Married and having dreams about exes. What to do?
April 11, 2015 11:17 AM   Subscribe

My partner is having mental health problems that prevent him from being a full partner to me right now. I don't know if it's causal, but for the last several months I've been having dreams of (and thinking about) a specific ex. What does this mean and how should I deal? Complications inside.

Some of you may remember me from this question. Since then, my husband has been working (and largely succeeding) at not being mean to me about things, but his depression is intensifying. I still find myself doing a majority of the adult stuff and spending a lot of my time managing his emotions. I feel like there is no one to support me, because when I need support, through responding so strongly, he makes it about his emotions. We are also not having sex, or even making out, except for rare instances, because he's experiencing a lack of overall sexual desire. This is especially a problem because I have told him that babies (and honestly, just sexual togetherness) are really important to me. I have told him it's really important to me for him to get a therapist, but he is putting it off and talks about "interviewing" therapists before making an appointment, rather than just making an appointment and changing if it's not a good fit. I know this sounds like excuses, but I'm pretty sexually and emotionally unfulfilled in a lot of ways.

I have also been spending a lot of time trying not to think about an ex - let's call him Bill - that lives relatively close by. He is currently a friend - we used to be closer, but once things started going south with my husband I started spending less time with Bill because I didn't want to be tempted. I have been having a lot of dreams about Bill, to the extent where I almost never dream about my husband, but every time I dream I'm me, I'm dreaming something is happening with Bill. What is worse, when I have asked my husband to go to events, and he's said no, I've started to think - 'Maybe I could go with Bill - just as a friend.'

I don't think I want to sleep with Bill, and I'm sure I won't - but I don't know what all this means or more importantly what I should do. Does this mean that my unresolved feelings for Bill were stronger than I thought and maybe I'm in love with him and I need to work on eradicating that? Or is this just me reaching out and trying to make excuses and wanting to feel like a sexual and romantic adult again? Please help, Hivemind.
posted by sockmeamadeus to Human Relations (25 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Subconsciously, your psyche is trying very hard to tell you to dump your emotionally unfulfilling marriage. The ex is just a symbol.

Go see a lawyer. Get divorced. Or don't. But that's what this all means.
posted by jbenben at 11:32 AM on April 11, 2015 [23 favorites]

I don't think it takes much of a genius to read the impulse of this one - you are starting the process of straying from the marriage because it is too stressful and you are not being supported, and so it is not emotionally sustainable for you.

Before the DTFMA crowd arrives, I will say I have been in a similar situation to you, and I posted to metafilter anonymously about the situation, and the universal response was DTFMA. Like, 100%, everybody was telling me it was 100% over and I should just run while I could. I didn't, and a year later things are *much* better, so these things CAN be temporary.

A rough outline of what we did that helped was:
1. Both of us fessing up to how we were feeling, and working to understand what needs weren't getting met and what we needed
2. Cutting off contact with interfering third parties (Bill's gotta go)
3. Getting support. We both got individual therapists and went to couples therapy together. This was a non-negotiable demand, btw.
4. Making a serious effort to actually fix the stuff that therapy brought up

Part of what was going on for us was a really screwed up set of work schedules so we never saw each other, plus mental health stuff. Sounds like the lack of support you're getting is your #1 issue and the mental health stuff is their #1 issue, so those would both be good places to start.
posted by zug at 11:42 AM on April 11, 2015 [10 favorites]

All that said, he needs to be all in.. which means he has to get enough help to have the spoons to go all in. Only you can decide whether it's worth waiting for him to be healthier or what conditions you set on that waiting.
posted by zug at 11:44 AM on April 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

Being sexually unfulfilled and lonely, and feeling that your husband can't be that partner for you, it's natural that you (your subconscious at least) is starting to look to have your needs fulfilled elsewhere. I'm not saying it would be right to cheat. I'm saying that it's natural for a hungry person to dream of food.

