By Martin Novell, M.S. ’80, and Daina Hulet (see main article)
1. Break the ice (or melt it)
In writing, it’s easier to make yourself vulnerable. You have time to think and choose your words, you have your privacy, and you won’t put the other person under pressure to respond right away. Some people are shy. Some may have been raised not to express certain feelings. Others don’t think or speak well on their feet. Writing can be the answer.
If the object of your affections is oblivious to your feelings, writing a short note to get their attention reduces the risk involved in putting them on the spot. When Delaney Rodriguez slipped a note under Michael’s dorm room door, she gave him time to think about a situation he admits caught him completely by surprise. She was taking a risk, but doing it in writing softened her fears of embarrassing Michael.
Writing a simple text to apologize to your partner can end a silly argument, and a longer written apology could open the door to a necessary, if difficult, conversation. The words “Is everything OK?” in a text or email may be enough to demystify an uncomfortable silence.
2. Show they’re always on your mind
Particularly when a twosome is separated by distance and time, writing moves romance and intimacy forward. Being candid, flirty or transparent can intensify the emotions of the writer as well as the recipient. The act of writing itself encourages reflection and deep thought. It may even lessen the loneliness of long separations.
Jenifer Salzwedel calls her husband’s letters, written during his 10 years on the road as a pro athlete, “loving gestures.” “This was in the days before email, and I know that with his practice and travel schedule, it took effort for him to find the time to sit down and write.”
“Writing plays a big part of keeping our romance alive, during the week,” says Aarika Riddle. “Texting ‘I love you’ or sending a supportive note when I know Ryan is going to have a rough day – it promotes good feelings. Sometimes we’ll even be sitting next to each other and I’ll get a fun or goofy email from him. It’s romantic!”
3. Start a little more conversation
Writing encourages better spoken communication. Simple words of encouragement, appreciation or fondness sprinkled in emails or online chat keep couples connected, and inspire topics to discuss later on. Updates like “tough day” and “long meeting” provide cues for starting your next conversation.
For couples who fall into a rut of silence, there are writing exercises that can lead to fresh and surprising conversation. Research shows that keeping a one-line gratitude journal daily, then exchanging and reading them every week or two, delivers insight about your relationship and promotes happiness.
4. Keep you both coming back
Thoughts committed to paper, computer screens and phone screens all can be saved as keepsakes. “We just did some rearranging, and I found the box of communiqués we sent each other the summer I worked at a camp with no cell phone service,” says Ryan Riddle. “We hadn’t seen them in years. We read them together and laughed. These are a significant part of our romance. We’ll probably push them to the back of a closet, they’ll get buried, and one day we’ll discover them all again.”
Partners in long-term relationships who may have lost the emotional spark can benefit from sending their mate an old-fashioned love letter and pouring out the heart. Find writing difficult? Copy a famous love letter or a selection of romantic quotes and send them along with a personal line or two, such as “This is how I feel about you, but Shakespeare said it better.” Carefully pick a card that suits your feelings or reminds you of the one you love. Then personalize it with your own fond or grateful words. It’s the personal touch, whether you write well or not, that makes the difference.