Why Do I Dream About My Ex? Here's What These Dreams Might Mean

Medically reviewed by Dr. Jerry Crimmins, PsyD, LP
Updated July 23, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include abuse which could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is experiencing abuse, contact the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Support is available 24/7. Please also see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

While dreaming of your ex-partners is a common occurrence, it can be jarring when a past romantic partner pops up in your dreams, especially if you haven’t been consciously thinking about them in your waking hours. You might be wondering, "why do I dream about my ex?" and whether the dream represents repressed feelings, unfinished business, or even dissatisfaction with your current partner. How should you interpret a dream about your ex, and how can you sort through the confusing emotions it might stir up? In this article, we’ll discuss possible reasons you’re dreaming of your ex as well as possible meanings of these dreams.

Why am I dreaming about my ex? Should I be worried?

I had a dream about my ex–are these dreams normal?

You might feel a bit uneasy when you wake up from a dream about an ex, as many of us prefer to put our old relationships behind us and focus on moving forward. So, dreaming of a past partner can feel like a sign that the past still has a hold on us. However, research shows that having these dreams may be a common experience. In one study of 425 German college students, for instance, around 15% of participants reported dreaming of an ex at least once within two weeks. This type of dream may be even more common for those who are currently in a new relationship or experiencing changes in their present life.

A survey conducted through an online dating website found that 35% of people who were currently dating had encountered their ex in their most recent dream. Only about 17% of single people had the same experience.

Taken together, these statistics suggest that dreaming about your ex is probably not unusual—even when you’re in a romantic or sex relationship with someone else. 

What if I’m dreaming about cheating with my ex?

People may sometimes dream that they’re dating their ex again or engaging in romantic or sexual activities with them. This can trigger negative feelings of guilt and shame if you’re currently dating someone else. You might also be embarrassed if you haven’t fully moved on emotionally from this particular relationship, concerned that this dream may represent backsliding. 

Dreaming of an ex this way doesn’t necessarily mean you have a hidden desire to pull away from your current relationship or that you wish there were the possibility of getting back together with them. It’s possible that your unconscious mind is working through fond memories or even unresolved issues. Exploring the meaning of your dreams could help you make sense of this or any other kind of dream about a former partner.

You might explore your dreams with a mental health professional, by reading books about the subconscious meanings of dreams, or even with a dream analyst. A mental health professional is often the best option, but any of these options may help you identify potential reasons for dreaming of your ex. 

Reasons you may dream about an ex

Dreams are complex mental phenomena that may be affected by a wide range of thoughts, feelings, memories, and sensory impressions. Your dream may not mean anything significant, or it could be a psychological release inviting you to engage in self-reflection or view things about the situation with your ex in a different way. What you see in dreams depends on various factors, such as emotional state and real-life experiences. It’s important to remain open about what these dreams could mean. Let’s take a look at some common reasons you might be dreaming of an ex and what they might mean for your life.

You’re looking for closure with an ex

When an ex, your ex’s family, or your ex’s friends appear in your dreams, it could mean that you have unresolved emotions, like sadness or frustration, associated with what happened in your past relationship and that you may be seeking closure and peace. Paying attention to your interactions with this person in the dream might provide insight into what’s on your mind.

For example, dreaming of arguing or fighting with a long-ago partner might mean you're still struggling internally with how to feel about the relationship. Learning to identify patterns in these dreams can help you better understand any strong emotions you felt during the encounter. If you were winning the fight, it may indicate that you're beginning to develop a healthy attitude towards moving on after the breakup. If your ex was winning, there's a chance you're still feeling wronged or wounded by how they treated you. Sometimes relationships that were physically abusive or that put you in real physical danger can take longer to heal from.

You’re trying to understand them

Some people dream that they’re trying to sneak or break into their former partner’s home or look through their belongings. In this scenario, the home or items might represent the other person’s mind. A dream like this, featuring very realistic scenarios, could suggest that you’re trying to figure out what they think and feel about you or the relationship. 

Though this explanation might sound far-fetched, there is neurological research to support the idea that our brains use dreaming as a way to work through cognitive tasks. Have you been putting a lot of mental effort into understanding your ex’s thought process recently? If so, this contemplation may have carried over into your dreams.

Ilona Titova/EyeEm
You’re wishing for passion or romance

The content of our dreams may represent feelings or experiences from our past that we’re nostalgic for or that we may even wish to experience again. They may also represent things that we’ve lost. One example is the common phenomenon of dreaming of the first person we were in a relationship with. This can represent the novelty, passion, and excitement of new love, evoking a wonderful feeling.

When your first love pops up in your dream, you may want to consider whether you’re longing for romance. If you’re single, there’s a chance this dream is indicating that you’re ready to begin looking for a new partner again. If you’re in a relationship, it could be a hint that you’re feeling a need to rekindle the passion. Or, it could simply represent a fondness and appreciation for the role that experience played in your life.
You’re missing or working through something in your life

The presence of an ex in your dreams may also represent a specific type of experience or feeling that you associate with that person and want more of in your life now. For instance, dreaming about a former partner who was adventurous and spontaneous could suggest that you miss that feeling of excitement in your life, and might be indicative of a desire for future relationships to have those qualities. A dream that recalls a relationship you had while living abroad might point to an urge to travel.

