Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus: The Classic Guide to Understanding the Opposite Sex - John Gray 1992
How to Communicate Difficult Feelings
When we are upset, disappointed, frustrated, or angry it is difficult to communicate lovingly. When negative emotions come up, we tend momentarily to lose our loving feelings of trust, caring, understanding, acceptance, appreciation, and respect. At such times, even with the best intentions, talking turns into fighting. In the heat of the moment, we do not remember how to communicate in a way that works for our partner or for us.
At times like these, women unknowingly tend to blame men and make them feel guilty for their actions. Instead of remembering that her partner is doing the best he can, a woman could assume the worst and sound critical and resentful. When she feels a surge of negative feelings, it is especially difficult for a woman to speak in a trusting, accepting, and appreciative way. She doesn’t realize how negative and hurtful her attitude is to her partner.
When men become upset, they tend to become judgmental of women and women’s feelings. Instead of remembering that his partner is vulnerable and sensitive, a man may forget her needs and sound mean and uncaring. When he feels a surge of negative feelings, it is especially difficult for him to speak in a caring, understanding, and respectful way. He doesn’t realize how hurtful his negative attitude is to her.
These are the times when talking does not work. Fortunately, there is another alternative. Instead of verbally sharing your feelings with your partner, write him or her a letter. Writing letters allows you to listen to your own feelings without worrying about hurting your partner. By freely expressing and listening to your own feelings, you automatically become more centered and loving. As men write letters they become more caring, understanding, and respectful; as women write letters they become more trusting, accepting, and appreciative.
Writing out your negative feelings is an excellent way to become aware of how unloving you may sound. With this greater awareness you can adjust your approach. In addition, by writing out your negative emotions their intensity can be released, making room for positive feelings to be felt again. Having become more centered, you can then go to your partner and speak to him or her in a more loving way—a way that is less judgmental or blaming. As a result, your chances of being understood and accepted are much greater.
After writing your letter you may no longer feel a need to talk. Instead you could become inspired to do something loving for your partner. Whether you share the feelings in your letter or you just write a letter to feel better, writing down your feelings is an important tool.
Whether you share the feelings in your letter or you just write a letter to feel better, writing down your feelings is an essential tool.
Instead of writing down your feelings you may also choose to do the same process in your mind. Simply refrain from talking and review what happened in your mind. In your imagination imagine you are saying what you feel, think, and want—without editing yourself in any way. By carrying on an inner dialogue expressing the complete truth about your inner feelings, you will suddenly become free from their negative grip. Whether you write down your feelings or do it mentally, by exploring, feeling, and expressing your negative feelings they lose their power and positive feelings reemerge. The Love Letter Technique increases the power and effectiveness of this process tremendously. Although it is a writing technique, it can also be done mentally as well.
THE LOVE LETTER TECHNIQUE
One of the best ways to release negativity and then communicate in a more loving fashion is to use the Love Letter Technique. Through writing out your feelings in a particular manner, the negative emotions automatically lessen and the positive feelings increase. The Love Letter Technique enhances the letter writing process. There are three aspects or parts to the Love Letter Technique:
1. Write a Love Letter expressing your feelings of anger, sadness, fear, regret, and love.
2. Write a Response Letter expressing what you want to hear from your partner.
3. Share your Love Letter and Response Letter with your partner.
The Love Letter Technique is quite flexible. You may choose to do all three steps, or you may only need to do one or two of them. For example, you might practice steps one and two in order to feel more centered and loving and then have a verbal conversation with your partner without being overwhelmed with resentment or blame. At other times you may choose to do all three steps and share your Love Letter and Response Letter with your partner.
To do all three steps is a powerful and healing experience for both of you. However sometimes doing all three steps is too time consuming or inappropriate. In some situations, the most powerful technique is to do just step one and write a Love Letter. Let’s explore a few examples of how to write a Love Letter.
STEP 1: WRITING A LOVE LETTER
To write a Love Letter, find a private spot and write a letter to your partner. In each Love Letter express your feelings of anger, sadness, fear, regret, and then love. This format allows you fully to express and understand all your feelings. As a result of understanding all your feelings you will then be able to communicate to your partner in a more loving and centered way.
When we are upset we generally have many feelings at once. For example, when your partner disappoints you, you may feel angry that he is being insensitive, angry that she is being unappreciative; sad that he is so preoccupied with his work, sad that she doesn’t seem to trust you; afraid that she will never forgive you, afraid that he doesn’t care as much about you; sorry that you are secretly withholding your love from him or her. But at the same time you love that he or she is your partner and you want his or her love and attention.
To find our loving feelings, many times we need first to feel all our negative feelings. After expressing these four levels of negative feelings (anger, sadness, fear, and regret), we can fully feel and express our loving feelings. Writing Love Letters automatically lessens the intensity of our negative feelings and allows us to experience more fully our positive feelings. Here are some guidelines for writing a basic Love Letter:
1. Address the letter to your partner. Pretend that he or she is listening to you with love and understanding.
2. Start with anger, then sadness, then fear, then regret, and then love. Include all five sections in each letter.
3. Write a few sentences about each feeling; keep each section approximately the same length. Speak in simple terms.
4. After each section, pause and notice the next feeling coming up. Write about that feeling.
5. Do not stop your letter until you get to the love. Be patient and wait for the love to come out.
6. Sign your name at the end. Take a few moments to think about what you need or want. Write it in a P.S.
To simplify writing your letters you may wish to make copies of page 238 to use as a guide in writing your own Love Letters. In each of the five sections a few helpful lead-in phrases are included to help you express your feelings. You may use just a few of these phrases or all of them. Generally the most releasing expressions are: “I am angry,” “I am sad,” “I am afraid,” “I am sorry,” “I want,” and “I love.” However, any phrases that assist you in expressing your feelings will work. It usually takes about twenty minutes to complete a Love Letter.
A Love Letter
I am writing this letter to share my feelings with you.
