Waking up from a dream about an ex can be jarring. But, according to professional dream analyst and author Lauri Quinn Loewenberg, “Whatever’s going on in the dream is going to reflect not necessarily [what’s going on] between you and your ex, but what’s going on with you.” Read along as Loewenberg explains possible meanings behind various dreams about an ex, and how they might relate to what’s happening in your life right now.
1. If you dreamed you were falling for your first love all over again…
“This can be someone who was in your life 30, 40, or 50 years ago, but you still find yourself dreaming about this person. He or she, at this point, is no longer playing themselves in the dream — instead, they kind of embody what first love feels like: the excitement, the passion, the desire, being desired, always wanting to be together, bubbles, that wonderful feeling.”
Because your first love represents this feeling in your psyche, “they will tend to show up in your dreams when, for example, your current relationship has become routine, or when you’re in a dry spell and you haven’t been with someone in a while,” Loewenberg says. “Your subconscious is reminding you of what it can feel like, and giving you a gentle nudge to either get out there and find someone who can bring these feelings back to you, or do something to wake up these feelings within your current relationship.”
2. If you had any sort of dream about a recent ex…
“You’re dreaming about him because your subconscious is trying to help you get through the breakup. What was the breakup like? Are you glad you’re out of it, or do you wish you were still in it? What are you holding on from it? Are you holding onto hope? Are you holding onto anger? Are you holding onto guilt — did you do something to mess up the relationship? What is it about this recent relationship that your subconscious is trying to help you move on from?”
3. If you dreamed a recent ex apologized or wanted you back…
“What I hear a lot from people who are dreaming about a recent ex is that they’ll dream the ex is professing their love and saying ‘I really wish we were back together’ or ‘I’m sorry’ or something along those lines. That can feel very real when you’re in the dream and even when you wake up from it, so then you’re thinking, ‘Maybe my ex really does wanna take me back.’”
Loewenberg warns that couldn’t be further from the truth: “That’s you wanting that. That’s you exploring that. That’s you doing a dress rehearsal with what you hoped was a possibility.”
4. If you dreamed a recent ex was rejecting you…
“If they’re saying ‘I don’t want you back’ but you want them back, that’s your dream trying to help you come back to reality. Look at the dream as a conversation with yourself. Whatever the ex is saying to you is what you are saying to yourself in regards to the ex.”
5. If you dreamed about fighting with your first love…
“Ask yourself, ‘What is the conflict right now in my life?’ Because, for some reason, your first love is going to represent something that feels like a battle to you in real life. Are you having a battle with loving yourself? Why are you mad at yourself? The first love can represent that you don’t have love for yourself right now. You’re fighting for that part of you. We all have a hard time with that — especially loving and being a friend to yourself. We’re our own worst critics.”
6. If you dreamed you were getting along with an ex you share children with…
“There’s still something that connects you to him or her and your dream is trying to help you co-parent. Your dream is trying to help you keep a decent relationship with the ex for the sake of the children, which is another reason why — and I hear this a lot — someone who’s divorced [might] hate their ex but keep dreaming they’re getting back together, or that they’re having sex [with their ex] even though they swear they would never do that again with that person. Your subconscious wants you to unite with [your ex] on some level for the sake of the kids.”
7. If you dreamed about fighting with an ex you share children with…
“A negative dream [like this] is an indication there is some negative issue [that] your dream is trying to help you with. Compare the emotion you felt in the dream to any current emotions you have been having. What issue right now in real life makes you feel the same way?
“For example, if the emotion you had in the dream was anger, what in real life right now is angering you? Sure, your ex may anger you constantly, but what in particular, right now, is angering you? That’s what your dream is trying to help you sort out.”
8. If you dreamed you were back in a toxic relationship…
Whether it was a dream about your adulterous ex cheating on you again, or a dream about an abusive ex, Loewenberg says that having a dream about reuniting with an ex who caused you “misery in any form or fashion” typically has the same reasoning.
She uses the example of a physically abusive ex to describe what’s going on: “This is particularly true for women — I hear this all the time. They’ll dream that the ex is still beating them — they’re still suffering the abuse. That’s trauma. That’s a little bit of PTSD happening.”
In addition to speaking with a therapist, she advises: “You need to look at this and be honest with yourself by asking, ‘Are you still beating yourself up for being in that relationship for that long?’ Women who are in abusive relationships often stay in it way too long and they’re scared, or they don’t know what to do. When they finally get out, they get mad at themselves and they beat themselves up, and the dream reflects that. You’re still allowing your abuse but now you’re the one doing it — not physically but psychologically.”
9. If you dreamed you had sex with a toxic ex…
“First of all, you need to examine if there’s still a part of you that would take him back if he came around.” If that’s the case, you need to find a way to curb those feelings as soon as possible, she says.
“But if it’s been a while and you’re certain you wouldn’t take him back, and you don’t feel weak in that way, but you’re having a dream where you’re getting back together and things are great — that’s a good sign that you are coming to peace with it. You’re no longer beating yourself up. You forgive yourself and you’ve accepted this as part of yourself and your past and a lesson learned. You’re okay with it. You’ve grown a healthy attitude about it. When you’re awake and you’re thinking about the dream, ask yourself ‘Am I okay with this now?’ Forgiveness is really for yourself. Is that where I’m at? Do I truly forgive him? Do I hold any anger? You probably don’t, and your dream is showing that.”
10. If you dreamed about your ex’s most annoying habit…
“Your subconscious doesn’t forget anything — it stores everything. If you’re getting involved with someone right now who’s a little too much like someone who wasn’t good for you back then, your subconscious will remind you.”
For example, she suggests, “Maybe a partner in the past was a cigarette smoker and a current partner isn’t a cigarette smoker, but a drinker or has some other bad habit. How did you feel when you woke up from it? Annoyed? Well, that’s a warning.”
The takeaway: No matter what you dreamed about an ex, Loewenberg suggests asking yourself the following five questions to get to the bottom of why the dream took place:
1. What stands out to me about this particular ex or our relationship?
2. Is there anything in my current life or relationship that seems similar to this former ex or relationship?
3. Is there a lesson I learned from that particular ex or relationship that I can apply to my current life or relationship?
4. Do the actions or circumstances in the dream seem similar to any of my current circumstances?
5. Do the emotions or thoughts I had in the dream relate to how I feel or think about anything in my life or in my relationship right now?”
And, most importantly, remember the dream doesn’t necessarily mean you still have feelings for them — in fact, it’s rarely about them at all. “In a nutshell, the ex appeared in your dream to bring you a message you need to know right now,” she says. “Our past shapes who we are in the present. The dreams of our exes bring us reminders that, in order for our current or future relationships to be healthy, we must let go of the pain and negativity, but hold on to the lesson.”