Or, your feelings in the dream could be reflecting how you feel about some aspect of your life now. A fear-filled dream about a forced end with a toxic ex could indicate fear around your current life circumstances being unstable or unpredictable. Feelings of anger in a dream toward a bossy, pushy ex may mean you’re angry at someone you know now who’s been behaving similarly.

You’re dealing with trauma from the ex

If you experienced abuse from a former partner, dreaming of them could be a manifestation of lingering trauma. Research by New York researchers suggests that it’s common for survivors to relive traumatic experiences in dreams. When you have a vivid dream about an abusive ex, it could be due to a recent event that triggered an association with that person.

These types of distressing dreams may be very painful to experience. However, there is some evidence that dreams can play a role in recovery from trauma. By revisiting these negative experiences during sleep, your brain may be slowly reducing the distressing emotions linked to those memories. If you’re facing trauma from a previous relationship, addressing it with a therapist may be helpful in the process of healing and moving past it.

You’re missing the ex

Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, theorized that dreams represent urges that are suppressed by the conscious mind. Although contemporary psychologists consider many of Freud’s ideas unreliable, some experiments support the idea that we dream of the things we try not to think about consciously. For example, one study found that participants who were told to suppress intrusive thoughts were more likely to have dreams about those ideas. 

That means there is a chance that dreaming of an ex might reveal desires you’ve been trying to push away in your waking life. You may be dreaming of your ex because your current relationship may make you think of your old one. You might consider whether you’re interested in getting back together with them, or whether you have unresolved issues about the relationship that you need to work through. This doesn’t necessarily mean you should act on the impulse to contact them or try to renew your relationship. That said, Loewenberg suggests recognizing any desires that you may have been avoiding and acknowledging could help you resolve any internal conflicts related to this person.

Why interpret your dreams about ex's?

Some readers may be skeptical about whether there’s any benefit in trying to interpret your dreams. However, there is some experimental evidence that thinking about your dreams could help you be more self-aware. 

In one test, researchers instructed participants to engage in group discussions about recent dreams. The participants found that they gained more useful personal insights from the dream discussions than from analyzing recent events in their waking lives. A 2004 review of psychological literature on the topic also concluded that there’s good evidence that dream interpretation could be a useful component of therapy. While this doesn’t mean you have to go see a dream analyst, this does mean that dreams can be potentially valuable in therapy and self-discovery.

Getty/Jordi Salas
Why am I dreaming about my ex? Should I be worried?

Tips for interpreting dreams

It’s often helpful to consider the entire dream from beginning to end and not take the presence of a particular character such as a former partner out of context. Take time to reflect on the emotions you felt in the dream, as well as explore any emotions that may arise while reflecting on it later. Finally, don’t forget the details; those that you don’t consider important at first may end up yield surprising clues about why you may have had this dream.

Therapy may help you process the breakup

Are you having difficulty understanding why you dreamed of your ex or having trouble processing complicated feelings about them? Working with a trained therapist could help. A small study published in the Journal of Counseling Psychology concluded that most participants reported “achieving greater depth, mastery, and insight” when analyzing dreams with a therapist rather than on their own. 

Some people find it easier to open up to a therapist over the internet than in person. This could be because virtual sessions let clients be more in control of their environment, or because an online therapist may not live in your area which makes the likelihood of encountering them in everyday life very low. If you’re feeling embarrassed, conflicted, or nervous about the fact that you’ve been dreaming of your ex, online therapy might be a good option for you. Regardless of the format you choose, a trained therapist can offer you a safe space to process your emotions and support you as you make decisions about your romantic life and the breakup change you’re going through. 

Research supports that engaging in counseling over the internet can be just as useful as participating in person. According to a 2016 paper in the Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, “studies suggest that guided Internet treatments can be as effective as face-to-face treatments” and may lead to sustained improvements. This review also found that online therapy is often a more cost-effective option, which could be helpful for those who face financial barriers to seeking this type of support. If you’re interested in trying out online therapy, consider a platform like BetterHelp that can match you with a licensed therapist who you can meet with via phone, video call, and/or chat. Read on for reviews of BetterHelp therapists from clients in similar situations.
Counselor reviews
“Rachna is not the type to just tell you what you want to hear. She has helped me face a lot whether I like it or not, and I do feel enlightened, stronger, and sleep better.”
“Julia is a very open-minded, understanding, and warm-hearted person. She listened with kindness and without judgment. Her advice helped me tremendously through a bad breakup and ensuing personal problems. Her advice and understanding have been very helpful in guiding me to a healthier mind frame.”


Dreaming about spending time with your ex might feel strange, but it’s a relatively common occurrence. Seeing your ex in your dream means that you may have unresolved feelings you’re still working through, or perhaps a desire for some specific quality your former partner represents. The dream might not represent reality and may not even be directly related to your ex; they could be popping up in your dreams because your brain links them with a specific life experience that’s significant for you at this time. Whatever the reason, keeping a dream journal and discussing your dreams with a trained professional may help you find clarity and insight. 
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