What It Really Means If You Dream About Cheating On Your Partner

Photographed by Michael Beckert.
When you're single, sex dreams are kind of the best. Your unconscious mind gets to go on sexual adventures your awake self might never be brave enough to try. But, when you're in a relationship, those sexy dreams can turn tumultuous because they don't always feature your partner in the starring role.
Often, we wake up from dreams about infidelity drenched in sweat and guilt. What do these dreams mean? Even if you know that your sexual thoughts haven't strayed from your partner, and you'd never cheat in real life, having sex dreams about someone else can make you feel like there's something majorly wrong in your relationship. After all, didn't Freud say that our dreams reveal our subconscious desires?
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Despite what Freud said, having a cheating dream doesn't necessarily mean that you want to cheat on your partner. There's another famous psychologist we have to consider here, says Danielle Forshee, Psy.D, a psychologist and social worker: Carl Jung. And according to Jung, a dream doesn't necessarily reveal repressed wishes. Instead, it's meant to be used as a symbol of something going on in your life. "A cheating dream may not suggest cheating at all, but instead suggests looking deeper into what the of symbol cheating means to you," Dr. Forshee says. The "symbol of cheating" could mean many different things, depending on what your culture and upbringing taught you about cheating.
For some, cheating might be a symbol for breaking promises. Maybe there's some other commitment you've made that you now want to take back, like wanting to quit your job or skip the group hang you said you'd show up for this weekend. Subconsciously, if you've been thinking about breaking a promise of sorts, that could show up in your dreams as infidelity, says Stephanie Gailing, a life coach who does dream work. "If we think about cheating on a partner, that's a place where you gave your word but you're going back on your word," she says. So breaking any other kind of promise is the same theme, and your worries over that are showing up in a different (and sexier) storyline.
So maybe your sex dreams aren't about sex at all. But then again, maybe they are. Dream interpretation isn't a solid science, so a dream about cheating isn't going to mean the same thing for everyone who dreams it. For some, an infidelity dream might come from real flirting with or attraction to someone who isn't their partner, says Jessa Zimmerman, a certified sex therapist and author of Sex Without Stress. "If your sex dreams are about a particular person, especially someone you know in your real life, you should consider whether there is a real life attraction (not a problem) and any sort of dalliance or flirtation with them (a problem)," she says. Maybe your dreams are playing out the same fantasies you're having when you're awake, and that might call for a conversation with your partner.
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You don't necessarily have to bring up the dream (in fact, Zimmerman suggests you don't), but you do need bring up any issue that might be manifesting in those dreams. Even if you aren't flirting with anyone in your real life, having a cheating dream gives you an opportunity to take stock of your relationship, Zimmerman says. "How happy are you, really, with your sexual relationship with your partner? Think about whether there's stress around sex, whether you’re happy with the frequency of sex in your relationship, whether you're expressing your desires and having them met, and whether you feel good enough about your partner that you want to be having sex together," she says. If you're unsatisfied with your sex life, dreams about cheating could be a symptom. So, again, you'll want to chat with your partner to figure out how you can start feeling more satisfied.
Remember, the dreams that indicate real problems in your relationship don't happen in a vacuum. So chances are good that you already know something is off before you ever see an explicit movie starring you and your neighbor play in your head. And if there aren't any signs that your relationship is in turmoil, then the sex dream is probably just a dream. So step number one when you wake up shaking with worry is to chill. "You don’t need to feel guilty about what you think about, especially when it’s unconscious during sleep," Zimmerman says. "We don’t know where dreams come from or what purpose they serve, so we can’t attribute ill intent."
Dreams serve plenty of purposes, Gailing says. Sometimes they really do reveal the deep desires of our souls, but sometimes they're just there to entertain our sleeping minds. So don't worry so much (unless you have something to worry about).
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