Relationships

Why You Keep Having Dreams About Your Partner Cheating On You

A dream analyst weighs in.

What does it mean if you dream about your partner cheating on you?
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Ever wake up from a dream that felt so real it took a second to recover and come back to reality? Never is this more true than when you dream about your partner cheating. Even though your partner didn’t actually cheat, these dreams can feel so vivid they make actually you angry. Nothing beats the mental image of your partner going behind your back to start the day.

So what does it mean to dream of your partner cheating, and why does your brain do you dirty like that? As dream analyst Lauri Quinn Loewenberg tells Bustle, being cheated on is one of the five most common dreams her clients report. And, while potentially disturbing and upsetting in the moment, they’re often meant to reveal underlying issues in your relationship that might go unnoticed during the daytime.

That’s why it’s helpful to analyze cheating dreams for hidden messages or things yet to be discussed. "Your dreams will always serve as a guide to every part of your life, letting you know what is wrong and what is right, what direction to take, and what direction to avoid," Loewenberg says. She suggests looking at your dreams as a “second brain” — one that is more honest than your waking brain.

It’s possible that this dream about your partner cheating is trying to reveal one of the issues listed below. Use it as a jumping off point to talk with your partner, figure out the root cause, and come up with ways to help you feel better.

1. You Feel Insecure

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Do you have a running dialogue in your head that your relationship might not work out, or that your partner isn’t totally happy? Loewenberg says this type of ongoing worry is the most likely cause for cheating dreams. All it takes is a tiny sense that things might fall apart, and just like that, your brain transforms it into a vivid, worst-case-scenario cheating dream.

While it isn’t always easy to have tough conversations, it might help to get these worries off your chest by letting your partner know what, exactly, has got you feeling insecure. From there, come up with things you can both do to create more trust and support within your relationship.

2. You’ve Been Cheated On Before

It makes sense why you’d have cheating dreams if your partner cheated in the past, especially if you haven’t processed what happened or rebuilt your trust. If you decided to stay together, it’ll be up to your partner to follow through and do all the things that would make you feel more secure. But they’ll only know what to do if you're honest about your needs.

If an ex cheated on you in the past, these dreams may indicate that you’re afraid your current partner will do the same. “It is normal to have dreams based on fear and anxiety from negative past experiences that we don’t want to reoccur,” Katie Ziskind, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist, tells Bustle. “If you were cheated on previously in your last relationship, you might be bringing this fear through your dreams into your current one even if there is true relationship security.”

3. You’re Processing The Past

On a good note, a cheating dream might also mean you’ve finally come to terms with the fact an ex partner cheated on you. “It may just be your brain’s way of processing your trauma,” says therapist Cassandra Lange, LCSW, MEd. “If this is the case, I would talk this over with your therapist or with friends to continue working through it.”

4. There's A "Third Wheel" In The Relationship

Even if your partner doesn't have another partner or romantic interest, this dream may indicate that someone or something is getting between you. It could be a friend of theirs, a job, a new dog — really anything that makes you feel "cheated" out of your partner’s time and attention, Loewenberg says.

The dream will serve as a message from your subconscious that you’re feeling lonely or rejected, or that your relationship is currently unbalanced. Again, the best course of action is to talk to your partner about your loneliness, and then come up with ways to prioritize each other again. Purposefully scheduling dates and extra time together might be exactly what you need to feel more loved.

5. You Worry About Being Abandoned

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Cheating dreams may also point to an underlying fear of abandonment, says psychotherapist Alex Ribbentrop, LCSW-QS, CFTP, CCTP-II. You might worry that your partner will leave you for someone else. You might also worry that, if your relationship were to fall apart, you wouldn’t know where to turn or how to comfort yourself.

“The dream content is really the tip of the iceberg in terms of exploring further meaning both real and symbolic for each individual,” Ribbentrop tells Bustle. Therapy may be a big help as you figure out why you have a fear of abandonment. And talking to your S.O. won’t hurt, either. “Be honest, and if you feel as though you can't be honest then it may be time to look at that as a primary issue worth considering further in the relationship,” he says.