1. For Anger
· I don’t like it …
· I feel frustrated …
· I am angry that …
· I feel annoyed …
· I want …
2. For Sadness
· I feel disappointed …
· I am sad that …
· I feel hurt …
· I wanted …
· I want …
3. For Fear
· I feel worried …
· I am afraid …
· I feel scared …
· I do not want …
· I need …
· I want …
4. For Regret
· I feel embarrassed …
· I am sorry …
· I feel ashamed …
· I didn’t want …
· I want …
5. For Love
· I love …
· I want …
· I understand …
· I forgive …
· I appreciate …
· I thank you for …
· I know …
P.S. The response I would like to hear from you:
Here are some typical situations and some sample Love Letters that will help you understand the technique.
A Love Letter About Forgetfulness
When Tom napped longer than he’d planned and forgot to take his daughter Hayley to the dentist, his wife, Samantha, was furious. Instead of confronting Tom with her anger and disapproval, however, she sat down and wrote the following Love Letter. Afterward she was able to approach Tom in a more centered and accepting way.
Because she wrote this letter, Samantha did not feel an urge to lecture or reject her husband. Instead of having an argument they enjoyed a loving evening. The next week Tom made sure Hayley got to the dentist.
This is Samantha’s Love Letter:
1. Anger: I am furious that you forgot. I am angry that you overslept. I hate it when you take naps and forget everything. I am tired of feeling responsible for everything. You expect me to do everything. I am tired of this.
2. Sadness: I am sad that Hayley missed her appointment. I am sad that you forgot. I am sad because I feel like I can’t rely on you. I am sad that you have to work so hard. I am sad that you are so tired. I am sad that you have less time for me. I feel hurt when you are not excited to see me. I feel hurt when you forget things. I feel like you don’t care.
3. Fear: I am afraid I have to do everything. I am afraid to trust you. I am afraid that you don’t care. I am afraid I will have to be responsible next time. I don’t want to do everything. I need your help. I am afraid to need you. I am afraid you will never be responsible. I am afraid you are working too hard. I am afraid you may get sick.
4. Regret: I feel embarrassed when you miss appointments. I feel embarrassed when you are late. I am sorry that I am so demanding. I am sorry that I am not more accepting. I feel ashamed that I am not more loving. I don’t want to reject you.
5. Love: I love you. I understand that you were tired. You work so hard. I know you are doing your best. I forgive you for forgetting. Thank you for making another appointment. Thank you for wanting to take Hayley to the dentist. I know you really do care. I know you love me. I feel so lucky to have you in my life. I want to have a loving evening with you.
P.S. I need to hear that you will be responsible to take Hayley next week to the dentist.
A Love Letter About Indifference
Jim was leaving the next morning for a business trip. That evening, his wife, Virginia, attempted to create some intimacy. She brought a mango into their bedroom and offered him some. Jim was preoccupied reading a book in bed and briefly commented that he wasn’t hungry. Virginia felt rejected and left. Inside she was hurt and angry. Instead of coming back and complaining about his rudeness and insensitivity, she wrote a Love Letter.
After writing this letter, Virginia, feeling more accepting and forgiving, went back into the bedroom and said, “This is our last night before you leave, let’s spend some special time together.” Jim put down his book and they had a delightful, intimate evening. Writing a Love Letter gave Virginia the strength and love to persist more directly in getting her partner’s attention. She did not even need to share her Love Letter with her partner.
This is her letter:
1. Anger: I am frustrated that you want to read a book and this is our last evening together before you leave. I am angry that you ignore me. I am angry that you do not want to spend this time with me. I am angry that we don’t spend more time together. There is always something more important than me. I want to feel you love me.
2. Sadness: I am sad that you don’t want to be with me. I am sad that you work so hard. I feel like you wouldn’t even notice if I wasn’t here. I am sad that you are always so busy. I am sad that you don’t want to talk with me. I feel hurt that you do not care. I don’t feel special.
3. Fear: I am afraid you don’t even know why I am upset. I am afraid you don’t care. I am afraid of sharing my feelings with you. I am afraid you will reject me. I am afraid we are drifting further apart. I am scared that I can’t do anything about it. I am afraid that I am boring to you. I am afraid that you don’t like me.
4. Regret: I feel so embarrassed wanting to spend time with you when you don’t even care. I feel embarrassed getting so upset. I am sorry if this sounds demanding. I am sorry that I am not more loving and accepting. I am sorry that I was cold when you didn’t want to spend time with me. I am sorry that I didn’t give you another chance. I am sorry that I stop trusting your love.
5. Love: I do love you. That’s why I brought the mango. I wanted to do something to please you. I wanted to spend some special time together. I still want to have a special evening. I forgive you for being so indifferent to me. I forgive you for not responding right away. I understand that you were in the middle of reading something. Let’s have a loving intimate evening.
I love you, Virginia
P.S. The response I would like to hear: “I love you, Virginia, and I also want to spend a loving evening with you. I am going to miss you.”
A Love Letter About Arguing
Michael and Vanessa disagreed about a financial decision. Within a few minutes they got into an argument. When Michael noticed that he was starting to yell he stopped yelling, took a deep breath, and then said, “I need some time to think about this and then we will talk.” Then he went into another room and wrote out his feelings in a Love Letter.
After writing the letter he was able to go back and discuss the matter in a more understanding way. As a result they were able lovingly to resolve their problem.
This is his Love Letter:
1. Anger: I am angry that you get so emotional. I am angry that you keep misunderstanding me. I am angry that you can’t stay calm when we talk. I am angry that you are so sensitive and easily hurt. I am angry that you mistrust and reject me.
2. Sadness: I am sad that we are arguing. It hurts to feel your doubts and mistrust. It hurts to lose your love. I am sad that we fought. I am sad that we disagree.
3. Fear: I am afraid of making a mistake. I am afraid I can’t do what I want to do without upsetting you. I am afraid to share my feelings. I am afraid you will make me wrong. I am afraid of looking incompetent. I am afraid you do not appreciate me. I am afraid to talk with you when you are so upset. I don’t know what to say.
