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This article is brought to you by Dr. Samantha Rodman & contains excerpts from her book, 52 Emails to Transform Your Marriage.
A few years into a committed relationship—and often after marriage or having kids—many couples start to feel disconnected or dissatisfied. This can feel like loneliness or like you’re just not on the same page anymore. There are so many things keeping couples busy: work, kids, housework, and social or leisure activities. Sometimes you barely have ten minutes to talk to your partner, and when you do, it’s about logistics, like home repairs, finances, or who’s picking up the kids from preschool.
As a couples therapist, I see many couples whose relationships look great to the outside world. The partners love each other and have similar goals and values. If they have kids, they parent well, as a team. Despite these indications that they are a happy couple, however, one or both partners find themselves wondering if they even know each other anymore. They gamely schedule date nights, but these often leave both partners feel disappointed at their lack of connection and intensity. Conversations can turn superficial and unfulfilling. There may be a platonic “roommate” dynamic or differences in sex drives that lead to resentment.
I wrote my book to help these couples and others like them. While couples may not have the time or energy to go to weekly couples counseling sessions, or even to schedule weekly date nights, everyone has 20 minutes or so to write an email. The exercises in this book are designed for couples who are intrinsically motivated to change in a positive way in order to create a more loving and authentic connection.
In this book, I guide you and your partner through 52 emails, with specific prompts. Unlike in-person discussions, these stay on topic and cannot devolve into fights. Focusing on each topic in order to write to each other will allow you to grow closer and gain increased insight, understanding, and connection. Each email comes with an example of what it would look like when exchanged between partners. Couples don’t have to do all 52 emails, they can pick and choose which areas they are most interested in. The topics cover everything, from early memories of your life together, to core values, to sex, to parenting, to thoughts about the future.
Here’s one example email, #13: Times I Felt Most Connected To You Recently, with the example emails immediately after the prompts, so you can see how the emails would work in practice. This example is of a couple similar to ones I see in my office, where there is some conflict and resentment.
Although you and your partner may be feeling disconnected and detached—or even openly hostile—there are probably some recent times that you felt close. People often discount brief, everyday moments of connection. In this e-mail, you’ll be focusing on these seconds or minutes during the day when you feel that you and your partner are on the same page.
Be specific when describing your connected moments. Don’t just say, “I felt happy during our dinner out.” Instead, say, “I felt close when you looked at me and told me you were glad to be there with me.” Training yourself to focus on specific moments of intimate connection is healthy for your relationship, and you may realize that you and your partner still have a strong foundation.
Use the first prompt, as well as at least three others, and end with two or three open-ended questions!
- Writing this e-mail to you makes me feel _______
- Here are three moments in the past month when I felt connected to you: _______
- Here is why each of these as meaningful to me: _______
- Each of these moments showcased the following positive qualities of yours: _______.
- I find it easy (or hard) to focus on small moments of connection, because _______.
- Growing up, I saw small moments of connection between my parents, like _______.
- Growing up, I did not see small moments of connection between my parents, instead, I saw _______
- Here are some things you could do that would usually work to make me feel happier and closer: _______
This is tough to write, since things have been so terrible lately. Still, I can think of two moments in the past month when I felt close to you. The first was when we went to the dog wash. I always like doing stuff with just you and Bobo, because when we first got together, it was always just us three. I felt close to you when I saw you talk to him before he got washed. The other time was when you put Emmy back to sleep after she’d had a nightmare.
Both moments showed me how warm and loving you can be. I would say that being nice to the kids and the dog generally makes me feel warmer toward you. When I am angry with you, I find it hard to focus on small moments of connection, but I think it would be good if we could do it more.
- Do you have positive memories of me at all this month?
- Do you associate Bobo with us being in love?
I know you hate me right now because of all the money stuff, so we haven’t had that many connected moments this month. It is hard for me to think of anything positive when I know you’re so disappointed and angry. But here are a few.
- when you kissed me goodbye in the morning yesterday
- when you laughed at me playing horse with Emmy
- when you told me that Mark doesn’t know Sophie’s preschool teacher’s name, which seemed to imply that I’m a better dad than he is.
These made me feel connected, because I love any physical affection from you, and I love it when you seem happy or proud of me. You are a tough audience lately, though. I know this money thing was my fault, but I am not a bad guy overall.
- Do you still love me?
- Were you serious when you were saying that it would be easier as a single mom?
I love you,
As you can see, couples dig deep to write about things that are bothering them, and since there is no possibility of arguing or interruption, it may be easier to express difficult thoughts or questions. Couples are directed to write back to each other’s closing questions as well, as that opens up the possibility of extended dialogue about topics of importance.
If you and your partner have grown distant, try 52 Emails as a first step to enhancing your communication and connection. Learning more about your partner can help you empathize with them, as well as reinvigorate your relationship!
Featured Contributor: Samantha Rodman
Samantha Rodman is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Maryland, and the founder of DrPsychMom.com. Dr. Rodman lives in Maryland with her husband, three kids, and a rescue dog and cat. She has written 52 Emails To Transform Your Marriage and How to Talk To Your Kids About Your Divorce. For therapy or consultation, contact her here.