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Become Pen Pals

A great way for sharing those things that are hard to say.

Dear Bill,
Just want to let you know I'm thinking of you and praying for you this week. I know things are difficult at work right now with all the changes, but just know that the kids and I appreciate all you do. I'm praying specifically that you will have peace and that the Lord will work out the details whether it be finding another job or finding contentment where you are now. Easier said than done, I know. But somehow this is all part of God's plan even though we don't see how right now. Whatever decision you make concerning the situation, I am behind you. And don't forget—I love you!

Thanks for praying for me. Some days it's really hard to go to work and deal with all that's happening. It's scary to not know what the future holds and whether or not I'll have a job this time next year. I appreciate that you are praying for me. It is hard to have peace and contentment right now, but until the Lord shows me otherwise, there aren't many other options. I know things haven't been easy for you either. Thanks for standing by me in spite of everything. You don't know how much it means to me to know that you and the kids are there when I get home each day.

Where e-mails of encouragement or letters of love may be staples of doe-eyed courting couples, when you think of married people expressing love, rarely does using the written word come to mind. While mailing letters or sending e-mails to someone sleeping in the same bed may seem strange, writing entries to each other in a journal can help a couple create a source of understanding and intimacy when face-to-face communication may not express what you want to say.

Mutual journaling is simply another form of letter writing, but instead uses one journal (a notebook or blank book) in which a couple can write and respond to each other. It shouldn't replace physical and verbal communication, but it can serve as a safe way to express what one is feeling without being misunderstood, interrupted, or becoming defensive. Or for the partner who is uneasy saying so verbally, it can become a more comfortable way to express encouragement and love. This type of writing can serve as a springboard to discussion, especially of difficult or potentially argumentative topics.

Ways to Use It

How a couple uses written communication is a matter of what they hope to gain from the experience. For some, the journal may serve as a book of love letters to each other, while others may prefer to share what God is doing in their lives. It can become a shared devotional and prayer notebook. Writing out a prayer for a spouse can do wonders in giving them hope during a difficult time. Difficult subjects such as aging parents, in-laws, and finances can also find diplomatic ground in a journal.

For Eric and Brandy, writing was an important form of communication early in their relationship while he was at college and she was still in high school. "Neither of us had enough money for phone bills, so we wrote — sometimes every day," says Brandy. "Now that we are married, we still communicate through writing. And the best thing about co-journaling is that children don't overhear heated discussions and we can work out things when we aren't so tired at the end of the day."

Writing back and forth works for Kate and her husband when something is bothering either of them. But they find it's also a good way to say "I love you."

"I feel as though it helps me explain my point of view without getting emotional and before giving him a chance to respond. It has been a great tool in patching the little holes that develop in our relationship while avoiding the anger, hurt, or tears that come when I try to talk face-to-face," Kate says. "Just writing the words 'I love you' goes a long way."

For Oscar and Lauri, writing serves a similar purpose. According to Lauri, "Writing helps us express our thoughts calmly and clearly while also expressing our love for each other."

Making It Work

There are a few ground rules to keep in mind that make co-journaling mutually beneficial. First, be aware that what is written in black and white has a sense of permanency to it. Just as you cannot retract words already spoken, words written hastily in anger also can create resentment and hurt. A topic that is volatile should probably be written out privately to organize your thoughts and get through some of the hurt or anger, then rewritten in a constructive way. Also remember that written words don't always show the motive behind them. Something said in jest with body language to make it clear that it is teasing might come across differently on paper.

Secondly, remember that this isn't a contest to see who writes the most or most often. It is simply a tool to enhance day-to-day communication. Writing may come more easily to one partner than the other, and for some couples, the most that can be expected in response to three pages of writing may only be a few sentences. Don't keep score here. Make it work in a way that is agreeable to both partners and allow freedom of expression.

For Kathy and Kevin, writing is more her way to express feelings than his. "Kevin can become defensive and feel attacked when I try to talk to him, but writing it down for him to read helps him be more objective. Then we can talk about it more calmly," says Kathy. Even though Kevin would rather verbally discuss things with Kathy, having her write it down first helps him see her point of view without misunderstanding or jumping to conclusions.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, respect that what is written to each other is a sacred confidence. Never share the contents with anyone without the other partner's permission.

In the true sense of the word, a journal is an account of a journey. Co-journaling can be an account of two lives joined as one, traveling together for better or for worse. It becomes a haven in the storm and a companion on the journey, but mostly, it becomes a worthy tool for communication.

Cindy Baum is a freelance writer and homemaker. She and her husband, Brad, live in Indiana.

5 Steps to Making the Most of Co-Journaling

  1. Discuss how co-journaling will work for you as a couple, if at all. Be sure it will be mutually beneficial and not just one person's pet project.
  2. Feel free to change from journal writing to letter writing or e-mail and computer files, if that serves your purpose better. Remember, this is simply a tool to enhance communication. Modify it to fit your needs.
  3. Ask questions of each other in the journal to spark discussion. For example, "What do you fear most?" or "What would an ideal retirement be like for you?"
  4. When expressing feelings about a potentially volatile subject, try to avoid finger-pointing phrases such as "You always," "You never," or "You need to."
  5. Establish a signal to let each other know when you have written something— perhaps by placing the journal on each other's pillow or in a dresser drawer.


Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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