Talking In Our Sleep: Lying next to each other, so near yet in our own worlds, The Coupledom dreams, every night in fact, during what is called the REM stage of sleep, which amounts to approximately 25% of sleeping time. Yet what do we do with this rich resource of mental activity as a couple? For most, not much. Though science has not agreed upon the purpose of dreaming, as with all human instinctual behavior, there must be a purpose or many purposes. Is it to cleanse the brain of daily clutter? To organize input for memory retrieval at a later date? Or perhaps dreaming serves multiple purposes including integrating meaningful material from the day’s matters with the day’s incidentals plus triggers from personal history, all in the service of the brain’s pressing need to master and solve challenges that befall it, past, present and future. Human beings are problem solvers, our brains are outfitted for just this purpose, whether our conscious minds are awake or asleep, the brain is on a mission.
I Never Dream: You know that old saying, “If I had a dime for every time someone has said to me ‘I never dream’ would I be rich?” Well, perhaps if a dime is a dollar today. In fact many folks who don’t recall their dreams believe that they don’t dream. And often are proud of it. But they do dream and once dreaming receives the “good housekeeping seal of approval” by a psychotherapist, friend or lover, remembered dreams, whether begun as fragments or whole entities, begin to appear, as if newly boxed and shipped from the inner canyons of our psyche. The question here is how can we use these reams of dreams to benefit The Coupledom?
Owning Your Dreams: There is a lot involved in the technique of dream ownership and “practical usage.” The first step is to begin to wonder if you have dreamed during sleep. And I use the phrase “during sleep” loosely to signify that dreams can occur any time; nighttime, nap time, dosing off time, waking up time. Often the best dream fragments are captured as we awake in the morning and that is when we need to snap them up, shards of things, sometimes images, or a story line unfinished. It is a lot like “back tracking” or following footprints in the snow, from the destination reached to the origin of departure. Feeling states upon waking can signal that a dream has preceded wakefulness. Follow the feeling state and often the dream memory returns. But dreams are tricky devils and flee with exposure to light/day/attention. So procure paper and pen, or some phrase or image plucked, and then memorize these fragments to provide the clue to reveal the dream. Once you have attained the status of a “dreamer” then begin to ponder the mystery that is your dream life.
Random or Personal: There is controversy about whether dreams are random brain activity or deep psychic creations fraught with highly charged significance. The latter explanation tends to scare off less psychologically minded souls. But what I am posing here is simply this: dreams are personal creations by individuals whose stories and images are guideposts to self-understanding and can become communications to another. It matters little, in my opinion, whether one chooses mystical meanings, Jungian, Freudian or any number of other takes on how to utilize dream material. Though dreams, as with all human endeavors, have common thematic emphases, some may represent powerlessness and be populated with images of being caught, trapped; others, performance anxiety themes with forgotten lines for a stage performance or the loss of study notes for an impending test triggered by feeling unprepared for something current. Dreams are essentially personal and scripted, accessorized and geographically located by our psyche alone. Therein lies the personal piece. A dream’s design is the exclusive product of our “brain”, ours for the unmasking, ours to ascribe meaning and usefulness. Ours to share.
Wandering Through You: When you do recall a dream or dream fragment, you have received an invitation to visit the unconscious, subconscious you. The dream world says, hey, here are some leftovers from your yesterday that warrant a look. This glimpse at how your brain experienced and mixed up yesterday’s “day residue” can fill you in on what you may not have had time to notice about the emotional meaning of yesterday’s adventures. My approach to dream work is simple: the significance of any dream is what the dreamer, awake, wants to make of it…though Freud and Jung and others explain dreams in formulations that are more prescriptive. I think the pragmatic usefulness to the individual is along the lines of taking one’s temperature and pulse each day: what can I learn about my current condition, my state of mind? What did my psyche choose to scramble together to create this dream and why? What is the emotional tone of the dream? Who are the players, and what about the dream draws on my past and combines it with my present?
Dream Sharing: ”Do you remember any dreams last night?” The Coupledom can offer up this morning inquiry as a linkage to each other’s world, even as one is showering, the other shaving or the kids are stuffing backpacks with lunches and rumpled pieces of last night’s homework. “Oh yeah, I dreamed of a big lion in the living room and he was sitting in dad’s chair.” Follow up later over supper. For the couple, this interest in each other’s dream world creates an avenue to more intimacy. Your spouse may have recurrent dreams of being chased when he or she is under a lot of pressure and by parsing over the dream images, may find relief in venting feelings about work issues and relationships that otherwise would remain buried and isolated from the relationship. The lion in the living room armchair could be a playful moment or a meaningful representation of a child’s take on dad. A dream that everyone showed up for Christmas and the turkey burned in the oven can be a wife’s anxiety of failing, once again, as she felt that she did years ago, to meet parental expectations. Talking about the dream offers her an opportunity to share with her spouse the humiliations of childhood, and allows him to comfort her and offer help as the holiday approaches that he otherwise would not have recognized as needed.
Time Limited And In Our Own Worlds: Human nature dictates that we spend much of our waking hours focused on mastering our challenges whatever they may be, which translates to, we are pretty self-absorbed, all of us. The Coupledom, the domicile in which the relationship resides, can suffer sorely from the self-absorption of its members. Utilizing the product of our dream life is an inherently rich mechanism for communicating what may matter most to our inner selves. Frankly, it only takes a moment. “Hey, guess what I dreamed about last night? I was in a house and outside this giant picture window was the sea and a wave swallowed up the house and I ran and had to leap over roof tops and finally I got to some apartment where my family lived and then I yelled at them, ‘Didn’t you know I was missing for a week! Why didn’t you look for me? No one looked for me!’” (How long did it take to read this, 40 seconds?) What does the dream say about the dreamer’s emotions that day, what inspired the dream and what can the telling of it reveal to the listener? Only the dreamer and their spouse can decide, but what a royal road to deeper understanding of self and other. Intimacy grows only through shared moments and in dream sharing one dips deep into the heart and soul of the self and emerges with a unique gift of communication and connection. Have fun with it. I do.
Caution: Never argue over meaning. If your partner suggests meaning or recalls a forgotten event that might explain a location, object or person appearing in your dream, but one you find disturbing or imposed, don’t fight about it. Just tuck it away, you never know. Our partners know a lot about us, “our stuff” that we don’t always consciously notice or remember. Refrain from using the other’s dreams or your own, as a weapon to fight an interpersonal and unstated cause. You can be passive-aggressive with dreams too. If you have a point to make, make it honestly, not couched in something else. Do not rob the dreamer of their dream. That will rip the potential intimacy right out of that shared moment.
©Jill Edelman, M.S.W., L.C.S.W. 2011