Sometimes, disturbing things happen in our dreams that completely shock us — like having dreams about cheating on your partner or one in which they’re cheating on you. Maybe in the dream you're doing it deliberately, or enjoying the sex, or maybe it's like your partner doesn't even exist, but a dream about cheating on a partner can feel... weird. Really weird. The big question is — what does it all mean? Should you be worried about your relationship?
I’ve been writing bestselling books about dream interpretation for many years and have received countless messages with subject lines like, “I had a dream I cheated on my boyfriend…” When these hit my inbox, I first set the record straight about dreaming. It’s a different state of awareness in which boundaries and consequences don’t exist like they do in real life. Curiosity is natural and humans are sexual beings, so absolutely anyone can have a dream about cheating, even people deeply in love with their partners. In other words, it’s entirely normal if you have the occasional cheating dream.
Your erotic night visions may feel real, but they are abstract. They speak in symbols, stories, and metaphors. "We tend to get caught up and even scared that we are having disturbing dreams,” Chris Brantner, Certified Sleep Science Coach at SleepZoo.com, tells Bustle. “Often these could be fears that are abstract deep within us, and your brain turns them into stories as we go through the stage of REM sleep. Not to worry, though, as this is the time that the brain works through the happenings and information you've taken in throughout the day.”
In other words: It's just your brain offering you emotional release and trying to help you evolve by working through things — and maybe even dealing with issues you haven't yet realized are a problem. This is certainly the case with cheating dreams. They are almost always trying to tell you something very important. Read on to learn why.
It Doesn't Mean *You* Want To Cheat
"It's important not to get down on yourself for the contents of your dream," Brantner says. "You can't control them. Just because you dream you cheated on your significant other doesn't mean you will. It doesn't necessarily even mean it's crossed your mind. You have nothing to feel guilty about — assuming you haven't actually been cheating!”
However, cheating dreams could be an emergency flare about the state of what should be the greatest love of all — your relationship with yourself. A cheating dream can have many different interpretations depending on your own understanding of what cheating means. So first consider: What does cheating mean to you? Then think about whether anything in your waking life resonates: Are you cheating on or being unfaithful to something about yourself? This “personal cheating” could be anything from not sticking to your wellness routine to breaking a promise to a friend.
You Might Be Feeling Guilty About Something
Although there is never a one-size-fits-all interpretation for any dream symbol, one of the most common reasons people have cheating dreams is because they feel guilty about something in their waking life. Perhaps you’re concerned about something you said or did, or maybe you feel cheated out of quality time with your partner due to a stressful job, a new baby, or other demands placed on you and your relationship. Take time to reflect on the areas of your life where you might be letting yourself down or not giving your all.
In the words of Shakespeare, “To thine own self be true.” Perhaps you can take your cheating dream as a sign that you aren’t being true to yourself in some way. Is there something you’ve always wanted to do or learn but have constantly been putting off? Are you not getting out of your comfort zone? Are you cheating on pushing yourself to your full potential?
You Might Feel Like Something Is Missing
If cheating in your dream didn't make you feel guilty but made you feel great, pay attention to that. "How you feel in the dream is the key to how you are feeling in real life," Dr. Fran Walfish, a Beverly Hills family and relationship psychotherapist, tells Bustle. "For instance, you may have felt a euphoric sense of abandon and freedom. Could you be feeling constricted within your relationship and wanting more freedom?" It's important not just to look at what you were doing in your dream, but how you felt too.
You could be very happy in your current relationship, but perhaps feeling that some of the passion and spontaneity has gone from your relationship. Cheating dreams may appear on the surface to be about sex, but they can also be a reflection of how your entire relationship is progressing. Perhaps you need to bring some of the magic back — not just in the bedroom but also in the way that you connect with each other. That’s why cheating dreams often involve your first love, an ex, a celebrity, or a person you have a mild crush on. These people once made you feel a spark, so your dreaming mind brings them into your awareness — not because you want them back or are going to act on that crush, but to remind you to bring some original sparkle back into your current relationship.
Is There A Difference If You’re The Cheater Or The One Being Cheated On?
It is actually far more common to dream that you are being cheated on than to dream you are cheating yourself, and there’s a reason. In our dreams, just as in our waking lives, we often like to cast ourselves as the hero/heroine rather than the villain. Both “cheater” and “cheated on” dreams can be disturbing to wake up to, but if your dream mind decides to cast you as the cheater it’s a clear and present sign that you need to take more responsibility in your waking life. You’re probably letting yourself down in some way, and the only person who can change that is you. Perhaps you feel that you have been fake or have compromised yourself in some area of your life. In real life you may be able to repress those uncomfortable feelings, but in the boundary-free world of your dreams there really is no place to hide.
If you’re being cheated on in a dream, ask yourself, like before, what cheating means to you. Then consider how being cheated on by your partner made you feel: Have you felt like that in real life recently? Did your dream partner seem familiar in your dream, or were they acting oddly? In many cases when you dream about being cheated on, it’s a sign that your partner might not be paying as much attention to you as you would like. This could be for several reasons — work distractions, perhaps, or a hobby or sport that they’re preoccupied with.
Be aware that if you have been cheated on in the past you may still have unresolved trust issues to work through, and your dreaming mind is helping you do that. Keep reminding yourself that cheating dreams are not predictive — they are psychological and symbolic. It is possible, however, that you feel insecure about your current relationship in some way, or that your partner is not being as supportive as you would wish. The solution is to talk to your partner — often, it’s the unspoken things that can break up relationships.
What Recurring Cheating Dreams Mean
When you have recurring dreams, your mind literally is screaming for you to pay more attention. Try to understand the message the dream is trying to send you — if you don’t, the recurring affairs will just carry on, and perhaps even transform into recurring nightmares. The recurring dream will stop as soon as you understand the message. For example, if you have recurring dreams about cheating — and think a lot about them and are considering cheating in real life — it could be an indicator that your relationship is in real trouble.
In most cases, having sex in a dream is about integrating some quality that your dream lover has into your life. If, however, your sex life isn’t fulfilling you, your recurring cheating dreams are urging you to inject more sexual adventure into your relationship.
Lastly, Don't Panic
Rest assured, if your cheating dream was really disturbing, disorienting, or even traumatic, your brain was doing exactly what it's supposed to be doing when you fall asleep. Your dreams help you safely role play and cathartically work through negative emotions that are repressed in waking life — and, in the process, offer you an opportunity to better understand yourself and your relationship.
Chris Brantner, Certified Sleep Science Coach at SleepZoo.com
Dr. Fran Walfish, Beverly Hills family and relationship psychotherapist
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