He's the man you fall asleep beside every night, and the first person you see every single morning. So why isn't your husband making a cameo in your actual dreams? And why, when he does show up, are you both dressed in elf costumes and bickering about adopting a cat?
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Chances are, there's an explanation for these nighttime curiosities--and understanding what dreams mean might actually make your relationship healthier. "The subconscious is going to produce whatever dream it feels is appropriate at the time," says Cindy Nodland, PhD, a Denver-based dream therapist. "If there's something we need to know or understand, we'll dream about it."
Typically, our significant others play a considerable role in dreams: A new study out of Germany estimates that romantic partners are present in at least 20 percent of nocturnal imaginings. But it isn't because we spend so much time with them during the day. Rather, Nodland explains, our dreams often represent unresolved problems and feelings--and we tend to have a lot of both where our relationship is concerned.
To better understand your own dreams, Nodland recommends keeping a dream journal--preferably next to your bed--and taking note of a dream's key players, settings, events, and any associated feelings. "The most important piece is the feeling you have in the dream," she says. "Are you sad? Frightened? Jealous? That will often give you the biggest clue about what the message of the dream is."
Curious about what your latest head-trip is trying to tell you? We asked Nodland to decode five of the most common relationship-oriented dreams.
If you were cheating on him. "This could indicate that your husband or boyfriend isn't meeting all of your needs," Nodland says. "An affair in a dream could indicate a desire for more passion in the waking relationship."
If you're having dinner together. "Eating together is a very good dream," Nodland says. "It can actually represent the sexual relationship. Food, after all, is a nurturing and fulfilling component of our lives, and "sitting down and sharing a meal is a very intimate thing to do." But if you're having recurring dreams about repetitive meals, "again and again at Taco Bell," ask yourself whether those bedroom exploits are getting stale.
If someone else is in his place. Let's say you're dressed in that elf costume, bickering with your husband in dreamland...except your "husband" appears to be your high school boyfriend. Huh? "You could still be dreaming about your current relationship," Nodland says. "It means your current situation relates somehow to that guy from the past." Interpret the dream by mulling what the two of them have in common.
If he died in your dreams. This nightmarish scenario shouldn't be taken literally, Nodland says. "This could actually be a fear of abandonment. Generally, if we dream someone dies, it is symbolic of some kind of other death. It could mean the relationship is dying, not the person."