4. Regret: I am sorry I hurt you. I am sorry I don’t agree with you. I am sorry that I became so cold. I am sorry that I am so resistant to your ideas. I am sorry that I am in such a hurry to do what I want. I am sorry that I make your feelings wrong. You do not deserve to be treated that way. I am sorry that I judged you.
5. Love: I love you and I want to work this out. I think I could listen to your feelings now. I want to support you. I understand I hurt your feelings. I am sorry I was so invalidating of your feelings. I really love you so much. I want to be your hero and I don’t want to just agree with everything. I want you to admire me. I need to be me and I support you in being you. I love you. This time when we talk I will be more patient and understanding. You deserve that.
I love you, Michael
P.S. The response I would like to hear: “I love you, Michael. I really appreciate what a caring and understanding man you are. I trust we can work this out.”
A Love Letter About Frustration and Disappointment
Jean left a message for her husband, Bill, saying that she wanted him to bring some important mail home. Somehow, Bill never got the message. When he arrived home without the mail, Jean’s reaction was strong frustration and disappointment.
Although Bill was not at fault, when Jean continued making comments about how much she needed that mail and how frustrated she was, he started to feel blamed and attacked. Jean did not realize that Bill was taking personally all her feelings of frustration and disappointment. Bill was about to explode and make her wrong for being so upset.
Instead of dumping his defensive feelings on her and ruining their evening, he wisely decided to take ten minutes and write a Love Letter. When he finished writing, he came back more loving and gave his wife a hug, saying, “I am sorry you didn’t get your mail. I wish I had gotten that message. Do you still love me anyway?” Jean responded with a lot of love and appreciation, and they had a wonderful evening instead of a cold war.
This is Bill’s Love Letter:
1. Anger: I hate when you get so upset. I hate when you blame me. I am angry that you are so unhappy. I am angry that you are not happy to see me. It feels like nothing I do is ever enough. I want you to appreciate me and be happy to see me.
2. Sadness: I am sad that you are so frustrated and disappointed. I am sad that you are not happy with me. I want you to be happy. I am sad that work is always getting in the way of our love life. I am sad that you don’t appreciate all the wonderful things we have in our lives. I am sad I didn’t come home with the mail you needed.
3. Fear: I am afraid I can’t make you happy. I am afraid you will be unhappy all evening. I am afraid to be open with you or be close to you. I am afraid of needing your love. I am afraid I am not good enough. I am afraid you will hold this against me.
4. Regret: I am sorry that I didn’t bring home the mail. I am sorry you are so unhappy. I am sorry that I didn’t think to call you. I didn’t want to upset you. I wanted you to be happy to see me. We have a four-day holiday and I want it to be special.
5. Love: I love you. I want you to be happy. I understand that you are upset. I understand that you need some time to just be upset. I know that you are not trying to make me feel bad. You just need a hug and some empathy. I am sorry. Sometimes I don’t know what to do and I start making you be in the wrong. Thank you for being my wife. I love you so much. You don’t have to be perfect and you don’t have to be happy. I understand that you are upset about the mail.
I love you, Bill
P.S. The response I would like to hear: “I love you, Bill. I appreciate how much you do for me. Thank you for being my husband.”
STEP 2: WRITING A RESPONSE LETTER
Writing a Response Letter is the second step in the Love Letter Technique. Once you have expressed both your negative and positive feelings, taking an additional three to five minutes to write a Response Letter can be a healing process. In this letter, you will write the kind of response you would like to have from your partner.
It works like this. Imagine that your partner is able to respond lovingly to your hurt feelings—the ones you expressed in your Love Letter. Write a short letter to yourself pretending it is your partner writing to you. Include all the things you would like to hear from your partner about the hurts you have expressed. The following lead-in phrases can get you started:
· Thank you for …
· I understand …
· I am sorry …
· You deserve …
· I want …
· I love …
Sometimes writing a Response Letter is even more powerful than writing a Love Letter. Writing out what we actually want and need increases our openness to receiving the support we deserve. In addition, when we imagine our partners responding lovingly, we actually make it easier for them to do so.
Some people are very good at writing out their negative feelings but have a hard time finding the feelings of love. It is especially important for these people to write Response Letters and explore what they would want to hear in return. Be sure to feel your own resistance about letting your partner support you. This gives you an added awareness about how difficult it must be for your partner to deal lovingly with you at such times.
How We Can Learn About Our Partner’s Needs
Sometimes women object to writing Response Letters. They expect their partners to know what to say. They have a hidden feeling that says “I don’t want to tell him what I need; if he really loves me he will know.” In this case a woman needs to remember men are from Mars and don’t know what women need; they need to be told.
A man’s response is more a reflection of his planet than a mirror of how much he loves her. If he were a Venusian, he would know what to say, but he is not. Men really don’t know how to respond to a woman’s feelings. For the most part, our culture doesn’t teach men what women need.
If a man has seen and heard his father respond with loving words to his mother’s upset feelings, then he would have a better idea about what to do. As it is, he doesn’t know because he’s never been taught. Response Letters are the best way to teach a man about a woman’s needs. Slowly, but surely, he will learn.
Response Letters are the best way to teach a man about a woman’s needs.
Sometimes women ask me “If I tell him what I want to hear, and he starts saying it, how do I know he is not just saying it? I’m afraid he may not really mean it.”
This is an important question. If a man doesn’t love a woman he will not even bother to give her what she needs. If he even attempts to give a response similar to her request, then most likely he is really trying to respond.
If he doesn’t sound fully sincere it’s because he is learning something new. Learning a new way of responding is awkward. To him it may feel weak. This is a critical time. He needs lots of appreciation and encouragement. He needs feedback telling him he’s on the right track.
