Might be time to call a lawyer...
You wake up in a hazy fog, consumed with guilt.
You can barely look at your spouse, knowing you’ve committed the ultimate act of betrayal to your relationship — you cheated! Those first few moments of the morning wreak havoc on your conscience, and you wonder how you’ll ever be forgiven.
And then it happens. Full consciousness is restored, you realize it was only a dream, and a warm, silky cascade of redemption washes over your still righteous soul. All is well; your fidelity is intact.
Except now you’re left wondering: what does it mean that you dreamed about cheating? Does it signify something you’re considering doing? Maybe it indicates a diminishing desire for your partner? Are you a bad spouse for simply dreaming about cheating?
To answer these questions, it’s important first to understand the function of dreams.
Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, believed that dreams were the visual manifestation of the unconscious. They consisted of material too scary or dangerous to be at the forefront of our minds, yet represented desires we wished to fulfill. Freud, then, might say you do want to cheat on your spouse, or at the very least have an unconscious desire to inflict some kind of emotional pain.
You may feel more comforted by a Jungian approach to dream analysis.
A contemporary of Freud’s, Carl Jung expanded the function of dreams to include subjective imagery and meaning. The people in your dreams could be symbols rather than the actual figures they represent in your waking life. In fact, Jung theorized that every person in a dream might represent a different aspect of the dreamer himself.
Accordingly, a dream about cheating on your spouse might signify self-betrayal. Perhaps in your waking life, you compromised your beliefs or ethics about something: cheating on your partner in a dream would therefore, be an external symbol of an internal conflict.
But allow me to make this even simpler. A dream is a movie in which you are the screenwriter. Every character who appears in the dream, and every line of dialogue they utter has been written by you. So why, you ask, have you written a story about cheating on your spouse?
I believe the primary function of dreams is to work something out— a conflict or a desire — and to do it in the safest way possible: in your sleep.
In this light, dreaming about cheating could very well be an attempt to work out uncomfortable feelings you’re having about yourself, your partner, or your relationship. Perhaps the dream is a call to action that some need is not being met in your marriage and it's time to speak up.
The affair partner in your dream could indeed be someone else you've thought about, and this is the safe way to play the fantasy out. Or going deeper and borrowing from Jung, this person may represent a quality or behavior you’re needing to see in your spouse—or one that you yourself are lacking.
The good news in all of this? Dreams about cheating are no more predictive of your actual behavior than dreams about flying (or a combo dream in which you join the mile high club with someone who isn’t your spouse).
Like thoughts and fantasies, they give us the freedom to play out any feeling we want without the repercussions of acting on them.
However, if you believe you've had this dream because it’s something you’re seriously contemplating, I would suggest some therapy — but not necessarily to stop you from doing it.
A good therapist doesn’t place a judgment on your thoughts or your actions but instead endeavors to help you understand your goals and expectations. A good therapist merely wants you to be fully conscious of your intended behaviors, to help you consider all possible options and their respective outcomes, and provide you with the tools to make a meaningful decision.
For the rest of you, though, worry not. And… sweet dreams.
Adam Fields is a licensed marriage and family therapist located in Encino, California. Contact him to receive a free phone consultation, and get a step closer to a better relationship with your partner, your family and yourself.