If your nighttime adventures involve a former flame, know you’re not alone, whether you’re partnered or single. "Dreaming about your ex is super common," says Lauri Loewenberg, author and certified dream analyst. Does this mean you’re ready to throw your life away and run back to your ex? Not at all, she says, but the context really matters here—it’s likely that your dream doesn’t actually have much to do with your ex at all.
Why can't I stop dreaming about my ex?
First off, it’s important to note that dreams about exes aren’t inherently good or bad—there are so many different meanings that it’s impossible to say. According to Loewenberg, it's best not to read too far into dreaming about an ex. Know that dreaming about an ex rarely means you actually want them back.
Instead, take a less literal interpretation. "Usually [the dream] is not so much about your ex, but about what they represent," she says. Analyzing the dream to figure out the message and feelings beneath is important. "[Dreams are] brutally honest with you and try to show you what's going on in your heart and your mind so you can make better decisions while you're awake," says Loewenberg.
The root of most dreams about exes, regardless of the specific details, has to do with either craving a change in your current situation or desiring some quality or circumstance they represent for yourself. In general, dreaming about the past is your subconscious saying something is missing from your present, she says.
The underlying root of most dreams about exes has to do with either craving a change in your current situation, or desiring some quality or circumstance they represent.
In a similar vein, take dreams about cheating: though you may not want to actually step out on your S.O, you could be craving some novelty. "The need for an escape gets stronger and stronger, and the cheating dream happens as a means of an escape," she says.
Read on for Loewenberg’s intel about the meaning of eleven common dreams about exes to understand what your subconscious is trying to tell you and how you can learn from each.
11 of the most common dreams people have about their ex
1. When you dream about your first love
The ex people tend to dream about most often is their first love. "You'll dream about them years after you're together—they'll continue to pop up because of what they represent," Loewenberg says. "Your first love represents passion and feeling desired... That excitement, the butterflies, that spice that you experience with your first love will continue to show up for a few reasons."
Your first love appearing in your dreams could be due to a current relationship becoming routine, which all relationships do at some point. "It's a healthy dream in the sense that it's reminding you that you need these feelings, so think of what you can do in your current relationship to spice it up and make it exciting again." She adds that a first love can also show up in dreams if you're single and seeking a relationship as a way for your subconscious to remind you that you've been in love before and can be in love again.
2. When you dream about an abusive ex
This could mean a few things. One possibility is "you haven't been able to let go of the distrust, the anger, and the resentment that they created," says Loewenberg, adding that part of you may still be allowing the ex to live on in your head.
But, perhaps counterintuitively, sexual or romantic contact with this person in the dream might actually reflect positive growth. According to Loewenberg, this can mean that you’ve made peace with what happened, learned lessons about how you need to be loved, and have forgiven yourself. Even if you and your ex are back together in the dream, she notes that it may be more about you loving yourself despite what you dealt with in that relationship. If your dream is making you feel uncomfortable or unsafe during your waking hours, though, seek the help of a professional.
3. Your ex appears in a sex dream
Even if you're not thinking about your ex sexually during waking hours, your former flame might star in your sex dreams. Generally and somewhat surprisingly, “more often than not, sex in a dream isn’t necessarily about sex but is more about incorporating some quality of that person you’re having sex with in the dream into yourself or into your life,” says Loewenberg.
When an ex appears in sex dream, it signals a reunion. The exact meaning really depends on who this person is: a common reason is missing good sex, or they could possess some quality that you wish you had. “For example, maybe they had a great sense of humor or had some quality that really stood out to you that you want to incorporate into your own personality,” she adds.
4. When you and your ex are fighting
"There's a common dream where you're fighting with your ex—sometimes even trying to kill them or they're trying to kill you," says Loewenberg. "Typically this doesn't mean you're going to be on a future episode of Dateline. What it really means is that you're still fighting with yourself over that relationship and you're still beating yourself up over it." In fact, she adds, murder in your dream might be good news, indicating that you're in the process of successfully killing off the hold that the relationship had over you.
5. When you're pregnant with their child
Don't freak out—pregnancy dreams with an ex are positive. "This means that you have learned something from that relationship, and that lesson—that wisdom—is what's growing inside of you. You've grown from it."
6. When you're just near your ex
There are some dreams in which your ex is just there, maybe in the car or in the background in some other way, says Loewenberg. The meaning of these dreams depends on how far removed the ex is. "If it's a recent ex, that's telling you that the ex is still prevalent and something about the relationship is still being carried with you," she says. "But if it's an ex from many years ago, then there's something about the ex or the relationship that's going on now in your life, and something going on in your life now is reminding you of it."
For example, if you or even a friend is dating someone new, something about this person may trigger a memory of your past relationship. "It's up to you to decide if it's a good thing or a bad thing and whether you need to do something about it," says Loewenberg.
7. When you're stealing from your ex
"This is usually with a recent ex, and you dream about breaking into their car or house, and you're trying to steal something," Loewenberg says. In this case, whatever you're breaking into represents their mind-set, meaning you're trying to get into their head and heart to understand what's going on and what happened to make the relationship end.
8. When your ex wants you back
There can be a significant meaning here. "If you dream about an ex from a long time ago or your abusive ex, and they're wanting you back in your dream, that's just your subconscious giving you a heads up that you might be becoming weak to a current situation that is similar," Loewenberg says. "It's also kind of a wake-up call: You need to have a convo with yourself and say what it is about this person you want back." Obviously, the relationship didn't work for one reason or another, so figure out what about the person is currently intriguing you and spend some time reflecting on that.
