The first time my boyfriend cheated on me in my dreams, I didn't talk to him for an entire day. How could he? No — how dare he? To say I felt betrayed was an understatement. I woke up in a cold sweat, filled to the brim with anxiety as I asked myself what I'd done to deserve this. Of course, after a few minutes, my mind cleared and I realised that my boyfriend hadn't actually cheated on me. In fact, he was asleep peacefully in his home, unaware of the turmoil I had just experienced. But that doesn't mean I was any less upset about it.
I am not alone — in having a cheating dream or being pissed about it. Just check Twitter and you'll find a number of relatable tweets about the subject. One of my favourites is from a user in South Africa named Siya. "My girlfriend had a dream that I cheated on her and now I’m taking her shopping to apologise," they tweeted. While my boyfriend didn't take me shopping, he did assure me that I had nothing to worry about regarding him and infidelity. And I trusted him. So why was I having this dream in the first place?
"It can mean a couple of different things," says Nicole Bowman, a certified dream analyst and advisor at spiritual advisor site Keen.com. Then, she twisted the knife: "Sometimes dreams can be prophetic, meaning that it's actually happening or it will happen."
Not the answer I was hoping to hear, but Stephanie Gailing, dream analyst and author of The Complete Book of Dreams, agrees. "Dreams can reflect things that we may be experiencing in waking life but we don't acknowledge, whether those are hidden thoughts or feelings," she says. "Of course for some people, they have dreams that reflect their intuitive awareness."
Lucky for me (and my partner), both dream analysts point out that everything we dream about isn't literal — if that were the case I'd have accidentally shown up to work naked by now. "Most of our dreams are symbolic," Bowman explains. Gailing adds, "I wouldn't want someone to immediately be like, I had a cheating dream and it means my partner is cheating," she says. 'That can lead you down a rabbit hole because if it's not true, that can be problematic."
Instead of actual, literal cheating, a dream about infidelity may be your subconscious's way of working out some other kind of betrayal that's happening in your relationship. "Maybe there's miscommunication, maybe you're not connecting deeply," Gailing says. "Sometimes being cheated on in a dream is symbolic of a partner not giving you enough time or attention, and the dream is the manifestation of that."
It may not be about your partner, either. You may feel that someone or something else in your life isn't honouring or respecting an agreement, she adds. Maybe in your dreams, your partner is standing in for a best friend, a family member, or even your job. Bowman says many people start dreaming about infidelity before moving to a new house or starting a new job, in which case the dreams are related to your feelings of fear around the unknown.
And yes, the pandemic may be making cheating dreams more common. Unless you live with your partner, you're likely seeing them less than you were before. "The dreams can represent that space or that distance that you're going through and feeling, as opposed to the person literally cheating on you," Bowman explains.
For what it’s worth, if you're the one cheating in your dreams, the exact opposite is true: It’s a sign that you may have broken a promise to a loved one.
So — how do we stop these dreams from happening and turning into recurring nightmares? A good place to start is by trying to suss out what may be causing your dream. "The dream is about getting your attention because it's tapping into what you feel on a core level, in our subconscious," Bowman explains. "The dream brings it out."
If you suspect the root cause is something that's going on with your boo, talk it out. You can tell them straight up that you had a cheating dream, and ask if you should be worried IRL. You may get an eye roll — I did — but it's worth the peace of mind. But you can dig deeper too, talking about whether you're feeling disconnected, and asking how you can both help each other feel more secure.
If you're single or you know the dreams aren't about your relationship, it's worth asking yourself, "Where do I not feel supported?" or "Where do I feel like I've been betrayed?" Gailing suggests sitting with these questions and thinking about the answers. The more you delve into the meaning of your dreams with yourself, the more you'll be able to find out what your subconscious is trying to tell you. Even if you don't take an action step, just knowing what might be causing the dreams can bring you some peace (and hopefully, more restful ZZZs).
Dream analysis isn't an exact science, but many people find it incredibly helpful when it comes to tapping into their subconscious thoughts, fears, and desires. It can be interesting, too, once you get past the initial icky feelings that a bad dream can leave in its wake. As far as my boyfriend is concerned, I decided to forgive him for his dalliance in my dream. This time, anyway.