Why don’t I ever hear from you...
I don’t know where I stand...
I miss you...
I’m sorry...
I want to speak the truth...
This won’t be an easy explanation...
I love you...

And this is why I’m writing this letter.


Although our inbox is where we receive most of our messages now, we can all recall the excitement of opening our USPS mailbox to discover a handwritten letter addressed to us. A friend, a relative, a former roommate, or a mentor has reached out to us . . . nervously fumbling with the envelope, ripping it open, taking a deep breath. We’re anticipating some good news, but more than that, we’re feeling appreciated, still occupying a place in someone’s thoughts. I have always loved receiving letters, holding something tangible that underscores connection. While many of us have turned away from this form of communication, we now rely on the efficiency of quickly typed messages — email or text — summoning another’s attention or expecting a prompt response. Yet, I don’t think anyone would feel disappointed to receive a hand-written letter from someone, bridging the miles with relational intention. I have written many letters over the years — to dear friends, my husband, my parents, my siblings, my children — mostly loving and kind, although at times contentious, but always cathartic.

While writing helps convey our thoughts and emotions, letters can be very therapeutic. I typically coach clients to process their difficult relational challenges through letter writing. Many have struggled with estrangement from a parent, adult child, or friend, feeling helpless in assuming any control or closure. Letters provide that possibility, releasing deep emotions or a chance for private expression without censorship or dismissal, reclaiming some autonomy. The process can be purely self-reflective, clearing a path forward. The letters may be mailed at some point, depending on the purpose of writing — for cathartic release of sadness, anger, abuse, forgiveness or for achieving reconnection. It may be challenging to determine what to withhold and what to actually send, understanding that it may trigger trauma for the sender as well as for the receiver.

Letters offer a means of practicing how we ultimately hope to communicate directly, allowing space for mistakes or too much transparency. It enhances the possibility for us to say anything, without people ever knowing — speaking to our embarrassment, humiliation, our enduring love or our bitterness. I’ve certainly experienced the horror of accidentally ‘hitting send’ too quickly before careful “editing.” Although that’s not possible with hand-written letters, we all know what it’s like never to receive a response to a letter of contrition or hopeful closure.

I encourage the therapeutic gain in writing letters of accountability, of regret, of the promise for reconnection with friends and family members. It gives us the chance to share our perspective in what we see, hear, and understand, about ourselves and about the other person. We want to speak our truth, to be courageous in the face of possible rejection, hostility, abandonment, silence. Our experience is our own, and we owe it to ourselves to validate the legitimacy of that. We may share our family-of-origin trauma with grown children, revealing something never said before, shedding light on multi-generational dynamics. Anything we need to express before it’s too late, voicing our commitment to do better, may follow multiple discarded letters before we eventually mail one.

If we’re addressing a conflict, how can we shift that without relying on what the other person will or won’t do? Sadly, when people stop connecting with each other, the unintended consequence is that the conflict becomes the sole focus between them. The view of the other person becomes slanted. It’s different with a distressing email showing up in our inbox, as we can delete or ignore it. A written letter hangs around, with the opportunity to read over and over, giving time for reflection. As both parties have needs and interests to be addressed, this opens the possibility for a win-win outcome. With patience, our letters can facilitate reaching a deeper understanding and restoring connection.