6. You Have An Insecure Attachment Style

Similarly, this type of dream could indicate you have an insecure attachment style, says Dr. Carla Marie Manly, a clinical psychologist and author of Date Smart. “Those with an insecure attachment style — especially those who are more anxious — may be more prone to cheating dreams,” she tells Bustle. “Such dreams are often the psyche’s way of saying, ‘Let’s work on this issue so that you feel stronger and more secure.’”

7. You Feel Betrayed

Cheating dreams may also crop up after other kinds of betrayals, so take a second to think about any recent arguments or misunderstandings you might’ve had. In this case, the message from your dream may be that you feel “cheated” out of understanding, out of good communication, or out of respect from your partner, Loewenberg says. Once you talk about it and officially see eye-to-eye, you’ll notice that this type of dream goes away.

8. You Don’t Trust Each Other

“Dreams are metaphors,” says Michael Ceely, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist. “And a dream about your partner cheating represents betraying trust.” So think about the areas of your relationship where you don’t fully trust each other.

Do you feel uneasy regarding shared finances, family dynamics, or plans for the future? If it doesn’t feel like you aren’t on the same page, it might help to be more open and honest with one another as a way of bolstering this area of your relationship.

9. You Haven’t “Defined The Relationship”

It’s possible to have cheating dreams at any stage of a relationship, but if they happen early on, it may be because you don’t feel secure just yet, Lange says. Maybe you haven’t defined the relationship, or you’ve gone exclusive but haven’t fully committed. If you keep dreaming about infidelity, it may be time to have a heart-to-heart.

10. Things Feel Uncertain Right Now

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A cheating dream might also crop up at uncertain or significant junctures in your lives, Lange says, like if one or both of you is moving, starting school, or changing jobs. It could even happen during smaller changes, like if your partner makes a new friend or starts a new hobby. “It may reflect insecurities around new or different levels of independence from you,” Lange says. “Maybe you’re concerned they’ll have less time or energy for you, or that your relationship will change in some way.”

11. You Haven’t Hung Out Recently

If you’ve been too busy to chat lately — even if it’s just a quick catch-up after work — that lack of time and attention could trigger a cheating dream. According to Manly, healthy relationships rely on genuine emotional connection, which is why a cheating dream may be a signal from your psyche that you need to spend more time together in order to feel safe and loved.

Think about things like extra busy schedules, long work hours, or other obligations and how they might be affecting you as a couple. But also think of the day-to-day. If it’s been a minute since you carved out genuine time for each other, then you know what to do.

12. You’ve Been Unfaithful

According to Manly, cheating dreams may also indicate that you’re being unfaithful or misleading in some way. Perhaps you’re the one who’s been having an emotional affair, holding back, or keeping big secrets from your partner. The cheating dream may represent that, deep down, you realize these actions are a way of cheating on your partner.

13. They Actually Might Be Cheating

Cheating dreams rarely mean your partner is actually out there cheating. These dreams can happen to anyone, even folks in the most secure relationships. But if you keep having them — or if none of the other reasons seem to fit — consider the possibility that your partner really might be having an emotional or physical affair.

It’s easy and convenient to ignore signs of cheating — like the fact your partner hides their phone, goes out more often, or seems closed off emotionally — because you don’t want to face the reality of cheating. But since it’s tougher to suppress emotions while asleep, Loewenberg says these little signs might start to bubble to the surface as your mind pieces everything together and is more “honest” with itself.

Whatever the cause of your cheating dream may be, use it as a starting point to discuss concerns in your relationship, or whatever else might be weighing heavy on your mind. If you and your partner start to have honest discussions about boundaries, respect, and honesty, you might be able to return to your regularly scheduled dreaming.

Studies referenced:

The stuff dreams are made of. (2021, November 13). Amerisleep. Retrieved January 4, 2022, from https://amerisleep.com/blog/stuff-dreams-made/?sscid=11k6_3xb5a&affiliateID=314743.

Experts:

Lauri Quinn Loewenberg, dream analyst

Katie Ziskind, LMFT, licensed marriage and family therapist

Cassandra Lange, LCSW, MEd, therapist

Alex Ribbentrop, LCSW-QS, CFTP, CCTP-II, psychotherapist

Michael Ceely, LMFT, licensed marriage and family therapist

Dr. Carla Marie Manly, clinical psychologist and author of Date Smart

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