What Does It Mean to Cheat in a Dream?

6 Min Read | By Liam Porter

Last Modified 22 May 2024   First Added 4 October 2021

This article was written and reviewed in line with our editorial policy.

The dream:

It’s been a long day. As the clock hits five, you grab your things and head for the door.

You decide to grab a coffee before heading to catch the train. As you pass a restaurant you catch a glimpse of a familiar face that stops you in your tracks. Excited at first, you feel yourself begin to smile as you recognise your partner – until you realise that you don’t know who they’re with, or why they’re holding hands.

Your heart sinks as you approach the window and they notice you – but rather than exhibiting signs of guilt or shame, they kiss.

Still, it’s only a dream – right?

Variations of the dream:

Dreams of cheating, or infidelity, have an enormous amount of variation – sometimes a partner is cheating on you with an ex, or with a mutual acquaintance, or even a stranger. The level of intimacy you catch them sharing will differ from person to person, their reaction to being discovered will vary, and your reaction to discovering them can too. Equally, the same is true in dreams where the dreamer is the cheater rather than the cheated upon.

Meaning(s) of the dream:

Dream analysis is more of an art than a science, and the meanings of dreams vary culturally, historically and according to which practitioner is making the analysis. In terms of infidelity, interpretations rely hugely on the individual’s unique circumstances.

While dreams of cheating on a partner can, of course, indicate anxiety or unhappiness with a relationship, from a Jungian perspective such a dream could equally be a warning from the unconscious mind that the anima and animus (female and male) aspects of the psyche are unbalanced.

In fact, there’s more to learn from the identity of the partner in dreams of infidelity than in the act of cheating itself. Our dreaming minds are in the act of organising information. They run threat simulation and organise or store our memories. This can spill into our dreams in a host of different ways.

Articles on dream analysis tend to personify the unconscious or subconscious. It’s easy to deny that our psyche has individual desires, or wishes to communicate something to our waking selves, but it’s absolutely possible that the brain conjures up such imagery because of unrecognised needs or concerns – and it’s possible for a rational individual to consider their dreams without indulging in magical thinking.

For example, dreams in which you’re cheating on your partner may contain context clues. How is the person dressed? What is the location? What is the power dynamic involved? Dreams of infidelity can represent an unacknowledged fear that you are neglecting your relationship in favour of financial, or business concerns, and the same is true vice versa – being cheated on by a partner can indicate a feeling of neglect by your partner as they focus more on other aspects of life.

Another common cheating dream involves an individual or a partner being unfaithful with an ex. Again, this can operate on both a surface level or deeper, and it’s only through reflection that a person can be sure. What does that ex represent to you? Was your relationship with them more spontaneous? Did you share a sense of humour? Or have they moved on to a marriage and family? Their presence in your dreams is almost always more about you than them. What do they represent that your unconscious self may feel is lacking?

Common dreams of infidelity and potential meanings include:

From cheating with a stranger, a celebrity, an ex or a friend, dreams of cheating on your partner are more common than you may first realise! Here, we explore some of the meanings behind the specific variations:

1. Cheating with a stranger:

Dreams of cheating with a stranger are often indicative of a feeling of neglect or of guilt about neglecting. Look for context clues. Have you or your partner been working more than usual? Have either of you taken up a new hobby that sees you apart more than usual?

2. Cheating with an ex:

Here, the ex may represent something you feel that you or your relationship lacks, so reflect upon what that could be. Have they been successful in their career, started a family or lost weight? Your dream is not, generally, indicative of feelings for the ex by you or your partner, but of a feeling that you lack something they have.

3. Cheating with someone from your real life

Whether it’s an acquaintance or someone you’re close to, it’s worth bearing in mind that the person usually represents something other than themselves. The dream is likely to be about something they represent to you, from closeness to one partner but not the other, to financial security or stability.

4. Cheating with a celebrity:

Again, the individual is less important than what they represent, but here the celebrity represents a part of the dreamer that is being under-used or under-recognised. Is the celebrity a well-known philanthropist? Maybe you feel you should be doing more for charity.

Answering the dream:

As with any dream, your response will depend on the insights you reach during reflection. However, there is a seam of meaning that runs through all dreams of infidelity – and that’s an unsatisfied desire in your life. Whether that’s sexual in nature doesn’t matter. What matters is that you’re able to acknowledge the desire it represents and communicate with your partner to overcome the anxiety it’s causing you.

Notable appearances in popular culture:

The dream of cheating has appeared throughout history. A fabricated dream of infidelity helps Iago to convince Othello that Desdemona has been unfaithful with Cassio, while the ubiquity of the dream can be seen in Rachel’s response to Phoebe’s dream in an episode of Friends. Rachel, it turns out, is a real dream enthusiast!

Why am I having cheating dreams?

Understanding cheating dreams is one thing, but knowing why you might be getting them is another. You’re more likely to get these dreams if you have previous trauma or experiences around cheating.

Other possible causes for dreams about cheating include:

  • Trust issues
  • History of or feelings of betrayal
  • Fear of abandonment or neglect
  • Lack of intimacy
  • Relationship conflict
  • Someone you know is cheating

What to do about your cheating dreams

If you are having dreams about your partner cheating, or the other way around, it can be anxiety inducing. While these dreams can be nightmare-like, it’s important to understand what the dream means to you and how it plays out in your real life.

If you want to try and stop having dreams about cheating, try the following:

  • Talk to your partner for reassurance and support
  • Address your fears or anger
  • Change your sleep routine to destress

What may also help, especially if cheating dreams are down to past experiences or fears, you might find therapy to be useful.

Dreaming of cheating can cause anxiety and fear, much like other common dreams of being chased, or dreaming of the end of the world

About the author

More from the Sleep Matters Club