Sometimes, things happen in our dreams that completely shock us. We hook up with someone we wouldn't ever want to in real life, someone we love does something hurtful to us that we can't understand, and, sometimes, we can even fly. But when things hit to close to home, they can be disturbing — like having a dream about cheating on your significant other. Maybe in the dream you're doing it deliberately or maybe it's like your partner doesn't even exist, but cheating on your partner in your dream can feel... weird. Really weird. The big question is, what does it mean? Should you be worried about your relationship?
Well, first things first, remember that dreams are abstract. "As a Certified Sleep Science Coach, I get asked often about dreams," Chris Brantner, Certified Sleep Science Coach at SleepZoo.com, tells Bustle. "We tend to get caught up and even scared that we are having disturbing dreams. However, the truth is that they're a necessary and even helpful part of sleep. Many believe that nightmares are an emotional release. 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. It could also be a time that your brain is working through inner dialogue you've had during the day — consciously or even subconsciously."
So it's your brain working through things, maybe even dealing with issues that you haven't realized are a problem yet. But should you be worried?
It Doesn't Mean *You* Want To Cheat
The short answer? No, it doesn't mean your relationship is doomed. "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 even necessarily mean it's crossed your mind. You have nothing to feel guilty about (assuming you haven't actually been cheating!). What does cheating in your dream mean? First, it's worth noting that while dreams are full of symbols, there's no one-size-fits-all interpretation. Your dreams and symbols have to be looked at through a personal filter." So it's not linked to how you feel about cheating or even about your relationship, but it still can be an indicator of what's going on in your life.
You Might Be Feeling Guilty About Something
Even if it doesn't have anything to do with your partner, it could still mean that you're experiencing some guilt around something in your life. "That being said, cheating in your dream could mean that there's something you feel guilty about in real life," Brantner says. "It could be something wrong you did or a situation or relationship where you feel like you aren't giving your all. After you calm down from the shock of your dream, take a few moments to look inward and really consider any guilty feelings you have and where they could possibly stem from."
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, 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?" So it's important to not just look at what you were doing in your dream, but how you felt too.
But Don't Panic
The bottom line? It might just be a dream. Even if it was really disorienting or even traumatic, it may be that your brain was doing exactly what it's supposed to be doing. "While nightmares can be scary and even anxiety-inducing, I'd argue that they can be good for you," Brantner says. "Most of your dreams occur during the REM portion of your sleep. During this portion of sleep, your brain is able to sort through and process your day's activities. It's during this time that insights can be made and problem-solving can be honed for daytime performance. Some experts believe that dreaming is sort of a data dump, a way for your brain [to] unload for the day, and a way for your brain to prepare for difficult encounters later on... So you can think of dreaming almost as an overnight therapy." And, it's a lot cheaper than a therapist.
Dreaming about cheating on your partner may be shocking, but it's not necessarily something to get freaked out by. Pay attention to how you felt and see it there's anywhere in your life, in your relationship or outside of it, that your brain might be working through. But there's no need to overthink it — maybe it is just a dream.