Dear Prudence

My Boyfriend Wakes Me Up Three Nights a Week Groaning His Ex’s Name

It wouldn’t bother me so much if they hadn’t had an affair.

Woman sits up in bed next to a man still lying down asleep.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Viacheslav Peretiatko/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Danny Lavery is off this week. For today’s column, here’s a selection of classic letters from the Dear Prudie archive.

Dear Prudence,

My boyfriend and I live together and have been dating for three years. During our first year of dating, he had a weeklong affair with his ex-girlfriend. I learned about this affair two years into our relationship because he still felt guilty about it. I decided to accept that this was a one-time mistake and that I still loved him very much. This issue is that maybe three nights a week I wake up to him groaning her name and grinding into me. It makes me ill when it happens and tremendously distressed. I understand that everyone has sex dreams and that he doesn’t have control over it, but it happens all the time, and if he just didn’t say her name it wouldn’t bother me so much—or if it wasn’t the person that he had cheated on me with. I guess this isn’t even a question. It’s just something that I wish wasn’t happening. On his part, I’ve brought it up a couple of times when he found me crying in the middle of the night, and he seems genuinely surprised that he is having these dreams and truly apologetic.

—Literally Nauseated

Just to be clear, most people do not have sex dreams about past lovers so vivid that they wake their partners three nights a week by calling out their exes’ names and trying to hump their partners’ legs. That’s about as far from normal sleep behavior as I can imagine, and you don’t have to convince yourself that this is something every couple goes through, because it isn’t. What you’ve described sounds unbelievably distressing, and I don’t think you should have to put up with it. Make it clear to him how much this upsets you, how regularly it’s happening, and how imperative it is that he go to the doctor immediately to find out if he suffers from any sleep disorders. Your boyfriend may not know what he’s doing while he’s doing it, but you cannot possibly move on from the past if every other night you’re jolted out of your sleep because your partner is calling out the name of the woman he cheated on you with. This is an emergency situation that affects your ability to sleep as well as your emotional security; it’s not something for you to just “get over.” It is time for you to tell him to make a choice: to acknowledge your pain and seek some kind of treatment or behavioral therapy to end the night humps, or to sleep apart for the remainder of your relationship, as short as that may be.

From: Help! My Friend’s Baby Died, and Now She Wants to Burn the Cot She Borrowed. (Dec. 8, 2016)

Help! Should I Admit That I Tricked My Husband Into Having Another Kid?

Danny M. Lavery is joined by Elizabeth Sampat on this week’s episode of the Dear Prudence podcast.

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Dear Prudence,

Last year I got married. My uncle, who is an alcoholic, got drunk and assaulted his then girlfriend during the reception. Neither my wife nor I have spoken to him since. He now lives with my aging grandparents as he cannot support himself due to his drinking. I called my grandparents before the holidays to let them know that my wife and I would not visit them as long as my uncle was there. They got upset and defended him at every point in the conversation, ultimately hanging up on me after saying they would no longer be in contact. My grandparents have serious health issues and may not have much longer to live. On the one hand I want to reconcile before they pass (we’ve been close my whole life), but how do I get past their inability to see their son’s wrongdoing and how it affects others?

—Uncle Alcoholic

You can’t force your grandparents to stop enabling your uncle, and you shouldn’t back down from your decision not to see them while he’s there. That doesn’t mean you can’t let them know you love them, that you miss them, and that you’d like to talk on the phone or spend time together without your uncle’s presence or discussing him at all. But your uncle assaulted a woman at your wedding—that’s not a minor infraction to overlook—and there’s no sign he’s willing to change. You set an appropriate limit with your grandparents, and they responded by cutting off contact. That doesn’t mean you should completely abandon the prospect of reaching out to them before they die, but if their condition for continuing your relationship is to pretend your uncle is not culpable for his crimes, that’s not a condition you ought to meet.

From: Help! My Wife Doesn’t Really Enjoy Sex. I Suspect She Might Be a Lesbian. (Jan. 5, 2017)

Dear Prudence,

Six months ago I decided to end a five-year relationship with my ex-girlfriend (we still have a mortgage together). Recently I’ve been thinking I’ve made a massive mistake. We split up because I felt slightly aimless within the relationship and that the “spark” had gone, after much trying to rekindle it. I also felt that I needed some space (I’m 27 and we’d been together since my second year of university so it was my only fully adult relationship). Is there any way I can broach this discussion without causing my ex pain? It’s possible (even likely) that she’s moved on entirely. I love her deeply so I don’t want to cause her undue stress. Is there any way of doing this respectfully? Or should I accept that this is it, and that I need to let things go for good?

