Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“I Keep Dreaming of Cheating on My Fiancé”

I am happily engaged to a wonderful man. We’ve known each other for almost a decade, and we’ve been together for almost two and a half years. Before we got together, I had a history of cheating whenever I was bored or unsatisfied in relationships. It was mostly a result of being young and having no desire to put forth the effort to solve relationship problems, paired with a case of youth-induced egocentrism. My fiancé and I dated before when I was a teenager and he was in college, and the relationship ended when I cheated on him. He’s forgiven me, and the problem has been resolved for years.

Since we began our relationship for a second time as 20-somethings, I’ve had no desire to cheat, and I feel that I’ve definitely stopped the cycle of cheating I had in my younger days. However, since he proposed, I’ve been having dreams where I’m either cheating or about to cheat on him. During these dreams I feel so disgusted by the situation that I wake up nauseous, and I’m disturbed all day afterward. I think the dreams are probably just a result of worrying that: 1) I’m not a good enough person for him; and 2) I’m going to screw this up. I want to build a healthy marriage with him, so I’m wondering if I should tell him about these dreams for the sake of openness and honesty. Is this anxiety something that I should be sharing with him, or will it only serve to upset him? — Anxious Former Cheater

Last year, I received a letter from a woman who began thinking a lot about an ex-boyfriend as soon as she and her current boyfriend decided to move in together. In my response to her, I told her about how I had something similar happen to me shortly after Drew and I got engaged:

Right after I got engaged two and a half years ago, I had a series of strange dreams that lasted maybe a couple of months. I had a few of these dreams in the first weeks following my engagement, and then they petered out to once every couple of weeks or so. My exes were featured heavily in several of the dreams, but not necessarily in a romantic sense. In the dreams, it seemed like I missed them or like I couldn’t figure out why things didn’t work out, and always when I woke up, I was a little bit sad that things in real life ended the way they did. The sense I made of these dreams — dreams about exes I most certainly did not wish I was still with — was that they represented whatever anxiety I felt about my impending marriage and the possibility of it, like my past relationships, not working out (let me be clear here that that was a small, insignificant anxiety, but one I think must be normal for most newly engaged people). If I was in love before and things didn’t work out, how could I be certain that this time it was forever?

Getting engaged and planning your future with someone is a wonderful, exciting thing. But it also creates some anxiety. What if it doesn’t work out? Lots of marriages don’t. Every other relationship you’ve ever had didn’t. It’s a risk you take when you say “I do,” end every risk — big or small, realistic or far-fetched– is going to bring some anxiety. And those dreams you’ve been having are just your subconscious working through the anxiety. They don’t mean you WANT to cheat or that you WILL cheat or anything like that. The dreams simply represent anxiety — a perfectly normal reaction — over the risk you’re taking by committing yourself to one person for the rest of your life.

In my book, most things worth doing carry a little risk. Don’t let it scare you away and don’t let it sabotage what should be a mostly joyous time in your life. Telling your fiancé that you’re having dreams of cheating would be doing just that: sabotaging your happiness together. There’s no point to it. You know you’re committed to him; you know you won’t cheat. So why plant the seed of doubt in his mind? Why project the anxiety — again, a perfectly normal reaction to what is such a big step in your life — onto him. Trust me, he’s already dealing with his own anxiety in his own way.

Let your subconscious keep doing its job — let it continue working through the issues you’re too busy being happy in your waking life to deal with. Let your dreams do the dirty work of processing your anxiety so you can spend your conscious time enjoying all the good things happening to you. Unless you have true doubts that getting married isn’t the right move for you or that you really aren’t yet ready to do the work a relationship requires, then there’s no reason to let these dreams get to you. If you feel confident in your decision to get married, let that confidence guide you right through your anxiety to the happiest day of your life and beyond. Soon enough, these bad dreams will be in the past, just like whatever mistakes you made in your youth.

*If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, send me your letters at wendy@dearwendy.com and be sure to follow me on Twitter and ‘like’ me on Facebook.

