Not again! Why you dream about your ex and how to interpret the meaning
A funny, common occurrence for me is I’ll get an idea for a blog post then run across a streak of dreams shared at Reddit.com that illuminate the subject. In this case, the subject is dreams about your ex: an ex-boyfriend, ex-girlfriend, ex-wife, ex-husband, ex-lover. It happened this time as a streak of posts came through reddit asking for help understand dreams about an ex.
So here ya go.
It’s common to dream about an ex when something about the relationship is unresolved. It’s a common type of recurring dream, and it can be quite unwelcome. The dreamer senses that an important message is trying to get through, but more often than not, the dreamer, you, would rather just quit dreaming about the person. Or you take it as a sign that you should get in touch with your ex, but that’s a mistake, too, because your ex in a dream is a symbol used in a story—a versatile symbol with a wide range of possible meanings.
When something is left unsaid or unpaid, it’s almost guaranteed to pop up in a dream. These things keep you tied emotionally and financially to your ex. They’re like fishing hooks embedded in your body, and until they’re removed, you can’t really move on. If you’re still paying for the relationship in the form of bills, dings on your credit rating, or harm to yourself or your reputation, then of course you will dream about it. And if your heart is still with your ex, well, you need it back.
Dreams about ex sparked by reminders of the past
You can dream about your ex when you’re in another relationship and are reminded of the old one. Something about the new person or situation reminds you of the old one. Or you fear your current partner will soon be an ex-partner.
Or perhaps just being back in a relationship is enough to spark a dream about the old one. It’s a prime time to step back in time, especially if something from the past is unresolved. Dreams don’t reminisce, normally. If you dream about an ex, there’s a reason for it related to your present life, your thoughts, your feelings, and what’s stirring deep inside.
Here’s an example, titled These Dreams about my Ex are Screwing with Me Hard. The gist is, she has a new boyfriend and keeps dreaming about her old boyfriend, a first love who dumped her and it tore her up. It’s natural to wonder if it’ll happen again. Perhaps she’s trying to protect herself emotionally. However, in her description she provides a big clue:
I’ve started comparing S [her current boyfriend] to Z [her ex], thinking about what life with be like with Z, things like that. The other night I had a dream that he showed up to some sort of event I was at in a dress shirt and pants with suspenders and a bowtie on. He came right up to me and proposed and I couldn’t stop repeating “oh my god” and I just hugged him and I couldn’t stop crying. It felt so fucking real.
My guess is her ex is used as a symbol for her current boyfriend. She can test that theory by substituting her current boyfriend for her ex in the above scenario. What if he proposed to her? Would she react the same way?
Dreaming about an ex can indicate you miss something from that relationship or time of life. For example, it’s common to dream about your first love or other idealized relationship when you feel that something is missing from your present relationship. You miss the passion, fascination, innocence, or simplicity.
An ex in a dream can connect the past with the present. For example, a person experiences depression while in a relationship then dreams later in life about that person whenever the feeling of depression returns. Depression is just an example. It could be any present feeling, thought or circumstance that connect with the past.
The next example isn’t perfect, but it does illustrate the last point. The person dreams about an unrequited love, years after the fact. Why? He or she had recently installed Tinder. He or she met the unrequited love on Tinder. Unfortunately, the post was deleted, but you can still read the comment thread.
Dreams about ex and healing old wounds
Abusive relationships leave a deep impression and tend to be dreamed about long after they’re over. Reexperiencing the trauma can be a way of processing the emotions and creating psychological distance. It helps a person heal, and the process can be aided by actively exploring related thoughts, feelings, and memories.
Here’s a dramatic example. A woman dreams she’s driving to her family home at night. She’s lost and needs directions and pulls over to check the map on her phone. A man reaches through her window, grabs items from her car and runs away. She tracks him down and gets back her stuff. He apologizes. Then he snatches her phone and runs away again. This time she throws a knife, hitting him in the back, and he falls down. Then she pulls out the knife, and with extreme personal malice stabs him in the heart.
Wow! The ending was unexpected, but it all makes sense when you understand that the man represents her ex. The character and the ex don’t look alike, but the connection is made in three ways. One, he was the type to do crappy things to her, then apologize. Two, he got her into hard drugs and consequently she lost her way in life, as symbolized by getting lost while trying to find her way home. In a personal sense she doesn’t know how to find her way back to the life she had before meeting him. And three, the sheer malice she feels as she stabs him in the heart points right to where she’s wounded.
She didn’t need to stab him in the heart to get her phone back. That’s an expression of how she feels about her ex, summed up neatly in one image of ramming a knife into his heart when he’s defenseless. Subconsciously, she knows who the man represents when she stabs him.
Dreams can use characters as surrogates for people you know, and an ex in a dream can be a surrogate for a current relationship. Doesn’t matter whether the ex is at all like your current partner—they don’t have to look or act alike. They’re connected by the role they play.
Or, a surrogate can be used to represent an ex, like in the last example. Sometimes just the sight of the person in a dream will cause such a hot reaction that a surrogate must be used in order to tell the story.