I think these dreams and now conscious thoughts are a warning sign and should be a wake up call. The urgency is growing. I'd let him know that things on your side are getting worse and you really need him to start talking action.

I don't think it's wrong of him to want to "interview" therapists, but it doesn't have to take that long. If he leaves six voice mails today, he can interview four therapists by phone next week, and meet with the best two or three over the following two to three weeks.
posted by salvia at 11:46 AM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

You should start interviewing therapists, for yourself. Not because the source of why you're dreaming of exes is at all mysterious, but because you need support. Your husband isn't in a place at the moment to give you the kind of emotional support you need, and rather than seek it in unhealthy ways via an ex, you should channel that impulse to therapy for you. Tell your husband this is what you're doing because you need support, too. Maybe that will help him actually do the thing instead of talking about doing the thing.
posted by rtha at 11:58 AM on April 11, 2015 [11 favorites]

I don't think your dreams are trying to tell you anything. The reason you're dreaming about Bill is probably just because you've been thinking about him more frequently.

Having said that, in my opinion, you should have left your husband some time between this question and your last one. I don't see this relationship improving to a point that it would be good for you to stay in it.
posted by alligatorman at 12:00 PM on April 11, 2015 [6 favorites]

Seven months ago (your previous question), your husband was going to make a therapist appointment that weekend. That was the timeline.

This ship has sailed. Make your arrangements and get out.

Look at it this way:
How long are are you willing to let this be status quo?
3 months?
6 (more) months?
6 years?
posted by carrioncomfort at 12:04 PM on April 11, 2015 [36 favorites]

yes he needs a therapist. But, maybe you should start talking to someone about how you feel about all of this. they might help you navigate all of this and decide if its worth it to stay if he is not actively at least trying to get better. so start with you, find a good CBT counselor.
posted by TRUELOTUS at 12:11 PM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

1. Your husband needs to be in therapy and on medication and going to support groups. Period, the end. If he doesn't like traditional therapy there are other depression resources. The point is he needs treatment, the end, no discussion.
2. It's not a bad idea for you to go to therapy as well, on your own.
3. I don't think there's anything wrong with going to events with Bill. Assuming your husband doesn't care and Bill has no spouse who may care. But don't be alone with him.
4. If you want kids, you need to state this and make a firm timeline. Depends on your age/health as to how urgent it is. Stress to yor husband he needs treatment if he ever wants kids.
posted by quincunx at 12:38 PM on April 11, 2015

Your focus on Bill is a symptom. Bill is not the answer. Focus on solving the problem, whatever that means for you.
posted by aniola at 12:50 PM on April 11, 2015 [6 favorites]

Please consider getting help for yourself. You seem like a kind person, and you deserve to be happy. You've been in this a long time, and it doesn't sound like much has changed.

In the short term, maybe ask yourself what it is about Bill that you find attractive and supportive? You deserve that too.
posted by vecchio at 12:52 PM on April 11, 2015

Have you re-read your previous question? There were a lot of answers in there that are still applicable (maybe even moreso, now). Nothing much seems to have changed for you--and "my husband mostly isn't mean to me anymore" isn't enough. I do believe your husband's behaviour was abusive and controlling then, and if nothing much has changed, you are still in an abusive and controlling relationship now. His refusal to make a therapy appointment during the SEVEN MONTHS since you gave him that ultimatum is very telling.

In your final update to that previous thread, you said you had calculated your finances and had enough to live on for a while if you left. I think the time has come. I know you said you had moved away from your support system, but like other people said in that thread, if you reach out to them, they will most likely jump at the chance to help you. You don't need to do it alone.

I remember your previous question well, and I'm sorry (though not surprised, unfortunately) to hear things are not better. I'm rooting for you, OP. You only have one life, and you deserve for it to be a happy one.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:54 PM on April 11, 2015 [21 favorites]

Also, please don't have children with this man right now. I say this because although your husband is not having sex with you at the moment, he knows you want kids eventually.

