There's nothing worse than waking up in the morning after having a bad dream — especially if the subject matter of that bad dream hits close to home. If you're in a relationship, having dreams your partner is cheating can be super upsetting, even if there's no doubt in your waking mind that your partner is faithful. Unfortunately, dreams about being cheated on are among the most common forms of nightmare fuel: A 2017 survey from mattress brand Amerisleep found that nearly one in four Americans had had a dream about cheating or being cheated on. But should these dreams be taken at face value, or do they have a more nuanced meaning?
"Dreams are not predictions," Dr. Fran Walfish, PsyD, a Beverly Hills family and relationship psychotherapist, tells Bustle. "They are metaphors and symbols for conflicts that we are struggling to wrestle with, make sense of, and resolve. How you feel in the dream is the key to how you are feeling in real life."
"For instance," Walfish adds, "if you dream that your significant other is cheating and in the dream you feel betrayed, hurt, and angry, you need to ask yourself where in your current life you are feeling betrayed, hurt, and angry. You may be surprised that it has nothing to do with your significant other. You may be feeling these emotions with a coworker or employer, or your mother!"
While our dreams might not be able to predict the future, they can still be indicators of our very real feelings — though those might not necessarily be directed at your partner — and it's important that, with your waking mind, you reflect and try to identify the source of those feelings, whatever they may be, because they can reveal a lot about your emotional state.
"Dreaming about your partner cheating is likely related to a deep fear you have."
"Bad dreams, in particular, are hypothesized to be a form of emotional release," Chris Brantner, certified sleep science coach at SleepZoo.com, tells Bustle. "Some experts believe that your brain takes abstract fears and turns them into stories. The idea is that fear becomes a memory, and the brain is more easily able to deal with a memory than a hypothetical 'what if.' With that in mind, dreaming about your [partner] cheating is likely related to a deep fear you have. Maybe it's an actual fear of cheating. Or maybe it's some more abstract form of mistrust. That mistrust may have to do with your [partner], or it could even be mistrust in yourself."
Why Bad Dreams Can Actually Be Good For You
Obviously, no one wants to have bad dreams — but as crappy as they might feel in the moment, there could actually be a huge benefit to all those sleepy-time scaries: They're basically like a form of emotional therapy that can help you process your feelings when you're upset.
"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."
So if you're dreaming about your partner cheating, your brain might just be processing some other big feelings you have with regard to your relationship — which can hopefully prepare you to tackle any issues you have in the waking hours, too.
What To Do If You're Having Dreams About Your Partner Cheating
As someone who's experienced these kinds of dreams firsthand, I can attest that even if you trust you partner, dreaming about them cheating can seriously screw with your perception of your relationship in reality. So, instead of letting them make you paranoid and drive a wedge between you and your partner, what's the best course of action for dealing with these kinds of dreams?
"If you're dealing with dreams of your [partner] cheating, I'd suggest that you don't immediately go and make accusations. And resist the urge to be angry with them at all," Brantner says. "Instead, take a look inward and try to identify where your trust issues could stem from."
It's easier said than done, of course, but asking yourself what might be causing your subconscious brain to feel distrustful or betrayed or sad where your partner is concerned is imperative if you want to get to the root of the issue and actually heal your relationship and soothe your anxieties.
"The dreams could be a good indication that your trust is deteriorating in the relationship and that you should most likely address these feelings with your [partner] sooner rather than later," Caleb Backe, health and wellness expert for Maple Holistics, tells Bustle. "If you fail to address these issues, they can put a great deal of strain on your relationship as you might start to stress and worry about things that are or are not true rather than dealing with them openly in a mature and honest way. Communication is the most important foundation for any relationship, and while dreams might be helpful for working out your own personal feelings, fears, etc., talking to your significant other as often and as honestly as possible is the best way to maintain a healthy relationship."
Dreams about your partner being unfaithful might be unsettling, but it's important to not jump to conclusions or start pointing fingers. As with any issue in a relationship, if you're having bad dreams and feel uncertain or upset, the best thing you can do is reach out to your partner so the two of you can discuss these issues and come up with a plan to tackle them together. Hopefully, with your partner by your side, you can kick your cheating-related nightmares to the curb — and have happy, peaceful dreams from here on out.
Dr. Fran Walfish, PsyD, a Beverly Hills, Calif.-based family and relationship psychotherapist
Chris Brantner, certified sleep science coach at SleepZoo.com
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