Six different “open when” cards laid out on a table.

“Open When…” Letter Topics


In the world of modern communication, we are used to instant responses from those who are important to us. But there are times during a service member’s training or deployments when they are unable to communicate as quickly as we would like. Sometimes they have limited access to their phones, or no internet access, or they have to wait in line to send an email. Even with ideal technology connections, the time zone difference may put a damper on live conversations. During these times of limited communication, how can we ensure that our loved ones in the military can hear from us when they need it most? We need “open when” letters.

An “open when” letter is a note written ahead of time to address a specific emotion or event, then sealed in an envelope to be opened at the appropriate time. It’s common to prepare letters such as “open when it’s your birthday” or “open at midnight on New Year’s” so that couples who are separated by great distances can still feel connected during these special moments. You can fill the envelopes with a simple message, or even a few small gifts. Many military spouses or significant others prepare a large stack of these letters before a deployment, and then tuck them into the service member’s bags to find after they depart. It’s easier to say goodbye knowing that you are sending your love and affection with them on the journey.

The beauty of an “open when” letter is that it offers exactly the emotion needed in a particular moment. The message might make the reader laugh, cry or smile, but it is a loving message that reminds them how much someone else is missing them or cheering for them in that moment. It’s timely, thoughtful and a great way to build up your relationship over the distance!

Are you wondering what topics to include in your next “open when” letters? I’ve got you covered! My recent book, Open When: Letters of Encouragement for Military Spouses contains 75 thoughtful and emotional letters written to military spouses and significant others. Each one focuses on a specific moment or challenge of MilSpouse life. You can use them as inspiration for writing your own “open
when” letters to your service member. Here are some suggestions to get you started.

Multiple “open when” cards with stationary around them.

“Open When” letter topics about your relationship:

  • Open when you really miss me: Share all the things you miss about them and remind them you will be waiting for them. Include a paper tracing of your hand for them to hold, sprayed with your favorite fragrance.
  • Open when you’re mad at me: Write something sweet or lighthearted that reminds them of your love and your endearing qualities.
  • Open when you’re feeling jealous: Reassure them of your love, your dedication to the relationship and your desire to be with them instead of anyone else.
  • Open when we’ve just had a fight: You won’t know what specifically you are apologizing for, but love requires us to be humble and apologize sometimes.
  • Open when you’re thinking about our future: Share your dreams for the future, a family, life after the military and any shared goals you are both pursuing.
  • Open when you’re dreaming of our next date: Share some ideas, either locally or all over the world, of places you want to go together, things to do together and ways to enjoy some couple time. Add printed images or magazine clippings!
  • Open when you’re thinking of our first date: Reminisce about the sweet, funny or silly things that first brought you together. Include a photo if you have one.
  • Open when you’re thinking of our song: Write out the lyrics, print out the album cover or list some places where you have listened to it together.

“Open When” letter topics for events spent apart:

  • Open when it’s your birthday: Add a birthday card, confetti and any flat gifts that will fit in the envelope.
  • Open when it’s our anniversary: Make a romantic card, share your favorite relationship memories and include I.O.U. coupons for the next time you’re together.
  • Open on Valentine’s Day: Discuss a fun date idea for the next time you see them or share some special photos of yourself.
  • Open when it’s our child’s birthday: Include a recordable card with your child’s voice, artwork or photos.
  • Open when you get promoted: Share how proud you are! Add the new patch or rank for their uniform.
  • Open on Halloween/Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year’s (or whatever holidays they will miss): Get a seasonal card, share your favorite traditions and think of creative ways to continue those traditions while you’re apart.

Encouraging “Open When” topics:

  • Open when you’re feeling tired and worn out: Offer supportive encouragement to get them through the day.
  • Open when you’re frustrated with the military: Remind them of all the reasons they wanted to join and how proud you are of their sacrifices.
  • Open when you need a laugh: Write your favorite jokes, print out some memes, list corny dad jokes — whatever makes them smile!
  • Open when the distance feels so far: Remind them of all the little things you appreciate most about them — the qualities you won’t take for granted once they are home.

Start with these topics, then add your own! “Open when” letters are a beautiful way to encourage a loved one in military life.

Lizann Lightfoot
Written By Lizann Lightfoot
Marine Corps Spouse

Lizann is the Seasoned Spouse – a Marine Corps wife, mom of four and published author. She loves writing, exploring new duty stations and chocolate!

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