Communication is key in relationships – you know that. But let’s talk about how you are communicating with your spouse.
You probably talk to them at home or send them quick messages throughout the day. These things aren’t necessarily bad ideas, but they can get mundane. And if you’re not thinking, you might even communicate a hurtful message to your partner.
So I want to propose a more meaningful, mindful way to communicate: writing feelings down.
I’m not talking about a quick text or a phone call. I’m talking about picking up a pencil and paper and actually writing your thoughts and feelings out by hand on a Post-It, in a journal, or on a piece of paper.
Why Write Feelings Down By Hand?
When you actually go to the trouble of putting pen to paper, it forces you to think a little more about what you’re saying. This is due to the fact that it takes longer to write things out by hand than it does to verbally say what’s on your mind, send a text, or record a voice message.
Why does this matter? Because that extra time can be used to reflect on your words and how they might come across to your partner.
When Should You Start Writing Feelings Down?
When you’re upset. High levels of emotions often make us say things we later regret. But you shouldn’t stifle how you feel. This will only lead to the bottled-up emotions coming out in a damaging way later.
Instead, when you start to feel angry, anxious, or upset with your spouse, write them a letter. Lay out how you feel and then put down the pen and take a walk or cool down. Then revisit the letter later.
In most cases, you will probably want to edit your thoughts or rephrase them in a more gentle, loving way. This is something you can’t do with most other forms of communication where sending your message – literally or figuratively – is far easier and more immediate.
When you don’t know what to say. Sometimes, the right words don’t come out the first time. Avoid miscommunications by writing down what you want to say to your partner.
Manually writing something out provides you with the opportunity to reread it and rewrite it until you find the right words. Technically, you can do this with texts, emails, and even (in a way) voicemails, but most find it more natural to do with handwritten messages.
When you’re thankful. Don’t limit this practice to times when you are upset or feeling negative. Start a gratitude journal.
Each day, write down one-five things that you are grateful for in your life. It could be your partner, your health, or your job. Share this journal with your partner and show them when you feel grateful for their kindness, their love, and so on.
Your spouse will appreciate the extra effort you went to in physically writing out your appreciations.
When you are thinking about them. Love notes aren’t just for children in grade school. Pass your partner a love note when you are sitting in front of the television. Leave them one to read when they get home from work or get up in the morning. Just a few little words can make all the difference.
Need Relationship Help? We Can Help You Write the Right Words
It’s not always easy to come up with the right words for your partner. But you don’t have to find them alone. Sign up for a couple’s workshop and learn more about how to communicate what you’re feeling with the one that you love most.
Originally posted 12/6/19. Updated 6/1/21.
Is your marriage over? How can you be sure?
Recently I had a great experience working with the folks at Imago Relationships North America. We shared insights and advice on tackling the tough questions in a marriage as a couple, and came up with some important questions people should ask when they’re feeling like they’re at their breaking point.
You can check it out here.
And if you need to talk to a professional, don’t hesitate to get in touch.
As a Houston marriage counselor, I frequently hear couples say things like: “It feels like my partner and I want different things out of our relationship.”
It’s true that we enter relationships with preconceptions. Our desires and experiences form these ideas even before the first “Hello.”
Couples feel the shock of that unpleasant surprise when relationship assumptions don’t line up. This mismatch often forms the root of relationship problems.
However, these differences don’t have to spell the end of your love.
In therapy, we can work on a shared relationship vision. Just like you design a house with a mixture of care and logic, you can build relationship goals together.
How to Create a Mutual Relationship Vision
First, acknowledge each other’s uniqueness. Before you begin this exercise, keep in mind that your relationship doesn’t need to resemble those of your parents or friends. There’s no need to stick to convention.
Simply think about what you want. Be honest.
Write down your visions separately. Each of you take one sheet of paper and some private time.
Make a list of what you want from your relationship. This can be aspirational and include things you already like. It’s strongly recommended that you incorporate all of your re-romanticizing tools — gifts, appreciation, and surprises.
Write your desires in affirmative language, and be sure to use first person plural and present tense — just like every major corporation and most small companies do when creating visions for their organizations. For example, instead of “We don’t nag,” say “We hold each accountable with grace.”
Share your visions with respect. Trade lists with your partner. Circle the similar items.
Consider your partner’s ideas that you didn’t write down. For those you appreciate, add them to your own list.
Mark unshared items with a checkmark. You can work on these later.
Prioritize. On your own paper, rank the importance of each : 5 = “not very important,” 1 = “very important.” Circle the two most important ones for you. Share these with your partner.
Combine. High-priority, shared desires can go first on the list. These will easily form part of your vision.
Compromise. For wishes that differ, consider how you can re-write your statements to reach a middle ground. Perhaps “We cook healthy food at home together” and “We treat ourselves with lavish meals out” can become “We share food together in an adventurous way.”
If you can’t find a compromise, these aspects cannot become part of the vision.
Decide on a mutual vision. On a new sheet of paper, write down the final version of your mutual relationship vision. This will consist of agreed-upon high-priority wishes.
Now that you have your vision, create a visual representation in your home: an intentional piece of art, a “vision board”, a cross-stitch pillow on the couch… Get creative.
Many successful couples review their vision on a regular basis. We recommend at least once a year, but you can do it as often as you like.
You’ll want to find your own way to create regular reminders. This could mean posting it above the kitchen sink or bathroom mirror. Some partners use as their “mission statement” to kick off therapy work sessions. In young couples, I have even seen this expressed in sweet, daily texts.
However you go about it, you have this bedrock now. It will help you override low-energy tides and moments of struggle. You’ll remember that you both agreed to this shared happiness project in the long-run.
Remember: if this process sounds daunting or relationship problems persist, the Houston marriage counselor is here to help.
Originally Published 6/18/2013. Updated 5/11/2021.