Rebecca Kamm

Poking a stick at ladies' issues, pop culture, and other cutting-edge curiosities.

Rebecca Kamm: How dreams affect your relationship

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Do you punish your partner if you have a bad dream about them?Photo / Thinkstock
Do you punish your partner if you have a bad dream about them?Photo / Thinkstock

We're amazingly gullible when we're asleep, especially considering how cognitively "awake" we are as humans. This higher consciousness is what's supposed to separate us from the animals, except it goes straight out the window the minute our brains decide it's time for yet another mad (and logistically impossible) storyline.

I dreamt recently I was hovering in the air above a horse that was talking animatedly to the sea. Not once did it occur to me, mid-dream, that the scenario was unlikely or weird - instead, I marveled at the horse's positive attitude.

In another, I suddenly had a six-year-old son who kept sneaking away to the men-only bathhouse. Did I remind myself - as actual, real life panic began to rise - that this was a fictional situation? That probably, at some point, I would have noticed I'd had a child? No, I was far too busy searching madly for a male stranger to go into the bathhouse and fetch it back again.

It's like our mind suddenly splits in two: one half a nutty story teller weaving the latest inane narrative, the other half a dumb, nodding child, wholly accepting of chatty cavalry and surprise sprogs.

Given this nocturnal naivety, it's no wonder our dreams affect our daily emotional lives - that you can wake up stressed, sad or anxious thanks to their content. For lack of a better term, they can give you an emotional hangover.

This was the premise of a new study by researchers at Maryland University, who wanted to know if our dream-life affects how we treat our partners in real life. Or, as the study
itself puts it: the extent to which dreams of close others would predict subsequent waking experiences with those partners.

To find out, they collected two-week dream diaries from 61 undergraduate students, who also reported their daily activity with their partners, including any intimacy and conflict. The results were clear: dream-based jealousy, infidelity and conflict lead to real-life conflict and reduced intimacy the following days. Even when researchers accounted for factors like attachment styles, relationship quality, and activities that might have skewed the results.

Interestingly, dreams about sex (presumably sex with said partner) meant more intimacy the next day or so - but only for students who were serious about their partners. When students dreamed of sex and felt a low level of commitment, there was less intimacy over the next few days.

All of which you probably already knew, from that morning you wanted to smack your boyfriend over the head for doing that really bad thing he never actually did. Still, it's the first study of its kind, and verifies a universal truth: humans are definitely more daft when they're asleep. But they're still pretty daft when they're awake, too. No offense.

Follow Rebecca Kamm on Twitter.

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