What Does It Mean to Dream of Your Partner Cheating on You?


Last Updated: July 1, 2024

Relationship Advice

Are you plagued with dreams of your special someone cheating on you with someone else? You’re not alone! This is a common phenomenon that has received a lot of attention from psychologists, dream researchers, and relationship experts.

In this article, we’ll take a deep dive into the subconscious to learn more about infidelity dreams.

Common Occurrence of Cheating Dreams

As it turns out, cheating dreams are quite common! According to a survey of 2,000 people in the UK, up to 20% of women experience this type of dream. And in the United States, almost 25% of the population has had one of these kinds of dreams in their life.

The phenomenon is so well-known that cheating dreams have become the subject of years of research and speculation by psychologists and dream and sleep researchers. As we’ll explore in depth later on, even big names in the field of psychology like Freud and Carl Jung have theorized on the subject. But it’s not only the forefathers of psychology who have been fascinated by infidelity dreams. Studies on the subject have been published in recent editions of the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships and other well-respected scientific journals.

It’s also made its way into popular culture! You’ll see cheating dream explanations in many dream books, such as the “A to Z Dream Dictionary” by esteemed author Theresa Cheung.

In sum, cheating dreams are a huge part of cultures around the world, they fascinate researchers, and they can even have real-life impacts. So, let’s talk more about them!

Symbolic Nature of Cheating Dreams

One of the most widely accepted explanations for cheating dreams—and dreams in general—is that they serve as symbols of an underlying internal struggle. In other words, dreams are not literal. Instead, they serve as abstract reflections of how we see the world.

On the one hand, a negative dream could be a reflection of the way that a person perceives the relationship. For instance, if there is insecurity, jealousy, neglect, doubt, and unmet needs in the relationship, a person may experience dreams in which their partner treats them poorly or betrays their trust. Again, the dream may not perfectly mirror reality. However, the actions of their partner in the dream may reveal the emotions that they experience within the relationship when waking.

This is not to say that the relationship itself is causing the internal strife that may lead to infidelity dreams. In fact, a person in a healthy relationship can also be plagued by stressful dreams about their partner. In this case, it’s possible that negative past experiences, low self-esteem, or an insecure attachment style could lead to cheating dreams, even with a faithful, supportive partner.

The most important takeaway here is that dreams are widely accepted among leading experts as symbolic. They can be useful in helping us examine our relationships and the way we see ourselves!

Real-Life Impacts of Cheating Dreams

You may have seen memes and sitcom tropes of women waking up angry with their partners for cheating on them in their dreams. And this phenomenon has become the butt of a joke because most of us understand that it’s unreasonable to blame a partner for something their dream counterpart did.

But are there real-life impacts of infidelity in dreams that we should be aware of? Sadly, cheating dreams aren’t always resolved with a laugh track.

Earlier, we mentioned that cheating dreams can sometimes be symbols of unease or discontent in a relationship or the emotional state of the dreamer. Studies have shown, for instance, that nightmares and stressful dreams are more common in people with mental health disorders, particularly anxiety. It is possible, then, that cheating dreams can exacerbate feelings of insecurity within relationships that can create tension between partners.

There’s also the fact that dreams can feel very real to the dreamer. The reason for that is that dreams activate the same neurons that fire when we are awake. In other words, when you feel betrayed in a dream, the feeling of betrayal is real to you. And it may even continue to affect you after you’ve woken up.

Psychological Theories on Cheating Dreams


As you’ve probably surmised by this point, cheating dreams are seen as psychologically significant. Which is why they’ve been looked at so closely by psychologists over the years.

One of the psychologists most fascinated by dreams was the Grandfather of Psychoanalysis, himself: Sigmund Freud. While a few of his theories have been rehashed and criticized since his heyday, many people still believe in his theory of dreams as a window into the subconscious. In other words, he suggested that dreams tell us interesting things about our inner beliefs, opinions, and base desires. In the case of cheating dreams, Freud theorized that they actually signify a suppressed desire in the dreamer to cheat on their partner or harm them emotionally.

That being said, his progeny, Carl Jung, had a theory that was less critical of the dreamer. In his opinion, cheating dreams symbolize self-betrayal or distrust in the relationship. Interestingly, Jung also believed that dreams play an active role in keeping the ego in check. If your relationship is going swimmingly and you think that nothing can go wrong, for instance, a cheating dream might be your subconscious giving you a reality check.

This ties in nicely with another theory about dreams: the Threat Simulation Theory. This evolutionary-focused theory suggests that dreams are practical mechanisms by which we “role-play” and prepare for various real-life scenarios. For example, if you have a vacation coming up, you may find yourself dreaming of missing your flight. The theory posits that this is your brain’s way of preparing for the worst.

Cognitive Theory is another branch of psychology with a similar view of dreams as a way for the brain to process possible scenarios and emotions. Cognitive therapists believe that if you’re dreaming of something, it can serve as a reflection of what you’re going through in your waking life. But, unlike the very bold associations drawn by Freud and Jung, Cognitive Therapists are more open to the possibility that cheating in a dream can be an abstract manifestation of stress, anxiety, loneliness, or other emotions.

And finally, there’s Attachment Theory! Research in this area has found that people with insecure attachment styles (meaning that they did not form a secure, positive attachment with a caregiver) are more likely to experience dreams focusing on relationships and relationship anxieties.

To sum it up, experts in the field of psychology can’t stop talking about cheating dreams! While there are a few different theories floating around about what they actually mean, most are in agreement that infidelity in a dream serves as a symbol for negative feelings within the dreamer.

