REALITY DREAMS SOUR TURN
A negative dream about your lover may be far from true but could easily have an impact on your waking life. Experts tell us why
What happens in a dream stays there. Or does it? A new study reveals that dreams affect our relationship behaviour and can have real consequences on waking lives. So, if you dreamt that your partner was having a fling with that colleague he brings up often in conversations, you are likely to wake up hurt and angry. Even worse, this could eventually lead to reduced intimacy and the possibility of conflict erupting. Dr Dylan Selterman from the University of Maryland, who led the study, believes that the process by which dreams influence waking behaviour is similar to “priming”. That’s when a thought or feeling is activated and can have an impact in future. “For example, if I say the word ‘table’, automatically the word ‘chair’ becomes more easily accessible in a listener’s mind. Having a dream with relational content may prompt the dreamer to think more about his/her relationship. Specifically, if the dream involves conflict, infidelity or jealousy, the dreamer may think or feel more negatively towards the partner (and thus manifesting in more behavioural conflict or less intimacy/love during the day),” he says in an interview to Mirror. The study published in Social Psychological and Personality Science was partially inspired by Selterman’s experience with a college girlfriend, who’d get mad over how he behaved in her dreams.
WHY DOES IT HAPPEN? While it may sound freakish, here’s how the connection works. The mind is hard at work whether or not we are awake, and so are emotions. Dreams, good or bad, tend to lead to a build-up of feelings — they could be of happiness, excitement, anger, jealousy or fear. And just as real life spills into dreams, dreams also impinge on real life. Author Amy Lemley, who has researched dreams for her book, The Dream Sourcebook: A Guide to the Theory and Interpretation of Dreams, says feelings that arise as we experience a dream are still with us when we wake up. “It’s logical that those feelings would register as ‘real’. So we may carry those feelings into our interactions,” she says. Selterman calls it the predictive value of dreams. “People’s activities change as a result of the dream they had the night,” he says. Which is why he found that arguing in dreams was associated with next-day relationship conflict. Consultant psychiatrist Dr Hansal Bhachech argues that dreams are nothing but repressed thoughts and wishful thinking. “Some people have precognitive dreams but the percentage is too small to make any generalisations,” he says. What does a dream about a partner’s infidelity mean then? It’s a story that has roots in insecurity, he explains. “It suggests that the dreamer could have trust issues with the person in the dream. The reasons may vary – a suspicious nature, the partner’s deceptive behaviour or past experiences,” he says.
CHECK FREQUENCY While a one-off dream could mean little, Selterman says frequent negative dreams should be used as a cue. “It could be a sign that the dreamer has an insecure attachment style (a personality trait that makes a person more prone to negative thoughts, feelings and behaviour in relationships). Alternatively, if you tend to dream about cheating on your partner, it might be time to take stock of whether your relationship is a satisfying one. Lemley agrees. “A hundred years ago, Sigmund Freud said every dream expresses a wish or a fear. I don’t think it’s that’s simple,” she says. “It would be wrong to characterise the dreamer as too trusting or the person dreamed about as untrustworthy. I would suggest you look deeper. Ask yourself, ‘Why did I have the dream right now?’ The answer needn’t necessarily be ‘because it’s true’. It could be because you are feeling unloved? Or is there someone else you are attracted to?” she adds.
HOW TO FIX IT Since the dream mechanism operates on a sub-conscious level, is it possible to ensure that bad dreams don’t translate into bad days? Lemley advocates a technique she terms ‘finishing the dream’. “After you awake from a bad dream, lie still and continue the dream story in your wakeful imagination. Guide this towards a positive end — say, your lover apologises, or you realize that the spouse is acting in a skit. Whatever you can envision to heal your heart and let you get on with your day, and your relationship,” she says. Selterman advocates open and honest communication with partners about disturbing dreams. “I always encourage people in relationships to disclose their emotions to their partners. The thoughts may be negative, but can be a useful tool in resolving conflicts,” he says.