Key Takeaways
  • Different dream theories give various interpretations for dreaming about an ex.
  • Possible reasons for dreaming about an ex include unresolved feelings, past trauma from your relationship, and recently seeing that person.
  • Theorists have hypothesized that dreams are revelations about daytime experiences or practice for real-world interactions.

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. Dreams about former partners are not uncommon. Research suggests the occurrence of an ex in dreams depends on your relationship status at the time of the dream.

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. Studies show that both single people and those in relationships have dreams involving former partners. But if an ex appears in your dreams, it is understandable to wonder what it means.

Unresolved Feelings About Your Ex

One interpretation of seeing your ex in a dream is that you have not fully moved on from the relationship. If you still have feelings for your ex, they may appear in your dreams because dreams can 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 past trauma from your relationship. Research shows that stressful emotions and trauma during waking hours can impact the subject matter of your dreams.

Trauma can also come from the death of a partner or loved one. Dreaming about a deceased partner can be a method of 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 to 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 waking 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 another element in your life. 

If you are 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.

What Does It Mean When You Dream About Someone?

The meaning you take away from any dream greatly depends on what dream theory or combination of theories you believe. Dreams may be directly related to daytime experiences and reveal meaningful information to the dreamer , or they could provide a virtual reality model to practice for real-world interaction . There is also a theory that proposes that dreams come from stored memories.

“Dreams fade quickly from conscious memory. By keeping a piece of paper and pen on your nightstand, you can quickly capture the dream’s content before it fades away. This may in turn lead to increased dream recall.”
Dr. Brandon Peters
Dr. Brandon Peters
Sleep Physician, Sleep Psychiatry Expert

Some researchers propose that recognizing the emotional state or feelings in a dream is key to interpreting and understanding the dream’s meaning. In addition to the events of a dream, consider writing down the emotions you felt as well as your responses to those emotions. These feelings can help you gather a broader picture of your dream and help you identify if the dream is about your ex or something deeper.

If you want to be more aware that you are 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.

If you are 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.

You can also talk with a professional therapist trained in psychoanalysis 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.

Learn more about our Editorial Team

7 Sources

  1. Black, J., Belicki, K., Piro, R., & Hughes, H. (2020). Comforting versus distressing dreams of the deceased: Relations to grief, trauma, attachment, continuing bonds, and post-dream reactions. OMEGA – Journal of Death and Dying, 003022282090385.
  2. Ruby, P. M. (2011). Experimental research on dreaming: State of the art and neuropsychoanalytic perspectives. Frontiers in Psychology, 2.
  3. Nielsen, T. A., Kuiken, D., Alain, G., Stenstrom, P., & Powell, R. A. (2004). Immediate and delayed incorporations of events into dreams: Further replication and implications for dream function. Journal of Sleep Research, 13(4), 327–336.
  4. Clarke, J., DeCicco, T. L., & Navara, G. (2010). An investigation among dreams with sexual imagery, romantic jealousy and relationship satisfaction. International Journal of Dream Research, 3(1), 54–59.
  5. Zhang, W., & Guo, B. (2018). Freud’s dream interpretation: A different perspective based on the self-organization theory of dreaming. Frontiers in Psychology, 9, 1553.
  6. Nir, Y., & Tononi, G. (2010). Dreaming and the brain: from phenomenology to neurophysiology. Trends in cognitive sciences, 14(2), 88–100.
  7. Sparrow, G. S. (2020). The construction and analysis of dream metaphors from the standpoint of Co-Creative Dream Theory. International Journal of Dream Research, 13(1), 90–98.

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