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How to Use Writing to Radically Improve Your Relationships

A complete how-to on writing letters to others to keep good relationships strong, repair hurt feelings, and help you grow in unexpected ways

Sílvia Bastos
Jul 26, 2018 · 16 min read
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Original photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash
  • Communicate more openly;
  • Solve conflict in a compassionate and effective way;
  • Make your exchanges more meaningful;
  • Encourage other people to open up to you.
  1. A desire to make your relationships more authentic and fulfilling.

The Lost Art of Exchanging Long, Focused, Unbroken Pieces of Text

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Drawing by the author.

“I don’t use social media and I hate chatting.”

At first I was a bit skeptical, but we decided to give it a try. From then on, apart from the occasional voice call, our long distance communication was mostly restricted to two distinct formats:

  1. Handwritten letters
  • As a consequence, writing those emails also served as a self-reflexive (and sometimes meditative) practice, allowing us to learn about ourselves in the process;
  • As we knew that it would take the other person a day or two to get back to us, we avoided the anxiety of constantly checking for replies and we were able to focus on personal projects without distractions;
  • The intervals between each email prevented us from getting bored of each other — which sometimes happens when you communicate with someone exclusively via digital media — because we always had something interesting and new to say;
  • Because of the amount of time, focus and love we poured into our emails, we saw each piece of correspondence as something to be treasured: I remember setting aside intentional time to read his emails, and my heart jumped with excitement every time I saw his name on my inbox.
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One of many creative letters my partner (still) surprises me with once in a while.

Communicating Emotions

A few years ago, a group of psychologists conducted a study called ‘The Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness’, which was later popularized by the article ‘To Fall In Love With Anyone, Do This’.

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Drawing by the author.

If you share, I will listen. If you listen, I will share.

According to Marshal Rosenberg, PhD psychologist and founder of Nonviolent Communication, there are two essential components of effective, compassionate communication:

  1. Empathically listening to other people’s feelings and needs.
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Drawing by the author.

Example 1

Example 2

Example 3

How to Use This Technique

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Drawing by the author.

When to use it

This process is especially useful for solving situations of conflict, but you can also use it to uncover underlying issues that you might sense in your relationships.

  • It will help you organize your thoughts in a structured manner, giving you clarity and making it easier for the other person to understand;
  • It will make it easier for you to open up and be vulnerable, as you will have expressed your emotions beforehand and now you just have to read what you wrote;
  • It will help you remember important things that you might otherwise forget or ignore in the heat of the moment.

How to structure the letter

  1. Honestly express your feelings and needs.
    Without blaming the other person, share what is going on inside of you.
  2. Empathize with the emotions behind the other person’s words.
    “What might they be feeling that made them say this to me?” Don’t take it personally, and try to see the fragile human being behind their anger or unfairness. Repeat things back to them. Reassure them that you paid attention.
  3. Give them clear instructions on how to support you better.
    What would you like them to change in their future behavior?
  4. Show your availability to support them better.
    What are you willing to change in your future behavior that might improve your relationship with them? Offer to do that. And then ask them for their own suggestions.

Expressing Gratitude and Appreciation

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Drawing by the author.

The hidden power of thank you notes

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Transforming Yourself

There is a concept in psychology called ‘self-signaling’ — a term introduced by psychologist and bestselling author Dan Ariely in his book ‘The Honest Truth About Dishonesty’.

  • New friends with whom I wanted to be closer;
  • People in my life with whom I had unresolved issues;
  • Other family members;
  • My partner;
  • People I work with.

The Gift of Growth

If I would have to name the biggest way in which writing has transformed my relationships, it would be through the gift of self-awareness.

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most…

Thanks to Michal Korzonek

Sílvia Bastos

Written by

Co-founder at JournalSmarter.com

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most trustworthy writing on human potential and self improvement by coaches, academics, and aggressive self-experimenters. Articles are based on deep personal experience, science, and research. No fluff, book reports, or listicles.

Sílvia Bastos

Written by

Co-founder at JournalSmarter.com

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most trustworthy writing on human potential and self improvement by coaches, academics, and aggressive self-experimenters. Articles are based on deep personal experience, science, and research. No fluff, book reports, or listicles.

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