If his attempts to support her seem somewhat insincere, it is usually because he is afraid his efforts will not work. If a woman appreciates his attempt, the next time he will feel more secure and thus be able to be more sincere. A man is not a fool. When he feels that a woman is receptive to him and that he can respond in a way that makes a positive difference, he will do it. It just takes time.
Women as well can learn a lot about men and what they need by hearing a man’s Response Letter. A woman is generally perplexed by a man’s reactions to her. She has no idea why he rejects her attempts to support him. She misunderstands what he needs. Sometimes she resists him because she thinks he wants her to give up herself. In most cases, however, he really wants her to trust, appreciate, and accept him.
To receive support we not only have to teach our partners what we need but we also have to be willing to be supported. Response Letters ensure that a person is open to being supported. Otherwise communication cannot work. To share hurt feelings with an attitude that says “Nothing you say can make me feel better” is not only counterproductive but also hurtful to your partner. It is better not to talk at these times.
Here is an example of a Love Letter and its Response Letter. Notice that the response is still under the P.S., but it’s a bit longer and more detailed than those above.
A Love Letter and Response Letter About His Resistance
When Theresa asks her husband, Paul, for support, he resists her and appears burdened by her requests.
1. Anger: I am angry that you resist me. I am angry that you do not offer to help me. I am angry that I always have to ask. I do so much for you. I need your help.
2. Sadness: I am sad that you don’t want to help me. I am sad because I feel so alone. I want to do more things together. I miss your support.
3. Fear: I am afraid to ask for your help. I am afraid of your anger. I am afraid you will say no and then I will be hurt.
4. Regret: I am sorry that I resent you so much. I am sorry that I nag you and criticize you. I am sorry I don’t appreciate you more. I am sorry I give too much and then demand you do the same.
5. Love: I love you. I understand you are doing your best. I know you do care about me. I want to ask you in more loving ways. You are such a loving father to our children.
I love you, Theresa
P.S. The response I would like to hear is:
Thank you for loving me so much. Thank you for sharing your feelings. I understand that it hurts you when I act as if your requests are too demanding. I understand that it hurts when I resist you. I am sorry that I don’t offer to help you more often. You deserve my support and I want to support you more. I do love you and I feel so happy that you are my wife.
I love you, Paul
STEP 3: SHARING YOUR LOVE LETTER AND RESPONSE LETTER
Sharing your letters is important for the following reasons:
· It gives your partner an opportunity to support you.
· It allows you to get the understanding you need.
· It gives your partner necessary feedback in a loving and respectful way.
· It motivates change in a relationship.
· It creates intimacy and passion.
· It teaches your partner what is important to you and how successfully to support you.
· It helps couples to start talking again when communication breaks down.
· It teaches us how to hear negative feelings in a safe way.
There are five ways to share your letters outlined below. In this case, it is assumed that she wrote the letter, but these methods work just as well if he wrote the letter.
1. He reads her Love Letter and Response Letter out loud while she is present. Then he holds her hands and gives his own loving response with a greater awareness of what she needs to hear.
2. She reads her Love Letter and Response Letter out loud while he is listening. Then he holds her hands and gives his own loving response with a greater awareness of what she needs to hear.
3. First he reads her Response Letter out loud to her. Then he reads her Love Letter out loud. It is much easier for a man to hear negative feelings when he already knows how to respond to those feelings. By letting a man know what is required of him, he doesn’t panic as much when he is hearing negative feelings. After he reads her Love Letter he then holds her hands and gives his own loving response with a greater awareness of what she needs to hear.
4. First she reads her Response Letter to him. Then she reads her Love Letter out loud. Finally he holds her hands and gives her a loving response with a greater awareness of what she needs.
5. She gives her letters to him and he reads them privately within twenty-four hours. After he has read the letters, he thanks her for writing them and holds her hands and gives her a loving response with a greater awareness of what she needs.
What to Do If Your Partner Can’t Respond Lovingly
Based on their past experiences some men and women have great difficulty hearing Love Letters. In this case they should not be expected to read one. But even when your partner chooses to hear a letter, sometimes they are unable to respond right away in a loving manner. Let’s take Paul and Theresa as an example.
If Paul is not feeling more loving after he has heard his partner’s letters, then it is because he can’t respond with love at that time. But after time his feelings will change.
When reading the letters, he may feel attacked by the anger and hurt and become defensive. At such times he needs to take a time-out to reflect on what was said.
Sometimes when a person hears a Love Letter they only hear the anger and it will take a while before they can hear the love. It helps if, after a bit, he rereads the letter, especially the regret and love sections. Sometimes before I read a Love Letter from my wife, I read the love section first and then I read the full letter.
If a man is upset after reading a Love Letter, he could also respond with his own Love Letter, which would allow him to process the negative feelings that came up when he read her Love Letter. Sometimes I don’t know what is bothering me until my wife shares a Love Letter with me, and then suddenly I have something to write about. By writing my letter I am able to find again my loving feelings and reread her letter and hear the love behind her hurt.
If a man cannot immediately respond with love, he needs to know that it’s OK and not be punished. His partner needs to understand and accept his need to think about things for a while. Perhaps, to support his partner, he can say something like “Thank you for writing this letter. I need some time to think about it and then we can talk about it.” It is important that he not express critical feelings about the letter. Sharing letters needs to be a safe time.
All of the above suggestions for sharing Love Letters also apply when a woman has difficulty responding to a man’s letter in a loving way. I generally recommend that couples read out loud the letters they have written. It is helpful to read your partner’s letter out loud because it helps them feel heard. Experiment with both, and see what fits you.
MAKING IT SAFE FOR LOVE LETTERS
Sharing Love Letters can be scary. The person writing their true feelings will feel vulnerable. If their partner rejects them it can be very painful. The purpose of sharing the letter is to open up feelings so that partners can become closer. It works well as long as the process is done in safety. The person receiving the Love Letter needs to be particularly respectful of the writer’s expression. If they cannot give true, respectful support, then they shouldn’t agree to listen until they can.