9. When you dream about a recent ex
"If you dream about a more recent ex, one that you would like to have back, then that's you wishing—it's a wish-fulfillment dream," says Loewenberg. Basically, your subconscious is living out the situation it desires—maybe your ex is apologizing or fighting to get you back. If this happens but you definitely don't want to get back together, your subconscious may be saying it simply wants a relationship in general.
10. When your ex is with someone else
Another dreaming-about-your-ex scenario involves your ex being with another romantic interest, which Loewenberg says is common. "Your subconscious is trying to reason with you and let you know that your ex has moved on and has a new life," she says. "They have other things going on and you need to do the same."
"Your subconscious is trying to reason with you and let you know that your ex has moved on and has a new life...They have other things going on and you need to do the same."—Loewenberg
11. You have a nightmare about your ex
In general, nightmares are dreams that cause stress and fear—sometimes enough to wake you up. If your ex appears in a nightmare, like one where they're hurting you or you're hurting them, Loewenberg says this points to a serious issue that's causing you great anguish in your waking hours.
To get to the bottom of these scary dreams, she advises digging into what’s causing you the most pain, worry, or fear at present. “If there was something very upsetting with the ex, then that might still be an issue for you, or maybe there’s something very difficult going on right now that has a similar feeling to when you were with the ex,” she says.
Do you need to tell your partner if you’re dreaming about your ex?
No need to panic if you wake up from a dream about your ex and your partner is snoozing beside you—rest assured, you haven’t done anything wrong. You could tell them about about your dream if you feel comfortable, but you also aren’t obligated to unless you’d like their support handling the underlying issue.
In general, if you feel you have an issue going on in real life and your dreams are reinforcing that notion, you can communicate with your partner or seek the assistance of a mental-health professional or therapist.
What do if you’re dreaming about your ex
Think about what’s happening in your waking life
Regardless of exactly what kind of dream you have about your ex, Loewenberg says it’s key to pay attention because dreams are often signaling that you should pay more attention to something happening in your waking life.
To dig into why, exactly, you’re dreaming about your ex, consider what happened in the dream and work backwards. To start, Loewenberg recommends thinking about your key memories and takeaways from your relationship with this person, like what lessons or traumas you carry from it. “When you think about them or that relationship, ask yourself what is the outstanding thing, then ask if there is anything going on right now in your life that feels similar,” she advises. For example, maybe this relationship was marked with suspicion and lack of trust; you might dig into whether there’s something in your life that’s causing you to feel untrusting.
Consider if your dream is recurring
As for when dreams about your ex might be a red flag? If your ex is present in your dreams nearly every night, that could mean your subconscious is really trying to signal something to you. Indeed, the meaning of recurring dreams is essentially your subconscious warning you to take a harder look at a situation you haven’t yet resolved. They typically signal something you’re struggling to move past, or a great challenge you’re facing.
“That would tell you that your subconscious is really trying to use the ex to get a message across to you that you're not getting, and that it indicates as well that you're stuck somehow psychologically or emotionally,” explains Loewenberg.
Stopping recurring dreams requires actually addressing the root of the issue. Just like any other type of dream, you should figure out exactly when the dreams started. If it was two weeks ago, for example, think about all that’s happened in your life leading up to this and since the dreams started. “Pinpointing when it started will help you figure out what is causing it, and then when you're able to figure out what this dream is nagging you about or where you are stuck,” says Loewenberg.
For example, maybe you’ve found yourself dreaming about your first love repeatedly and realized that you’ve been neglecting your romantic life for the past several weeks and that you’re feeling lonely in that regard. To help stop this recurring dream you might make a plan to put more effort into going on dates.
Don't tell your ex you're dreaming about them
Loewenberg says it’s rarely a good idea to tell your ex you’re dreaming about them. She notes that it’s likely they’re your ex for a reason, so do the internal work of analyzing your dreams, queue up some songs about moving on, and keep forgetting your ex.
Remember that just because you’re dreaming about your ex or thinking about them doesn't mean the preoccupation is mutual. “Your dreams are about you,” adds Loewenberg. “Your dreams are messages from you, to you, about you, in order to improve you.” This means the dreams aren’t really much about the ex at all, and really what they symbolize is more important.
"Your dreams are messages from you, to you, about you, in order to improve you."—Loewenberg
There are some exceptions, however. Let’s say you’re the one who ended things and you’re now realizing you think you made a mistake and that this was a good relationship you ended too early. In that case, you might consider reaching out and seeing how your ex responds if it feels right, she says.
Journal about your dreams
Dream journaling is a helpful practice to sort through your emotions and keep all your thoughts and memories of your dreams in one place. To get started, Loewenberg recommends this short journaling script just before you go to sleep: take the most recent or upsetting dream you’ve had about your ex, and write out exactly what happened, then add to it.
As for what to write? Whatever you want; remember that dreams are your creation. You might write out a conversation with the ex, or rewrite the ending of your relationship to gain some resolution. If there was guilt involved on your part, you might write a letter of forgiveness to yourself. If the relationship was toxic, you could write down everything you wish you could say to this person's face.
The key here is not to edit yourself and just keep writing until you feel finished. “Get out whatever particular issues you have with your ex out of your system and onto paper,” says Loewenberg. “Take up as many pages in the journal as you need to just write the hell out of it.” When you’ve said all you needed to say, you can close the journal and head to bed. Besides feeling cathartic, this act organizes your thoughts—and may even give you fodder for new dreams.
Address the root causes
Once you've analyzed your dream, Loewenberg says it's key to act on whatever was at the root—after all, what's the point of dream analysis if not to actually listen to your subconscious when it comes knocking?
If your most recent fling is lingering in your dreams and you've worked out that it's likely because you want to be in a relationship, make active steps toward doing so. You might re-download the dating apps, or make a concerted effort to go out more to meet people, or even let your friends know you're open to being set up.
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