Dreams About Cheating: Why They Happen and What to Do

couple asleep in bed

JGI / Tom Grill / Getty Images

Have you had a dream where you’ve cheated on your partner with someone else? It could have been with a stranger, a celebrity, someone you’re close to, or even a former partner. If so, you’re not alone. Dreaming about cheating is in fact quite common, says Sarah Gundle, PsyD, a clinical psychologist with a private practice in New York City.

Even if your relationship with your current partner is rock-solid and the thought of cheating has never crossed your mind, having a dream about cheating on them can leave you feeling quite shaken. You might feel confused, disturbed, or even guilty, says Dr. Gundle.

This article explores what dreams about cheating could mean, some steps you can take to explore the meaning of your dream, and whether or not you should discuss it with your current partner.

Understanding Dreaming

Everyone dreams in their sleep—regardless of whether they can remember their dreams or having dreamt at all. We typically spend around two hours dreaming every night, usually during the rapid eye movement (REM) periods of sleep. Dreams can feel extremely lifelike because they can involve sensations like touch, taste, smell, sound, and emotions.

While there are many different theories about why we dream, the exact reasons for this phenomenon are still unknown. However, dreaming is believed to help us process our emotions, consolidate our memories, and develop greater personal insights.

It’s common for events and people from our day-to-day lives to feature in our dreams. Stressful or traumatic situations that cause anxiety or threaten our sense of well-being can cause us to have bad dreams. Bad dreams, such as dreams about cheating, can evoke a strong and unpleasant emotional response.

Meanings of Dreams About Cheating

Dreams are rarely about what they seem on the surface, or even about the people you encountered in your dream, says Dr. Gundle. “Dreams are clues from our unconscious mind to our conscious mind; however, they are more useful as metaphors than as indicators of desire.”

In fact, Dr. Gundle explains that having dreams about cheating doesn’t necessarily indicate that:

  • You are unhappy in your current relationship
  • You want to cheat on your current partner
  • You have any desire to be with the person you dreamt about

According to Dr. Gundle, dreams about cheating could actually be about lots of things, including:

  • A secret in your life, your family, your workplace, or your friend circle 
  • A truth you are avoiding or trying to hide from yourself
  • A fact that needs to be uncovered or discovered
  • A wish for something missing in your life, such as intimacy or adventure

When we analyze dreams in therapy sessions, the concrete details of the dream are less important than what they made the person feel and where they take our discussions, says Dr. Gundle.

For instance, if you dreamt that you cheated on your partner, got caught in the act, and were able to resolve the situation with them, it could be helpful to examine how you felt about it. If you felt relieved, it could indicate that you’re feeling guilty about something and want to clear your conscience by resolving the situation. The situation may not necessarily be something to do with your partner.

On the other hand, if you dreamt that you cheated with someone because you were attracted to a certain quality of theirs, it could indicate that you wish you, your partner, or someone in your life, had that quality too.

What to Do If You Have Dreams About Cheating

These are some steps you can take if you’re having dreams about cheating.

Maintain a Dream Diary

It can be helpful to keep a journal by your bedside and write down your dreams as soon as you wake up, as your dreams may fade with time. You should try and write down all the details you can recall about your dreams, including the characters, the events, the sensations, and the feelings you experienced.

Maintaining a dream diary not only assists with recall, but can also help you track patterns in your dreams and identify recurring elements, themes, and feelings. Additionally, it can give you an opportunity to reflect on your dreams in your waking state, so you can explore how you feel about them.

Decide Whether to Tell Your Partner

If you’re in a committed relationship, you may wonder whether or not you should tell your partner about your dream. 

You may feel guilty, even if the thought of cheating hadn’t actually crossed your mind. You may worry about your partner’s reaction, as they may take it to mean you’re fantasizing about someone else or that you’re thinking of cheating on them, and get upset or angry with you.

Dr. Gundle suggests deciding based on the nature of your relationship, as some partners may feel threatened by this dream material. “It’s more important for you to explore what the dream means to you, than to disclose it to your partner.”

It can be even trickier if the person is someone you know, because it can not only alter the dynamics between you and them, it can also affect your partner's relationship with them. Your partner may feel threatened by them or become hostile toward them. However, Dr. Gundle explains that dreaming about someone you know doesn’t necessarily mean that you are attracted to them or want to be in a relationship with them.

“We often use people who are very safe figures in our lives as place holders in dreams. So, rather than speak to a wish to cheat on your partner with that person, dreaming about them might actually indicate how safe that relationship is,” says Dr. Gundle.

Seek Therapy

If your dream has distrubed you and you need help processing the emotions it’s stirring up, or if it recurs and you want to understand what’s causing it, it can be helpful to seek therapy

Therapy is a useful tool to mine insights from your dreams and explore your feelings, says Dr. Gundle. It can also help you become more aware of the conflicts your subconscious mind is grappling with, and equip you with coping skills to navigate them more effectively.

A Word From Verywell

Having a dream about cheating on your partner can be unsettling and stir up a lot of emotions, including confusion, guilt, and distress. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re attracted to someone else or that you want to cheat on your partner. 

Dreams are often metaphorical in nature, so it can be helpful to reflect on how they made you feel to understand what they’re trying to tell you.

4 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Edwards CL, Ruby PM, Malinowski JE, Bennett PD, Blagrove MT. Dreaming and insight. Front Psychol. 2013;4:979. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00979

  2. Coutts R. Variation in the frequency of relationship characters in the dream reports of singles: a survey of 15,657 visitors to an online dating website. Comprehensive Psychology. 2015;4:09.CP.4.22. doi:10.2466/09.CP.4.22

  3. Harvard Medical School. Nightmares and the brain. On the Brain.

  4. Mangiaruga A, Scarpelli S, Bartolacci C, De Gennaro L. Spotlight on dream recall: the ages of dreams. Nat Sci Sleep. 2018;10:1-12. doi:10.2147/NSS.S135762

Additional Reading

By Sanjana Gupta
Sanjana is a health writer and editor. Her work spans various health-related topics, including mental health, fitness, nutrition, and wellness.