The Dear John letter has been around since at least World War II, when a number of soldiers would receive a rather formal letter from their wives or girlfriends informing them of a change of heart. Army chaplains and their assistants would spend much of their time counseling the distraught recipients of such a letter from home. The idea of breaking off a relationship through a letter may be considered to be especially cruel by some, while others see it as a less confrontational way to deliver painful news. A Dear John letter is generally written in a very formal, often detached manner, as if the sender were already putting some emotional distance between herself and the recipient. Sometimes a Dear John letter literally ended after the salutation, in an effort to avoid listing a painful series of specifics. However it is presented, a Dear John letter or email can still hurt before it can heal. Here are some suggestions on how to accept the contents and intentions of a Dear John letter.
- Go ahead and get angry or depressed or confused. You've just been handed some very devastating news which will have some serious impact on your life. It's okay to feel anger or disappointment or shock immediately following the receipt of a Dear John letter. Find someplace safe and vent your frustrations physically if you need to release some pressure. Find a sympathetic or detached ear and rail against the unfairness of it all. Do whatever it takes (within limits, of course) to drive all of that anger and confusion out of your system. Just don't confront the sender of the Dear John letter until you've done everything you can to defuse yourself. Nothing good or productive would come out of an anger-filled confrontation with your former girlfriend or spouse.
- Seek out a trained counselor, pastor or therapist. If you can't seem to let go of your anger or depression very easily, you may want to seek professional counseling. If you allow your emotions over the Dear John letter to remain mixed or unresolved, you could find yourself in a never-ending cycle of anger, confusion and depression. It is often very difficult to function in your everyday world while struggling with unresolved emotional issues. Working with a professional counselor should help you to see the letter as just a letter, and also help you find a way to begin a constructive dialogue with the sender.
- Write your own Dear Jane letter and never send it. Sometimes writing out your feelings towards the sender of an impersonal Dear John letter may make you feel more in control of your life. If it helps, match laundry list for laundry list when it comes to issues. No, it's not going to sound pretty or put you in the best light, but acknowledging some of your own mistakes or missteps in the relationship could help you resolve some of your feelings. The trick here is to compose the letter, let it all out, and then destroy it ceremoniously. As the letter burns or shreds or sails away in a Viking funeral, you can symbolically let all those issues die with it. Ceremony and ritual can go a long way towards healing your wounded psyche, so consider creating your own Dear John letter destruction ceremony.
- Use the contents of the letter as a means towards reconciliation. Sometimes a Dear John letter is not really a Dear John letter, but more of a cry for help with the relationship. It may have been one of the most difficult letters she has ever had to compose, and she may have regretted sending it two minutes after it left her hands. By the time the letter arrived at its destination, the feelings of anger and frustration which prompted it may have gone away. It is not unusual for a couple separated by military obligations or other long-distance duties to feel neglected or abandoned by the other. A Dear John letter could be a definite dissolution of a relationship, but quite often it is a message written in desperation by someone who is having trouble dealing with the realities of separation. Before confronting the sender with accusations or angry words, try giving her the benefit of the doubt and see if a reconciliation is still possible. If you receive a Dear John letter under very stressful conditions, you may still be able to salvage the relationship if you keep the contents in perspective.
A Dear John letter is never going to be easy to receive, so use whatever resources are available to cope with it. You may not be in a position to deal with the situation right away, but you may need to consult with legal professionals if the separation involves property or custodial rights. A long-distance break-up may leave you feeling powerless and angry, but you don't want to make any rational decisions about your future when you are anything but rational. Remember you are not alone, and there are professionals who can help you recover from the emotional fallout of a Dear John letter.