Sharing letters needs to be done with the correct intention. Sharing a letter needs to be done in the spirit of the following two statements of intent.
Statement of Intent for Writing and Sharing a Love Letter
I have written this letter in order to find my positive feelings and to give you the love you deserve. As part of that process I am sharing with you my negative feelings, which are holding me back.
Your understanding will help me to open up and let go of my negative feelings. I trust that you do care and that you will respond to my feelings in the best way you can. I appreciate your willingness to listen and support me.
In addition I hope that this letter will assist you in understanding my wants, needs, and wishes.
The partner who is hearing the letter needs to listen in the spirit of the following statement of intent.
Statement of Intent for Hearing a Love Letter
I promise to do my best to understand the validity of your feelings, to accept our differences, to respect your needs as I do my own, and to appreciate that you are doing your best to communicate your feelings and love.
I promise to listen and not correct or deny your feelings. I promise to accept you and not try to change you.
I am willing to listen to your feelings because I do care and I trust that we can work this out.
The first few times you practice the Love Letter Technique it will be much safer if you actually read these statements out loud. These statements of intent will help you remember to respect your partner’s feelings and respond in a loving, safe way.
MINI LOVE LETTERS
If you are upset and you don’t have twenty minutes to write a Love Letter, you can try writing a mini Love Letter. It only takes three to five minutes and can really help. Here are some examples:
1. I am so angry that you are late!
2. I am sad that you have forgotten me.
3. I am afraid you don’t really care about me.
4. I am sorry that I am so unforgiving.
5. I love you and I forgive you for being late. I know you really love me. Thank you for trying.
1. I am angry that you are so tired. I am angry that you just watch TV.
2. I am sad that you don’t want to talk to me.
3. I am afraid that we are growing apart. I am afraid of making you angry.
4. I am sorry that I rejected you at dinner. I am sorry I blame you for our problems.
5. I miss your love. Would you schedule an hour with me tonight or sometime soon just for me to share with you what’s going on in my life?
P.S. What I would like to hear from you is:
Thank you for writing me about your feelings. I understand that you miss me. Let’s schedule special time tonight between eight and nine.
WHEN TO WRITE LOVE LETTERS
The time to write a Love Letter is whenever you are upset and you want to feel better. Here are some common ways Love Letters can be written.
1. Love Letter to an intimate partner.
2. Love Letter to a friend, child, or family member.
3. Love Letter to a business associate or client. Instead of saying “I love you” at the end you may choose to use “I appreciate” and “I respect.” In most cases I don’t recommend sharing it.
4. Love Letter to yourself.
5. Love Letter to God or Higher Power. Share your upset feelings about your life with God and ask for support.
6. Role reversal Love Letter. If it is hard to forgive someone, pretend that you are them for a few minutes and write a Love Letter from them to you. You will be amazed at how quickly you become more forgiving.
7. Monster Love Letter. If you are really upset and your feelings are mean and judgmental, vent them in a letter. Then burn the letter. Do not expect your partner to read it unless you both can handle negative feelings and are willing to do so. In that case even monster letters can be very helpful.
8. Displacement Love Letter. When present events upset you and remind you of unresolved feelings from childhood, imagine you can go back in time and write a letter to one of your parents, sharing your feelings and asking for their support.
WHY WE NEED TO WRITE LOVE LETTERS
As we have explored throughout this book, it is vastly important for women to share their feelings and feel cared for, understood, and respected. It is equally important for men to feel appreciated, accepted, and trusted. The biggest problem in relationships occurs when a woman shares her upset feelings and, as a result, a man feels unloved.
To him, her negative feelings may sound critical, blaming, demanding, and resentful. When he rejects her feelings, she then feels unloved. The success of a relationship is solely dependent on two factors: a man’s ability to listen lovingly and respectfully to a woman’s feelings, and a woman’s ability to share her feelings in a loving and respectful way.
A relationship requires that partners communicate their changing feelings and needs. To expect perfect communication is certainly too idealistic. Fortunately, between here and perfection there is a lot of room for growth.
To expect communication always to be easy is unrealistic. Some feelings are very difficult to communicate without hurting the listener. Couples who have wonderful and loving relationships will sometimes agonize over how to communicate in a way that works for both people. It is difficult truly to understand another person’s point of view, especially when he or she is not saying what you want to hear. It is also hard to be respectful of another when your own feelings have been hurt.
Many couples mistakenly think that their inability to communicate successfully and lovingly means they don’t love each other enough. Certainly love has a lot to do with it, but communication skill is a much more important ingredient. Fortunately, it’s a learnable skill.
How We Learn to Communicate
Successful communication would be second nature if we grew up in families that were already capable of honest and loving communication. But in previous generations, so-called loving communication generally meant avoiding negative feelings. It was often as if negative feelings were a shameful sickness and something to be locked away in the closet.
In less “civilized” families what was considered loving communication might include acting out or rationalizing negative feelings through physical punishment, yelling, spanking, whipping, and all kinds of verbal abuse—all in the name of trying to help the children learn right from wrong.
Had our parents learned to communicate lovingly, without suppressing negative feelings, we as children would have been safe to discover and explore our own negative reactions and feelings through trial and error. Through positive role models we would have learned successfully how to communicate—especially our difficult feelings. As a result of eighteen years of trial and error in expressing our feelings, we would have gradually learned to express our feelings respectfully and appropriately. If this had been the case, we would not need the Love Letter Technique.
If Our Past Were Different
Had our past been different, we would have watched our father successfully and lovingly listen to our mother expand and express her frustrations and disappointments. Daily we would have experienced our father giving our mother the loving caring and understanding that she needed from her loving husband.
We would have watched our mother trusting our father and sharing her feelings openly, without disapproving or blaming him. We would have experienced how a person could be upset without pushing someone away with mistrust, emotional manipulation, avoidance, disapproval, condescension, or coldness.
