~ OCTOBER 2022 ~
- Dreams about cheating on your partner could mean you feel guilty or unfulfilled in the relationship.
- You might dream about being cheated on if you don’t trust your partner or worry they’ll leave you.
- It may help to have a conversation about your fears, unmet needs, or other relationship concerns.
Dreams about cheating on your partner or your partner cheating on you can, understandably, cause a lot of anxiety.
But these dreams don’t necessarily mean either of you are cheating, or that you ever will. In fact, they may have little to do with actual infidelity.
Case in point: One large 2022 study conducted by Amerisleep found roughly a third of women dreamt their partner cheated in the past year.
Here’s what relationship therapists have to say about those cheating dreams you keep having.
1. Your relationship lacks trust
“Cheating or being cheated on in dreams often means that you’re not trusting your partner, or you feel like your partner doesn’t trust you,” says Callisto Adams, relationship coach and writer at He Texted.
According to Freud’s theory of dream analysis, dreams are often your subconscious mind’s way of sharing repressed worries, which could include fears about your partner cheating or that you can’t trust them.
Some experts believe disturbing dreams may happen as your brain tries to cope with a stressful or negative event — which could include cheating or another betrayal. If either of you have cheated in the past, the knowledge of this might affect both your dream content and your trust.
It may help to consider whether you have any valid reasons for this lack of trust — for instance, have any of your relationships involved infidelity? If so, talking those concerns over with your partner could make a difference.
2. You feel guilty about something
“Guilt or shame often manifests in your dreams as cheating since it often correlates with those feelings,” Adams says.
She says this dream might indicate you want to confess something to your partner. This “confession” could be anything — the fact you really can’t stand their best friend, or something smaller scale, like admitting you broke their favorite mug and threw away the pieces before they noticed. Or maybe you want to open up about infidelity in a past relationship.
Adams suggests asking yourself if you feel a sense of relief after they caught you cheating in your dream. If so, your subconscious may be wondering if it’s time to come clean.
Suppressing guilt and other unwanted emotions isn’t great for your health — it can lead to high blood pressure, poor memory, and decreased self-esteem.
An open conversation with your partner, on the other hand, may help ease your guilt and prevent future cheating dreams.
3. Your relationship doesn’t fulfill you
Adams says cheating dreams tend to happen more often when your relationship no longer feels fulfilling.
“Based on my discussions with couples, these dreams happen more after the infatuation period of a relationship,” Helfand says.
It’s natural for your feelings about a relationship to change over time. A large 2021 study confirms relationship satisfaction often decreases in the first few years of a partnership before increasing again.
“Maybe you’re fantasizing about a sexual position your partner doesn’t want to do. If so, it’s normal and healthy to have a dream playing that out with another person,” Helfand says.
He adds this is a natural way for your subconscious mind to make sense of your desires and the reality of your waking life.
If you feel a little “off” in your relationship but don’t know exactly why, ask yourself:
- Do you and your partner spend less quality time together? In other words, do you feel tense and lonely when you’re in the same room, or are you spending less time together than you’d like?
- Do they pay less attention to you than they did in the past? Maybe they don’t notice changes in your appearance or behavior, or they don’t ask you about your day like they used to.
- Do you still go on dates? Your weekly date night might be getting pushed back, or you’re noticing fewer planned activities together overall.
If you think your dream about cheating relates to dissatisfaction in your relationship, having a conversation with your partner is a good first step. Talking things out can help you understand what you want and need, and whether you’re still compatible. Plus, research also suggests talking about your dreams may boost your empathy toward each other.
Evidence also suggests intentional, quality time spent with your partner may improve relationship health and bring you closer, which may help prevent similar dreams in the future.
4. Fear of abandonment
A dream that involves your partner cheating may relate to a fear of abandonment.
It’s pretty common to have some concerns around a partner abandoning you, especially if you’ve experienced neglect, rejection, or abandonment by a partner or parent in the past. In short, this dream may happen as a sign of past trauma replaying while you sleep.
On the other hand, this dream could suggest your relationship has reached a crossroads. It’s natural to feel insecure in your relationship, or worry about your partner leaving, if they don’t seem ready to take the next step you’re hoping for, like moving in together or getting engaged.
This dream could reflect fears that:
- You and your partner have differing ideas for your future.
- They lack commitment to the relationship overall.
- The relationship has run its course, but you don’t want to contemplate breaking up.
One 2011 study found that dreams about cheating were more common in people with insecure attachment styles, which are characterized by a fear of abandonment. This study also noted that when people dreamt about cheating they were more likely to argue and feel less love toward their partner.
Getting a better understanding of your attachment style can help you understand your fears and needs around relationships, and explore ways to soothe them.
What to do next
Experts say cheating dreams usually aren’t cause for alarm, since they often relate to lingering stress from your day.
If your cheating dreams really do bother you, this ongoing worry can begin to seep into your daily thoughts, where it may cause distress and affect your relationship. You might, for instance, try to find proof of the cheating you dreamed about, whether any exists or not.
You can try to resolve these worries by:
- Talking to a therapist: Sharing your concerns with your therapist can help you uncover potential triggers, like whether you’ve felt lonely lately or need to process cheating from the past.
- Talking about it with your partner: Opening up to your partner can alleviate some of your worry. If they respond with reassurance and attentiveness, you may end up feeling more secure and validated in your relationship. However, a defensive or accusatory response might suggest bigger relationship issues you’ll want to consider.
- Talking to a couples therapist: If your partner responded negatively to your conversation about a cheating dream, a couples therapist can help you get on the same page and work through any areas of tension or conflict in your relationship.
Adams also suggests focusing on how the events in the dream made you feel, and how you perceived your partner’s feelings in the dream, to better understand the dream’s potential meaning.
“A very common misconception about cheating dreams is that if you’re dreaming your partner is cheating, they’re likely cheating in real life,” Adams says.
In reality, cheating dreams rarely translate to actual infidelity — but they could still suggest something’s not quite right in your relationship.