When I wake up from a weird dream, my instinct is to regurgitate every last detail to my unenthused fiancé in hopes that doing so will help me remember the story for longer. He, on the other hand, sometimes shares with me snippets of a sleep-time vignette he “sort of” remembers. Our differing levels of enthusiasm about our REM-world goings on haven’t caused a rift in our relationship (yet), but I am curious as to why these veritable lunatics (sorry, honey—it’s just how I feel) are apathetic at best when it comes to remembering their dreams—AKA a message from their very own subconscious.
To my fiancé’s (and all the other dream wet blankets’) credit, the way in which we experience dreams differs from person to person. While one partner might be able to remember a full spectrum of visuals, another person, with a different sleep-cycle pattern, might have a hard time recalling any bit of a dream. “Typically we remember dreams when we wake up in or near them,” says sleep specialist W. Chris Winter, MD, author of The Sleep Solution. “We tend to dream for 20-to-40-minute cycles, 4 to 6 times during the night. These cycles get longer and more robust as the night progresses, [and] awakening during a dream is usually our best chance to remember them.”
As a result, these nightly musings can affect some of us more directly and vividly than others, which can also lead some of us to want to share the stories first thing in the morning more than others. “[Some] people believe their dreams have important significance and may even take on spiritual or religious meanings. They prefer to share something meaningful, like a dream, to create intimacy, understanding, and trust,” says clinical psychologist J. Ryan Fuller, PhD. In fact, a study of heterosexual couples showed a positive correlation between the sharing of dreams and relationship intimacy.
“Partners have different priorities, preferences, routines, and values. Maybe the S.O. who doesn’t care about dreams really cares about sleep.” clinical psychologist Paulette Sherman, PsyD
But if you were to, say, wake up a sleeping bedmate just to clue them in on a weird dream you just had that they almost certainly won’t find more important than clocking their own beauty sleep, tensions could arise. “Partners have different priorities, preferences, routines, and values. Maybe the S.O. who doesn’t care about dreams really cares about sleep. Perhaps they are exhausted and resent getting woken up for that reason,” says psychologist and relationship expert Paulette Sherman, PsyD.
Huh, so perhaps my fiancé is less so a dream-hating lunatic than he is simply tired. That certainly tracks. And while my at-all-hours excitement about sharing my dreams could use a dose of mindfulness and respect about his sleep preferences, it’s also key for him to understand that it’s important for me that he cares when I share with him (at a reasonable hour). Acknowledging my wants is a great way to build intimacy and a healthy relationship. “A person may not be on the same page in terms of how much, how many, or how quickly they [want to] share their dreams,” says Dr. Fuller. “The real couple’s work is about understanding what sharing dreams mean to each other and what it means to be entitled to some level of privacy and discretion of what to share.”
To get on that same page about sharing dreams when it’s not the first thing one partner wants to talk about in the morning, alternatives abound. “First, discuss it [with your S.O.] to understand one another and see if there’s a compromise,” says Dr. Sherman. “Maybe your partner would hear your dreams at dinnertime rather than first thing in the morning. Or perhaps you can jot them down in a journal and share them [later] with them or a therapist or an interested friend.” Journaling does appeal to your mental health, after all.
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