Throughout our eighteen years of growing up we would gradually be able to master our own emotions just as we have mastered walking or math. It would be a learned skill, like walking, jumping, singing, reading, and balancing a checkbook.
But it didn’t happen that way for most of us. Instead we spent eighteen years learning unsuccessful communication skills. Because we lack education in how to communicate feelings, it is a difficult and seemingly insurmountable task to communicate lovingly when we are having negative feelings.
To come to understand how difficult this is, consider your answers to these following questions:
1. When you are feeling angry or resentful, how do you express love if, while you were growing up, your parents either argued or conspired to avoid arguing?
2. How do you get your kids to listen to you without yelling or punishing them if your parents yelled and punished you to maintain control?
3. How do you ask for more support if, even as a child, you felt repeatedly neglected and disappointed?
4. How do you open up and share your feelings if you are afraid of being rejected?
5. How do you talk to your partner if your feelings say “I hate you”?
6. How do you say “I am sorry” if, as a child, you were punished for making mistakes?
7. How can you admit your mistakes if you are afraid of punishment and rejection?
8. How can you show your feelings if, as a child, you were repeatedly rejected or judged for being upset and crying?
9. How are you supposed to ask for what you want if, as a child, you were repeatedly made to feel wrong for wanting more?
10. How are you even supposed to know what you are feeling if your parents didn’t have the time, patience, or awareness to ask you how you were feeling or what was bothering you?
11. How can you accept your partner’s imperfections if, as a child, you felt you had to be perfect to be worthy of love?
12. How can you listen to your partner’s painful feelings if no one listened to yours?
13. How can you forgive if you were not forgiven?
14. How are you supposed to cry and heal your pain and grief if, as a child, you were repeatedly told “Don’t cry” or “When are you going to grow up?” or “Only babies cry”?
15. How can you hear your partner’s disappointment if, as a child, you were made to feel responsible for your mother’s pain long before you could understand that you were not responsible?
16. How can you hear your partner’s anger if, as a child, your mother or father took their frustrations out on you through yelling and being demanding?
17. How do you open up and trust your partner if the first people you trusted with your innocence betrayed you in some way?
18. How are you supposed to communicate your feelings lovingly and respectfully if you haven’t had eighteen years of practice without the threat of being rejected and abandoned?
The answer to all these eighteen questions is the same: it is possible to learn loving communication, but we need to work at it. We have to make up for the eighteen years of neglect. No matter how perfect our parents were, nobody is really perfect. If you have problems communicating, it is neither a curse nor all your partner’s fault. It is simply a lack of having the correct training and the safety to practice.
In reading the above questions, you may have had some feelings come up. Don’t waste this special opportunity to heal yourself. Take twenty minutes right now and write one of your parents a Love Letter. Simply get a pen and some paper and begin expressing your feelings, using the Love Letter format. Try it now, and you will be amazed at the outcome.
TELLING THE COMPLETE TRUTH
Love Letters work because they assist you in telling the complete truth. Merely to explore a part of your feelings does not bring about the desired healing. For example:
1. Feeling your anger may not help you at all. It may just make you more angry. The more you dwell on just your anger, the more upset you will become.
2. Crying for hours may leave you feeling empty and spent, if you never move past the sadness.
3. To feel only your fears may make you even more fearful.
4. To feel sorry, without moving through it, may just make you feel guilty and ashamed and may even be harmful to your self-esteem.
5. Trying to feel loving all the time will force you to suppress all your negative emotions, and after a few years, you will become numb and unfeeling.
Love Letters work because they guide you in writing out the complete truth about all your feelings. To heal our inner pain, we must feel each of the four primary aspects of emotional pain. They are anger, sadness, fear, and regret.
Why Love Letters Work
By expressing each of the four levels of emotional pain, our pain is released. Writing only one or two negative feelings does not work as well. This is because many of our negative emotional reactions are not real feelings but defense mechanisms we unconsciously use to avoid our true feelings. For example:
1. People who get angry easily generally are trying to hide from their hurt, sadness, fear, or regret. When they feel their more vulnerable feelings, the anger goes away and they become more loving.
2. People who cry easily generally have a hard time getting angry, but when they are helped to express anger they feel much better and more loving.
3. People who are fearful generally need to feel and express their anger; the fear then goes away.
4. People who often feel sorry and guilty generally need to feel and express their hurt and anger before they can feel the self-love they deserve.
5. People who always feel loving but wonder why they are depressed or numb generally need to ask themselves this question: “If I were angry and upset about something, what would it be?” and write out the answers. This will help them get in touch with the feelings hidden behind the depression and numbness. Love Letters can be used in this fashion.
How Feelings Can Hide Other Feelings
Following are some examples of how men and women use their negative emotions to avoid or suppress their true pain. Keep in mind that this process is automatic. We are often not aware that it is happening.
Consider for a moment these questions:
· Do you ever smile when you are really angry?
· Have you acted angry when deep inside you were afraid?
· Do you laugh and make jokes when you are really sad and hurt?
· Have you been quick to blame others when you felt guilty or afraid?
The following chart shows how men and women commonly deny their true feelings. Certainly not all men will fit the male description just as not all women will fit the female description. The chart gives us a way to understand how we may remain strangers to our real feelings.
Ways We Cover Up Our Real Feelings
How men hide their pain (This process is generally unconscious): 1. Men may use anger as a way of avoiding the painful feelings of sadness, hurt, sorrow, guilt, and fear.
How women hide their pain (This process is generally unconscious): 1. Women may use concern and worry as a way of avoiding the painful feelings of anger, guilt, fear, and disappointment.
How men hide their pain (This process is generally unconscious): 2. Men may use indifference and discouragement as a way of avoiding the painful feelings of anger.
How women hide their pain (This process is generally unconscious): 2. Women may fall into confusion as a way of avoiding anger, irritation, and frustration.
How men hide their pain (This process is generally unconscious): 3. Men may use feeling offended as a way of avoiding feeling hurt.
