06/21/2012 05:47 pm ET Updated Aug 21, 2012

How Bad Dreams Have Helped My Marriage

For years after my husband Peter and I got married, I would periodically have one particular bad dream that would wake me in the middle of the night. In this dream I wasn't married to Peter. I was still married to my first husband. I would run around in the dream, telling everyone I could find that I was married to the wrong man -- that my first husband was no longer my husband, Peter was. The more I told people this, the more they laughed. It was awful.

(Let me just say this -- there was nothing terribly wrong with my first husband. He didn't treat me badly or anything like that. We just didn't belong together, and our marriage was mercifully brief).

When I would awaken from these dreams, I would find Peter's hand and squeeze it tightly, tears in my eyes, sadness overwhelming me. Peter could always tell when I had those dreams -- and, being the nice guy that he is, he would reassure me that, yes, I was married to him, and yes, of course, he loved me. Peter is very good at calming me down.

I haven't had that dream in a long time. I suppose after a while, as our lives grew busier, our kids grew older and our marriage grew stronger, that subconscious fear I had of being back in an unhappy situation disappeared. The longer we were married, the more confident we became in our ability to navigate the sometimes treacherous waters of a long-term marriage -- we will reach 23 years this August. All around us marriages crumble, but we stay together. We have friends and family who have been married much longer than we have, and it seems remarkable to me that anyone manages to stay together for such a long time... but we do, and they do. Despite the fact that only 33% of married couples will reach their 25th anniversary, I am stubbornly confident that we will make it there -- if for no other reason than that we are deeply attached to each other.

That's not to say that we don't take each other for granted sometimes. There are entire Sundays when we barely talk -- we are happy doing our own thing, reading or dozing or walking the dog. There are evenings when we eat dinner and then go off to our respective computers, books or television shows, not connecting until we climb into bed. Unless we are fighting, we always say something nice to each other before we fall asleep -- a way to affirm that we have made it through another day, separate but together. And if we have been fighting, I always miss those kind words -- no matter how angry I may be.

Getting married is easy. Staying married is a lot of work. Staying happily married is a combination of a lot of work, dumb luck, true love and surrender. In order to stay married, the marriage must be more important than either person in the relationship. I don't have any formal education in the field of human behavior, but I can make that statement with complete conviction that it's true -- because I've seen it over and over. I am also a firm believer that bad marriages should end. I know from personal experience that there is nothing lonelier than an unhappy marriage.

A few nights ago I had a bad dream -- but this time, it was a different story. In this dream, Peter was leaving me for a tall, long-legged skinny woman with dark wavy hair -- the complete opposite of me. In the dream, I was telling everyone that he couldn't go -- he was MY husband. I was fighting for my marriage, for my husband. I woke just as Peter was leaving for work and hugged him for a long time. I told him about my dream and he chuckled and reassured me that no, he would not be leaving me and yes, he still loves me. After 23 years, he still knows just what to say to make everything ok.