I was standing in my studio apartment in San Francisco, a letter in my hand. It was from a man in Minnesota I’d known for five years. But it was only after exchanging numerous letters and sharing the occasional expensive long-distance call in that pre-cell phone world that I finally realized how much I loved this college friend.
Jeff’s letters were endearing, entertaining, sweet — and handwritten. “Dear S.F. Flash,” he would write, after deciding to give me a nickname. I wasn’t sure what to think about the “San Francisco Flash” moniker. I just knew he thought I was special.
Most of all, Jeff’s letters demonstrated how much he loved me. Thirty-eight years later, I still have many of those letters, along with a lengthy Christmas letter he instructed me to read as I opened his presents. In it he described each present as a symbol of his devotion.
In this day of digital messaging via text or social media, why not surprise your spouse with an old-school pen and paper note? Here’s why you should make the effort, along with tips for how to write a love letter your spouse will cherish forever.
Why you should go old-school
Texting is easy and immediate — but it’s not a letter.
Handwritten letters are tangible and permanent; they require time and reflection. They’re also incredibly personal. You see the person’s personality on the page in cursive loops or tiny block letters; you smell the perfume or cologne dabbed onto it.
The letter could include a pressed flower or a printed photo. The paper might be translucent or a thick, cream piece of stationary. I remember writing on onion skin paper. Such letters involve the senses in a way that’s impossible for electronics to duplicate.
And in 10 or 20 years, God willing, you’ll be able to pull that letter out of its box and sense the emotion all over again as you read it. I just experienced this with a slew of handwritten letters my husband sent to me before we were married. Handwritten letters convey emotion in ways a digital message cannot.
“With handwriting we come closer to the intimacy of the author,” explains Roland Jouvent, head of adult psychiatry at Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital in Paris. In an article titled “Handwriting vs Typing,” he says, “Each person’s hand is different: the gesture is charged with emotion, lending it a special charm.”
The slow nature of handwriting also invites us to ponder. It decelerates us, which is good when we want to write a love letter. And when you give your spouse a handwritten letter, you’re saying, “You are valuable to me.”
God’s love letter to you
If you’re not sold on writing a love letter, consider what God’s love letter means to you. While the Bible isn’t handwritten, it’s unique because the Holy Spirit speaks through God’s Word.
Here are just a few love messages from God:
- “I have engraved you on the palms of my hands” (Isaiah 49:16).
- “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3).
- “For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you” (Isaiah 54:10).
- “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).
God’s “letter” continually reminds you of His love. That’s powerful. And a love letter to your spouse can be powerful in a similar way.
How to write a love letter
First, choose the paper or card for your message. Do you want to be completely old-fashioned and buy beautiful paper? Or do you have some old hotel stationary that will bring back a special memory? Maybe your spouse loves a certain restaurant that has paper napkins. You could write on those and make her or him smile.
Every year at Christmas I write a love letter to my husband in a journal I was given at our wedding. It’s lasted for more than three decades! And I once sent Jeff a postcard of “The Kiss” sculpture by Auguste Rodin. On the back I wrote a verse from Song of Solomon.
As you’re deciding what to include in the letter, consider these four tips.
1. Be specific about why you love your spouse
Describe the traits and behaviors you appreciate: how she never forgets to kiss you goodbye in the morning or how he makes up bedtime stories for the kids. Do you love how sentimental he is and how he cried while watching the old movie Family Man on Netflix? Maybe you can rave about your spouse’s quirks. For instance, my husband tells corny jokes, but I love his attempts to bring humor to my life, and he usually makes me laugh. Maybe you love your wife’s odd laugh or how she sings with such enthusiasm at church even though she’s a bit off-key. Communicating these things will bless your spouse.
2. Be authentic
That’s the advice from Jen Adams, an associate professor of communication and theatre, after reading 400 love letters she found in the attic of a Victorian house. The letters were written by a couple who owned the house in the 1930s. “We are not all poets,” she says. “And that’s probably not what our loved ones want to hear anyway. They want to hear our voice.”
3. Share a memory
As you’re writing — slowly — think back to the early days when you could think of nothing but this man or woman who is now your spouse. Share the feelings from that time as well as a significant moment.
4. Mention your future together
Are you looking forward to your evening together, your next travel adventure or a dance in your living room? Let them know you’re dreaming about them.
Short is OK, too
If these tips about how to write a love letter seem too intimidating, just choose brevity. Write a simple message on a piece of paper and tuck it into your wife’s purse or your husband’s wallet. A scrawled “Love you always, Babe” in ballpoint pen will communicate plenty to your spouse.
Remember the several-page missive Jeff wrote to me one Christmas before we were married? I cherish that letter, but I also value the simple message he gave me last year. He scribbled a giant “LOVE YOU!” on a white piece of copy paper, signed it “Jeffy” and left it on the breakfast table for me one morning. It’s now pinned to my cubicle wall where I see it every day — and smile.
Connecting through love letters
Old-school letters can be powerful vehicles of connection between spouses. Just ask Scott Laughlin, who wrote nearly 500 letters to his wife, Barb, while she was quarantined in a nursing home during COVID-19 pandemic. Although the nursing home restrictions have ended, as of July 2021 Laughlin was still writing letters to his wife of 59 years. Each letter ends with the same message: “I love you with all my heart.”