How women hide their pain (This process is generally unconscious): 3. Women may use feeling bad as a way of avoiding embarrassment, anger, sadness, and regret.
How men hide their pain (This process is generally unconscious): 4. Men may use anger and righteousness as a way to avoid feeling afraid or uncertain.
How women hide their pain (This process is generally unconscious): 4. Women may use fear and uncertainty as a way of avoiding anger, hurt, and sadness.
How men hide their pain (This process is generally unconscious): 5. Men may feel ashamed to avoid anger and grieving.
How women hide their pain (This process is generally unconscious): 5. Women may use grieving to avoid feeling angry and afraid.
How men hide their pain (This process is generally unconscious): 6. Men may use peace and calm as a way to avoid anger, fear, disappointment, discouragement, and shame.
How women hide their pain (This process is generally unconscious): 6. Women may use hope as a way to avoid anger, sadness, grief, and sorrow.
How men hide their pain (This process is generally unconscious): 7. Men may use confidence to avoid feeling inadequate
How women hide their pain (This process is generally unconscious): 7. Women may use happiness and gratitude to avoid feeling sadness and disappointment.
How men hide their pain (This process is generally unconscious): 8. Men may use aggression to avoid feeling afraid.
How women hide their pain (This process is generally unconscious): 8. Women may use love and forgiveness as a way to avoid feeling hurt and angry.
HEALING NEGATIVE FEELINGS
Understanding and accepting another’s negative feelings are difficult if your own negative feelings have not been heard and supported. The more we are able to heal our own unresolved feelings from childhood the easier it is responsibly to share our feelings and to listen to our partner’s feelings without being hurt, impatient, frustrated, or offended.
The more resistance you have to feeling your inner pain, the more resistance you will have to listening to the feelings of others. If you feel impatient and intolerant when others express their childlike feelings, then this is an indicator of how you treat yourself.
To retrain ourselves we must reparent ourselves. We must acknowledge that there is an emotional person inside us who gets upset even when our rational adult mind says there is no reason to be upset. We must isolate that emotional part of our self and become a loving parent to it. We need to ask ourselves “What’s the matter? Are you hurt? What are you feeling? What happened to upset you? What are you angry about? What makes you sad? What are you afraid of? What do you want?”
When we listen to our feelings with compassion, our negative feelings quite miraculously are healed, and we are able to respond to situations in a much more loving and respectful way. By understanding our childlike feelings we automatically open a door for loving feelings to permeate what we say.
If as children our inner emotions had been repeatedly heard and validated in a loving way, then as adults we wouldn’t get stuck in negative emotions. But most of us weren’t supported this way as children, so we have to do it for ourselves.
How Your Past Affects You Today
Certainly you’ve had the experience of feeling gripped by negative emotions. These are some common ways our unresolved emotions from childhood may affect us today as we encounter the stresses of being adults:
1. When something has been frustrating, we remain stuck feeling angry and annoyed, even when our adult self says we should feel calm, loving, and peaceful.
2. When something has been disappointing, we remain stuck feeling sad and hurt, even when our adult self says we should feel enthusiastic, happy, and hopeful.
3. When something has been upsetting, we remain stuck feeling afraid and worried, even when our adult self says we should feel assured, confident, and grateful.
4. When something has been embarrassing, we remain stuck feeling sorry and ashamed, even when our adult self says we should feel secure, good, and wonderful.
Silencing Your Feelings Through Addictions
As adults we generally try to control these negative emotions by avoiding them. Our addictions can be used to silence the painful cries of our feelings and unfulfilled needs. After a glass of wine, the pain is gone for a moment. But it will come back again and again.
Ironically, the very act of avoiding our negative emotions gives them the power to control our lives. By learning to listen to and nurture our inner emotions, they gradually lose their grip.
Ironically, the very act of avoiding our negative emotions gives them the power to control our lives.
When you are very upset, it certainly is not possible to communicate as effectively as you want to. At such times the unresolved feelings of your past have come back. It is as though the child that was never allowed to throw a tantrum now throws one, only to be exiled once again into the closet.
Our unresolved childhood emotions have the power to control us by gripping our adult awareness and preventing loving communication. Until we are able lovingly to listen to these seemingly irrational feelings from our past (which seem to intrude into our life when we most need our sanity), they will obstruct loving communication.
The secret of communicating our difficult feelings lies in having the wisdom and the commitment to express our negative feelings in writing so that we can become aware of our more positive feelings. The more we are able to communicate to our partners with the love they deserve, the better our relationships will be. When you are able to share your upset feelings in a loving way, it becomes much easier for your partner to support you in return.
SECRETS OF SELF-HELP
Writing Love Letters is an excellent self-help tool, but if you don’t immediately get in the habit of writing them you may forget to use it. I suggest that at least once a week when something is bothering you, sit down and write a Love Letter.
Love Letters are helpful not only when you feel upset with your partner in a relationship but also whenever you are upset. Writing Love Letters helps when you are feeling resentful, unhappy, anxious, depressed, annoyed, tired, stuck, or simply stressed. Whenever you want to feel better, write a Love Letter. It may not always completely improve your mood, but it will help move you in the direction you want to go.
In my first book, What You Feel You Can Heal, the importance of exploring feelings and writing Love Letters is more fully discussed. In addition, in my tape series, Healing the Heart, I share healing visualizations and exercises based on the Love Letter Technique for overcoming anxiety, releasing resentment, and finding forgiveness, loving your inner child, and healing past emotional wounds.
In addition, many more books and workbooks have been written on this subject by other authors. Reading these books is important to help you get in touch with your inner feelings and heal them. But remember, unless you are letting that emotional part of you speak out and be heard, it cannot be healed. Books can inspire you to love yourself more, but by listening to, writing out, or verbally expressing your feelings you are actually doing it.
Books can inspire you to love yourself more, but by listening to, writing out, or verbally expressing your feelings you are actually doing it.
