Q: How do you feel about writing a letter to my husband outlining the things that we argue about and why I react the way I do? We have a relatively happy married life with one exception; we argue in a horrible mean way that usually entails discussion from one us talking about leaving. We both agree that we don’t want to separate; but the arguments are horrible and I usually end up getting hysterical. He has a tendency to take a relatively minor issue and imagine it to be worse than it is. Then he ponders this until he has it in his head that I am playing some kind of game or trying to manipulate him in some way! Most of the time, I am completely unaware of what the issue is because he won’t discuss what he is angry about! I can’t win. All I can tell you is that I have never tried to manipulate him in any way…however, he was betrayed by a close female co-worker and friend. So the only thing I can think of is that now he thinks all women are like she is. I have a letter all typed up outlining the two major issues we tend to argue over and have explained why I react the way I do. Explanation: he has gotten angry with me for turning out the light when we went bed because he believed that this meant that I did not want to make love. This was nothing new so I’m really not sure what prompted this at this time, but now I’m leery of turning out the light right away. Also, I can tell he’s upset about something by his actions (he tenses up when I touch him) and by his quick, terse responses to questions. The problem is, I can’t always tell if he’s upset with me or not. I’ve asked him several times to tell me if it’s me and what it was that I did or said to make him upset (sometimes it is over something he has totally imagined) but he refuses, saying that he doesn’t have to tell me everything that is going on in his head, or that he doesn’t need to be scripted every time he’s in a bad mood. The gist of this problem is that I was sexually abused in my first marriage and that totally trashed my self-esteem. As a result, my emotions are very hard for me to control, especially when he is angry over something that I may have done or said. My letter to him is merely an explanation of where I am coming from. There is no finger pointing, no quotes, no accusations; just explanation of the key points. Does this sound like a good plan, or should I shred it and try another approach. We have been married for 12 years and these are basically the only things we argue over. If the letter is a good idea, any suggestions as to what and/or how I should proceed? Thank you.
I’d say that a letter is a fine place to start but from what you are describing here, I would suggest more than that. Writing things down is an excellent way to clarify your own feelings. I often recommend both journaling and letter writing. Sometimes giving someone a letter is a nice way to communicate in a clear manner without emotions getting in the way. However, many people still need to work on being able to communicate verbally with each other without the yelling and blaming or the relationship doesn’t work. It sounds to me like the two of you could definitely benefit from marital therapy. Having a third person in the room is an excellent way to work on communication and problem solving without slipping into the same old patterns. If for some reason this isn’t an option I would at least suggest getting a well written book by a professional to help you. Some titles that I recommend are: The 7 Principles of Making Marriage Work, Relationship Rescue, Getting the Love you Want, and Fighting for your Marriage. I know there are many others available that are helpful as well. I’m also wondering if you have addressed the sexual abuse you mentioned. Have you been in therapy yourself? If not, please consider this as well because you may still have some healing to do before you can ever truly trust or be fully open to someone. However, I don’t suggest being “fully open” to someone who is abusive either and some of your comments about your husband make me wonder about verbal and emotional abuse. Regardless, it sounds like you and your husband have some unhealthy ways of relating to each other and I hope you will get help so you can experience the richness that a healthy marriage can offer.