You can dream about your ex as a learning process
Under the category of “unresolved,” dreaming about an ex can relate to learning from the experience. Dreams help you learn, and part of that function is to help you avoid repeating mistakes. By figuring out what went wrong in a past relationship, you have a better shot at success in present and future ones.
But it goes deeper. Your dreams want you to become a complete person and will take every opportunity to help you grow. Adversity is a great teacher. It pushes you out of your comfort zone and forces you to grow.
Here’s an example, titled Recurring Dream about an Ex. The dream starts off with the dreamer back with her ex like nothing happened. Then she realizes, hey, wait, we broke up and you started dating someone else — and that’s when things get heated.
And eventually I start screaming at him, usually yelling, “What is wrong with you?” Which just that alone is extremely unlike me. I’m a very calm person, even when we broke up there wasn’t really any drama, and I haven’t spoken to him since the day I left.
When questions like this are asked of you in a dream, they often get at the heart of it. The question is really directed at yourself. Turn it around and ask the question this way:
What’s wrong with me?
For this dreamer, the question is, what’s wrong with me that made you break up with me and seek out someone else — am I not good enough?
Since the dreamer describes herself as the “no drama” type, her reaction in the dream really stands out. It shows that strong emotions are lingering behind the scenes. My guess is, those emotions are tied with lingering questions and doubts about herself.
Another example, titled Years of Dreaming about the Ex. My feedback to this person revolves around the idea of processing left over feelings and emotions. She’s even been through therapy to deal with it.
But that idea doesn’t resonate with her. I think a comment from someone else hits the mark. Basically, the dreams are showing her things about herself that became part of her resulting from the experience of the relationship. They’ve become part of who she is. What better reference for them than the ex?
Use this link to read the full comment. Here’s an excerpt:
It could be not about the feelings themselves specifically, but the ideas behind them that gave rise to them. Any ideas that contribute to a self/world view that you still carry with you.
Dreams about sex with your ex
Sex with your ex? Yeah, that’s a common dream theme and the possibilities for meaning are wide open. Begin with the symbolism of sex in a dream — just because it’s an ex in the dream doesn’t mean it’s about that person. They’re simply a face (and body, and experiences) to pull up from your memory to make the dream seem real. It could be a distraction from the real action, which is the sex and what it symbolizes.
However, dreams usually have a good reason for every detail, and the fact that it’s your ex you have sex with in the dream could be important. Let’s dig into an example, titled Had a Sex Dream about an Ex. An excerpt:
So I’ve had a dream twice now where I had sex with one of my exes. He’s someone I’m still very good friends with after 6 years of on and off. We’ve both dated other people since we were last together. I have zero interest in him physically now but love him as a friend.
The key detail here is the ex is someone the dreamer feels very comfortable with, someone who is close and intimate. In dream-speak, that can mean the ex symbolizes some THING the dreamer feels close and intimate with, such as a subject, a creative process, or an internal process of personal growth. It can symbolize the integration of something new into the personality.
Uh oh – cheating with an ex
Dreams about cheating with your ex? Follow the same process as with sex dreams and consider the symbolism of cheating in a dream.
Read this discussion about dreaming that your significant other cheats by sleeping with their ex. The comments are insightful, and my best guess is the dreams are connected with insecurity about the relationship.
Another insightful discussion about a boyfriend dreaming about having sex with his friend … then he makes the mistake of telling his girlfriend about it. Many of the same ideas are covered as with dreams about cheating with an ex.
Dreams can create scenarios that help you make decisions and delve into your thoughts and feelings, and one way I know this to happen is through the “tempted by my ex” dream. It can be a test of your feelings for someone new in your life, or even a sort of temptation. You can learn much from your reaction. Do you jump at the opportunity to get back together, or do you say sorry, I’ve moved on. Here’s a typical example. The dreamer has been dating someone for a couple of months. Then:
I went to her house and we had amazing sex. Then, we fell asleep in each other’s arms. While asleep, I had a very vivid dream of a girl I used to date. Me and my current girlfriend were sitting outside of a bar we go to, while the other girl passed by with a group of friends. Before she walked by completely, she separated from her friends and came over to us. She started talking to me and basically seemed as if she was trying to hang out later, but I was trying to make it clear that I was with another girl.
The interpretation of a dream like this can explore a variety of avenues to get at the meaning. But I think the circumstances really tell the story. There he is, in the arms of someone he’s falling in love with (they later became boyfriend/girlfriend), and he dreams about his ex tempting him. What the dream is really doing is showing him that he’s committed to the new relationship. His feelings are deep. Nothing can tempt him away. He passes the test.
That dream has another interesting layer to it. Read about it here: shared dreams.
On a final note, if you dream about an ex and it’s great, try to avoid waking up and feeling like shit because the dream isn’t “real.” It’s sure real enough while you’re having it. Enjoy it for what it is. But please, please don’t take it as a sign to look up your ex.
EDIT – In a bit of synchronicity, my fellow dreamworker Kezia Vida posted her thoughts (in video form) about dreaming about an ex, with a focus on using them for empowerment. It’s a great supplement to what I offer here.