Research and Statistics on Cheating Dreams

On the one hand, there are psychologists and philosophers weighing in on what they think dreams mean. On the other hand, there’s data. Here are a few statistical facts that can help us understand how widespread this phenomenon actually is and what it says about people who are experiencing cheating dreams:

  • A study of 2,000 participants in the UK found that 1 in 5 women have recurring infidelity dreams in which their partner cheats on them
  • A similar study in the US found that around 1 in 4 American men and women have had infidelity dreams, both in which they have cheated or been cheated on
  • People who have experienced infidelity in the past are more likely to suffer from anxiety dreams involving their partner cheating on them
  • A 2022 Amerisleep study found that participants were more likely to have dreams of being cheated on than dreams of cheating on their partner
  • In the academic journal, Dreaming, a study found that participants who felt secure, satisfied, and committed in their relationship experienced stronger feelings of distress after having an infidelity dream, perhaps because of the cognitive dissonance created by such a dream

What these statistics tell us is that cheating dreams are common and often linked to unresolved anxieties around relationships and fears of betrayal.

Addressing Insecurities and Fears


We’ve mentioned a few times that cheating dreams are often a symbol of relationship anxiety. But what exactly are the insecurities and fears that create the psychological conditions for cheating dreams? Here are a few of the most common:

  • Jealousy. Jealousy can rear its ugly head in many different ways in a relationship. Someone may start to have cheating dreams because they’re jealous of how much time their partner spends at work, with friends, or even with a new child. The infidelity in the dream, in other words, symbolizes the jealousy that the dreamer may feel in no longer being a top priority for their partner.
  • Low self-esteem. Someone struggling with their own self-image may live out the fear of their partner choosing someone “better” in a dream.
  • Fear of abandonment or being unable to satisfy a partner. Someone who has dealt with abandonment in the past, whether as a child or in a previous relationship may fear being abandoned by someone in the present. An underlying fear may be the possibility that they are not good enough to have their partner be faithful.
  • Unpredictability within the relationship. Sometimes the dynamics of a relationship can generate insecurity that leads to stressful dreams. Someone who is hot and cold, emotionally unavailable, or abusive may create doubt and anxiety within their partner which leads to cheating dreams.

Myths and Misconceptions about Cheating Dreams

Whenever people talk about dreams, it becomes clear that there are a lot of myths and misunderstandings about what they can mean. Here are a few myths about infidelity in dreams that most experts think we should step away from:

  • Cheating dreams mean you want to cheat on your partner. This may have been what Freud wrote back when he was theorizing about dreams around the start of the 20th century. But it’s largely been put to rest.
  • Infidelity in dreams means that it’s going to happen in real life. Even though cheating dreams can indicate a sign of something amiss in a relationship, they’re not premonitions. So, try not to be less trusting of your partner after you dream of them cheating on you.
  • Cheating in dreams doesn’t actually mean anything at all. That being said, most psychologists believe that dreams do have weight in terms of revealing our inner thoughts, fears, and insecurities. Sure, the occasional cheating dream might be chalked up to those cheese and crackers you nibbled on before bed. But, if you’re having recurring dreams of your partner cheating on you, there’s probably a psychological reason for it.

Coping with Cheating Dreams

In this article, we’ve explained in a few different ways how cheating dreams can be a reflection of the dreamer’s anxiety and worries in a relationship. So, if you’re having these kinds of dreams, what should you do? Here are a few tips for navigating this situation:

  • Remind yourself that while the emotions generated by cheating dreams are real, the circumstances are not. This should help you take some emotional distance from the dream so that you don’t blame your partner for their actions in the dream.
  • Think about whether past experiences may be influencing your current state of mind. If you’ve experienced infidelity in the past, your brain may be trying to protect you from being hurt again. But, if you’re not careful, you could end up letting past fears get in the way of building trust and vulnerability in new relationships.
  • Take an objective look at your current relationship. Are you dealing with relationship dynamics that may be weighing on your mind while you sleep? Even if fidelity is not in question in your relationship, your dream could be warning you of other red flags that suggest your partner is not a good match for you.
  • Consider talking to a trained professional. Sometimes it can be helpful to get an outsider’s opinion about what your dreams are trying to tell you. A trained psychologist can help you explore whether your infidelity dreams are a relic of past relationships, a manifestation of your own self-confidence, or a sign that your current relationship is not working for you.

Expert Insights and Books on Dream Interpretation

Want to learn more about what the leading experts are saying about dreams? Lucky for you, there are books, journals, and think pieces being published all the time trying to get at the heart of what our dreams really mean.

One leading voice in the field of popular dream theory is Theresa Cheung, who wrote “The A to Z Dream Dictionary.” Although Cheung doesn’t have any academic background in neuroscience or psychology, her books on dreaming are internationally beloved.

If you’re looking for something a bit more data-based, one of the most renowned experts in the science of dreaming is Dr. G William Domhoff, who wrote the book “The Neurocognitive Theory of Dreaming: The Where, How, When, What, and Why of Dreams.” The book explores dreaming through the lense of neuroimaging technology to understand what regions of the brain are activated during dreams. Don’t worry if that sounds a bit too dense for your reading preferences. Dr. Domhoff often makes appearances on podcasts and has a number of recorded talks on the subject.

There are also academic journals publishing cutting-edge studies on dreaming all the time! Some of the most prominent include the International Journal of Dream Research, Frontiers in Psychology, and Dreaming.