By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD
Many years ago, I read about how Japanese students were educated in “pillow talk.” Their pillow talk is not what you might be thinking of – it doesn’t take place in the bedroom. Rather, it’s an ingenious strategy for understanding and moving through problems. And now that I am better educated in relationship issues, I am convinced that it can be extremely helpful with personal problems. Most conflicts that damage relationships are problematic not because of the topic, but rather because of how the conversation is approached. So, if your approach to a problem is not working, you can make more progress by changing your perspective and your approach. One way to do this is to follow the following Japanese pillow talk exercise:
Place a four-sided pillow in front of you. As you describe to yourself each of the following perspectives, sit in front of a different side of the pillow:
1. You are right and your partner is wrong.
2. Your partner is right and you are wrong.
3. Your partner and you are both right.
4. Your partner and you are both wrong.
Finally, you might sit on top of the pillow and consider how the four perspectives are both true and not true. Along with this awareness, consider how the “truth” is subjective and that figuring out who is correct distracts from a greater realization or awareness. In the case of an emotionally close relationship, consider the emotional connection itself. Ask yourself if knowing who is right is worth the price of losing that connection.
Keep in mind that you don’t need to fully agree with any one of the sides as you progress through this exercise. You simply need to be able to understand each perspective, to have it make sense on some level. An extremely important part of this exercise is choosing to really try to “get” what your partner (friend, lover, etc.) is experiencing and is trying to express. It is through understanding, empathy, and compassion that we can remain emotionally connected even in the face of conflict.
Taking the time and putting in the energy to stretch yourself with this exercise is difficult and takes practice. However, even when you maintain your preferred perspective, it can help you to be more understanding of your partner. And it can also help you to keep your focus on the relationship, which is more important than who is right. Ultimately, it is the caring connection between the two of you that you want to nurture and sustain – no matter who wins the argument.
The Art of Relationships blog posts are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for individual professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need help for an emotional or behavioral problem, please seek the assistance of a psychologist or other qualified mental health professional.