It is quite possible that you have said or heard your partner say:
“You will never believe the dream I had last night!”
“You were screaming in your sleep – are you okay?”
Dreaming and the use of dreams have been recorded from Biblical times and across many cultures. While we credit Freud with his contribution of The Interpretation of Dreams in 1900 and still marvel at his formulations, the royal road to the unconscious has been greatly expanded.
Whereas Freud understood dreams primarily in terms of wish fulfillment, later theorists like James Fossage (1997) built upon psychoanalytic theory with cognitive theory and dream research to suggest that dreams serve an important organizing mental function. They help us process feelings, cope with traumatic events, solve problems and develop a sense of ourselves and our relationships with others.For example: James Fossage reports research in which students in a foreign language course who showed an increase in dreaming experienced improved performance compared with those whose dreaming did not increase.
In our work with couples as discussed in Healing Together, we suggest that dreaming is not only a valuable way of understanding yourself but also a way to restore and benefit from your connection with your partner. Sharing a dream means sharing traces of your unconscious. It is an intimate and special way of knowing and helping each other.
For example: A police officer whose first critical incident involved the drowning of a 2-year-old began to have a recurrent dream of losing his own 2-year-old in a store shortly after his son’s birthday. Sharing this recurrent dream with his wife, he remembered the earlier incident that he had pushed out of his mind. Together, they made the connection that his owns son’s birthday brought back the echo of that early loss and the feelings of helplessness and sadness connected with it. Now that he was a father, the impact of losing a child was even more extreme. His dream was an attempt to deal with past feelings and present fears.
What is special about dreaming is that it often registers feelings when we don’t yet have the words. Sharing is a step toward finding the words and coping with the feeling.
“If someone speaks, it gets lighter.”
(Freud, Introductory Lectures, 1917)
… Stay tuned for our next blog post, when we answer the following questions: How do we make sense out of dreams? Should all dreams be shared?
For Further Reading:
Fossage, J. (1997) “The Organizing Functions of Dream Mentation.” Contemporary Psychoanalysis, Vol.33, No. 3 (1997).