Relationship Connection: My wife gets angry with me after she has a bad dream

Stock image, St. George News

Question

My wife occasionally has vivid dreams that disturb her after she wakes up. For example, she might have a dream where we’re fighting and I’m yelling at her. Or she sometimes dreams that I’m cheating on her with another woman. She’s also had dreams of me hurting our children or other horrible things.

When she wakes up, she not only wants to talk about these dreams, but she also feels they are warning her or telling her something important about her life. In some ways, she feels like they’re based in reality, especially the dreams that are recurring.

I promise you that I’ve never cheated on my wife, and I’ve never hurt my kids. Yes, we’ve had arguments where we’ve raised our voices, but I’ve never abused her. I can’t explain her dreams, and I feel like I’m on trial for something I’m not doing. These conversations about her dreams go nowhere, and I end up worried many nights about what I’ll wake up to.

Answer

I can only imagine how powerless you must feel being held accountable for things you didn’t do. Your wife is obviously looking for a way to make sense of her distressing dreams and is turning to you for answers. Dreams can leave some people with powerful imprints and emotions that are difficult to shake. I’ll share some thoughts on how you might respond to her distress.

You can quickly drive each other crazy trying to prove or disprove something that happened in her head while she was sleeping. This type of standoff is a guaranteed dead-end discussion that needs to be interrupted as soon as it begins.

Instead of trying to establish guilt or innocence about behaviors in the dream, I recommend you focus on staying connected to her emotional experience inside the dream.

For example, if she tells you that she is worried you’re going to cheat on her because she dreamed it, you can reassure her that this will never happen, while at the same time validating how scary this must be for her.

Let her know that you want to understand how scary this was for her. This dream isn’t about you. It’s about her working out fears, worries and insecurities. If you are supportive, present and interested, it will make it harder for her to believe the fears she has about you in her dream.

While you don’t need to take seriously the events of the dream as reality, you absolutely need to take seriously the feelings she shares with you as reality. When she’s sharing her fear, she’s really feeling. You can dismiss those fears because they’re based on a dream, or you can stay with her experience of feeling fear and let her know you care about her pain.

If you have nothing to hide, then you can be fully present in a nonreactive way to her fears. If she insists that these are warnings, I encourage you to invite her to share more about her fears and why she believes this might happen. Are there things in the marriage that make her anxious? Is she noticing behavioral patterns that may be blind spots for you?

Don’t immediately dismiss her concerns as irrational just because you haven’t done the exact thing she dreamed about. She may be nervous about specific behaviors or situations that could be the seeds of future betrayals.

Let her know you are there for her and want to help her be heard, seen and understood. The less threatened you feel about her emotions and fears, the easier it will be for both of you to make sense of what is happening to her.

I want to point out an additional consideration. If your wife has a history of trauma, abuse or other betrayals, it will be important for her to get the proper professional help. These dreams may be ways of her trying to work out the memories stored in her body.

If, despite your best efforts at validating and supporting her, she continues to struggle with the outcome of these dreams, encourage her to seek additional professional help to better understand what these dreams and resultant emotions are telling her.

Regardless of the outcome, she is going to be benefit from your loving presence and support as she makes sense of these overwhelming emotions.

Stay connected!

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are his and not those of St. George News.

Have a relationship question for Geoff to answer? Submit to:

Email: geoff@lovingmarriage.com

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20 Comments

  • ladybugavenger January 24, 2017 at 11:08 am

    HaHa! Classic!

    I’ve totally done that to my husband haha!

  • ladybugavenger January 24, 2017 at 11:10 am

    I don’t dream a lot like this lady does, but there has been that time where I did dream and woke up and said, I’m mad at you, I had a dream…blah blah blah….and then we laugh and laugh ?

  • comments January 24, 2017 at 11:25 am

    Sounds like my first ex wife. She was sweet and docile when i married her, but after a few years she became pathologically paranoid i was cheating on her and would fly into psychotic rages at the drop of a hat. This guy is being forced to battle against his wife’s delusions, and really, how can you compete with her bizarre, paranoid ‘dream-induced’ delusions? It’ll probably only get worse as time goes on, lol.

