John Gray’s “Love Letter” Technique
by Raymond Barrett
By Bill Herring, LCSW, CSAT, Psychotherapist
I wanted to put John Grey’s name in the title of this article in order to give respect and credit where it’s due. John Gray is the author of the “Men Are From Mars, Women Are from Venus” series of books. He has helped a lot of couples to improve their communication skills in very meaningful ways. A strategy that I occasionally recommend to clients is his version of the “Love Letter”. I find it to be a very effective way to communicate in situations when difficult topics, situations or people make verbal communication tense and ineffective.
Grey’s “love letter” technique has five stages:
1. Anger. After a sentence or two explaining the nature and intent of the letter, the writer communicates his or her feelings of anger, resentment and blame at the other person. It basically involves variations of the sentiment “I don’t like it when you…..”
2. Hurt and Sadness. In the second section of the letter, the writer describes any feelings of sadness, hurt or disappointment that are present. “I get sad when you….” is one example of a typical second-section sentence.
3. Fear. This next section lists fears and insecurities that the writer feels, as in “I get scared when you…..”
4. Guilt and Remorse. In this section the writer shares any feelings of responsibility, regret and remorse that are present. “I’m sorry that I…..” or “I regret….” are typical examples of ways to begin a sentence in this section.
5. Love. The last section of the letter is the appropriate place for the writer to describe feelings of love, forgiveness and understanding. “I forgive you for…..” or “I really care about you and want to work this out” are good examples. The end of the letter is also the place to state a simple request or desire for an action on the part of the reader. “I would like you to…..”
I think this technique is very useful for a number of reasons. First, the act of writing a letter has become so unusual that anyone receiving one is more likely to take notice of its significance than they would if similar feelings were merely being spoken to them. Second, a letter allows the writer to choose his or her words carefully, which often doesn’t happen when people are trying to communicate verbally during the heat of the moment. Finally, a letter allows the reader to review what is being communicated as many times as she or he wants, increasing the likelihood that the message will be openly and carefully considered, while spoken words can rush by too quickly and are thus more likely to be heard or remembered incorrectly.
While nothing works all the time, this “love letter” technique is a remarkably effective way to insure that the full range of emotions one person feels for another will be expressed in an organized and comprehensive manner that often leads to more productive communication than can be achieved by attempts to “talk it out”.