You wake up in a cold sweat, distressed, and slowly begin adjusting back to a reality where your boo is — thankfully — faithful and committed to you. Phew, it was just a nightmare. But it begs the question: what do dreams about your partner cheating mean? Does this indicate some underlying distrust, insecurity or deeper problem? Or does it, as many dream symbols do, represent something else entirely?
First off, there's no reason to sound the alarms if you have this unfortunate nightmare. Lauri Loewenberg, a certified dream analyst, says this is actually a super common dream — in fact, she tells Elite Daily it's one of the top five that her clients ask about. (BTW, in case it makes you feel better, I'll back this up by admitting that my partner and I have both had this exact dream within the last month.) But go ahead and breathe a big ol' sigh of relief — because according to Loewenberg, it doesn't necessarily indicate that there's anything wrong in your relationship. If you have this dream out of nowhere, with no history of cheating in your current relationship, then she insists there's nothing to worry about.
"Dreams are symbolic and if you look at them literally, you will not only totally miss the message, you will also drive yourself crazy," she explains. "The most common reason for the cheating dream, in my research and experience with my clients, is that the dreamer is dealing with some sense of being left out in waking life. Or some element in the relationship is beginning to feel like a third wheel."
Basically, the person your partner cheats with likely doesn't represent an actual individual, but rather a symbol for something that may be commanding and consuming more of their time, energy, or attention. For example, if your partner has been working longer hours lately, prioritizing time with their friends over date nights, or taken up a hobby or side hustle that's become their main focus, those are all observations that could have inspired your dream about infidelity.
Do you feel like your partner has been taking other people's side instead of standing behind you? According to Loewenberg, that's another theme that could be contributing to this dream — which at the core, is really about disloyalty. She says that if your partner's been turning down sex to play Fortnite, that could even be the inspiration because deep down, you feel like your SO is cheating on you with a video game. (And yes, you should definitely have a conversation about this ASAP.)
Cathy Pagano, M.A., a Jungian-trained psychotherapist who specializes in dream work, agrees that this dream is usually about something else your partner is spending their time on — and that the person they're having an affair with represents that alternate priority. Since it's healthy for both partners to have outside interests, she says it's important to pay attention to any real feelings of jealousy that arise when your partner's focus is elsewhere. For example, she notes that if your partner has been watching a lot of porn in place of being intimate with you, that could definitely motivate this dream (because it's pulling their connection to sex and sensuality away from you and toward the images on their screen).
Another more literal interpretation of this dream comes into play if you have trust issues, either stemming from your past experiences or instances in your current relationship in which your partner lied to you. Pamela Cummins, an expert dream interpreter, tells Elite Daily that if you're still wrestling with fears about your partner betraying you in some way, then your subconscious could certainly be trying to work through those worries while you're asleep. If you're currently in a happy and healthy relationship, however, Cummins suggests that this dream is more likely about an unresolved issue from a past romance.
According to renowned psychoanalyst Carl Jung, every person has a contra-sexual aspect within — for those who identify as men it's the feminine anima, and for those who identify as women, it's the masculine animus. As such, Pagano explains that a dream about an affair could mean that while your partner's conscious ego is very connected to you, there are other sides of his feminine nature that are not. For example, if they love music but you don't, their anima or animus could be symbolized by another person in the dream (either someone familiar or a total stranger).
"We are not really built to put all our energies onto one person — so we each have other parts of ourselves that are symbolized by other people we might know or who are not recognizable," she adds.
Not all cheating dreams are created equal, of course, and experts agree that it's important to dig deep about the nuances of the situation in trying to figure out the hidden meaning. One of the most important elements to look at, of course, is who your partner is cheating with. Pagano says it's important to take note if they're someone you know — and then start unpacking what they represent to your partner. Is there some skill or quality they have that you don't? Are they associated with a component of your partner's life that seems to be consuming them lately? If they're cheating with a coworker, for example, that could mean they're more focused on pleasing their boss and getting that raise than they are on your relationship. Or, if they're cheating with their ex, Loewenberg believes that could mean that you feel haunted by some aspect of their relationship. If your partner is still in contact with their ex, or you find yourself constantly comparing yourself to them, those are factors that she says can definitely contribute to this kind of dream.
One way to figure out what the third person in the dream symbolizes is to play a word association game. Loewenberg recommends noticing what images, feelings, memories, and words first come to mind when you think about them. Does that memory you associate with them bring up something that's been worrying you? Does the personality trait that came to mind also fit your partner lately?
"There is a reason your subconscious chose that particular person to represent a current issue in your relationship," Loewenberg explains. "You have to use free association in order to connect the dots."
Sometimes, the person in the dream who your SO is cheating with will be someone you've never met or don't recognize. According to Pagano, sometimes that new lover can actually represent aspects of your own self that you aren't yet conscious of. In other words, your partner is cheating on you in the dream with another part of you. How wild is that? If you don't know the person your partner is being unfaithful with, Loewenberg recommends focusing on the emotions you felt in the dream in response to the infidelity. What in your real life has been making you feel the same way? It might be a betrayal, sadness, or resentment that has nothing to do with your partner.
"Emotions are so important in a dream," adds Cummins. "A feeling of happiness will have a totally different meaning than anger. Different locations will affect the interpretation, too — your childhood bedroom would have a different analysis than on a rooftop. Watching the actual cheating or hearing it from someone you dislike will also alter the dream symbolism."
Basically, Loewenberg stresses that absolutely nothing is random in your dreams — and every single detail is a piece of the puzzle that can contribute to the meaning. She highly recommends considering how your partner behaved in the dream. Did they deny the infidelity and try to cover it up? Then you may want to consider what else you may feel they've been hiding from you lately — like perhaps their true feelings. Did they cheat right in front of you like it was NBD? Loewenberg points out that this could represent your partner's general carelessness about another behavior that clearly bothers you. Did they apologize and seem generally remorseful? If so, Loewenberg suggests thinking about something else that your partner has expressed regret about lately.
While a dream about your partner cheating can definitely be uncomfortable (or downright alarming), Loewenberg urges you to try and see it as a helpful portal into something that needs to be corrected or addressed. Maybe that means having a convo with your SO about how much time they've been dedicating to work lately, or maybe it means doing some soul-searching on your own unresolved trust or jealousy issues. Whatever interpretation you ultimately come up with, the important thing to remember is that a dream is usually not a literal depiction of your relationship — it's merely a multi-faceted, richly meaningful look into some unresolved thoughts and emotions.
Lauri Loewenberg, certified dream analyst
Pamela Cummins, expert dream interpreter
Cathy Pagano, psychotherapist