    • ladybugavenger January 24, 2017 at 3:22 pm

      It’s always the man’s fault. It’s your fault Bob that your ex wife went bonkers. Did you try and have her involuntarily committed? lol

      • comments January 24, 2017 at 5:29 pm

        lol, no but it probly would’ve helped

        • .... January 25, 2017 at 8:23 am

          If somebody was actually married to you they have my sympathy

  • Bender January 24, 2017 at 2:17 pm

    Geoff, I dreamt my Washington County neighbors had overwhelming voted for a thin skinned, narcissistic demagogue for the office of president of the US. My wife insists this is not a dream. Can you explain to her that no one is this foolish?

    • Henry January 24, 2017 at 6:17 pm

      Maybe your neighbors are trying to convince you to move to San Francisco? Otherwise, retreat to your bedroom safe zone, cuddle up with your Radar O’Reilly teddy bar, and wake up in 8 years.

      • Henry January 24, 2017 at 6:18 pm

        “bear”

      • Bender January 25, 2017 at 10:09 pm

        Ironic you would lead with the argument my position reflects fear. Your orange-tinged carnival barker campaigned on a platform of non-stop fear. Trump voters: scared of the Mexicans, the Muslims, the liberals, non-existent crime waves and pretty much anyone not like them. Not the Kremlin though. They’re now quite chill.

        • Henry January 26, 2017 at 12:39 pm

          Rather than the “orange tinged carnival barker”, you trust your Dumbo-earred Community Organizer? Talking about the issues is “non-stop fear”? But you are scared of the big bad Kremlin? You really are a modern-day Joseph McCarthy.

  • Hataalii January 24, 2017 at 2:58 pm

    This really is nothing to make light of, folks. It looks to me like this lady needs to get some help from a therapist, sooner, rather than later.
    And if the husband is able to go with her, it may help immensely. Dreams…….Scientists have been trying to figure out what dreams are all about, for more years than I’ve been on this earth.
    But those dreams are very real, while they are occurring. Most of us can just shake them off, once we wake up. But others cannot. For those that cannot, counselling is strongly advised.

  • ladybugavenger January 24, 2017 at 3:19 pm

    It’s her husbands fault! He’s making her insecure. Notice how he only points the finger at his wife 😉

    • JJ January 24, 2017 at 9:29 pm

      Ahh being responsible for the wife’s emotions.. thanks for reminding me why I don’t want to get married.

      Unless this goes both ways. If he gets bored and cheats on her, he gets to blame the wife for not satisfying him enough?

    • .... January 25, 2017 at 8:20 am

      Well just as long as he points to the right spot it’s ok !

    • ladybugavenger January 25, 2017 at 11:21 am

      Haha! JJ it’s a one way street! Don’t get married unless your prepared for that responsibility.

  • ladybugavenger January 24, 2017 at 7:16 pm

    I have the strongest, bestesses, most uplifting straightforward honest husband and I’m his #1. We are like the movie notebook, we will die when the other one dies, hopefully holding hands..

    .I hope that all woman find this.

    We are argumentative and love to argue! We don’t fight anymore we just like to state our side repeatedly, trying to convince the other that What we say is right haha! Sometimes we can, sometimes we can’t but we always agree to disagree and respect each other. Never a dull moment in ladybugs house. A lot of fun and a lot of laughter!

    Everyone, brown, black, white, lgbtqrst, come on over for a BBQ, swimming and playing pool. We will work our differences out on the pool table, bring your lunch money!

  • myusername January 24, 2017 at 8:33 pm

    Well, first of all looking at the picture of her at the top of the article she may be possessed! Huge resemblance to that lady in the movie who was in bed all day. Plus add in the dark circles around her eyes and the huge Owl-like eyes are a big giveaway!

    Nobody has animal eyes naturally, so get her some much needed help and maybe a bucket in case she wants to get rid of all that extra pea soup in the middle of the night!

    • ladybugavenger January 25, 2017 at 12:06 pm

      You made me look at the picture!

    • comments January 26, 2017 at 1:41 pm

      My ex-wife used to get the same look in her eyes, lol.

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