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What Does it Mean if You’re Dreaming About an Ex?

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Danielle Pacheco

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Heather Wright

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Dreaming about an ex can stir up a number of emotions. If you have a vivid dream about your ex, you might feel sad, surprised, or confused. Some types of dreams can even impact your sleep quality.

Keep in mind that seeing people you know in a dream is quite common. In recalled dreams, people see an average of four characters. Who these characters are can vary. You might see strangers or unfamiliar faces, or you might see people you know. Parents, siblings, loved ones, and former partners can all make appearances in your dreams.

Dreams about former partners are not uncommon. Research shows the occurrence of an ex in dreams depends on your relationship status at the time of the dream. In one study, 35% of people in a relationship dreamed about their current partner or an ex. In contrast, a little over 17% of single people dreamed about former partners.

But if an ex appears in your dreams, what does it mean? The meaning you take away from any dream greatly depends on what dream theory or combination of theories you believe:

  • Psychodynamic Theory: Sigmund Freud believed dreams were a gateway to the unconscious mind. According to Freud, dreams are directly related to daytime experiences and reveal meaningful information to the dreamer.
  • Activation-Input-Modulation (AIM) Model: In this model, dreams are the brain’s response to high activity as you sleep. The brain also provides a virtual reality model to practice for real-world interaction.
  • Neurocognitive Theory: This theory proposes that dreams come from stored memories. As a result, individuals have unique dreams as they process pieces of their memories. Settings and people from real life can appear in dreams, but dreams are not necessarily tied to a specific experience.

Regardless of what theory you believe, dreaming about an ex can sometimes be disconcerting or worrisome. However, dreaming about an ex can have multiple interpretations. There is no single, exact meaning behind these types of dreams.

Unresolved Feelings About Your Ex

One interpretation of seeing your ex in a dream is that you’re not quite over them. If you still have feelings for your ex, it’s unsurprising that they appear in your dreams because dreams can appear to replicate reality. However, your real-world feelings toward your ex do not necessarily have to be romantic ones. You may also experience frustration, anger, sadness, or jealousy.

Past Trauma

A possible cause for dreaming about an ex may be recalling past trauma in your relationship. Research shows that stressful emotions and trauma during waking hours can impact your dreams.

Trauma can also come from the death of a partner or loved one. Dreaming about a deceased partner can be a tool for managing grief. A trained therapist can help you explore the meanings of these dreams and assist in processing your grief and trauma.

Recently Seeing Your Ex

Whether by scrolling through social media or bumping into them at the grocery store, seeing your ex can trigger their appearance in your dreams. An ex showing up in your dreams may simply be part of memory consolidation. Research shows that dreams most frequently incorporate events one or seven days after the event experience.

Similar Relationship Concerns

Some studies have shown that elements of a relationship can manifest in dreams. For example, if you have been cheated on in your relationship, you are more likely to dream about infidelity than someone who has not. These types of dreams can occur even after you have broken up. Dreams of this nature may indicate a need for closure with an ex. They might also reflect concerns you have about infidelity in a new relationship.

In other cases, these types of dreams may represent parallels in your present life. If you are questioning the honesty of your friends, you might dream about an ex cheating because the emotions are similar.

    Your Ex Symbolizes Something Else

    A dream about an ex might not be about your previous partner at all. Instead, your ex can represent something else in your life. Some researchers propose that recognizing the emotional state or feelings in the dream is key to interpreting and understanding the dream’s meaning.

    If you’re wondering what seeing an ex in your dream means, consider how you feel about them and what memories you associate with them. Those emotions may be the more significant component of the dream rather than your ex. For example, if your ex brings feelings of stress or frustration, consider what in your current life is causing those same emotions. Keep in mind that major life changes, such as pregnancy or trauma, can also affect your dreams.

    How to Interpret Dreams About an Ex

    If you’re curious about finding meaning in your dreams, consider keeping a dream journal. When you wake up, write down what you recall from your dream. If you regularly see your ex in your dreams, you can identify patterns among the different dreams.

    Consider writing down the emotions you felt in the dreams as well as your responses to those emotions. These feelings can help you get a broader picture of your dream and help you identify if the dream is about your ex or something else. If you want to be more aware that you’re dreaming as a dream takes place, you can explore lucid dreaming. Lucid dreaming may help you gain further insight into your emotions during the dream itself.

    You can also talk with a professional therapist about your dream experiences. They may be able to help you further unpack the meaning of your dreams and offer you strategies for moving forward.

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    About Our Editorial Team

    author
    Danielle Pacheco

    Staff Writer

    Danielle writes in-depth articles about sleep solutions and holds a psychology degree from the University of British Columbia.

    author
    Heather Wright

    Pathologist

    MD

    Dr. Wright, M.D., is an Anatomic and Clinical Pathologist with a focus on hematopathology. She has a decade of experience in the study of disease.

    About Our Editorial Team

    author
    Danielle Pacheco

    Staff Writer

    Danielle writes in-depth articles about sleep solutions and holds a psychology degree from the University of British Columbia.

    author
    Heather Wright

    Pathologist

    MD

    Dr. Wright, M.D., is an Anatomic and Clinical Pathologist with a focus on hematopathology. She has a decade of experience in the study of disease.