Dreaming About an Ex? Experts Explore 23 Reasons Why

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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.” Autumn Fourkiller, the writer behind the Dream Interpretation for Dummies newsletter, adds that such dreams have been particularly popular since the start of the pandemic. “The pandemic has made a lot of people’s dreams spiral,” she explains. “This is totally understandable. We’re all longing for ‘normal’! If you keep dreaming about an ex, especially one you dated prior to the pandemic, I feel that it’s definitely rooted in a longing for the past, not specifically the person.”

Read along as Loewenberg and Fourkiller explain possible meanings behind various dreams about an ex, and how they might relate to what’s happening in your life right now.


If you dream you’re 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,” Loewenberg says. “The ex, 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. 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.”


If you have any sort of dream about a recent ex …

“You’re dreaming about this person because your subconscious is trying to help you get through the breakup,” says Loewenberg. “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 onto from it? Hope? Anger? 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?”

Photo: Martin-DM/Getty Images/iStockphoto


If you dream about a recent ex apologizing or wanting 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.”

Fourkiller strongly agrees. “Oftentimes, our subconscious desires come to the forefront in our dreams,” she explains. “You want it so badly, and there it is, right in front of you. Instead of taking it as a true apology, take it as an opportunity to forgive and invest in yourself. You’ll be better for it.”


If you dream a recent ex is 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,” says Loewenberg. “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.”


If you dream about fighting with your first love …

“Ask yourself, ‘What is the conflict right now in my life?’ Because,” as Loewenberg lays out, “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 ourselves. We’re our own worst critics.”


If you dream you’re getting along with an ex you share children with …

“There’s still something that connects you to them, and your dream is trying to help you co-parent,” says Loewenberg. “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 them] 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.”

Photo: Getty Images


If you dream 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,” says Loewenberg. “Compare the emotion you felt in the dream to any you’ve been experiencing while awake. What real-life issue 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.”


If you dream you’re 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 because 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.”


If you dream you’re having sex with a toxic ex …

“First of all, you need to examine if there’s still a part of you that would take this person back if they came around” Loewenberg says. “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 the person 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 them? Do I hold any anger?’ You probably don’t, and your dream is showing that.”

Photo: Vini Marchi Appel/Getty Images/EyeEm


If you dream about your ex’s most annoying habit …

“Your subconscious doesn’t forget anything — it stores everything,” Loewenberg says. “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, “Maybe a partner in the past was a cigarette smoker and a current partner is a drinker or has some other bad habit. How did you feel when you woke up from it? Annoyed? Well, that’s a warning.”


If you have a romantic dream about an ex who you never technically “dated”…

“Again, it’s probably not necessarily about the ex, but more about some outstanding quality that the ex represents,” Loewenberg says. “So, what is it that you remember most about this person’s personality or about your time together? What comes to mind is what that dream is about — so maybe you need that quality back in your life, or maybe, if it was a terrible experience, you need to be aware that this could be back in your life again with someone else.”


If you dream you’re confronting a person who ghosted you …

“One aspect is that it’s a psychological release for you,” Loewenberg explains. “You’re expressing frustration, disappointment, and anger to that person through the dream because you weren’t able to in real life. So it’s kind of like a release.”

“Another aspect is that our dreams do serve as dress rehearsals, and they will put us in very realistic scenarios so we can better prepare for [something like this happening] again,” she says. “Through this dream, you’re likely getting your thoughts in order so that — number one — you can make sure [getting ghosted] doesn’t happen to you again and — number two — you can have your arsenal ready if it does happen again.”


If you dream you’re dating a person who ghosted you …

“On a much lesser degree, this is not unlike when people who were in abusive relationships dream that they’re with their abusers again,” Loewenberg says. “In that same vein, you’re having this dream because your subconscious mind is trying to help you come to peace with it.”


If you dream your ex is breaking up with you all over again …

“First, you want to look at how long ago the breakup was,” Loewenberg says. “If it was recent, then you’re still rehashing it. You’re not over it. There’s still a little bit of trauma that you’re experiencing and replaying over and over again.”

“But, if this was a long time ago (like years ago), and you’re dreaming that this ex is dumping you all over again, then you need to ask yourself, ‘What’s going on right now that’s making me feel this way? Did I get turned down for a job? Did something I pitched get turned down?’ Why are you feeling rejected again right now?”


If you dream your ex is in some sort of physical danger and you’re trying to save them …

“This may very well be about how there’s something from that relationship — some lesson learned — that you need to save or salvage,” Loewenberg says. “Or maybe something that you gained from that relationship.” For example, she suggests the relationship could have made you a stronger and more confident person, and now this is your subconscious mind urging you to utilize those skills.