28 comments… add one
  • avatar

    kerrycontrary July 30, 2012, 9:20 am

    WWS! and I’ve heard of a lot of crazy things happen when people get engaged-hives, stressed induced illnesses, weird dreams, etc…It doesn’t mean you made a mistake it just means that your mind is fully processing the serious commitment of marriage now that the ball is rolling.

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      Kristen July 30, 2012, 9:27 am

      This is true. I got a rash all over my arms and stomach that lasted three weeks, and my heart was pounding out of my chest for days at a time. It’s crazy because I felt mentally calm and clear — it was more just my body reacting to the “whoa, this is happening, and it’s huge” feeling. It’s involuntary, and everyone is different. The LW’s dreams are the equivalent of my red bumps.

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  • Fabelle

    Fabelle July 30, 2012, 9:24 am

    Whether or not you share these dreams with him is kind of dependent on the dynamic you guys already have– is cheating a topic that can be discussed, or has it become taboo throughout the years due to your past?

    If you think it’ll create an air of unnecessary anxiety, then I’d keep this information to yourself & try not to worry about it. It’s totally normal to have recurring “themed” dreams when you’re anxious about something in particular– but they’ll just go away one day & you probably won’t even realize it.

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  • avatar

    oldie July 30, 2012, 9:26 am

    Your dreams seem to be revealing your fears, not your desires. Not a worry.

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    • avatar

      GTR July 30, 2012, 11:57 pm

      Exactly what I was going to say. If you were dreaming about cheating and finding it fulfilling in the dream, THAT would be cause for concern. But you’re dreaming about cheating and feeling sick to your stomach about it.

      I think your assessment of the dreams is correct; they’re based on the fact that you think you’re not good enough for him and you’re going to screw this up. Of course this isn’t true. He’s not an idiot: he’s know’s you’re not perfect. And guess what? He isn’t perfect either. You need to recognise the fact that he loves you and take this as a clue that you actually have some worth. In fact, you’re worth more than all of the other girls he knows! You ARE good enough for him… and frankly if you think you can screw up your marriage all by yourself, you’re not giving him any credit.

      Don’t tell your fiance about it. The subconscious is like a rambunctious 3 year old – it needs to be cared for and nurtured, but it should never be allowed to dominate your life.

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  • FireStar

    FireStar July 30, 2012, 9:32 am

    Dreams aren’t reality – you are in control of your own choices. And if you choose not to cheat then there isn’t anything to worry about. If you are still having the dreams in a couple of months maybe book an appointment with a counsellor to address your underlying anxiety so you can sleep better at night. To answer your question – no you do not need to tell your fiance you cheated on him in your dreams. That kind of thing is worth at most a giggle in a relationship but since you aren’t laughing then keep it to yourself or he might actually think something is wrong.

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  • avatar

    a_different_Wendy July 30, 2012, 9:35 am

    I experienced something very similar when I first became engaged. Constant anxiety that the commitment was too big, dreams that I was cheating with my ex. It’s pretty standard anxiety. Let your mind work through it, and just remember that you have control over your own actions. No one is destined to cheat, it’s a decision that you have control over. You also have control over the decision to work through any issues that come up with your fiance in the future through open and honest communication.

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  • avatar

    ktfran July 30, 2012, 9:44 am

    When I first read the title to the LW’s letter, my immediate reaction was to tell LW to call off the engagement. That if you want to cheat before you’re even married, you’re not with the right person.

    Then I read the letter. And realized this was happening in her dreams, while sleeping. Not fanatasizing about it while awake. And I think that makes all the difference.

    LW – WWS! Also, as Firestar said, if this is really effecting your sleep, I would talk it out with someone – a close friend who won’t judge, or a couselor. Personally, I think a therapist or counselor would be better. Sometimes, when talking things out to a third party, it helps put your mind at ease.

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  • avatar

    Lydia July 30, 2012, 10:13 am

    I’ve had dreams of kissing male friends or complete strangers every time I started a new relationship. I always awoke upset from them, thinking for a few moments that I had done something terrible that would jeopardize my relationship, before realising it was only a dream. The dreams fizzle out after a while and, in my experience, don’t mean anything.

