The Better Relationship Podcast Episode #009
The Relationship Alphabet with Special Guest Zach Brittle
Summary: In his new book, The Relationship Alphabet, Zach Brittle offers the ABC’s to Better Connection for Couples, reflecting not only on his work as couples therapist, but by sharing about his own marriage as well. We talk Arguments, Betrayal, Conflict and more… in this authentic interview, between friends and colleagues seeking to understand the mess & mystery of marriage.
Zach Brittle, LMHC has been teaching, coaching, and counseling couples for over 15 years. He is Certified Gottman Therapist with a private practice specializing in evidence based couples therapy. Zach and his wife have been happily married for 17 out of 18 years. They live in Seattle, Wa with their two daughters. They own a mini-van and most of the silverware they got as wedding presents.
His writings have been featured on the Gottman Relationship Blog, Happify, Verily Magazine, and the Washington Post. His book The Relationship Alphabet is now available at Amazon com. (relationship alphabetbook.com
AND is being featured today, July 31st for 99 cents in the Amazon Kindle Store.
Gottman Therapy and Certification
- Gottman Method Couples Therapy is an evidence-based couples therapy that was developed by John Gottman and his wife Julie as a result of 45 years of researching couples.
- Gottman Therapy is really designed to help couples pursue the 7 Principles that help you maintain a strong relationship as well as avoid some of the more toxic issues that have been proven to correlate to divorce and dissatisfaction for couples. There are only about 200 Gottman-certified therapists in the world.
- Zach’s practice is 90% couples and they range from pre-married’s and newlyweds to couples that have been married for several decades.
Zach On His Own Marriage
Right around the 7-year mark, he and his wife both had an extraordinarily difficult time in their marriage. It started with a miscarriage and they spent the next year or so really not taking care of each other. In fact they busied themselves taking care of anyone else that they could.
This type of avoidance is very detrimental and one of the larger principles in the Gottman Methodology is that couples need to have a practice of turning TOWARD one another. When you don’t, you really just invite discord into the relationship.
It wasn’t until they hit their own rock-bottom and sought out therapy that their relationship recovered. Since then, Zach would say that their relationship has become significantly better than it ever was before.
It was really their turning point for having a relationship that was mature and meaningful for both of them.
The Mystery of Marriage
Everyone’s marriage is different. There is no correct ‘formula’ but to be successful, it does include:
- A commitment to fundamental regard by both parties.
- A commitment to persevering by both parties.
Each individual couple has to figure out how to integrate both of these into their marriage in their own ways.
Another Gottman Principle is that healthy conflict is an indicator for a good, long-term marriage.
So many of us are afraid of having conflict and tough conversations that we ‘bury’ it until we can’t anymore.
Understanding that conflict is a necessary element in a marriage and that how you accept and resolve those conflicts is what indicates success in your relationship.
“Choosing to Marry a Person is like choosing to marry a set of problems”
You have to accept that this is true. And, you have to understand that navigating conflict is just part of the deal. There’s no way to avoid it.
This principle about conflict is really important because the reality is that you will never be in a relationship that is absent of any conflict.
The first chapter of Zach’s Book, The Relationship Alphabet, is “A” for “Arguments”
- You have to learn to argue “well”
- Part of what enables you to say “yes” to your partner is an awareness of what it means to say “no”.
- An argument is a version of saying “no” but the repair of the conflict is the version of saying “yes”.
You have to recognize that an argument is not the whole relationship.
How to Repair The Disagreement
You have to find the “thing” that works for you as a couple.
One of Zach’s favorite stories is about one of his couples that have a very intense relationship with frequent arguments and repairs. They are both serious football fans and they came up with the idea of throwing down a penalty flag to stop and take a break.
- It is not about avoidance, it is about agreement. They had a system that they had created for themselves that allowed them to prioritize their relationship over the immediate argument.
- You need to recognize phases or ‘themes and patterns’.
During a lifetime, your relationship will go through several phases. There’s the phase where there’s a dual income and no children, a phase with a newborn, a phase with teenagers, a phase with someone losing a job, a phase where someone is diagnosed with an illness.
Being aware of these phases is really important because when you understand how you ‘do’ conflict, and you understand how you ‘repair’ and what your rhythms are, you can leverage them to your benefit.
Zach always asks new clients the same 2 questions:
- What happened (x) years ago? (i.e. what happened at some point in time that you’ve identified as being the “starting point” for your problems?)
- What happened last week? (i.e. something had to have happened for them to become aware that they wanted to seek counseling and make the call for an appointment.)
