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Monday, December 16, 2013

Miraculous Mondays: Can Writing a Letter Save a Marriage?


Thought for the Day: Here's another segment in my Miraculous Monday's Therapy Moments from marital therapy. Last week, I completed a three part series (Psychotherapy: Miracle or Science: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) describing a technique that I have used over the years and how it impacted on a couple struggling with marital conflicts. This week I will share a letter writing technique that has saved some marriages. Even when it does not save a marriage, it can shorten the painful process of deciding what to do when a marriage is failing. Do you think a letter could save a marriage? Has a letter helped you improve your relationship? I'd love to hear your stories as well.

There are some similarities between this intervention and the one I presented in the 1st set of articles on this subject. I use this technique when a couple has been coming for a while and do not seem to be making progress. In marriage counseling, I usually see some changes that indicate whether the differences can be reconciled within a couple of months. Although the marriage may not be fixed, there is an easing of differences, a lessening of quarreling and a return of some positive interactions between the partners. When I do not see this happening and the couple report either more of the same battles or an increase in discord, I begin to worry.

When this happens, I may give them a letter writing assignment. Shelly and Tom were in this type of holding pattern in their marriage. Tom had had a brief affair. When Shelly found out, she was devastated. If they did not have 3 children, Shelly said she would have left him immediately. She wanted to try to salvage the marriage, but could not stop thinking about Tom being with another woman. Tom was doing everything he could to try to make amends with Shelly. He was remorseful and apologized repeatedly to his wife. He broke off the affair, changed his cell phone number, so that there would be no contact, gave his facebook & e-mail passwords to Shelly so that she could check his correspondence whenever she wanted. He was calling Shelly and checking in on a frequent basis. Despite all his efforts, Shelly kept picking fights with him and questioning his honesty. I tried to help them understand that trust takes time to rebuild, but Shelly did not know if she could ever trust him again and kept threatening divorce.

I suggested that they write a letter to their spouse. They were to imagine that they got divorced tomorrow and that a year had gone by since they untied the knot. They were not to discuss their letters till the next therapy session. Come back next week to hear what happened when they returned.
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