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  • avatar

    SweetPeaG July 30, 2012, 10:17 am

    I think the most important part of these dreams is that when you wake up, you feel sick about it. You don’t want to cheat on him! You realize how devastated you would feel if you ever did anything to hurt him that badly. That’s a good thing! You have learned from your lessons. And maybe now with maturity and experience, you see the full extent of the choices you made in the past… you know not to make them again.

    But, as I think everyone else has said- DO NOT tell your fiance about these dreams. You will only hurt his feelings. And you may make him think twice about marrying you. He isn’t going to hear the part about these dreams being more nightmare than fantasy. He is only going to hear the part where you were cheating on him.

    Do you have any actual AWAKE thoughts where you honestly can’t see yourself being faithful to him for the rest of your life? Are there any circumstances recently that you’ve been legitimately tempted to cheat? If that is the case (and you might have to do some digging and be 100% honest with yourself), then marriage (or at least monogamous marriage) is not for you. But, from what information you’ve given us, I think you’re doing just fine. You love this guy and want to do what it takes to make this work. Good for you… and Congratulations 🙂

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  • avatar

    spark_plug July 30, 2012, 10:25 am

    I’ve never been engaged but whenever I’ve realized that I’m heading into a serious relationship, I’ve had dreams about my ex’s as well that I would NEVER want to get back with in real life.

    I think that it’s just your brain’s way of clearing out whatever energy and place you had devoted to your ex’s with someone new. With your history of cheating, it could also be trying to resolve those past issues. Our subconscious usually processes things through dreams.. so I wouldn’t take your dreams seriously at all. I’m certain that dreams are backward, not forward looking.

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    • avatar

      spark_plug July 30, 2012, 10:27 am

      Also, I remembered a story about how a guy I was in relationship years ago (in my early 20’s so we were both immature) told me about a dream that he had with me. In this dream, I was very mean to him and broke his heart and it upset him a lot. So he told me that he was concerned about the relationship because he DREAM told him that he has the potential to get really hurt.

      My reaction was – are you insane???

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  • avatar

    canefan July 30, 2012, 10:42 am

    LW, I had a very similar experience not too long ago. I’ve been very happily married for a little over six months, and was engaged for about a year before that. Out of the blue, I had an extremely vivid dream about an ex, where I cheated on my husband. I woke up so confused and so guilty! But it took talking to a friend about it to realize that it really does happen to everyone. And like Wendy and the other commenters have said, it’s probably your mind just processing all these changes. You’re newly engaged and I’m sure you have a lot going on right now, so the only time you have to really process the not-so-great feelings is when you’re asleep. These fears/dreams are stemming from your past behavior and you’re about to take a huge step in your relationship, so it’s only natural to have this kind of reaction. Don’t stress about it, because in my experience, these feelings will pass. I think the fact that you’re waking up from these dreams with a negative reaction means that you have nothing to worry about. I would definitely talk to a friend, because that’s what really helped me.

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  • katie

    katie July 30, 2012, 11:23 am

    how odd.. i had nightmares last night that someone was trying to kill me, and i couldnt walk (they had hurt my legs somehow) so i couldnt get away.. i hate dreams. they are most often scary, if not scary then weird, and then like the LW’s where you do something or something happens that makes you sad in the real world. stupid dreams. i think ive only had like 3 awesome dreams in my whole life.. the kind where you dont want to wake up when you realize your dreaming…

    I agree with wendy, LW. as long as these are just dreams, and they are not actual feelings you are having, you should be fine. i think it would not be a bad thing to tell your fiance that you are having anxiety about this huge decision (maybe he is too!) and you guys can work through it together. but i would leave out the part that you are cheating on him in these dreams… just say you are experiencing anxiety regarding the marriage in your dreams if you choose to tell him.

    also, what can you do to get rid of some of the anxiety? create a “contract” for the two of you? go to pre-marital counseling? write your own vows? maybe there is something you can do now that will get rid of some of it, but i do honestly think there will be a little bit of it there for a while… i think thats normal.

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    • avatar

      Rachel July 30, 2012, 11:30 am

      I had a dream that I owned a golden retriever with two heads. Like, two heads with different dog personalities. Stress does weird things.

