Last week, we began discussing dreams. (If you missed those two blog posts, you can check them out here and here.) Now that we have considered the function of dreams, the feelings of the dreamer, symbols, shapeshifters, and the displacement of time and place in the “night theater” of dreams, it is time to ask the question:
Should all dreams be Shared?
Although we consider that all dreams, even nightmares, are opportunities for growth and development, not every dream must or should be shared. Like the best of other dynamics between partners — the choice — to share a dream, do a favor, be sexually intimate … is what makes the action authentic and consciously and unconsciously important to your partner.So you wouldn’t tell a partner about the sexy dream with a high school sweetheart?
It depends — on the dreamer’s feelings, the meaning of the dream and the relationship with the partner. The dream may be registering that sexual interest in the present partner is as “hot” as it was in high school, in which case sharing the dream with that interpretation might be received as a sexually inviting compliment. On the other hand, if the dreamer feels that the dream registers confusion, presents disappointment, or even fear of betrayal as experienced from the high school sweetheart, the dreamer might want to use the dream for self-reflection and understanding rather than sharing.
Once you decide to share a dream, you move it from the personal to the interpersonal mode. When couples begin sharing dreams with each other, they begin to think about each other in different ways. Here are some guidelines that will give you a glimpse of the impact of dream sharing.
- At times, you may feel compelled to tell a dream and automatically share it: “You have to hear this dream.”
- As suggested in Healing Together, you and your partner may share dreams as a step toward renewing or maintaining intimacy, a version of “pillow talk.”
- Hearing or seeing you awakened by a nightmare, your partner may invite you to share it. Often afraid of feeling re-traumatized or contaminating the partner, there is hesitation is sharing such dreams. In reality, telling your partner such dreams is a first step toward diluting the feelings by taking charge of moving them from frightening images into conscious shared language.
2. Dream Listening
- The counterpart to the dreamer’s compliment of trusting you with the privacy of their dreams is the gift of attending to them and listening. It sends the message that “I care about knowing you on many levels.”
- The most effective and respectful way to listen to a dream is to put yourself in the shoes of the dreamer. This position invites empathy and elaboration rather than analysis or scrutiny of the other. “If this was my dream — what would I feel? What would this dream be registering in my unconscious?”
- A valuable step in listening is to repeat the dream just as you hear it. To do so invites you into the dream as if it is yours. It demonstrates to the dreamer that you have attended to and are sharing the dream. For a nightmare or trauma dream, your repetition of the dream can serve to detoxify it by your holding it at a less emotional distance from the dreamer.
3. Dream Collaborating
- Working together, partners may be able to elaborate, reduce the tensions, and expand the understanding of a dream as well as about each other.
- It is often valuable for the dreamer and listener to associate thoughts and feelings about the elements of a dream (the setting of the dream, the storyline, the beginning and ending, the action, the characters). Associating these elements, they may bring to light aspects of the dreamer, unresolved issues, strivings, relationships with others, etc. As such, they share a dialogue that can take them anywhere:
“Why would Uncle Jake be the man driving you to your new job in your dad’s car? Wasn’t he your father’s younger brother?”
“Yeah, it’s funny but I think I looked up to him even more than my father — maybe I want to bring him with me to the new job.”
“Maybe there is a part of you that’s like Uncle Jake.”
4. Dream Communicating
- At times, the dream that is shared moves unconscious expression to conscious communication between dreamer and listener.
- In the case of one couple who were struggling with the wife’s avoidance of affection and sexual disinterest, her sharing, “You know, I had this sexual dream about you last night” was a step toward revealing her emerging desire.
- In another case, a man who could not own or express to his partner the stress he was feeling communicated it vividly when he shared the dream, “I am riding on a steep road and I start to feel like the car is going to slip over the edge unless I put my foot as far down as I can on the brake, and I wake up sweating, pressing down with all my might!”
- It is always valuable for a dreamer to ask, “Why did I have this dream now?” It may be just as valuable for partners to consider, “Am I trying to communicate something to you in sharing this dream?”
5. Dream Transforming
In the book Healing Together, we recognize that certain dreams — like nightmares — can have a terrifying and disruptive impact on both the dreamer and the partner and warrant professional guidance if they become chronic and compromise life functioning.
We also invite partners to recognize that the listener’s willingness to hear and help hold the nightmare if the dreamer chooses to share it- can be transformative. As described in Healing Together (p. 152-153), there are techniques that draw upon the shared efforts of partners to reduce the power of a nightmare. Working together in the light of day to “Give it a title” or “Alter the Storyline” may really have an impact on the disrupting dream. It may also transform the dreamer’s sense of terror and isolation into trust and connection.
Who you are and who you are to each other is never lost upon the unconscious. Reach for your dreams together …
For Further Reading
Friedman, R. (2008) “Dreamtelling as a Request for containment: Three Uses of Dreams in Group Therapy.” International Journal of Group Psychotherapy, Vol 58, No.3.,327-345.