A friend of mine who was in an abusive relationship told me that her husband was not interested in having another child...until she started making actual plans to leave him because of his controlling behaviour. Then, suddenly, he wanted to try for another baby. She got pregnant and had the baby, and then he told her, "Now you can't leave me because no other man would take you with so many kids." (Never mind the messed up assumptions that she'd need another man to "take her" if she left him.)

She endured another five years of his emotionally abusive, controlling behaviour before he escalated to physical violence and she finally left. And she still has to be in constant contact with him because they have shared custody of the kids.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:32 PM on April 11, 2015 [25 favorites]

When you dream about a specific person, the dream is almost never actually about that person. Dreams are a symbolic language. "Bill" has symbolic meaning for you. Most likely, your dreams about "Bill" have nothing to do with him per se.

I dreamed just this morning about my ex husband. It has nothing to do with my ex husband per se. It possibly is a reference to another man with the same first name or possibly is a reference to a man that I have friction with and want out of my life -- want to be "divorced" from.

Dreams are an idiolect -- a personal language, rooted in your personal experiences. It is unique to you as an individual.

I will suggest you start a dream journal. Writing the dreams down is often helpful in uncovering the metaphors in which they speak. In the process of writing it down, you may realize that the way you have phrased the description points to a particular meaning. So, for example, if your friend's actual name were Bill, it might mean you are fretting about money -- about your bills. That might jump out at you in the process of writing the dream out.

Beyond that, you need to work on getting the support you need and consider leaving your marriage. Sometimes, it just cannot be worked out. You also need to work on somehow finding a sexual outlet that you find morally acceptable. If you do not deal with your sexual needs, at some point, yeah, it becomes highly likely that you will fail to resist temptation.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 2:19 PM on April 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

I think a lot of times people on AskMeFi act like therapy is a simple answer. It may help, it may not. What's more important is that you're really unhappy and your husband isn't making the kind of effort that will improve his life and your marriage. One reason we know that is because he isn't making finding a therapist a priority, but also because in general it doesn't sound like he is trying to be a good partner. I assume you've talked to him since your last question about how he makes you feel, like he wants to control all of your behavior etc. You need to have a talk again about where you are at in this marriage: You feel like he isn't taking your unhappiness and the toll of this on you seriously enough and this isn't a sustainable situation. This isn't about Bill, this is about your husband. As you think about wanting kids and starting a family, you should really be sure your husband is the man you want to do this with. Right now, it doesn't sound like it.
posted by AppleTurnover at 2:30 PM on April 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

I've seen many people on AskMefi recommend "Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay" as very helpful in sorting through what you actually want to do about your relationship. I have a copy on order right now that because I think I want to loan it/give it to a friend.
posted by metahawk at 2:58 PM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

He still needs a therapist but even more importantly YOU NEED for him to no longer be your problem. Bill is so fucking far from the point right now.

dump this loser who will never put your needs in the same ballpark as his own, much less treat them as equal.

you don't need to have children with this man, you already have an enormous obnoxious child who is demanding all of your emotional time and energy and giving you nothing in return.
posted by poffin boffin at 3:24 PM on April 11, 2015 [15 favorites]

Yeah, that's a really good point: this is not the kind of person you purposely and intentionally have kids with because you want kids. It takes two adults to raise kids. Sometimes, babbies happen and then you do your best to rise to the occasion. But, no, do not intentionally try to have kids with this person.

If you want kids, go find an actual adult to have them with or figure out how to do the single mom thing. Don't trap yourself in this relationship by becoming pregnant on purpose by this guy. Someone who is this much of a burden is not going to be any help in raising kids and having them turn out okay.
posted by Michele in California at 3:44 PM on April 11, 2015 [7 favorites]

Is Bill someone who allows you the space to simply be you? Living with a chronically depressed man who has a million reasons why he won't engage a therapist and wants to argue with you about it is beyond draining. I'm guessing that it's the emotional space and support you need for yourself that is manifesting Bill in these dreams.