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    • avatar

      Caris July 30, 2012, 2:52 pm

      I don’t usually remember dreams. Sometimes I think that I don’t dream at all. The few times that I remember dreams they are 1)weird 2)stressful 3)make me wake up feeling anxious/nervous. They suck.

      Why can’t I have nice dreams 🙁

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  • avatar

    Diana July 30, 2012, 11:36 am

    LW, take comfort in the fact that you are sickened by the outcome of this narrative even when your psychological guard is down and your inhibitions are loosened. Your dreams should hearten you, not demoralize you – I’d say this proves how seriously you understand the consequences of such behavior.

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  • KKZ

    KKZ July 30, 2012, 11:40 am

    A lot of people don’t even remember their dreams. Should they worry that they’re doing something bad or expressing some hidden desire in their dreams that they don’t even KNOW about? No? Then neither should you. The thing about dreams is, there are no consequences, and no impact on your waking life – unless you GIVE them that power. Which is a mistake.

    Truth time: I’ve had dreams in which I had sex with my brother. More than once. MAJORLY disturbing to wake up from, yes. But it has NO bearing on reality. It doesn’t mean I want to have sex with him, that I’m attracted to him, or that I’m unfaithful to my husband. In fact, when I sat down to break apart those dreams, I realized they were telling me that I miss my brother. We were very close as kids, with the special intimacy of siblinghood, but that connection is not so strong anymore. So no wonder I had a dream about doing something very intimate with him. It doesn’t mean I want him sexually – I just want the closeness we had.

    So please, don’t read too much into your dreams. In the end they are just random nerves firing off in your brain anyway, while your subconscious just tries to make sense of them. It doesn’t make sense to take these dreams any more seriously than a dream in which you’re riding a dragon made of cotton candy through the halls of your high school.

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  • avatar

    BeenThere July 30, 2012, 12:40 pm

    Same thing happened to me, including anxiety attacks. I was glad I recongized the fear for what it was and didn’t let it stop me from having a great life with my now husband. This really helped conscious-transitions.com

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    • avatar

      Kristen July 30, 2012, 1:29 pm

      I second this. I read the conscious bride, and it really helped me feel less alone. Getting married is a huge life transition, and transitions bring up all kinds of emotions, including grief. No one tells you that being engaged can mean dealing with both negative and positive emotions (“you’re supposed to be always happy and perky! otherwise you might be having doubts!”). So this book really helped put everything into perspective.

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  • Moneypenny

    Moneypenny July 30, 2012, 1:02 pm

    I totally agree with Wendy. I wouldn’t read too much into your dreams, and as someone else said, dreaming of something is very different than actually doing it in real life.
    I am always dreaming about things or people who were on my mind the very same day, frequently in situations that will weird me out when I wake up. I sometimes dream about my workday and then wake up and have to go to work and do it all over again. I also have recurring dreams about being back in high school and being panicked that I can’t remember my schedule and am going to be late, or I can’t remember my locker combination. Which were both fears I had while I was in school, but for some reason I still dream about them. I have no explanation for these things except that I was probably thinking about them, and they showed up in my dreams. This is probably what’s happening here.

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  • avatar

    bostonpupgal July 30, 2012, 1:19 pm

    I’m 12 weeks out from my wedding, and had a series of dreams about my ex’s (where I missed them terribly) right after we got engaged. It took about 6 months for them to stop completely. I couldn’t be happier or more in love with my fiance, I think it was just my subconcious processing the huge life event we were facing.

    The only thing I will say is, if this is the first and only relationship you’ve ever had where you’ve remained faithful, it couldn’t hurt to book yourself an appointment with a counselor, or even with your fiance for some premarital couple’s counseling. If you decide to go together it doesn’t mean you need to bring up your cheating past, but it might help to learn some techniques either as an individual or a couple to manage stress in a relationship, how to communicate through tough times, and how keep the love and interest alive after marriage. Maybe getting some help and insight into how to avoid cheating in the future will help alleviate some of the feelings that are coming out in your dreams

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  • avatar

    MiMi July 30, 2012, 1:23 pm

    No, don’t tell him about these dreams – cheating is not at all the problem here, these dreams are just a symbol of what’s worrying you. Figure out what’s really worrying you and share that with your fiance.

