Dreaming About An Ex

7 Min Read | By Nicholas Barber

Last Modified 22 February 2024   First Added 20 December 2021

This article was written and reviewed in line with our editorial policy.

You may wonder what such dreams might mean if you’re in a happy relationship, or even if you’re single. How is dreaming about a person you once had a relationship with in the past relevant to your present?

Stress, big life changes, or unresolved issues resurfacing could trigger reoccurring or vivid dreams of an ex-partner. Dreams are notoriously complicated – we still don’t quite understand how they work, but we do know they’re part of how we process our experiences and memories. So, someone significant in your life is bound to reappear now and again, even if you’ve moved on in your waking hours. Let’s explore some of the reasons they might come up and how to respond…

What dreaming about your ex means

Dreaming about your ex doesn’t have to mean that deep down in your heart you want to get back together, but it often has some kind of link to how you’re feeling in your day-to-day life.

These dreams can show that you’re emotionally or sexually dissatisfied, or you may have unresolved feelings, not necessarily of longing, for your ex that your subconscious mind is working through. Although the meaning of this dream can vary widely, as the dream itself can differ, the underlying meaning is usually something emotional.

However, there is very little reason to panic. Research by the Sleep Foundation found the occurrence of an ex in dreams depends on your relationship status at the time of the dream. A study found 35% of people in a relationship dreamed about their current partner or an ex, while just over 17% of single people dreamed about former partners.

Reasons your ex is appearing in dreams

Like most dreams, there’s usually a trigger in your everyday life that is bleeding into your subconscious and being processed – sometimes in very unexpected ways!

1. New relationship

A big trigger for ruminating over an old relationship is a new one. Whether you’ve just met someone you like or you’re taking next steps with your partner, it’s no surprise that you’ll think about past experiences.

It doesn’t mean that you’re unhappy with your current partner or secretly want your ex back. You’ll naturally make comparisons and draw connections, especially if the relationship is vastly different.

2. You saw them recently

This one probably doesn’t need explaining, but it is one to consider. If you’ve seen your ex or someone close to them recently, then it’s no surprise that they’re on your mind, even if you didn’t give it much thought at the time.

3. Big change in your life

Breakups can be a huge upheaval in your life, so it’s normal for your brain to go back to this time of stress when other things are changing. An ex is especially likely to pop up if you’re moving away from the place you shared with them or leaving the job you had while with them.

4. Pattern recognition

Your brain is ridiculously good at making connections, and that includes your emotional life, too. If you’re falling back into old habits or a current relationship is following the same trajectory as your previous one, then you might realise it unconsciously long before your conscious mind catches up. It may truly be a sign of dissatisfaction with some aspect of your life – however, it still doesn’t mean the answer is calling up an old flame!

5. Unresolved feelings

Sometimes, we don’t get the closure we need when we end a relationship. Particularly if it was a toxic environment. This means that you’ll have complicated, unresolved feelings for that person and what you experienced with them. While you might feel conflicted about that person, if they’re appearing in your dreams, then it’s probably time to do more self-reflection on how to let go finally.

Unpacking common dreams of an ex

Dreaming about your ex doesn’t have to mean that deep down in your heart you want to get back together, but it often has some kind of link to how you’re feeling in your day-to-day life. Let’s explore some of the most common meanings:

1. Dreaming about a recent ex

It’s highly likely that this is your subconscious working through the breakup so that you can move on without a problematic emotional attachment. You may feel like your subconscious mind is trying to undo all of the efforts you’re making in real life to get over this person. However, it’s possible that your subconscious is actually trying to help you heal, and the dream may help you to process your true feelings about the breakup.

2. Dreaming of getting back with your ex

If you have this kind of dream, it could be worth examining why you broke up.

If the dream is about a recent ex you still miss, it may just be an expression of your desire to have them back in your life. Otherwise, it could indicate there’s something about an old relationship or that time in your life that you’re reconnecting with now. You may ask yourself if there are aspects of your past relationship that you could bring into your current life or relationship.

3. Dreaming about your first love

Dreaming about your first love is more likely to represent the incredible excitement you felt then rather than the person they are. In the dream, they embody what first love feels like – the passion, the excitement and the desire, that wonderful feeling.

If your first love appears in your dreams when you’re in a relationship, it may indicate that it’s become routine. Your subconscious may be reminding you of what it can feel like, wanting you to do something to bring back these feelings within your current relationship.

4. Reliving the breakup in a dream

If your separation is recent, then high emotions will keep it at the forefront of your mind. Reliving that experience years later could be a manifestation of anxiety around rejection or abandonment. Maybe you’re worried about your current relationship or your performance at work. This stress can cause you to regress to the last big moment of heartbreak.

Try mitigating anxious thoughts before bed by trying a relaxation technique such as the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding method.

5. Dreaming of getting revenge on an ex

Dreams of revenge might feel cathartic, but they’re a sure sign of frustration, anger, and unresolved tension. Getting your own back is understandable, especially if your break-up was a messy situation, but it doesn’t signal anything good for you.

If you let these bitter feelings stew, they can end up affecting your life, holding you back rather than allowing you to move on and get over your ex.

6. Dreaming about someone you never actually dated

We all have a backlog of missed connections, unrequited loves, or simple fantasy crushes, and they’re bound to show up in our dreams at some point. Dreaming about someone that you didn’t have a relationship with can be a sign that you’re missing something in your life that you thought they could give you. Maybe you’re feeling stagnated in your life and are looking for a change.

Answering the dream

Although there may not be a definite meaning, your brain is processing things as you sleep, so it can show areas that need your attention.

If you ever have a dream about an abusive ex you may well benefit from counselling, as you need to work through this issue. As most ex dreams show an emotional dissatisfaction, it could be useful to get out of the rut you are in, whether in a current relationship or if you’re on your own.

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