Dreaming You're Cheating: Does It Have Meaning And If So, What?

Has it happened to you? You're in a fulfilling, happy, committed relationship, but when you go to sleep, you have dreams of cheating on your beloved partner? You're jolted awake by the dream and what's worse, you just cannot shake the nagging feeling it caused. Your entire day is ruined by the feeling that you're a cheater, even though you haven't done anything. C'mon, brain, why must you delight in torturing us so?

It turns out, these cheating dreams are plaguing a good chunk of happily loved-up couples these days, and you're definitely not alone. One thousand people were surveyed in a recent study performed by Amerisleep, and 21% of them had dreams where they cheated on their partner, with an additional 23% dreaming their partner cheated on them. Psychologist and couples therapist David Helfand even confirmed to Insider that, "Dreams about having sex or kissing people other than your partner are extremely common and normal."

So before you go philosophizing to yourself, "I think therefore I am ... a cheater!" we're here to breakdown the cheating dream into its base elements: what it means for your relationship, what it means for your emotional state, and why it might not be worth fretting over.

Dreams are a reflection of the subconscious

While they shouldn't be taken literally, there is symbolism in our dreams that can unlock hidden feelings, emotions, desires, and fears of our subconscious. If you're dreaming about cheating on your partner, it doesn't mean you will, or even that you are. 

"A dream is a hall of mirrors," dream decoding expert and author Theresa Cheung told InStyle. "It [is] the dreaming mind just trying to show you that there's more to you to discover." Relationship therapist and coach Jaime Bronstein agreed, telling the outlet, "It doesn't necessarily mean there is a problem in the relationship as dreams tend to be metaphors and don't always represent what they seem to represent." Relationship expert Amber Kelleher-Andrews told the outlet there's a variety of reasons you've cheated in your dreams: "They can be a sign of insecurities in yourself, insecurities in your relationship, a hidden fear of abandonment rising to the surface, a current rift between you, or a sign that you don't trust yourself or your partner, whether or not either of you has actually had an affair."

Let's look at those first two points — insecurities in yourself and your relationship, and how that manifests in your dreams.

Trust issues and insecurities can plague your sleeping mind

If you feel like you have trust issues in your relationship, possibly stemming from a personal insecurity, that could manifest in your subconscious as a cheating nightmare. Experts say that often our dreams reflect our deep-seated worries about the outcome of our relationships (aka "Are they breaking up with me?" "Do they still love me?" "Are they interested in someone else?"), and those feelings find their way into our dreams, even if the cheating scenario doesn't match up with reality. Relationships therapist Jamie Bronstein told InStyle that cheating dreams often reflect our insecurities that our partner will leave us, that the relationship will end, and that we will be single and alone again. Relationship coach and writer Callisto Adams agrees, saying, "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," per Insider.

So it might be worthwhile to analyze the bond between you and your partner to see if the atmosphere has turned tense, sour, or anxious. Lauri Loewenberg, certified dream analyst and member of the International Association for the Study of Dreams, told Women's Health that "cheating dreams are rarely about sex but are, more often, a brutally honest reflection of the dynamics within the relationship." 

It's just a little crush!

In the office, we quite often have a "work wife" or "work hubby:" someone we work closely with from 9-5, so it stands to reason that sometimes a little crush might pop up. Outside of the office, there is definitely a "gym crush" phenomenon or even just a crush on your neighbor who always pops by unexpectedly to borrow coffee or sugar. With all this sexual tension, your crush might pop up in your dreams.

"If your boss has a great sense of humor and you tend to be a quite serious person, having an affair with your boss in a dream is your dreaming mind saying 'lighten up,'" author Theresa Cheung told InStyle. "It's saying 'you need to get more humor,' and it's using the striking image of cheating because it's the only way it knows how to communicate that with you."

Deirdre Leigh Barrett, assistant professor of psychology who teaches courses on dreaming at Harvard University, feels a bit differently about cheating dreams with crushes, telling Women's Health this indicates you need to take action (or not) with that person IRL. "You either pursue that relationship or make sure to avoid that person like the plague in the future because they seem like a major threat to the stability of your relationship."

Are you feeling guilt from the past?

Experts also warn that cheating dreams might not just be a manifestation of feelings, they could also be representations of the past. Has a partner, including your current one, ever cheated on you and you found out? Or perhaps you were the cheater? Being on either side of this coin can impact your brain and psyche, and that pain will find a way into your subconscious.

Certified dream analyst Lauri Loewenberg told Women's Health that, no matter which side of the coin you're on, your dreams could be reflecting that. "Infidelity can be traumatic and very difficult to heal from. Even if it has been years or decades since the transgression, the emotional scar often remains," she said. "This includes the scar of guilt with the transgressor."

Loewenberg went on to explain that guilt is also a major factor in these dreams, especially if you feel guilt about cheating previously, but it's also possible that guilt stems from not nourishing the relationship, not investing your time or emotions, and worse still, taking your partner for granted. "In my research and experience helping my clients understand their cheating dreams, I have found the main reason you cheat in your dreams is because — deep down — you have guilt or concern about something you're doing that is taking away from the time you should be putting into the relationship."

You might be craving more freedom

Our brains are always making links and associations when it comes to emotions and feelings. So if you're guilty of "cheating" on other aspects of your life, that could manifest as a cheating dream. Are you having one too many "cheat days" during the week while trying to stick to a healthy meal plan? Are you secretly running outside to smoke a cigarette despite promising your partner you'd quit? It's playing on your mind, and your dreams are taking notice. Dream expert Theresa Cheung explains, "Where am I letting myself down? What does the cheating mean to me? Cheating means I'm not doing the best that I can," per InStyle.

Experts also say that perhaps the forbidden and illicit sex in your cheating dream means you are craving a sense of wild abandon, liberty, and the courage to jump into the unknown. "How you feel in the dream is the key to how you are feeling in real life," family and relationship psychotherapist Dr. Fran Walfish says, per 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?"

As we've outlined here, there are often many reasons why these dreams are plaguing you, and quite often, it's not because cheating is actually taking place. Taking stock of your current situation will help, and perhaps, you can count sheep without the "cheat."