If you dream your ex is in some sort of physical danger and you’re not trying to save them …

“This could actually be a very good sign that you are progressing from holding onto the pain of the rejection,” Loewenberg says. “The danger that the ex is going through is your own psyche putting an end to what you’ve been holding onto.”


If you dream your ex is killing you …

“Death in a dream is about something ending or changing,” Loewenberg says. “Murder is a forced end or change. So, if you’re ex is murdering you, ask yourself, how did the breakup change you unwillingly? Did it kill off your spirit? Did it kill off your ability to trust? Did it kill off your confidence? What did that relationship kill off in you? Then, how can you help bring it back to life?”


If you dream you’re killing your ex …

“If you’re the one doing it, that’s a good indication to actively take steps to put an end to any sort of resentment or frustration you’re still holding onto,” Loewenberg says. “The biggest problem when we’ve gone through a bad breakup is that we bring [resentment] into our next relationship. This [dream] is a good sign that you are killing [the negative feelings] off, so that your next relationship or your current relationship can stand on its own.”


If you dream about your ex dating someone else …

“The healthy aspect of [this dream] is that it’s you coming to peace with the fact that your ex is going to have a life after you,” Loewenberg says. “So, you should take [this dream as a sign] that you need to have a life after your ex.”

As for the unhealthy aspect of this scenario, Loewenberg warns it could be a sign that you’re still too focused on your ex. She asks, “Are you accepting the fact that he’s now with someone else?”


If you dream about spending time with your ex’s family, like you did when you were together …

“This is not unlike when you quit smoking and dream that you’re still smoking,” Loewenberg says. “It’s something you were used to, a routine, a comfort that is no longer there. Your subconscious is wondering where [the routine] went. This sort of dream tapers off as time goes on, and you get used to no longer [having the relationship as] a constant.”


If you dream your ex has coronavirus …

Then, according to Loewenberg, the meaning of the dream would “depend on how you view your ex.” If you harbor residual anger against this person, their presence on the astral plane might be your subconscious “showing you that the space [they take] up in your psyche is unhealthy.” On the other hand, if you have no beef with this person and mostly fond memories of your time together — if, for example, they were your first love — then dreaming about that “may indicate that something within your current relationship is beginning to get unhealthy, particularly if you are on lockdown with a current partner,” Loewenberg suggests. “This lockdown can be very trying for relationships right now.”


If you dream of your ex in conjunction with your current partner …

Did you dream your ex was in the same room as your current partner? Or maybe they had some sort of run-in on the street? Well, according to Fourkiller, “That speaks to fears of failure, of worrying that this relationship will end up like your last. It won’t! You’re different now! And even if it ends, it’s not a curse.”


If you have a pleasant dream about being back together with your ex …

No, this is not some sort of sneaky sign to get back together. “If you dream you’re back together with an ex, even if this dream feels pleasant, it might just be that,” Fourkiller says. “A happy reminder that the past wasn’t as painful as it could have been.”

The takeaway: “In general, I caution dreamers not to take dreaming about their ex as a sign that they should reach out or even try to mend the relationship, but a sign that there are deeper, unresolved emotions at play,” says Fourkiller. “This could be in regard to the relationship, but oftentimes the ex is just a symbolic stand-in. They could represent what we feel we have lost to time or to place, but their recurrence in a dream means that whatever we feel is gone hasn’t truly left us.” 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?”

If your dream has left you with a lingering urge to reach out to your ex, Fourkiller has some tips. “If you’re on friendly terms, dropping a line with ‘I had the weirdest/craziest/strangest dream about you!’ with an explanation in the initial paragraph isn’t the worst idea,” she suggests. “Perhaps your ex can clarify what has been going on in their life, if it has anything to do with the dream, and if they feel they can take anything from it. If not, reaching out is still a way to honor your past and the places you’ve been! If it’s a sex dream, though … maybe leave it unsaid.” If you are not on speaking terms, Fourkiller suggests you keep it that way and continue making sense of the dream through self-reflection.

Most importantly, remember the dream doesn’t necessarily mean you still have feelings for an ex — in fact, it’s rarely about them at all. Fourkiller explains ex dreams can often be sparked by totally unrelated life changes. “Moving jobs/homes, making a big life decision, or even starting a new relationship can bring about an ex dream,” she says. “This is simply a sign of transition and a new start! Our minds are deeply rooted in the past and present and often have deep anxieties over the future. Dreaming of the past, of something that has already happened and is, for the moment, set, can bring us comfort during our transitions. No changes come without some sort of discomfort, even minor, and so we cling to what we know. Letting go of this, of embracing the miasma of the future, is an exercise of trust in the self! Easier to say, harder to do.”

“In a nutshell,” Loewenberg explains, “the ex appeared in your dream to bring you a message you need to know right now. Our past shapes who we are in the present. The dreams about 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 onto the lesson.”

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Dreaming About an Ex? Experts Explore 23 Reasons Why