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  • Writer's pictureJerry Della Femina


This is an old column I wrote years ago. My ability to communicate hasn’t improved since then.


What are the three most overused words in marriage?

No, silly, not “I love you.”

The three words are “We must communicate.” Talk to any psychiatrist or psychologist or marriage counselor and they’ll keep repeating the same word. Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. You must communicate with each other. Tell each other exactly what you feel.

Now I must admit I am lousy at communicating what I feel. Most men are. Being Italian, I’m a particularly terrible communicator. I come from a long line of bad communicators. My great uncle Louie was married to my aunt Mary for 47 years and no one ever heard them talk. Uncle Louie burped more than he talked. Aunt Mary took each burp as a communication from her Louie that she was a great cook.

Now here is where my failure to communicate really cost me a lot of sleep.

A few years ago my wife, the beautiful Judy Licht, and I spent three days in Los Angeles. The hotel was great, and every morning Judy would wake up raving about the mattress.

“Best night’s sleep I’ve had in months!” she would gush. “Did you have a great night’s sleep, too?”

Now, this was my chance to communicate by saying no, the mattress was too soft. Instead I smiled and said yes. What a mistake.

I could have pointed out that perhaps her great night’s sleep was not because of the mattress. Maybe the fact that we went out every night and she drank wine contributed to her sound sleep.

And then there’s the fact that there is a three-hour difference between New York and L.A., so that when she went to bed (or passed out) at 1 AM in L.A., it was really 4 AM in New York, and when she woke up refreshed at 9 AM, it was noon in New York. And maybe I could have communicated by pointing out that for what they were charging us for this one frigging room (more per night than I paid for a year’s rent in my first apartment in Brooklyn), the bed had better be comfortable. But I was silent.

Then on our second night in L.A. Judy informed me that the pillows were stuffed with goose feathers, and she thought I was allergic to goose feathers, but since I obviously wasn’t, now we could have goose feather pillows.

Did I try to communicate and tell her I had a postnasal drip every night in L.A.? No, I made a stupid joke that if I knew years ago that I wasn’t allergic to feathers I would have married a duck.

So I came home two weeks ago and there on my bed was a new mattress. It was a monstrosity. It was the biggest mattress I’ve ever seen. It was the King Kong of mattresses.

I’m six feet tall (make that 5’11” due to age shrinkage). This mattress came up to my chest – almost to my neck. I tried to climb up on it and that was impossible, it was too high. I huffed and I puffed and there was no way I could climb up it. I finally took a running leap and clung to the bed and inched my way onto the top. It took 10 minutes of struggling until I was on the bed – out of breath and exhausted.

“How do you like our new mattress?” Judy called out to me. “I got it just for you. It’s the same great mattress they had at the hotel in L.A.”

Now this was the perfect chance for me to communicate by saying, “Thank you, dear, it was good of you to think of me, but this mattress sucks.” But did I communicate that? No, sir. I said, “It’s wonderful.”

I didn’t sleep that night; the mattress had the firmness of a waterbed. Once I was able to climb on I could never get out of bed until the next morning. Turning over on my side was a 10-minute exertion. Every bone in my body ached. The television set at the foot of the bed was partially blocked by the mattress and I was perched so high I felt I was looking at the baseball game on my television from a skybox.

The worst came the second night when I lay in bed like a beached whale and tried to read but I felt like I had a fever – I was burning up. I was sure I had a fever but I couldn’t face getting out of the bed and finding a thermometer. Then I felt something brush against my head – it was a lampshade. That’s when I realized the bed was so, so high that I had my head stuck in a lamp that used to be three feet away from my head in my old bed. Now my head was inches away from a hot bulb.

On the third night Judy, tired of hearing me struggling and muttering, got me a bench to climb on. That cut the time it took me to crawl into bed by at least five minutes.

But every time she asked me how I liked her gift, the mattress from hell, I would say I liked it.

So I went one week without sleeping because the mattress was so soft I felt like I had fallen into quicksand and the more I moved the deeper I sank.

One day my daughter Jessie breathlessly told me about a friend of hers who had climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. I greeted the news by muttering under my breath, “Big deal. I’ll be more impressed if he can climb my frigging nightmare mattress.”

So I suffered until the other day when, out of nowhere, Judy turned to me and said, “Getting the new mattress was a disaster. I want you to know I don’t like it. I’m going to get rid of it.”

I almost sobbed with joy. Chalk up mine as another marriage saved by communication.

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