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  • avatar

    rangerchic July 30, 2012, 1:38 pm

    I’ve been married almost 14 years and I still have dreams occasionally about having sex…though not with my husband. I do not know who the men are. I can see the faces but I don’t recognize them (they are always really good looking though). My husband knows this but it doesn’t bother him. I’ve also fantasized about a guy I’ve seen say walking down the street (or something). But I do not want to sleep with him for real. Sometimes its fun to do this and turns me on and makes me want my husband more. I think it is all normal and natural.

    You are about to be committed -like really committed in no way you have ever been committed before. Its natural to have these dreams. And the fact you are aware of your past and know it isn’t something you want to repeat will keep you from cheating. Just don’t be surprised that even after you are married you might still dream about exes, random guys, etc.
    That’s all normal too!

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  • fast eddie

    fast eddie July 30, 2012, 6:31 pm

    Dreams are in whole or in part a fantasy. The part of about the LW feeling guilty with physical reactions to it is a compliment to him and a testimony of her commitment. Telling him about it might be a good thing if they can talk about anything and everything. It might even be fun but approach it carefully.

    Getting back to the dreams themselves, fantasying is healthy. No one person in our lives fills all our needs and it isn’t cheating to imagine being with someone else. It keeps the sparks flying when our #1 becomes too familiar. Trust me on this, it will happen sooner or later.

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  • KKZ

    KKZ July 31, 2012, 8:39 am

    I’ve actually learned how to have some fun with these dreams-of-sex-with-other-people.

    For the longest time, whenever I had a dream where Dream-Me was in a potentially sexual situation with someone other than my husband, Dream-Me would resist, would feel guilty, would avoid and try to talk her way out.

    Then I had one dream where Dream-Me was about to hook up with a college friend, and somehow within the dream, realized it WAS a dream and that I could go hook up with Dude in this dream and there would be no consequences, no one would get hurt, no reason to feel guilty.

    Usually realizing you’re dreaming will cause you to wake up, but in this case I stayed asleep and let the dream play out. I didn’t tell my husband about it either. Because there was no need to. Because absolutely no one was hurt by my dream. I did not cheat. I got physically and emotionally involved with a figment of my imagination.

    Since I learned this is possible, it has happened a handful of times. And I won’t lie, it is sort of fun. Look, monogamy is great and all, but in the end it is, by nature, limiting. In our conscious life we can operate within those limits because that’s what we want, but our unconscious, or subconscious, allows us to explore the sides of our sexuality we otherwise limit, with absolutely no repercussions and no damage. So let your mind’s eye wander and enjoy the ride knowing that it hurts no one and means nothing.

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  • avatar

    AmyRenee July 31, 2012, 9:34 am

    Sometimes when I am anxious before I go to sleep, I have crazy dreams about things that have caused me anxiety in my past – like other posters have mentioned: at high school and forgot locker combination, I’m a little kid and I can’t find my mom, etc. My doctor taught me some relaxation techiniqes to do at night when my mind is racing so I can sleep peacefully – they are basically a combo of the Progressive Relaxation and Deep Breathing exercises shown here, although I don’t have the special CDs they mention, I just try to clear out my mind by focusing on counting while I breathe and push out all other thoughts. Yoga or meditation classes might help you relax and deal with stress in your life as well. Don’t worry though, as other people have said – it’s normal to be a little anxious about getting engaged, and your anxiety in coming out in your dreams.

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  • avatar

    BreezyAM March 11, 2013, 1:50 pm

    I had this happen and was all ~*drama*~! about it, and I would like to report after a couple weeks we finally realized it was the nicorette patch! We agreed I would stop smoking before our wedding so I went on the patch and then went NUTS. Finally I realized it wasn’t I did not want to get married but a) the patch gives nasty dreams and b) I didn’t want to stop smoking! So I stopped the patch.

    I quit smoking of my own accord about 3 years after our wedding.

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