Zach Brittle, a mental health counselor in the state of Washington, has recently published a new book, The Relationship Alphabet: A Practical Guide to Better Connection for Couples.
Brittle graduated from The Seattle School with an MA in Counseling in 2001, after which he worked at the school as both a Practicum Facilitator and Director of Admissions. For more than 10 years, he has been teaching, coaching, mentoring, and counseling couples, including most recently as a Certified Gottman Therapist with The Gottman Institute, which specializes in evidence-based couples therapy rooted in 40 years of marital research.
The new book is the product of a regular column that Brittle started for the Gottman Relationship Blog last year. “I realized I could write something once every other week,” he says. “There are 52 weeks in a year and 26 letters in the alphabet, so we got to use that as a template.”
In the blog, Brittle tied in personal stories, his professional work, and the Gottman body of research. The response was so enthusiastic that, by the end of the year, Brittle and the Gottman team began discussing how it could be turned into a book. They compiled and edited the text, added discussion questions, and ended up with a 182-page, alphabetically organized book that, at one time, reached number one in three different categories on Amazon.
“It’s been really fun,” says Brittle. “I sort of say I accidentally wrote the book, because we didn’t know what we had until people really started responding. It became one of the most popular columns on one of the most popular relationship blogs on the planet.”
Brittle says two individual responses to the book have been particularly meaningful. First, a former client with whom he had a painful termination emailed him after seeing the book, apologizing and hoping to heal the relationship. Then a journalist contacted Brittle, looking for input for an article in a men’s health magazine. “Watching it come to life and mean something to people,” he says, “and that ability to broaden your voice and have an impact in different arenas—that’s been really, really cool.”
For Brittle, the research-driven methods of the Gottman Institute, which attempts to use decades of data to quantify behaviors that correlate with healthy relationships, have integrated well with the education he received at The Seattle School. “The secret all that data has uncovered is that you’ve got to love your neighbor as yourself,” he says. “There’s a notion of relational aliveness, and so your story is really important, and your theology of relationships is important.” Certain categories he encountered at The Seattle School and through the work of Dr. Dan Allender keep surfacing—like the balance between strength and tenderness, or the tension of living in both death and resurrection.
When asked why working with marriages and relationships is so important to him, Brittle points first to his own marriage. “Rebecca and I have been happily married for 17 out of 18 years,” he says. “We had a really rough time around year seven, but the relationship is far better than what it could have been before we learned what it meant to recover from something difficult.” Then he steps back and takes a broader approach: “I think marriage is designed to change people. I didn’t originally observe this, but I love that Jesus’ first miracle is at a wedding, and it’s a miracle of transformation. There’s something about marriage that is literally supposed to change who you are.”
That confidence in the power of relational transformation is part of what gives Brittle hope in his work, and it’s why he wanted to write The Relationship Alphabet. He hopes it will help couples acknowledge and confront their struggles and step into the ongoing process of relationship health—a process that, even after years of research and practice, is very much a mystery. “And what do you do with a mystery?” Brittle asks. “You solve it, and the way you solve it is to ask questions. We’re tempted to offer formulas and fit it into a box, but it’s a lot more complicated. Our job is to ask questions and ask them curiously and graciously.”
We are so proud of the work that Brittle and our other alumni are accomplishing, and we are thrilled to offer a few excerpts of his book in upcoming weeks. Stay tuned to The Seattle School blog to read more from The Relationship Alphabet, which you can order here.