Linda: There are times when a relationship is so broken down; when those involved have been so hurt by the other, that they withdraw into silence to protect themselves. It’s a natural and normal reaction to suffering, to remove ourselves in an attempt to get out of harm’s way. But the cold silence becomes another form of suffering, with neither person knowing how to reengage. When the relationship has deteriorated that much, I recommend writing a letter. The difficult emotional constipation, resulting from so many withheld feelings, can release once they move through us.
Perhaps you will deliver the letter or perhaps you will only write it for yourself. The main purpose of the letter is to move the pent-up feelings. Once you have some relief from the intensity of the emotions, you can think clearly about the decision of whether you want to deliver the letter. If you decide to deliver it, it’s likely that you will want to write another version before sending it. The respectful, revised version will bring the tension level down and the trust level up. Sending an angry, blaming letter will not repair the broken trust, and will only prolong the discomfort. But the anger expressed in the first version of the letter is important for you to acknowledge to yourself. The angry section will later be deleted from the original version.
The first version is clearly for us alone. When we commit to telling ourselves the truth, we are challenged to admit how angry we are. We may feel victimized, hurt, let down, disappointed, enraged, or betrayed by our partner. We may be so suspicious that we believe that the injury was deliberate. Maybe it’s true. In moments of desperation, our partner can be capable of intentionally causing harm. But we are also quite capable of acting out our shadow side as well.
Anger: We can begin by expressing the anger, even in a blaming way, that can be deleted later. Trying to bypass the angry stage, to be understanding and forgiving prematurely, is sure to abort the healing process. I sometimes refer to the attempt to be forgiving ahead of time as “phony holy.” We may want to believe that we are such an evolved person, that we don’t experience anger, hatred, resentment, or rage. But if the feeling of anger is there, it serves us well to tell ourselves the truth and not try to cover it over. Being specific about exactly why we are feeling so angry is a strong step in the right direction. Other feelings awaiting expression, can pop up to the surface once the anger is formed into words.
Pain, fear, and sadness: Once the top layer has found expression, the hurt and pain can be contacted. There is a sadness about the disconnection just below the surface of the anger; and if we continue to drill down, there is fear. Being specific about what we fear is a necessary part of moving the strong energy that’s keeping us apart from our partner. Revealing our fears, even if they seem wild and irrational, is essential. For instance, we may fear that our partner will leave us permanently or we may fear that we will be the one who gives and up and leaves the relationship. We may fear that we won’t resolve a perpetual issue, only to cycle through the same torment again and again. Whatever is there, all the crazy and legitimate fears are invited to surface to show themselves.
Guilt: It’s likely that there is guilt down there too. As soon as we contact the anger, hurt, and fear, the way is cleared to see our own responsibility in the breakdown. Seeing our complicity is an important part of the healing process. While we are blinded by our anger at our partner, we can’t see the part that we have played. Once we contact our vulnerable feelings of hurt, fear, and guilt, we can see more clearly. Rather than a wicked perpetrator and an innocent victim, we can see that we have been co-conspirators who have both contributed to the painful breakdown.
Love: The responsible stance of seeing the part that we ourselves have played, allows us to contact the profound love that we have for our partner. It is because the love for our partner is deep that we are having such a hard time managing these intense feelings. It is the loving commitment to the well-being of the partnership that means so much to us, that brings agony when we are disconnected. That love allows us to both forgive ourselves for the part we played, and to forgive our partner for the part they have played. The understanding that we have finally arrived at repairs the damaged trust.
If we decide to send the letter, we can lop off the top that was filled with anger and blame that would have inflamed the situation. Drilling down to the vulnerable feelings until understanding and love are expressed, invites our partner’s desire to open to us again, and to return to speaking terms.
My clients often fear that they will do their work, spend hours refining multiple versions of their letter so that it is a responsible representation of their desire to repair the damage, and that their efforts will be in vain. They imagine that their partner will tear the letter to bits and throw it in the trash. While it’s not impossible, destroying the letter before reading it is unlikely. People’s curiosity gets the better of them. They too are hoping to build the bridge of understanding in order to reconnect. The chances are great that they will read the letter, perhaps multiple times, and the cold silence will come to a close. Now the main points of realization in written form can now be spoken. The damage to the partnership can be repaired, hopefully even stronger than before due to the learning that has taken place. Don’t take my word for it. Try writing that letter and find out from your own experience if it works like a charm.