I pulled an oldie but a goodie out of my hat the other day in working with a couple that had been on a significantly long and meaningful “good run”. Both had worked diligently on themselves and on their marriage and as a result had experienced a smooth period of almost three months. For some this may seem like nothing. For them it was everything. It’s all relative.
I saw each of them individually last week and they both endorsed a sudden change. She: “I don’t know what happened, but everything seemed to go to crap overnight”. He: “This is not working. I feel like I’m back to being my old self and I don’t know how I got here”.
Ultimately, the triggering event didn’t really matter, the problem was that they turned their back on all their newfound communication skills. Things went downhill after that. They were so irritated, hurt and guarded by that time that face to face work would have been difficult.
So, back to the drawing board – Love Notes. This is, by far, one of my favorite relationship techniques. It goes like this:
Get a notebook of some sort. It can be a cheap spiral notebook from the dollar store. It can be a fancy, embossed leatherbound journal. It can be some paper from your printer’s tray stapled together. Place it and a pen or pencil in a location in your home where you can have some privacy when you write in it. Go there whenever you need to communicate something important to your loved one.
Your entry needs to be dated and even time stamped. For example: Tuesday 11/2/21 3:45pm. This actually gives a great deal of information. Your loved one knows you well enough that they understand this is right after you got home from work, or right after the kids got in from school, or right after you woke up since you work third shift, or right after the ugly, heated text exchange you had with them. Frame of mind is an important piece to understanding the ensuing communication.
The first line in your entry always conveys your love for them, with no strings attached. “I love you so much”. Period. Not “I love you, but you are getting on my last nerve”. Or “I love you but if you put the empty ice cube tray back in the freezer one more time…”. Just “I love you”. Or “I am so glad you are in my life”. Or “I cherish the time we spend together”. It doesn’t matter what issue you are about to tackle, the bottom line is that you love them regardless.
Let that statement stand alone and move to a new paragraph. This is where you express whatever is bothering you. Don’t ramble. Be succinct. But also don’t be accusatory. Simply state the facts and feelings relative to you. It may be beneficial to use the formula from “I Statements Are The Bomb”. Or it could be a love note that states a positive feeling you want to acknowledge. Either way, this is the bulk of the communication.
Then end with a repeat of the opening statement or end with a new but loving acknowledgement. “I’m so glad we communicate how we feel. I love you”. “It means a lot that you are willing to work on this”. “I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this. I love you so much”.
The beauty of this technique is that it overcomes some peoples’ difficulty with face to face communication during difficult times. Yes, ultimately the goal is to learn how to do that, but it takes time. In the meantime, Love Notes is very effective. It allows each person time to think about what they want to say and how they want to say it. We can all say some pretty crappy things in the heat of the moment, and this technique takes that away. It allows each person to sit with what the other person has said and think about it. It takes away the tendency to be thinking about your response in the midst of what the other person is saying.
Leave your entry there for your loved one to read at their leisure. Give it a day or so before you return to check the notebook for their response. You don’t want to get obsessive about it. Don’t check the notebook every hour and get irritated that they haven’t responded. You said what you needed to say. Give them the space and the time to discover it and to respond to it.
This technique is not meant to take the place of face to face communication. But it can be a very effective way to set the stage and lead both parties into a direct conversation about the issue at hand. When it feels appropriate, say in your Love Note that you would like to talk face to face about the issue. Respect your loved one’s response. Be patient, loving, gentle and understanding.