As you practice the Love Letter Technique you will begin to experience the part of you that needs love the most. By listening to your feelings and exploring your emotions, you will be helping this part of you to grow and develop.
As your emotional self gets the love and understanding it needs, you will automatically begin to communicate better. You will become capable of responding to situations in a more loving manner. Even though we have all been programmed to hide our feelings and react defensively and not lovingly, we can retrain ourselves. There is great hope.
To retrain yourself you need to listen to and understand the unresolved feelings that have never had a chance to be healed. This part of you needs to be felt, heard, and understood and then it is healed.
Practicing the Love Letter Technique is a safe way to express unresolved feelings, negative emotions, and wants without being judged or rejected. By listening to our feelings we are in effect wisely treating our emotional side like a little child crying in a loving parent’s arms. By exploring the complete truth of our feelings we are giving ourselves full permission to have these feelings. Through treating this childlike part of us with respect and love, the unresolved emotional wounds of our past can be gradually healed.
Many people grow up too quickly because they reject and suppress their feelings. Their unresolved emotional pain is waiting inside to come out to be loved and healed. Although they may attempt to suppress these feelings, the pain and unhappiness continue to affect them.
Most physical diseases are now widely accepted as being directly related to our unresolved emotional pain. Suppressed emotional pain generally becomes physical pain or sickness and can cause premature death. In addition, most of our destructive compulsions, obsessions, and addictions are expressions of our inner emotional wounds.
A man’s common obsession with success is his desperate attempt to win love in hopes of reducing his inner emotional pain and turmoil. A woman’s common obsession with being perfect is her desperate attempt to be worthy of love and reduce her emotional pain. Anything done to excess can become a means to numb the pain of our unresolved past.
Our society is filled with distractions to assist us in avoiding our pain. Love Letters, however, assist you in looking at your pain, feeling it and then healing it. Every time you write a Love Letter you are giving your inner emotional and wounded self the love, understanding, and attention it needs to feel better.
The Power of Privacy
Sometimes, by privately writing out your feelings, you will discover deeper levels of feelings that you could not feel with another person present. Complete privacy creates the safety to feel more deeply. Even if you are in a relationship and you feel you can talk about anything, I still recommend privately writing down your feelings sometimes. Writing Love Letters in private is also healthy because it provides a time for you to give to yourself without depending on anyone else.
I recommend keeping a journal of your Love Letters or keeping them together in a file. To make writing Love Letters easier, you may wish to refer to the sample Love Letter format given earlier in this chapter. This Love Letter format can assist you in remembering the different stages of a Love Letter and offer some lead-in phrases when you may be stuck.
If you have a personal computer then type in the Love Letter format and use it over and over again. Simply open to that file whenever you want to write a Love Letter, and when you are finished save it by the date. Print it out if you wish to share it with someone.
In addition to writing letters, I suggest that you keep a private file for your letters. Occasionally reread these letters when you are not upset because that is when you can review your feelings with a greater objectivity. This objectivity will help you to express upset feelings at a later time in a more respectful way. Also if you write a Love Letter and you are still upset, by rereading the letter you may begin to feel better.
The Power of Intimacy
Privately writing Love Letters is very healing in itself, but it does not replace our need to be heard and understood by others. When you write a Love Letter you are loving yourself, but when you share a letter you are receiving love. To grow in our ability to love ourselves we need to receive love as well. Sharing the truth opens the door of intimacy through which love can enter.
To grow in our ability to love ourselves we need to receive love as well.
To receive more love we need to have people in our life with whom we can openly and safely share our feelings. It is very powerful to have some select people in your life with whom you can share your every feeling and trust that they will still love you and not hurt you with criticism, judgment, or rejection.
When you can share who you are and how you feel, then you can fully receive love. If you have this love, it is easier to release negative emotional symptoms like resentment, anger, fear, and so forth. This does not mean that you need to share everything you feel and discover in private. But if there are feelings that you are afraid to share, then gradually these fears need to be healed.
A loving therapist or close friend can be a tremendous source of love and healing if you can share your inner and deepest feelings. If you don’t have a therapist, then having a friend read your letters from time to time is very helpful. Writing in private will make you feel better, but occasionally sharing your Love Letters with another person who cares and can be understanding is essential.
The Power of the Group
The power of group support is something that cannot be described but has to be experienced. A loving and supportive group can do wonders to help us more easily get in touch with our deeper feelings. To share your feelings with a group means there are more people available to give you love. The potential for growth is magnified by the size of the group. Even if you do not speak out in a group, by listening to others speak openly and honestly about their feelings, your awareness and insight expand.
When I lead group seminars around the country I repeatedly experience deeper parts of myself that need to be heard and understood. When someone stands up and shares their feelings, suddenly I begin to remember something or feel something myself. I gain valuable new insights about myself and others. At the end of each seminar I generally feel much lighter and more loving.
Everywhere small support groups on almost every topic meet each week to give and receive this support. Group support is especially helpful if as children we did not feel safe to express ourselves in groups or in our family. While any positive group activity is empowering, speaking or listening in a loving and supportive group can be personally healing.
I meet regularly with a small men’s support group, and my wife, Bonnie, meets regularly with her women’s support group. Getting this outside support greatly enhances our relationship. It frees us from looking to each other as the sole source of support. In addition, by listening to others share their successes and failures our own problems tend to shrink.
Taking Time to Listen
Whether you are privately writing down your thoughts and feelings on your computer or sharing them in therapy, in your relationships, or in a support group, you are taking an important step for yourself. When you take the time to listen to your feelings you are in effect saying to the little feeling person inside “You matter. You deserve to be heard and I care enough to listen.”
When you take the time to listen to your feelings you are in effect saying to the little feeling person inside “You matter. You deserve to be heard and I care enough to listen.”
I hope you will use this Love Letter Technique because I have witnessed it transform the lives of thousands of people, including my own. As you write more Love Letters it becomes easier and works better. It takes practice, but it is worth it.