What does "Sleeping with the Enemy" Mean?

Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison

The phrase “sleeping with the enemy” is often used to describe a situation involving a non-adversarial relationship between two individuals or entities that would normally be unfriendly or adversarial. This frequently includes business deals between competitors, joint projects tackled by enemies, and political maneuverings that require the cooperation of competing parties. Sometimes, sleeping with the enemy involves cooperating just for the purpose of gaining inside information or the upper hand in a competitive situation. In other situations, however, opposing parties may actually work together for the good of a common goal.

Democrats working with Republicans might be seen as "sleeping with the enemy."
Democrats working with Republicans might be seen as "sleeping with the enemy."

In a personal situation, sleeping with the enemy could mean working with someone you dislike to organize or accomplish something important. For example, if you share a friend with someone you dislike, you might work with that person to organize your mutual friend’s birthday party. Likewise, you might work with a neighbor you dislike to accomplish important changes for your neighborhood.

In a business environment, it can be considered sleeping with the enemy to work cooperatively with a business rival. For example, a person might work with a business rival on a joint project, while secretly looking for weaknesses and ways to outdo the other person. This sort of situation can be very stressful for some, as hostilities may not be very well hidden. In other situations, business rivals may appear to get along well and seem enthusiastic about working together. Instead, each person may be seething on the inside and feel unable to trust the other person.

On a political level, a politician may find it necessary to sleep with the enemy to accomplish a particular governmental goal. In such a situation, a Democrat may band together with a Republican to work on a joint resolution. Often, this type of cooperation is met with suspicion from supporters of both parties, as each thinks the opposing party is planning to deceive or betray the other. One party may even be accused of attempting to take credit for the hard work done by both parties. Sometimes, onlookers worry that the parties may try to assert undue influence on each other’s ideas and political convictions.

Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison

Nicole’s thirst for knowledge inspired her to become a wiseGEEK writer, and she focuses primarily on topics such as homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. When not writing or spending time with her four children, Nicole enjoys reading, camping, and going to the beach.

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Discussion Comments


I think the expression "sleeping with the enemy" may have started in military circles. I think spies like Mata Hari were often accused of using sex to get enemy officers into compromising positions. There was always a concern that the spy would somehow fall in love and switch loyalties, which would be akin to treason on some level.


I mostly associate this expression with the movie "Sleeping With The Enemy", starring Julia Roberts and Patrick Bergin. Roberts plays an abused wife who escapes the clutches of her controlling husband (Bergin) and starts a new life in an idyllic town. Her husband learns she faked her death and stalks her. Throughout the movie, viewers see how toxic their relationship really was.

I think "sleeping with the enemy" can also mean staying in a toxic or abusive relationship because there is no obvious way out. There is no hope for reconciliation, but leaving might trigger the other partner's aggressive behavior.

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