OLD LOVE LETTERS FROM YOUR PAST: GOOD FOR YOUR MARRIAGE.

keep old love letters

I’d forgotten all about them, so when my husband plunked down dusty, dirty old boxes for me to go through, I inwardly groaned at more work.  What I found caused me to turn off the TV, plop down on the floor, and get teary.

Some things are personal.  It’s okay, healthy even, to keep private some things, especially from your partner.  You disrespect all three of you by telling all, or worse: using an old relationship to make your partner angry or jealous.  What passed between you and an old love is about as private as it gets and ought to be kept that way – unless it’s an STD in which case your partner knows something anyway.

Here’s why those almost 50-year old letters are meaningful to my marriage today.

That was then.  Old love letters bookmark a time never to be recaptured.  Memories are wrapped in words that are still breathtaking, kind of like a favorite old movie watched over and over again.  That was long before kids and careers, mortgage payments and personal tragedies – all the water that’s gone under the bridge.  Anyone who’s tried knows wishing doesn’t make it so.  If you have the chance to go to a school reunion, take it.  It’ll make you careful about what you wish for and maybe keep you from trading one used car for another.

20/20 Vision.  How many times have we wished for hindsight?  Knew then what we know now?  Old love letters give you an opportunity to jump between realities; to see that your life has become far richer in experience than what it was then.  You wouldn’t make the same decisions today because you’re more knowing and because you know more, too.  Seeing clearly isn’t just about having new glasses; they only work when you wear them.  Maybe the past gets romanticized because it was so free of all we see and know today.  Most of what happened long ago was drama without impactful consequences; no wonder those were the best days of our lives.

An ego-boost.   Those old love letters described things that, ahem, were personal.  Very personal.  After reading them, I’m likely to dial up some oldies, suck in what I can of my tummy, and turn my best side to the mirror.  But, at 60 years old plus, I can’t see much of the hot-looking girl in the picture I hold.   Those letters dialed back the scale, dialed back the clock, and let me be Cinderella waltzing a horizontal dance with someone who’s not the prince of my heart today.  Part of what’s swoon-worthy are the words themselves – I can always be bought that way.  That I was described so beautifully made me feel beautiful every time I read them.  They still do.

Appreciation for today.  My high school years were spent in Hawaii – a place imbued with the honeymoon-like magic of new love – during the powerful and poignant Age of Aquarius.  Juxtaposed with rule bending and breaking was the rule-bound experience of Viet Nam.  But my memories, all these 40+ years later, pumped as they were by the unique history of the late 60s, are no less vivid and meaningful as anyone else’s.  Reminders of the past, like the letters I re-read, show me how much more I have to love now.  And even how much better at it I am.

Didn’t Want Him, Anyway.  Back then, love was pretty black and white; no mortgages, usually no kids, definitely no wisdom.  Today’s love, mature love, knows that love can be fickle and to keep it requires attention and effort.  If I’d gotten on a white horse (or in a VW van) and ridden off with my first love, the scenery would look nothing like it does now.  I like the bourgeois creature comforts most aging hippies fell for, too.  Honestly, while I would’ve made a few changes along this long, long way, starting over with the boy who wrote those heartbreakingly beautiful letters wouldn’t have been one of them.

Having moments of nostalgia and longing for the past are natural.  Keeping those moments alive is part of the romantic, fanciful, non-threatening part in each of us.  Humans are unique in the ability to fully remember the past.  But know that bringing it forward, unaltered, never works.

I finished reading the notes the other night, then broke down the dusty box and put it in the recycle bin.  The few I saved still whisper about what was and will get packed away until I again need to feel delicious.  The touching wish left behind is about gifting the past’s richness to my marriage today.

Kathe Skinner is a Marriage & Family Therapist and Certified Relationship Expert who shares with couples how to keep love alive and growing.  She encourages them to write love letters.  Kathe, and her husband, David, have been married nearing 30 years; their love is shared with cats Lucy and Petey, both of whom send messages in other ways.  In that dusty box Kathe found the first card ever sent to her by David; odd she kept it since it wasn’t romantic at all.

THE DISABLED EMPEROR’S NEW CLOTHES

Lots of us with disabilities, hidden or not, feel as if we’re a burden.  Needing assistance with basic tasks, like getting from one place to the other, feels like a loss of independence.  Depending on our experience with that quality, a loss like that can be emotionally upsetting.  Thus, we want and need to believe that relationships are unaffected.

In the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes, swindlers were able to part a vain monarch from his money by appealing to his sense of entitlement.  Only the very smart, the very gifted were able to see his new clothes.  There weren’t any new clothes, but no one would say there weren’t for fear they would appear stupid.emperor

Our partners and families are like the Emperor’s subjects.   Secrets emanate from anywhere in the family system, usually set in motion as a way of controlling the environment and the people in it.  Control like that often comes from feeling out of control; in other words, denial of something being wrong sends the message that, like the Emperor without any clothes, the subject is closed.

Imagine if no one had spoken up.  Life would’ve gone along, albeit uncomfortably.  After all, only a blindfold man could be comfortable in the regent’s presence.    The Emperor may have become isolated as others began to avoid him.  But it would only be a matter of time before someone from outside the kingdom was presented at court.

Pretending has its costs.  Not just for the Emperor (who had to have been hugely embarrassed when that little honest kid called him out) but for the townsfolk who went along with the lie.  Pity the poor traveler, too.   There are always good reasons we can cite for living a lie, or for allowing others to live one.  Call an Emperor naked and you spend your time knitting in The Tower.  Or worse.

Feel sorry mostly for the Emperor.  Another word for entitled can be delusional.  When one of us wants to keep secrets about one side of a relationship, no relationship really exists.  Thus, the Emperor was alone although he didn’t even know it.  None of his relationships were truthful even as everyone in the relationship knew the truth.  Living as if is the same as living a lie.

Everyone colluded in living dishonestly.

There’s a problem, of course.  Feelings denied become corrosive; not just to the person swallowing them, but to everyone, especially an intimate partner.  It takes lots and lots of energy to act “as if”; there’s always the chance of a slip-up.  Maintaining a lie means additional lying and the exhausting need to remember the story.

Hard to put yourself in the Emperor’s place.  He could’ve learned his lesson about separateness, about being entitled by disability to keep thoughts and feeling secret.  Being outed may have made him a better man; more honest and willing to take part.  Or it could’ve embittered him further; providing justification for putting lots and lots of people in The Tower.   I choose the ending to this fairy tale.

The Emperor let go of pretense and chose honesty instead.

The Emperor looked for corrosiveness and sought to right it.

Intimacy took the place of separation, and destructive secrecy was banished forever.

Honesty was restored to the Kingdom, and that no punishment befell anyone who spoke up.

Vulnerability was again valued.

And that’s how  everyone lived happily ever after.

k-cropped-4x6Kathe Skinner is a Relationship Coach, Certified Relationship Expert and Marriage & Family Therapist in Colorado where she conducts communication workshops for couples, pre-married’s, the invisibly disabled, and the over 50 crowd.  Kathe enjoys collaborating with other professionals in order to reach more relationships affected by hidden disability.  She sits on the Executive Board of the Invisible Disabilities Association, is a regular contributor to Disability.gov., and is an ardent-and-natural-teacher-without-a-classroom.  She has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis for over 30 years.  More about Kathe at www.BeingHeardNow.com.