Letters from Downton: A Different Kind of Therapy

Downton Abbey reveals simple secrets to true connectedness and understanding.

Posted Jan 03, 2014

By Laura Berger

Excited about the forth season of Downton Abbey, I've been reminiscing its many intrigues, including the start of the marriage between Mr. Bates and Anna—blessed with devotion but cursed by circumstance. After having been wrongfully accused of murdering his ex-wife, Mr. Bates is sent to prison, and the newlyweds can only communicate by writing letters. My experience tells me there can be blessings in such a punishment.

In 2006, my husband, Glen, and I were working towards goals that clashed with our personalities and made us miserable. Two years later, we decided to take a life leap from bustling downtown Chicago to live in a beautiful and miniscule village in Costa Rica overlooking the Pacific. It was paradise. Hummingbirds darted about as we drank coffee in the morning on a mountain towering over the ocean. It was just us, nature, the sea, and peace. We had planned several months of rest before we would begin working at new jobs already arranged.

Everything was perfect. Within four months, we intended to divorce.

Living over an hour away from the nearest traffic light, the change had proven too abrupt. Without our pre-programmed high-energy responses to our well-known daily routines back home, our true cores were exposed to one another for the first time. As we navigated a new culture, way of life, insecurities and self-doubt, we realized how little we knew about each other, even after being together for five years. Fortunately, in hindsight, the logistics of moving out of a country to which I had just arrived proved a surprising challenge. Had I had the logistical infrastructure of the U.S., we likely wouldn't be together today.

As I remained in Costa Rica organizing my departure, we got our wits about us just enough to save our marriage with 10/10. This relationship communication technique is as simple as writing for 10 minutes and spending 10 discussing what we wrote. We documented our feelings on a question relevant to our impending separation each day and read what each other wrote before talking about our reactions and emotions.

That approach brought us to empathy and understanding remarkably fast.

Among its other virtues, 10/10 allowed each of us to methodically structure our thoughts and erase impulsive, hurtful comments before they could be recklessly communicated.

Before using this technique, we hadn’t been able to talk for 30 seconds without screaming hostilities at one another.

It also dramatically reduced our tendency to interrupt each other, derailing our contentious conversations. What’s more, we gained full, in-depth perspectives on each other’s positions on issues before we began talking.

As we spread the message about this technique, others who have spent forced time apart have told us that they relate to our experience immediately. Although they surely would rather have been together, people separated by oceans for work or war attest that writing to one another regularly gave them a newfound deep understanding of one another. Anna of Downton said it herself. “I was able to take in recent events and thoughts that were most important to him and how he felt about them. And every time a letter arrived, I’d do it all in one gratifying dose.”

Glen and I came out of our near-divorce experience stronger and more confident than ever.

Had we not gone to Costa Rica, we would have hashed through the same issues much later, which makes me thankful that we took the plunge and went.

If you feel something is just not right with your relationship now or in the future, grab a notebook or laptop, choose a question that would be insightful for each of you, and get to writing! Like a couple brought closer by one’s time in prison, you may be amazed at how quickly and safely you can get to understanding and truly gliding through life together once again.


Laura Berger and Glen Tibaldeo are authors of Fall In Love Again, Every Day, showcasing the 10/10 technique, and Radical Sabbatical, an Amazon Kindle bestseller. Both are available in paperback and Kindle on Amazon.com.