Dreaming About Your Ex? Here's What it Might Mean

Medically reviewed by Jerry Crimmins, PsyD, LP
Updated January 18, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

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 life. You might wonder whether the dream represents repressed feelings, unfinished business, or even dissatisfaction with your current relationship. How should you interpret a dream about your ex, and how can you sort through the confusing emotions it might stir up? Let’s review some possible reasons you might be dreaming of your past partner.

Why Am I Dreaming About My Ex? Should I Be Worried?

Is It Normal To Dream About Your Ex?

You might feel a bit uneasy when you wake up from a dream about a past partner or spouse.  Many of us prefer to put our old relationships behind us and focus on the future, so dreaming of an ex can feel like a sign that the past still has a hold on us. However, some research suggests 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 about an ex at least once within two weeks. This type of dream may be even more common for those who are currently in a relationship.

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 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 feelings of guilt and shame if you’re currently dating someone else. You might also be embarrassed if you’ve been attempting to move on emotionally from this particular relationship, concerned that this dream may represent backsliding. Dreaming about an ex this way doesn’t necessarily mean you have a hidden desire to pull away from your current relationship or that you wish you were back together with them, though. It’s possible that one of the dream meanings explored below could help you make sense of this or any other kind of dream about a former partner.

Reasons You May Be Dreaming About Your 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 an invitation to view things about the situation with your ex in a different way. Let’s take a look at some common reasons you might be dreaming about an ex and what they might mean for your life.

You’re Looking For Closure

When an ex appears in your dreams, it could mean that you’re trying to resolve feelings about your past relationship with them. 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 someone you dated in the past might mean you’re still struggling internally with how to feel about the relationship. Any strong emotions that you felt during this dream encounter could be exactly the feelings you’re trying to let go of. If you were winning the fight, it may indicate that you’re beginning to feel whole again after the breakup. If your ex was winning, there’s a chance you’re still feeling wronged or wounded by how they treated you.

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 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.

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. One example is the common phenomenon of dreaming about the first person we were in a relationship with. This can represent the novelty, passion, and excitement of new love. 

When your first-ever ex 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 someone special 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. 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 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

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

This type of dream 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.

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, you can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).

You’re Missing Them

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 about 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 about an ex might reveal desires you’ve been trying to push away in your waking life. 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, recognizing any desires that you may have been avoiding acknowledging could help you resolve any internal conflicts related to this person.

Why Interpret Your Dreams?

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 better understand your mind. 

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. 

Tips For Interpreting Your 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. You may also want to pay attention to the emotions you felt in the dream, as well as any that may arise while reflecting on it later. Finally, don’t forget about 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 Dreams About Your Ex

Are you having difficulty understanding why you dreamed about 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 about 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. 

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.”

Why Am I Dreaming About My Ex? Should I Be Worried?

Takeaway

Dreaming about your ex might feel strange, but it’s a relatively common occurrence. It could represent some unresolved feelings you’re still working through, or perhaps a desire for some specific quality your former partner represents. It might 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, discussing your dreams with a trained professional may help you find clarity and insight.

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