Weekend Homework Assignment: Choosing Better


On Tuesday, we invited Zach Brittle, LMHC to write an article for our series on Relationships in the Digital Age.

On Tuesday, we invited Zach Brittle, LMHC to write an article for our series on Relationships in the Digital Age.

On Tuesday, we invited Zach Brittle, LMHC to write an article for our series on Relationships in the Digital Age. We loved his perspective as a clinician, and have decided to follow up by connecting his experiences with Dr. John Gottman’s work. In today’s posting on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we will address the problems brought up in Tuesday’s posting and give you a chance to work through them with a Weekend Homework Assignment!

In his piece, Brittle neatly summarizes: 

“Technology invites us to avoid intimacy and we accept the invitation.” 

This elegant statement is chilling in part because technology is personified, and given some consideration, the rhetorical choice makes sense as a reflection of its glorified presence in our lives. His words carry another uncomfortable meaning – how many of us remember a moment in which we intentionally chose to accept technology’s invitation? There is rarely such a moment.

The acceptance of the invitation happens gradually and very subtly, in choices to turn away from each other and face the screen. The cell phone, the computer, the iPad, the kindle, you name it. An escape into the straightforward, undemanding world of cyberspace. We want our relationships simplified. Virtual connection? Easy and addictive. When we look up from our screens and find ourselves disconnected, we may realize that, in our unwitting withdrawal, we have alienated those we care about, and may find ourselves in self-imposed isolation from which it is difficult to emerge. How can we, as Brittle suggests, “choose better?”

First, we must accept that we don’t come together face-to-face as much as we used to, or as much as we need to. To feel truly connected to one another, we need to create sacred times and spaces. These can be both formal or informal rituals of connection with our loved ones. We need to make a commitment to come together regularly with our families and friends, creating a sense of reliability, security, and trust in our relationships. We need to remember that this coming together extends past holidays and family dinners. 

You can come together with anyone at any moment, simply by giving them your attention, affection, or love. It is when we choose to be fully present with our loved ones in “the old fashioned way” that we build our most profound and beautiful connections – connections that can last a lifetime.

Below we share an exercise that we hope will inspire you to dream up ways to apply this knowledge to your own life – to bring yourself closer to the ones you love most. The following are suggestions for creating Shared Meaning from Dr. Gottman’s celebrated book,The Relationship Cure. These ideas are ones that you can use in all your relationships, whether it be with your partner, children, siblings, extended relatives, and even friends! Try out a few of them over the weekend, and see how your relationships grow closer and start to feel more connected:

Things to do for (and with) your friends and family:

  • Ask “How are you?” in a way that shows that you really want to know
  • Listen to stories and jokes, even when you’ve heard them before
  • Return things you borrow
  • Say thank you for favors, trade big favors (painting houses, building decks, etc)
  • Offer spur-of-the-moment invitations to go out for coffee, dinner, a movie
  • Accept spontaneous invitations (if you can!)
  • Ask for advice, give advice, don’t feel obligated
  • Know when what you are asking for is too much
  • Remember birthdays, give personalized gifts, don’t feel that you must overspend
  • Offer compliments
  • Accept apologies
  • Let them off the hook when they say “I can’t do it, I’m exhausted”
  • Let them be upset if they need to be
  • Ask for help
  • Let them help you
  • When they are stressed, try to help them (within your power)
  • Collaborate on projects
  • Talk on the phone
  • Host parties for mutual friends
  • Exercise together
  • Volunteer together
  • Celebrate each other’s successes
  • Show affection
  • Cry together
  • Laugh together
  • Share hugs

We hope that you have a chance to think about these ideas, and that your weekend is filled with light, tenderness, and warmth.

Ellie Lisitsa is a staff writer at The Gottman Institute and a regular contributor to The Gottman Relationship Blog. Ellie is pursuing her B.A. in Psychology with an emphasis on Cognitive Dissonance at Reed College in Portland, Oregon.