When Arguments Are Like A Memory Foam Pillow

It was a mystery. My poor wife was waking up in the morning and starting the day with a headache. “What do you think is causing these headaches honey”, I asked bravely, given that the first person she sees every morning is me and not wanting to be ground zero on the headache terrain. “Do you think it’s stress?” – This is the kind of question a therapist spouse is destined to ask. “No”, she replied, “I don’t think so. I don’t know what’s going on or why now.”

It’s really a drag to start the day with a headache and it didn’t seem to be getting better, so she decided to check in with her doctor and see if she had any ideas. What followed was a surprise to both of us. After the doctor asked some questions about the type of headache my wife was experiencing and the nature and location of the pain, her doctor suggested that these types of headaches can be triggered by not having enough neck support from your pillow. ” Really!” I marveled at this revelation. “It can be as simple as having the right kind of pillow. It’s not stress?” – Once a therapist always a therapist.

“No, it’s not stress, although that is  not to say that some of my headaches don’t sometimes come from other sources”, as she looked at me with a slight smile and her head confidently cocked to the side. Time to drop the stress thing and get back to what the doctor told her. “Basically, she told me to get a contour pillow, the kind of pillow made of memory foam. It provides support”. I have to admit, I was a little skeptical that this would do the trick, but it certainly was worth trying, and it was a lot better than going on medication or more intrusive measures.

It turns out her doctor is a genius; the memory foam pillow has made all the difference in this headache issue, pretty much eliminating the problem. What is memory foam? I learned from a European Sleep Works website (no, this is not a commercial) that memory foam is able to contour to the body’s shape because it is made of  a synthetic foam and a type of mineral oil, a  “wetting agent”,  which makes the foam yield then spring back at a slower rate. The longer you lay on the pillow, the warmer the wetting agent becomes, leading to a greater contour fit to the head and neck.

I got to thinking, sometimes in relationships arguments are very much like memory foam pillows or mattresses. Couples get stuck in repetitive, perpetual conflicts that always seem to end up in the same place. The longer you “lay in” the same argument, the more it contours to the same old pattern. Talk about headaches!

John Gottman refers to these issues as perpetual issues, which are defined as the kind of problems all couples have because we are different from one another. The research indicates that about 69% of the problems couples report are due to these perpetual, ongoing differences. No two individuals always think or act alike, we have differences in preferences, ideas, perspectives, interests, and so on. These differences are normal, even in the healthiest and happiest relationships. The trick is to accept these differences, work with temporary compromises, and realize while your partner may not be as perfect as you are, or see things in the same ways that are so obvious to you, your partner is thinking exactly the same thing about how different you are. Are we really surprised when our partner acts in certain ways that may irritate us or seem illogical?

Maybe bringing a new insight or new perspective to an old problem is like laying in a new spot on the memory foam – it creates a new fit, a new contour. If we think about personality differences and how we are really different people, maybe it’s not so bad if we ask ourselves -Would I really want to be married to somebody exactly like me? Sexual connotation aside: Vive le difference.

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4 responses to “When Arguments Are Like A Memory Foam Pillow

  1. I love the analogy of memory foam. Sometimes couples have fought the same fight so many times they can do it from the other perspective. I have even used this as an intervention from time to time in high conflict couples. I also liked the idea, “once a therapist, always a therapist”, indeed it is hard to take the hat off.

  2. Great idea to have the partner state the other side since they undoubtedly know it so well! John Gottman calls the tendency to repeat one’s own position over and over again as the “Self summarizing statement”, as if stating it for the 20th time will finally convince the partner of that position,’Oh, now I see what you mean, you are absolutely right, what was I thinking? Sorry I’m so slow”.

  3. I like the memory foam analogy and that if you just move over to a different spot you will create a new fit which is what we need to do to especially after being married for a long time.

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