On Marital Communication

Article by Dr. Michael Tobin

Dear Visitor,

Let me begin by saying the obvious: Communication is the heart of a successful relationship. Your words, spoken or written, soul to soul, are what foster change and growth in your partner or your loved one. Your openness to the words of your spouse, parent or child is what deepens your connection with him or her and with yourself.

Letter writing has traditionally been one of the most effective means of sharing feelings with a lover, friend or family member. While writing a letter, we should picture the impact our words will have on our partner. We should pause and ask ourselves if the sentences on the page are communicating the message that we wish to deliver. Am I expressing my deepest feelings of love and gratitude? Have I given my partner clear examples that illustrate how much I appreciate her? Does the letter clearly state what I’m upset about without blaming or accusing and does it suggest ways to work things out? Do I state the problem with my partner in a way that he will understand? When reading it, will he feel encouraged to join me in seeking solutions?

As you sit down to write your letter, ask yourself these and other clarifying questions. Read your letter a number of times, checking to be sure that the words on the paper or screen tell the real story that you wish to tell. Imagine your partner reading the letter and picture her reaction. Try to avoid inflammatory language or direct or indirect put-downs. Let the poet in you express the same feelings of love that your tongue might trip over. In other words, a bit of sincere corn, or schmaltz, if you’re from New York City, can go a long way toward making a relationship grow. 

A sincerely written letter can heal a relationship. It opens the door to a deeper connection; it’s a safe way for your inner voice to communicate. For your partner, friend or family member, it’s an opportunity to reflect on your message rather than react precipitously. As he repeatedly reads your letter – and he will – he may allow himself to hear you through his hurt and resentment. 

I leave you with the following suggestions:

  1. Before you write, think about what you want to communicate. In other words write so that you achieve the outcome that will make you both happy. 
  2. Try to avoid writing accusatory “you” statements. Instead, talk about how you feel.
  3. Use concrete examples that illustrate your feelings.
  4. When attempting to work through a relationship challenge, offer win/win solutions. 
  5. As you write, picture your partner reading your letter. If you imagine him reacting negatively, then try to use language that will elicit a positive response.
  6. In the case of a letter of apology or a letter that expresses hurt or resentment, give your partner some time to reflect on your words. After a few days, talk to her about what you wrote. Start by asking her how she feels about the letter. 
  7. In the case of a love letter, follow it with a gift or a date or use your imagination. In the case of a healing letter to a parent, child, relative or friend, the gesture of a gift – however modest – is always appreciated. 

Good luck with your letter. It is my sincere hope that it helps to bring you and your loved one closer together. 


Dr. Michael Tobin

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