These answers are the beginning of them becoming aware of their rhythm. The more awareness you have of that, the better
Repair the Relationship in the Everyday:
- The ability to “re-pair” and close the loop is one of the most valuable skills that you can learn.
- Repairing doesn’t mean that you ‘forgive and forget’. And, it doesn’t mean to stop caring about what you want. And, it doesn’t mean losing your soul.
- It means recognizing those phases over time and adapting. That’s just the reality.
“Our Goal Is To Help You Have A Marriage That’s Good Enough”
That sounds offensive but it’s the reality.
You are never going to have the perfect relationship.
- There IS a degree of tolerance that goes along with that. You just have to decide what your bar for “good enough” is.
- What’s difficult is that for some people the bar is really, really low. And, that’s really sad for them, their children and the community.
- But, when you’re willing to mutually raise the bar, there’s no telling what you can do.
Marriage and Entrepreneurship
- When a spouse is an entrepreneur, they have something else that they love, that excites them, that occupies their mind-their work.
- In Zach’s case, both he and his wife are entrepreneurs, so they both have that passion for something ‘outside’ their marriage.
- They struggle with this a lot but they have accepted that for them, their real job is to stay married and continue to like each other. Trying to balance competing priorities is something they are always working on.
A significant part of this awareness is recognizing the ‘economies’ that are valuable to them.
- Neither one of them is in pursuit of the almighty dollar so they don’t run their businesses that way.
- Neither one of them is really in pursuit of career growth and advancement.
- What they’re really trying to balance is the economy of energy and attention and connection, particularly with their kids.
When you set clear boundaries it makes the playground bigger.
A large part of success in achieving this balance is to draw clear boundaries of when they’re “at work” and when they’re not, going so far as to have specific square footage dedicated to work space in their home. When you’re in it, you’re at work. When you’re out of it, you’re not.
Relationships and Business and Technology
For Zach and his wife, it’s a process. Fortunately, neither one of them is addicted to being ‘connected’ all the time and their careers are mostly based around client engagement so there’s only small periods of time where they need to be connected so they just kind of take it as needed.
But, the real fundamental here is intention.
When technology is used to turn away from one another then it becomes a problem. But if you’re using it to turn toward your values, your priorities, or your family, than it’s okay.
About His Book, ‘The Relationship Alphabet’
This book started as a series of blog posts on the Gottman blog site because the Gottman Institute wanted to create a new voice to juxtapose against John’s research-based voice.
Zach originally structured it on the basis that a year was 52 weeks and if he did it bi-weekly, he could do a series of 26 articles that he could tackle topics in a systematic way.
His goal was to take “what makes a marriage” and come at it from different angles.
A few of his favorite ‘letters’:
- A is for Arguments. He wanted to people to know right off the bat that arguments are an essential part of the deal and also to set the tone for the entire theme of the series.
- W is for Wednesday. That’s where a marriage is made- on a Wednesday. It’s not when you have a baby or when you become an empty-nester. It’s the every-day of “doing life” that makes your marriage. It’s the small things that add up and make you “us”. It’s also the little things that can erode a marriage.
- S is for Sex. You need to separate intimacy from intercourse. There are several different types of intimacy, and sex is only a piece of the puzzle.
- D is for defensiveness. He chose this because he has this trait in spades. It is one of the most toxic behaviors inside of a relationship. Ultimately, it gave his readers permission to look at themselves and say “I am too” or “I have this going on”, meaning it was safe for them to realize that it’s okay to have faults.
His goal in writing the blog, and then the book, was to take typical topics and come at them from atypical ways. The ones that were most popular in their first iteration were about him, where he was able to peel the veil away and be honest about his marriage, and show readers that even as a marriage counselor, his marriage was not perfect.
His hope is not that it stirs the pot but that it lets you look at yourself and your relationship and ask questions. It doesn’t have to be read in any particular order-If both parties get something out of the book, anything out of it, that’s a win
To Learn More About Zach:
Visit his website at: www.zachbrittle.com
His book can be found at: www.relationshipalphabetbook.com
Stop Reading and Go There Now! It’s That Good!
If the book is purchased at this site, readers can get additional mini-alphabet series that he is writing as companion pieces.
The Amazon Link: And, don’t forget, there is also a 99-cent special on the Kindle edition at Amazon July 31st!
For More Info on The Gottman Method, check out: The Gottman Blog
And, remember, you can find Susie and more great relationship and business advice at her website, www.susiemiller.com.
You can subscribe to this podcast at iTunes and Stitcher.