I am happily engaged to a wonderful man. We’ve known each other for almost a decade, and we’ve been together for almost two and a half years. Before we got together, I had a history of cheating whenever I was bored or unsatisfied in relationships. It was mostly a result of being young and having no desire to put forth the effort to solve relationship problems, paired with a case of youth-induced egocentrism. My fiancé and I dated before when I was a teenager and he was in college, and the relationship ended when I cheated on him. He’s forgiven me, and the problem has been resolved for years.
Since we began our relationship for a second time as 20-somethings, I’ve had no desire to cheat, and I feel that I’ve definitely stopped the cycle of cheating I had in my younger days. However, since he proposed, I’ve been having dreams where I’m either cheating or about to cheat on him. During these dreams I feel so disgusted by the situation that I wake up nauseous, and I’m disturbed all day afterward. I think the dreams are probably just a result of worrying that: 1) I’m not a good enough person for him; and 2) I’m going to screw this up. I want to build a healthy marriage with him, so I’m wondering if I should tell him about these dreams for the sake of openness and honesty. Is this anxiety something that I should be sharing with him, or will it only serve to upset him? — Anxious Former Cheater
Last year, I received a letter from a woman who began thinking a lot about an ex-boyfriend as soon as she and her current boyfriend decided to move in together. In my response to her, I told her about how I had something similar happen to me shortly after Drew and I got engaged:
Right after I got engaged two and a half years ago, I had a series of strange dreams that lasted maybe a couple of months. I had a few of these dreams in the first weeks following my engagement, and then they petered out to once every couple of weeks or so. My exes were featured heavily in several of the dreams, but not necessarily in a romantic sense. In the dreams, it seemed like I missed them or like I couldn’t figure out why things didn’t work out, and always when I woke up, I was a little bit sad that things in real life ended the way they did. The sense I made of these dreams — dreams about exes I most certainly did not wish I was still with — was that they represented whatever anxiety I felt about my impending marriage and the possibility of it, like my past relationships, not working out (let me be clear here that that was a small, insignificant anxiety, but one I think must be normal for most newly engaged people). If I was in love before and things didn’t work out, how could I be certain that this time it was forever?
Getting engaged and planning your future with someone is a wonderful, exciting thing. But it also creates some anxiety. What if it doesn’t work out? Lots of marriages don’t. Every other relationship you’ve ever had didn’t. It’s a risk you take when you say “I do,” end every risk — big or small, realistic or far-fetched– is going to bring some anxiety. And those dreams you’ve been having are just your subconscious working through the anxiety. They don’t mean you WANT to cheat or that you WILL cheat or anything like that. The dreams simply represent anxiety — a perfectly normal reaction — over the risk you’re taking by committing yourself to one person for the rest of your life.
In my book, most things worth doing carry a little risk. Don’t let it scare you away and don’t let it sabotage what should be a mostly joyous time in your life. Telling your fiancé that you’re having dreams of cheating would be doing just that: sabotaging your happiness together. There’s no point to it. You know you’re committed to him; you know you won’t cheat. So why plant the seed of doubt in his mind? Why project the anxiety — again, a perfectly normal reaction to what is such a big step in your life — onto him. Trust me, he’s already dealing with his own anxiety in his own way.
Let your subconscious keep doing its job — let it continue working through the issues you’re too busy being happy in your waking life to deal with. Let your dreams do the dirty work of processing your anxiety so you can spend your conscious time enjoying all the good things happening to you. Unless you have true doubts that getting married isn’t the right move for you or that you really aren’t yet ready to do the work a relationship requires, then there’s no reason to let these dreams get to you. If you feel confident in your decision to get married, let that confidence guide you right through your anxiety to the happiest day of your life and beyond. Soon enough, these bad dreams will be in the past, just like whatever mistakes you made in your youth.