—Wanting to Reconnect

There’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting to get back together, but I’d encourage you to get your house in order before calling up your ex and asking to reconnect. What’s changed in the last six months? What’s to prevent you from feeling aimless and de-sparked again in the future, and checking out again as a result? If your answer to those questions are “nothing much, except I’ve felt lonely” and “I’m not sure,” reconsider burdening your ex with that conversation. It could be that you’ve realized some profound truths about yourself, or it could be that you’re still experiencing the nervousness and self-doubt that often follow ending a long-term relationship, and long for the security and stability you had with your ex-girlfriend, rather than your ex-girlfriend herself. So do some internal research first, and if after that, you still think you made a mistake, give her a call. Make it clear you know this is a long shot, and that you’ll respect any answer she gives you. Good luck either way.

From: Help! My Wife Doesn’t Really Enjoy Sex. I Suspect She Might Be a Lesbian. (Jan. 5, 2017)

Dear Prudence,

While living abroad, I had a son who died during delivery, leading to the eventual disintegration of my relationship and my decision to move back to the U.S. Three years and countless hours of therapy later, I am single and enjoying a fabulous career. But now everyone I know is having babies. How do I handle the constant comments made by pregnant people I know about what they presume is my childless life? Things like, “Oh, you’ll understand when you get pregnant,” or “Wait till you’re 36 weeks pregnant! You won’t want to walk uptown either!” I hear this nearly every day from co-workers.

I find it unnerving and annoying—hasn’t anyone taught them not to make assumptions about other people? I feel tempted to teach them a lesson in tact, reveal my secret, and shut them up once and for all. But many of these women are on their first pregnancies, and I don’t want to frighten them (my own son’s death was a freak event, both unpreventable and unpredictable). And who wants to hear about someone else’s dead baby when they’re about to have a living one? I’ve taken to nodding and smiling, but it’s only becoming more common and it’s fraying my nerves. I avoid pregnant women now, just so I won’t have to pretend. I have accidentally slipped up a few times, too, commiserating with pregnancy-related complaints only to have them look at me quizzically. When my son died, I knew I was in for a lifetime of grief—but this is an unexpected dilemma!

—How to Talk About Babies When Yours Is Dead

One thing that might help would be to no longer think of the death of your son as your “secret.” It’s a major part of your life, and you have the right to discuss it without worrying that you are taking anything away from other people’s pregnancies. That’s not to say you need to share it with every grocery store clerk or airplane seatmate, but you say this is happening on a daily basis at work, which must make getting through the day incredibly difficult. Having to hide your pregnancy-related commiserations must also add to your psychic strain.

My one caution would be not to reveal this information to your chatty co-workers in a moment of irritation, as a form of punishment for making casual assumptions about your life. But you can absolutely share that you have been pregnant, that you had a son, and that he died while you were giving birth to him. If you don’t want to keep telling the story over and over, you could try telling one trusted friend or colleague who might then quietly spread the word. You can also let anyone know if you don’t want to answer a lot of follow-up questions, and that you’re doing well now; you don’t owe them an in-depth discussion of the workings of your innermost soul just because you’ve told them about an experience that still brings you pain.

From: Help! My Husband Won’t Have Sex With Me. Can I Sleep With a Friend? (Dec. 29, 2016)

Dear Prudence,

I just opened a 529 college savings account for my 5-week-old daughter. The website offers a handy link which any party can use to contribute. I want to post the link to Facebook, with the message: “Feel free to help my daughter go to school in lieu of giving gifts this year!” Maybe some people would impulse-donate or actually would prefer to give money to this account rather than buying us gifts we don’t need. My wife thinks this is “money-grubbing” and “gross.” I think college is expensive and if Great Aunt Moneybags impulse-donates $1,000, then it’s more than worth it. What do you think?

—Not Made of Money

I’ve always thought of college savings accounts as falling under the provenance of parents, grandparents, and other close relatives. Posting a donation link to Facebook might not be the most effective targeting method. If you have older relatives who might be interested and able to donate to your daughter’s college fund, a phone call or a friendly email might be a better way of getting them to chip in. Maybe your wife would feel better about you reaching out to a handful of interested good friends and family members than to every Facebook acquaintance.

My final (and totally objective, legally binding) opinion on the tastefulness of posting a link to your daughter’s college fund on Facebook is that it isn’t grubbing, exactly, but it may be grubbing-adjacent. You’re asking for money for a nonemergency, but very real, expense. Call it money-scrabbling. It lacks that certain indefinable air of dignity, but so does, you know, the entire system of capitalism if you don’t already have money to begin with.

Also, congratulations on your new daughter! I hope you have a great time raising her.

From: Help! I Moved to Dubai and Told My Parents I’m in Tokyo. (Nov. 19, 2015)

More Dear Prudence

My roommate has multiple sexual partners, and every night one of them stays at our house. It’s the same people each week, and I have met them all, so it’s not like strangers are sleeping over, but it’s starting to feel like I have an extra roommate with a different name every few days. This isn’t a typical “my roommate’s boyfriend sleeps over every night and should pay rent” scenario. I don’t care at all that she dates multiple people. I just don’t want to have an extra roommate every single night. How do I tell my roommate I am uncomfortable having someone stay over every night without sounding like I am judging her poly lifestyle?