Have you ever binged streaming episodes on your favorite service (Netflix, etc.) only to come around to yourself and realize the whole weekend is gone? Or have you ever felt like the last time you had a real conversation was sometime in the past century? All too often, we get wrapped up in our online accounts and other forms of media, at the expense of ignoring those we love and other priorities. Even cartoonists have turned their focus on this issue; take, for example, this cartoon by Trevor Spaulding, which appeared in The New Yorker magazine on April 27, 2015.
I recently heard an interview on the podcast Design Matters with Debbie Milman. Debbie interviewed Tiffany Schlain, (who created the Webby Awards) and who, among other accomplishments, has written, “24/6: The Power of Unplugging One Day A Week.” Tiffany has practiced and is a proponent of taking a tech sabbath (time off from technology use) one day a week. Whatever you think as to the merits or deterrents of technology, there has been more and more attention paid to the effects of it on our lives. It is worth considering how to manage this powerful tool to make sure technology is helpful to us (in work, and even in love — such as staying connected) while also minimize some of the downsides it can have (the loss of eye contact and the constant distractions it can supply, both of which can erode intimacy).
Here are some of the suggestions Tiffany has for managing tech in general:
And here are suggestions for preparing for a tech sabbath:
Live one day a week analog-style, and you might be surprised what you will be gaining! Although it may feel daunting at first, you will likely learn some wondrous things about yourself and your community (remember the library? The park?). You may find that you are more excited about and proficient in your technology use when you are using it. You may find that you begin to look forward to this time off of tech to concentrate on other priorities, such as connecting with your partner and others!
If you haven’t made plans yet for Valentine’s Day, it’s not too late! There are plenty of great things to do, not only on Valentine’s Day but for the weekend and beyond.
Valentine’s Day can be a great day to develop a ritual of connection. Rituals of connection are ways to stay connected consistently. They provide a way you can count on to interact in both small and important moments throughout the day, the week, and the years to come. Examples include date night, birthdays, how we greet one another at the end of the day, etc. It is a good idea to discuss these. Talk about why it is important (why you’ve chosen to talk about it). Then go into the nitty-gritty of incorporating it into your life (the who, what, when, and where of it).
For Valentine’s Day, our culture promotes various different ways to celebrate, most of which are date night type activities. Date night is essential as a ritual of connection for couples. I’ve talked about its importance and some ideas for what to do in Date Night Blues, but here are some great ideas for Valentine’s Day:
Notice that some of these options are pretty low cost. It doesn’t take much money to create a Valentine’s Day ritual of connection that can be one more way of keeping the romance stoked in your relationship. You can also check out other rituals of connection ideas on the Gottman Card Deck app under rituals of connection. Happy Valentine’s Day!
According to a study by Matthew Johnson et al. (2019) of the University of Alberta, the idea that you’re in a relationship that can last can influence the quality and outcome of your relationship. This makes sense, as the level of confidence influences how we interact, whether in positive or negative ways. So how is your level of confidence in your relationship? And, if this needs sprucing up, how can you do this?
First things first, find out what your level of confidence in your relationship is. Test yourself with the five questions the authors in the study used to measure relationship confidence. Use a 1 to 7 scale of strongly disagree (1) to strongly agree (7) regarding your current relationship:
Now, what to do about the results. Identifying strengths and weaknesses is the first step. Take a moment to celebrate any areas of strength and share any gratitude you have with your partner! See “How to Create Appreciation and Gratitude in Your Relationship” for a refresher.
Lower scores identify areas you may want to improve. If your level of confidence is low in, for instance, your ability to handle conflict, then working on conflict management skills would be a great thing to focus on. Check out these blogs: “Contempt, the Battery Acid,” “How to Get Rid of Criticism and Defensiveness,” “3 Ways to Keep Calm When Your Partner is Driving You Nuts!”, and “Do the Same Arguments Keep Coming Up Again and Again With Your Partner?”
If you are concerned about other skills you will need, such as keeping romance alive, or building and maintaining trust, read up on these topics. You could start with “How Healthy is Your Sex Life?” and “How to Create Trust and Maintain Trust in Your Relationship.” Take time to reflect as honestly as you can, then have a conversation or two with your partner. If it feels daunting to do this on your own, participating in a workshop that focuses on these skills can make a world of difference. Or, if you would prefer more individualized support, consider a couple retreat.
Whatever the results of your assessment, this is an excellent time of year to look under the hood of your relationship and tune up any areas that need addressing. This will help ensure you have a reliable and healthy ride for the year to come and beyond.
For making significant changes in your relationship, the good news is that doing “small things often” will get you there. Dr. Gottman’s research shows that tiny moments in couple interactions make a big difference in the relationship over time. The first few moments in a conversation, for example, around a disagreement, predict not only how that conversation will go, but how the relationship will go (whether “happily ever after” or in divorce). I’ve talked about the four horsemen of the apocalypse in other blogs, and if you guessed that these were the things that predicted divorce, you would be right!
So, if I had only one recommendation to couples for a new year’s resolution, I would choose this one: get rid of the four horsemen in your relationship. Start by choosing one to work on. For instance, criticism. Step one, notice if you use any “you” statements (e.g., “You never take out the trash.”) or global statements (these include words like never and always). Step two, keep a journal of the times you notice when you use a criticism (a simple tally on your phone would work great). Step three, work on replacing these with I statements (“I feel about , I need .”). For example, “I feel irritated that the trash is overflowing, please help me by taking it out.” You can start small by practicing starting statements with “I.” Bonus step, tally the times you remember to use “I.” Step four, continue previous steps for at least six weeks.
Once you have “you” statements reduced, you can focus on other horsemen, like defensiveness. The same steps above work for this one, in this case, replace the I statements with taking responsibility; for example, “You’re right, I haven’t taken out the trash yet.” Taking responsibility is the antidote for the second horseman. That “I statement” is also handy in avoiding defensiveness (which can take the form of a counter-attack, a critical statement or whining). After taking responsibility, it may be helpful to continue the conversation with your own perspective on the subject. So, the above example could be: “You’re right, I haven’t taken the trash out yet. I’ve been feeling stressed lately and would like to talk about how to handle household chores when we are so busy.”
If you focus on one horseman at a time, for six weeks each, it would only take you half the year. This will result in significant changes in your relationship for the better!
The holidays are notoriously stressful times, even though they are touted as being joyous occasions. Indeed, the expectations are that they should be full of happiness and meaning. But the holidays can be a time of loss (if someone is no longer with us to celebrate), conflict (with family members we may otherwise avoid), and dashed expectations. In some cases, someone may struggle with substance use, which can tilt events into chaos when folks have had a bit too much. So, what to do? Here are some things to consider: