Cheating dreams may be symptomatic of underlying unmet needs in your relationship. According to experts, cheating dreams can often be traced back to emotional dissatisfaction, sexual dissatisfaction, or unresolved feelings about a past infidelity.

First off: Relax. Having a cheating dream doesn’t necessarily mean your relationship is on the fritz.

Still, according to certified dream analyst Lauri Loewenberg, “It’s something you should be curious about because every single thing in our dreams means something. Likely, your subconscious is telling you — or trying to work through — something.”

Because cheating dreams are one of the most common dreams people have, according to Loewenberg, we tapped her and Brooklyn-based psychotherapist Aimee Barr, LCSW, to bring you this cheating dream crib sheet.

While every cheating dream is as unique as the dreamer themselves, Loewenberg says most can be traced back to one of these three underlying issues.

Dissatisfaction emotionally

Turns out it’s usually not about the sex! “It’s less about the physical union and more about the psychological or emotional union, that the sex represents,” says Loewenberg.

“The emotion you’re experiencing in the dream is very real and coming from a very real place,” she explains. Your plan of action is to discern what that emotion is exactly.

Common culprits? Feeling guilty, insecure, jealous, bored, anxious, angry, or overwhelmed.

Dissatisfaction sexually

While most cheating dreams aren’t about the actual sex, some are. Dreams about infidelity can take place when there’s some unease about your sexual relationship.

Are you having sex? Are you happy with how often you’ve been having sex? Is there something you’ve been wanting to try in bed that your partner shut down? How about vice-versa?

Unresolved feelings about a past infidelity

If you were cheated on in the past, it’s really common to have dreams (nightmares?) about it happening again, according to Barr.

If your current partner did the deed, it’s an indication you need to continue rebuilding that trust. If a past partner cheated on you, you might be afraid of it happening again. (Barr notes a therapist can help you work through these fears).

There’s no one-size-fits all meaning to your cheating dream, but Loewenberg says there are some common themes that emerge. Scroll down for more.

So, your partner cheated on you in your dream…

According to Loewenberg, “Dreaming your partner is cheating on you is far more common than dreaming of cheating on your partner.” So let’s start there.

Below, some common scenarios of your partner cheating that may play out in your dream state — plus what they might mean.

If your partner cheats with a stranger. You’re probably feeling cheated out of quality time and attention, says Loewenberg. “Have they been working more than normal? Have they been spending too much time online or playing World of Warcraft? Did they recently join a band?”

If your partner cheats with an ex. You can be 1,000 percent confident that your partner loves you and will not leave you and still have this dream, according to Loewenberg. “It’s usually a sign that you’re jealous of something your ex has,” she says. Maybe it’s their sense of style or confidence. Maybe it’s that the ex knew your love in college, and you didn’t.

If your partner cheats with someone you’re close to. Do your partner and this person get along? If not, the dream may signal that them getting along is important to you. Otherwise, Loewenberg says, think about what this person has that represents what you want. Financial stability? A good sense of humor? A baby?

If your partner cheats with someone else you know IRL. Likely, this has nothing to with your partner. Instead, it has everything to do with “the other.” Again she asks, “What does this person have that you lack?”

OK, and what if you’re the cheater…

Still no need to freak out! Often, “dreams where you’re the cheater signal that you feel guilty or have betrayed yourself or compromised your values or beliefs in some way,” says Loewenberg. Ready to learn more?

If you’re cheating with a stranger. Here, you’re probably the one splitting your attention in too many directions. “What’s going on that’s reducing how much energy you have for your partner? Likely, you feel guilty about this,” says Loewenberg.

If you’re cheating with an ex. Understandably this probably makes you feel especially guilty. Good news: Unless you actively want to get back with your ex in your conscious state, this doesn’t mean you actually want to/should go at it with your ex.

Instead, “think about what you’re still healing from that past relationship that you might be bringing into this relationship,” says Loewenberg. It might be an actual infidelity, or another betrayal or emotionally abusive comment or dynamic.

If you’re cheating with someone your partner is close to. Examine how their relationship with your partner makes you feel. Likely, your dream suggests a desire to get close with someone your partner is close to.

If you’re cheating with someone else you know IRL. Do you have an underlying attraction to this person? Is there a flirtation or emotional relationship forming between you? If the answer is yes to both questions, it’s time to unpack why you’re straying.

But if you’re not attracted to this person like that, consider what personality trait or thing they have that your partner doesn’t. For example, maybe this person has a higher paying job than your partner and you’ve been stressed about money. Or maybe this person is known for being funny, and you and your partner are going through a tense time.

If you get caught in the act. What is it you’re feeling guilty about? This dream says it’s time to clear your conscious or own up to something you’ve been hiding.

If you’re cheating with someone who’s also in a relationship. No, you probably don’t actually want to be the other person. They probably have some qualities you’re looking for in a long-time boo.

If you’re cheating with more than one person. Drift off and find yourself… in an orgy? You’re splitting your attention in too many directions, says Loewenberg. Unless you’re bored by your sex life, then it might mean you want to experiment.

If you’re partner swapping. “Maybe you actually are interested in trying swinging, polyamory, or an open relationship,” says Loewenberg. “But more likely it means that couple has something that you want to be able to incorporate into your own,” she says. Think: good communication, a joint bank account, a shared sense of humor.

If you’re about to get or are newly married. Any time you have a cheating dream before a life or relationship milestone — like getting married, moving, or getting engaged — think about the feeling in the dream, not the actual cheating. Is it excitement? Nervousness? Dread?

If you’re pregnant and your partner is cheating. Ready to have your mind blown? Being pregnant changes the way you look! “Usually pregnant folks have this dream either because they’re not in the mood because of what’s happening hormonally, or they feel less desirable and sexy as they get larger,” says Loewenberg.

If your partner’s pregnant and you’re cheating. Don’t worry! This is super common, according to Loewenberg. “Suddenly, there’s a relationship in your partner’s life that is more important than their relationship with you.” The dreams should stop when you adjust to the new reality.

Maybe you met a barista on vacation, fantasized about laying them down on the coffee bar and… well, you get the picture. It wouldn’t be W-I-L-D for this scene to play out in your dream-state.

Likewise, if you’ve always had a waking crush on Ruby Rose or George Clooney, chances are you’ve had a wet dream (or ten) about the sexy star. No big.

This becomes red-flag territory when you’re entertaining acting — or want to act — on this fantasy IRL. Here, Loewenberg says you need to figure out why you want to bring it to life.

Are you dissatisfied in your current relationship? Are you mad at your partner about something that hasn’t yet been resolved? Are you interested in opening up the relationship? Are you afraid of the level of commitment this relationship is requiring?

Barr adds, “It’s also a problem if this fantasy is interfering with your ability to be focused and present with your partner when you’re together.” Makes sense.

“You will continue to get this, or a similar, dream until you address the underlying issue that the dream is commenting on,” says Loewenberg. “So, you do need to address that underlying issue.”

Take some time to consider:

  • Do I want to be in this relationship?
  • Can I work through the jealousy I’m experiencing?
  • Am I content with my current sexual relationship? What would I need to be content with it?
  • Can I commit to dealing with my guilt?

If you’re not interested in staying in your relationship, that means ending it. Otherwise, it’s important to have an honest conversation with your partner.

“Infidelity is a really heightened and sensitive topic,” says Barr, so telling your partner that you’re having cheating dreams — especially if you’re doing the cheating — actually doesn’t have to be part of the convo.

Instead, “address that you are noticing that there’s an issue, and emphasize that you want to work through it with them,” she says. Or better yet, focus on the feelings of your dream and share them honestly.

Some ways to bring it up:

  • “I want you to know that I’m aware of how split my attention has been these last few weeks, and I’d love to come up with a plan that allows us to spend more time together.”
  • “I was reading about [open relationships, group sex, pegging, scissoring] and I think it might be something I’d like to try. Is that something you might be interested in exploring together?”
  • “I’ve been having a reoccurring nightmare that you are cheating on me, and I think it’s because I’ve been feeling jealous about [X]. Would you be open to problem solving this with me?”

Another option: couples or sex therapy. Likely, the dream isn’t coming out of nowhere and you and your partner have been having this issue for a while, says Barr.

“Working with a mental health professional can help you explore and work through this issue together.”

Cheating dreams come in many different flavors, and there’s not one way to address the why behind them.

But actively working on your relationship and communicating about your respective emotional and sexual needs, desires, and wants can help you address any issue before it shows up in your dream space.

“If you communicate and are willing to compromise, chances are the dreams will stop,” says Loewenberg.

If this doesn’t halt these dreams, she suggests journaling right when you wake up from the dream and before bed.

“When you wake up from the cheating dream, go to your journal and write down as much detail as you remember.” says Loewenberg. “Then, rewrite the dream so it plays out how you want it to.”

This may not work right away, but eventually your subconscious will get the message, she says.

Before you go to bed, she suggests either journaling about what you love about your partner or what you’re grateful for. Or, “have sex with or masturbate to the thought of your partner.” There have been worse homework assignments.

Cheating dreams are usually — though not always — symptomatic of underlying unmet needs in your relationship.

Whether you decide to address and work through your concerns depends on your desire to be in your relationship.

However, it’s important to understand that these dreams probably won’t stop until you take stock of how you’re feeling and, in some cases, have an honest discussion with your partner.

Gabrielle Kassel (she/her) is a queer sex educator and wellness journalist who is committed to helping people feel the best they can in their bodies. In addition to Healthline, her work has appeared in publications such as Shape, Cosmopolitan, Well+Good, Health, Self, Women’s Health, Greatist, and more! In her free time, Gabrielle can be found coaching CrossFit, reviewing pleasure products, hiking with her border collie, or recording episodes of the podcast she co-hosts called Bad In Bed. Follow her on Instagram @Gabriellekassel.