One way to figure this out is to find a therapist for yourself and unpack this stuff. It will also help you disengage from managing your husband's emotions.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 3:47 PM on April 11, 2015 [3 favorites]

You should consider what you are getting out of a relationship with a man who is not affectionate when you desire affection, who does not want sex when you desire sex, and who does not support you when you desire support. Relationships are only healthy when both people are getting their needs met. If you husband is not meeting your needs (and seems to have no intention of even trying to do so), that is a problem. It sounds like you have already expressed this to him and he's done jack shit about it. DTMFA.
posted by deathpanels at 6:18 PM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Or is this just me reaching out and trying to make excuses and wanting to feel like a sexual and romantic adult again?

I think the idea of "making excuses" is rarely a useful way to frame things in general because what gets lost when we start blaming "excuses" is actual legitimate reasons for things.

But I think you're on to something with this idea of "wanting to feel like a sexual and romantic adult again". Sometimes when people are in a really bad spot, their brain tries to fix things by getting back to a "known good state". Like it says "We don't like the way things are now. The way things are now is bad. Let's think about something good instead - like the times we had with Bill - and then things will be good again. *conjures up something involving Bill*" It might just be as simple as that.

What you should do is think about the fact that there's things going on in your head that you're not entirely in touch with, and try to work on that first.
posted by bleep at 7:33 PM on April 11, 2015

I have told him it's really important to me for him to get a therapist, but he is putting it off and talks about "interviewing" therapists before making an appointment, rather than just making an appointment and changing if it's not a good fit. I know this sounds like excuses

That's because they are excuses. Seven months ago he was supposed to make a therapy appointment. If he hasn't yet, he's not going to. Maybe you don't have to leave. At the very least, I would suggest you say something like: "I need this marriage to be a team of equals, both of us pulling our weight. I need love/sex/affection/dishes washed/companionship, and I am not getting it. Your depression needs to be treated. I am moving out now. This doesn't mean our marriage is over, yet, it is a separation. After you have sought treatment for your depression on a regular basis for six months, we can talk about un-separating. If you haven't sought treatment in twelve months, we are getting a divorce."

And then do it.

I don't feel that dreams 'mean' anything. You're thinking about Bill a lot, so you're going to dream about him.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:41 PM on April 11, 2015 [5 favorites]

I had an experience recently when I kept dreaming about an ex when I was at a new SO's house, and only then. It was like my subconscious was pushing me to make comparisons when my conscious brain was trying really hard not to compare past and present. I think you're dreaming about Bill because you used to date, you're close, and your brain is like "hey! I made this comparison! these things are similar, here are some stories about it." And then when it's significant to you and you're thinking about it in waking life, you just dream about it more.

I agree though that it doesn't mean too much and you should focus on what's really going on in your relationship. The things you were talking about in your last question were really, really intense and I think things would have had to have improved dramatically for you to consider sticking around. Given that he hasn't even taken the therapist step, doesn't look like dramatic improvement has happened.
posted by sweetkid at 10:58 PM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

"To be fair, when the house is perfectly clean and I am doing everything that he wants to do, he is really great and affectionate and not hurtful. And he had some childhood stuff around neglect that makes a lot of this behavior make sense. But his kindness seems predicated on me doing exactly what he wants me to do, all of the time, and I feel like I just can't take any more. "

7 months with marginal improvement vs a probable lifetime of this? Dude. Rock the boat harder. Save yourself! Anybody else who said this to you, what would you tell them?
posted by Jacen at 4:00 PM on April 13, 2015

Honestly? I think your dreams about Bill are a distraction. Your mind is planting images in your head for you to worry over and feel guilty and confused over so that you won't be faced with dealing with your husband and your issues about setting limits and boundaries and enforcing them.
posted by janey47 at 5:45 PM on April 13, 2015

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