Wouldn’t it be so nice if we just felt angry at people who hurt us? 

So how do we do opposite action for love?

  1. Avoid the person or object you love.  This includes texting/calling/following/talking to them.  
  2. Distract yourself when you think about them.  This might mean watching a movie with friends or picking up a new hobby.  Anything to get your mind off the object of your ineffective love.
  3. Remind yourself why love is ineffective.  Essentially, what are the cons of loving this person? 
  4. Avoid contact with reminders of this person.  For example, don’t go to places or do things that you did together.  
  5. Stop expressing love for the person.  For example, avoid talking about how much you love them or “the good times” to friends or family. 
  6. If you have to be around this person, change your posture and expressions.  Lean away from them or avoid eye contact.  Speak in short sentences with a neutral tone. 

One small caveat: opposite action is not simply pretending you don’t feel a certain emotion.  If you’re afraid of rollercoasters, you can acknowledge your fear while you go down the huge hill.  Opposite action is acting oppositely, not denying your emotions.  In terms of feelings of love, you can recognize your loving feelings while avoiding the object of your longing.  Being mindful of your emotions and not repressing them allows you to engage with them and choose the wisest and most effective way to manage them.

If feeling love sometimes leads to making unwise decisions, schedule an appointment with CCDBT to learn how to build healthy and fulfilling relationships.

Samantha Mathews, PsyD (she/her) is a licensed psychologist who specializes in dialectical behavior therapy.  Samantha works with her clients to develop close relationships with themselves and others.  Samantha believes compassionately connecting with emotions is central to building a life worth living.  Click here to learn more about Samantha’s experience and therapeutic style.