I am in a satisfying 5 year romantic relationship. My girlfriend and I have now been living together for the past 2 years. Although we have both been quite happy in the relationship emotionally and sexually, we have seemed to hit a sexual lull lately. I am fine with the lull and understand that our sexual life will likely wax and wane as we grow older together. However, a few months ago I started having some dreams about one of my exes. They aren’t always about her and they aren’t always sexual. But they often are. I have no desire to be back with my ex and I am very satisfied with my girlfriend, but these dreams are starting to really bother me. I really just want them to stop and I’m not sure what I can do.
-Dreaming in Distress
Dear Dreaming in Distress,
The third of our lives when we are sleeping is unfortunately the part of our lives when we also have the least control. For you, it feels like your dreams are cheating on your girlfriend or at the very least fantasizing about your ex. This is creating unrest in the your heart and it is frustrating because you’re just not sure what you can even do about it. You do not appear to be experiencing a DSM-5 Nightmare Disorder, since the content of the dreams does not appear to be particularly dysphoric. It’s the meaning of your dreams that is upsetting for you.
One current theory is that dreams are our subconscious brain attempting to make sense out of our conscious thought. Based on the numerous defenses you offered, this is your fear too; that in your heart the dissatisfaction you feel with your relationship is producing these dreams. I would start here. It sounds like you have reasoned with yourself that your recent sexual lull represents a normal part of a relationship. While a lull can be quite normal in the context of a long-term relationship, it may be worth considering that your lull might also represent a larger dissatisfaction in the relationship.
If you and she are not already discussing your lull, this could be a good time to start.
If you and she are not already discussing your lull, this could be a good time to start. Whether or not you mention the recent dreams to your girlfriend is up to you. If you find that there is no larger issue going on and you feel quite content in your relationship, my guess is that by the time you finish the conversation with your partner these dreams will have ceased.
In the event that they don’t go away, you could consider an approach like image rehearsal therapy/nightmare rescripting or more general approaches such as progressive muscle relaxation to help you prepare for sleep.
Dear Dreaming in Distress,
You have no desire to get back with your ex? You have nothing to worry about. While these dreams can be disturbing, they do not imply there is a deep rooted issue you need to overanalyze. A few days ago, I dreamt about being on vacation and checking into a room that was next door to an ex boyfriend. Guess what? It wasn’t real and I did nothing wrong dreaming about it. Did it bother me? Not really. I just thought it was weird.
In conversations with my close friends, we are not alone. I have heard frequent stories of ex lovers or past relationships popping up in dreams unwillingly. It doesn’t mean you are unhappy with your current situation or that you should evaluate this is depth.
Do you feel like you are emotionally cheating on your fiance with these dreams? Especially if the dreams are sexual, they may provoke emotions such as feeling frustrated or excited. If you really want to dive in, I would pay attention to the emotional aspect of these dreams that you are remembering. People remember emotionally difficult dreams more than pleasant or neutral dreams.
Try to shake things up in the bedroom, and I bet you’ll shake that ex right out of your dreams before you know it.
Lastly, try to get better quality of sleep! Exercising, going to bed at a reasonable time, and not watching tv or playing on my phone certainly help me in this category. Maybe even try a spritz of lavender on your pillow for better zzz’s.
But, do not fret! Relationship lulls are a common phenomenon. There’s nothing wrong with losing a little passion now and again; it’s normal. Try to shake things up in the bedroom, and I bet you’ll shake that ex right out of your dreams before you know it.