A few more posts from my Q&A with J at HHH series. Today’s question is about dreams.
“My troublous dream this night doth make me sad.”
William Shakespeare, King Henry VI
Mommaof3: My husband and I have been married for 5 years, and in the past year or so I have been having some troubling dreams. I try thinking good things before bed, since everyone says that you dream what you’re thinking…that doesn’t help at all. I keep dreaming about cheating on my husband with 2 different people (who i know in real life). I’m not asking for an interpretation or anything like that. lol Just do you have any advice on how to deal with these dreams? My husband thinks that it is funny because one of the people I dream about is his brother, so he likes to tease me and say that I married the wrong brother. However, it really bothers me to have these dreams about these 2 guys, because then it kind of changes how I think of these people in real life. So I guess I would like to know if you can suggest any ways to stop the dreams, and also how to deal with them (or forget them!) once I wake up in the mornings. (these dreams happen like once every week or so. So not every day, but not just occasionally.) Thank you for speaking so openly about marital sex and all that goes with it! 🙂
“This was my dream: what it doth bode, God knows.”
William Shakespeare, King Henry VI
Let’s start by looking at dreams themselves. I guarantee Mommaof3 isn’t the only spouse out there who has had disturbing dreams. It can be a shocker to wake up and realize you had a “sex dream” about someone other than your mate.
What are dreams? Scientists are not certain of the purpose of dreams. Dreams occur during the rapid-eye-movement (REM) period of the sleep cycle, when our brains are quite active but our bodies are essentially paralyzed. In such a state, we can imagine all kinds of actions that our selves are unable to act upon. (By the way, sleepwalking and night terrors do not occur during REM sleep.)
REM sleep is thought to aid in problem-solving and memory organization. Dreams may be our brain’s way of sorting through the events of the day, trying out various, and sometimes wild, approaches to issues in our lives, and working through mental and emotional stress.
What do dreams mean? Throughout the centuries, people have attempted to interpret dreams. Other than those to whom God gave this special ability — such as Joseph and Daniel — such efforts are largely shots in the dark. Sigmund Freud thought every cylindrical object in a dream represented the phallus, and every receptacle represented the vagina. This is where we get our comical interpretation of “I dreamed I was on a train going through a tunnel . . .” Is that about sex? Or did you just happen to buy an Amtrak ticket that day?
You can try to figure out what your dream “means,” but it may mean nothing. It may be a series of unrelated objects thrown together in a hodgepodge. Your brain may simply be playing out various scenarios that have little to do with any deeper desires or fears.
Does God use dreams? We know that God has used dreams. The first biblical example is when God comes to Abimelech in a dream to tell him that this Sarah he has taken as a wife belongs to Abraham (Genesis 20:3). God spoke to both His own people and enemies of His people through dreams: Jacob (Genesis 28), Joseph (Genesis 37), Pharaoh (Genesis 41), Solomon (1 Kings 3), Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 2), Joseph of Nazareth (Matthew 1), the Magi (Matthew 2), and Pilate’s wife (Matthew 27). God also said: “Listen to my words: ‘When a prophet of the LORD is among you, I reveal myself to him in visions, I speak to him in dreams'” (Numbers 12:6). At times, God has used dreams to speak specifically into someone’s life to inform them or affect their decisions.
I do not, however, know of anyone who believes that all dreams are Heaven-sent. The vast majority of dreams appear to be of the sort-through-stuff kind. Anyone in Scripture who had a dream sent from God did not wake up like a normal day; they were shaken until their bones rattled. Thus, I’m skeptical about implying any grand messages from God to our everyday dreams.
Does Satan use dreams? Satan certainly likes to attack our thought life. However, there is no direct evidence in the Bible that Satan has access to our dreams. I cannot find a reference to Satan sending a dream to anyone in all of the Old or New Testament. I suggest that if we give Satan a foothold in our waking lives, though, it can carry over to how we sort through our thoughts when we dream.
Are you responsible for your dream? Probably not. You fall asleep. You are unconscious. You cannot move. Your brain is taken over by images you didn’t invite. And there you are — unaware that you are in the arms of another until the alarm clock rings and you wake up feeling both good and guilty.
Only if you lie in bed and rehearse “Dream about Brad Pitt, dream about Brad Pitt” are you responsible for dreaming about Brad Pitt. If you lust after someone while awake, you do carry some blame if you dream about him/her that night. Your waking thoughts can creep into your dream life. But if someone pops into your dream uninvited, you aren’t responsible.
Should you tell your spouse? Momma of 3 talked freely with her husband about these dreams. Some spouses wouldn’t mind. Others would. You have to make that call yourself. Don’t use your spouse to unburden yourself from contrived guilt or to help you interpret a dream. If you’re telling your honey because you want to feel better, that’s probably not a good reason. If you do, you may feel better and make him/her feel worse.
What should you do with a disturbing dream? If you have a single dream about someone other than your spouse, it likely means zero, nada, zip. It does not mean that you have an attraction or feelings for that person. Consider it a “brain fart” and move on.
If you have a recurring dream, that can be nerve-racking. Why is your brain stuck on that theme? What can you do about it?
“I am accustomed to sleep and in my dreams to imagine the same things that lunatics imagine when awake.”
Some psychologists believe that recurring dreams are your brain’s way of forcing you to deal with unfinished business. They contend that you need to delve deep into the dream’s origins and deal with what they signify in your waking life. I’m not a big proponent of this approach. Dreams can be tricky to interpret, and if you address what you should while you’re awake, there’s no need to hail back to dreams for clues. Pursue emotional and relational health when you’re wide-eyed and bushy-tailed, and hopefully your dreams will follow.
The best-recognized treatment for nightmares is image rehearsal therapy, pioneered by Barry Krakow, M.D. It involves rehearsing a new ending to the nightmare when you are awake. “After recalling the nightmare in detail, the dreamer writes out the new script and envisions it several times a day.” For instance, if you dream that someone other than your spouse leans in to kiss you, you rewrite the script and rehearse a new ending — perhaps pushing him away, or substituting your husband, or shapeshifting into a 50-foot woman who terrorizes adulterous suitors. Whatever works for you. You can write out the story or tell it to yourself. But make it like a storyline — just like your dream would be — with a happy-ever-after ending instead.
Another idea is using smell — the sense most attached to memory. Scents can evoke thoughts and memories. As such, good smells can invite positive dreams, while bad smells can result in negative dreams. Try going to sleep with good aromas nearby. A little potpourri on the night table, scented lotion or cologne spray on your body (and/or your spouse’s), or a sleep sachet under your pillow might help to bring on pleasant dreams. It’s worth a shot.
Pray. I do believe that putting your thoughts before God and asking Him to direct you can help. Without going into detail, I once prayed that God would erase some memories I had. Lo and behold, months later there honestly were things I could no longer recall about that time. So pray about your dreams.*
Finally, we have a tendency to dream about what’s swimming through our brains before we fall asleep. One interesting study showed that volunteers who played Tetris for hours each day tended to dream about it while asleep. There are mixed results with these efforts to influence your dreams. But in the interest of science and all, why not make love with your hubby right before falling asleep? It might help tip your dreams into the pleasant category. Or you might just sleep so hard that you don’t remember your dreams when you wake up. Either way, a positive outcome.
*This paragraph was not in my original draft. As I was drafting, I got called away quickly, published the post, and forgot to include it. I was kicking myself for not including, um, hello, prayer, so I revised accordingly.