What Does It Mean When You Dream About Your Ex? 5 Possibilities

Updated September 11, 2023by Regain Editorial Team

Note: This article mentions topics of relationship abuse. If you or someone you know is or may be experiencing abuse, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline, available 24/7, at 1.800.799.SAFE (7233) or text "START" to 88788. Live chat is also available on the National Domestic Violence Hotline website.

The world of dreaming and sleep is still somewhat of a mystery, although scientists are making new strides every day to understand how and why we dream and what we dream about. It can be intriguing to imagine that dreams are symbolic, and it makes sense that you would want to understand vivid dreams you have about another person. If you’re having frequent or prolonged episodes of dreaming about your ex, it might be time to explore further the possibilities of what that means or if it means anything at all.

In this post, we’ll discuss five possible reasons you still dream about your ex and address the issues you may still have that make you think about them—whether it’s in dreams or waking life.

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Confused About Why You’re Dreaming About Your Ex?

1) You Have A Lack Of Closure Or Aren’t Done Processing The Breakup

Arguments or issues that contribute to breakups can sometimes go unresolved. If this is the case for you, and you find yourself replaying or reimagining conversations with your ex during your waking time, they may also appear in your dreams. Many dream analysts believe this is the subconscious mind attempting to replay the emotional responses to these situations so we may process them, resolve them, and make way for new experiences. 

If dreams are an attempt to psychologically “clean up” unresolved issues or unaddressed feelings around a breakup, it might come as no surprise that our brains may use the physiological process of sleep to clear out unneeded chemical clutter, as well. The slow electrical oscillations (also known as slow waves) during stages of deep non-REM sleep play a part in memory consolidation—but compelling research also suggests that this stage of deep sleep may have a direct relationship to how the brain’s cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) and blood flow help clear waste products naturally produced through brain activity. 

While there’s no conclusive evidence, some dream experts speculate that nightmares or recurring dreams about the past can be psychologically damaging. If you find that your dreams feel more like nightmares, affecting your quality of life and happiness or otherwise leading to stressful, negative feelings, you may benefit from the perspective of a dream analyst. 

A dream analyst is a person (often a therapist) who studies dreams and helps patients explore why they dream about a particular place, person, or event. If you consult a dream analyst, they’ll ask questions, get to know you, and help you discern what your dreams represent. They will often ask you to keep a dream journal, a notebook you write in as soon as you wake up. In the journal, you should record as much detail about the dream as possible, what type of dream you had, how you felt, and all the events, people, and places you can remember. With a dream journal, you may start to notice patterns.

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2. You Miss Them

Sigmund Freud famously called dreams “an attempted wish-fulfillment.” It’s natural to miss someone you got to know in such an intimate way. If your ex keeps showing up in your dream, it may mean that you’d like to see them again, especially if you genuinely believe you made a mistake in ending the relationship.

If your ex has explicitly asked you not to contact them, and if they’ve made it very clear that they are no longer interested in being in a relationship with you, then you should respect their wishes and find healthy ways to move on. This same advice applies if you were in a toxic relationship or a situation of abuse. The most beneficial thing you can do is accept the lessons from the past and look forward to the future.

But if you believe your ex also misses you, and there weren’t problems with emotional or physical abuse in the relationship, it may be worth reaching out to this person and asking to talk. Some couples even report feeling stronger after a breakup. Losing someone can remind you of the reasons you had feelings for them to begin with. If you do decide to contact them, a simple greeting can be enough to gauge if your ex is interested in getting to know you intimately again.

3) You’re Seeking Something Else 

Scenarios in our dreams often seem irrelevant to the events happening in our lives. Still, research indicates that the brain sometimes manifests subconscious material meant to help us understand unrelated pieces of our lives and make creative connections. For example, if you started a new job and are still “learning the ropes,” you may dream of your ex because they said or did something similar or had an experience related in some way to yours. Your brain may be using what it’s learned from experiences with your ex to adapt to your current situation successfully. 

4) Someone In Your Life Reminds You Of Them

People may sometimes dream of an ex because it is subconsciously connected to a current relationship. For example, if you’ve met someone you find attractive in similar ways to your ex, they may appear in your dreams. This doesn’t always have to apply to romantic relationships, either. If you’ve recently met someone who shares a hobby or comes from the same town as your ex, it could initiate dreams about them. 

5) You're Growing And Learning As A Person

Dreaming sleep can allow your brain to grow and develop physiologically, cognitively, and emotionally. Your brain may be using your dream time to resolve problems you’ve been ignoring while awake. For example, perhaps your mind is trying to forgive your ex or understand things that happened in the past so that you can avoid repeating them in the future. 

Remember that an unresolved lesson from the past doesn’t necessarily mean you should get in touch with this person and find closure. Sometimes the best thing you can do is recognize that this person already played a role in your life, and that chapter is closed. Many valuable life lessons come from relationships, even if one of those lessons is how to avoid a similar relationship in the future. You can be grateful for what this person taught you, accept that a breakup is best for both parties, and move on.

If you believe this might be the case, then take some time to think about your behavior in this past relationship. What did you learn from this experience? How did you grow? What lessons do you want to stay with you?

After a difficult relationship or a complicated breakup, it can be very healthy to feel gratitude toward this person for what you learned from them, forgive them for their mistakes, and accept the present. Forgiving your ex doesn’t mean trying to get back together. Often, it means forgiving yourself, then thinking about other things.

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Confused About Why You’re Dreaming About Your Ex?

Takeaway

Not every relationship is meant to be permanent, and breakups happen for various reasons. Your relationship with your ex may still be a sensitive topic as you get on with your life, and continuing to dream of them may be a reminder from your subconscious that you still have work to do in processing your separation.  

If you continue to dream about an ex, it doesn’t mean the separation was a bad idea. It just means that this person is still a part of your psyche. It also means that this person’s presence in your dreams speaks more about your mental state than it does about them. 

Though vivid dreams sometimes feel intense, this doesn’t necessarily mean you should make significant life choices around them (like getting back together, for instance). There is no perfect answer to why your ex appears in your dreams. Often, your interpretation should depend on what best serves you at this moment.

Whether your dreams are pleasant or stressful and negatively affect your daily life, a therapist with experience in dream analysis can help you begin decoding and processing them. Therapists use many tools to help patients resolve issues after a breakup, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). The CBT process encourages individuals to explore their thoughts' origins and isolate distortions and potential disparities between their beliefs and reality. Once these roots are uncovered, the therapist will work with the patient to reframe those thoughts in a way that fits better with the nature of how things are rather than the unhelpful ways they’re (often falsely) perceived.  From there, the patient and therapist can work on better coping skills and cultivate more confidence in handling future difficulties. In CBT, therapists often give “homework,” in this case, possibly in the form of keeping a dream journal and practicing relaxation techniques they’ve learned in the sessions. 

The rise in popularity of online therapy has made it easier than ever for people to consult with a mental health professional. Online therapy through platforms like Regain can eliminate some of the typical barriers to treatment, such as scheduling constraints, commuting and accessibility, and affordability.  You can speak to a Regain counselor at your convenience via online messaging, video chat, phone, and text from home or anywhere with a reliable internet connection. 

Online therapy is often more affordable than traditional therapy without insurance, and a growing body of research shows it’s also as effective as conventional face-to-face therapy. For example, a study from the University of Amsterdam measured the results of online CBT in controlled trials of 840 participants, reporting that “online CBT is a viable and effective alternative to face-to-face treatment.”

If you’re ready to explore your dreams about your ex and what they may mean, reaching out to a licensed, accredited mental health professional through Regain may be the first step to resolution.

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