LETTER WRITING FOR COUPLES
“Communication Problems” is the most frequently cited reason for couples seeking counselling help. Communication problems aren’t about people not knowing how to talk. They are about people not knowing how to listen and people not knowing how to manage their reactions in close proximity to those who matter to them – their partners.
Too often when couples talk they are simply responding or preparing a response. The best thing I can do as a therapist for couples who seek help for “communication problems” is to teach them how to listen and how to manage their reactions to what they hear.
I start by identifying the couples ongoing struggles, the ones they “always fight about” and haven’t been able to resolve. Then I encourage them to write to each other about them rather than talking about them. Think about this for a moment. What do you want when you share your concerns, feelings and observations with your partner? Most people want their partner to listen as they speak; to understand where they’re coming from and to express some kind of care or concern for them. But what often happens instead is: The listener isn’t able to listen because he/she thinks that the speaker is saying he/she is responsible for the situation and for the feelings surrounding it. He/she doesn’t agree with the “facts” as the speaker presented them and launches into a defensive response. The speaker then starts citing relevant “facts” to support his/her assertion and before you know it they are fighting again, AND what’s worse is they aren’t even fighting about the original issue.
Is letter writing the answer – not email writing, pen and paper writing? I know that in the electronic fast pased world we live in today letter writing does seem a bit archaic, but don’t let it’s lacking technological sexiness turn you off. I encourage you to try it and see if it helps you: a) get your point across clearly b) feel heard c) avoid arguing and most importantly d) become a better listener.
It works because it allows the reader to absorb the writer’s words in privacy, without the pressure of real time conversation to respond. It allows the reader to feel any way he/she does and maybe even to write an undelivered defensive letter in response, before settling on exactly the right words for his/her reply letter.
The best part is – the writer isn’t exposed to the reader’s process. It works well for both people. We are all entitled to our feelings – letter writing provides a buffer between writer and reader that allows for the experience and expression of those feelings in a way that doesn’t hurt the other or lead to defensive responses and arguments.
In the absence of the other, writer and reader have space to hear, feel, calm down and reflect BEFORE responding. It may take several letters back and forth before issues are understood and resolved, but isn’t that better than having repeated unresolved arguments that only nourish that growing “he said, she said” list? It is certainly worth a try I think. And please let me know how it goes.
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