Help—I Keep Dreaming About My Ex! Here’s What It Means, According to a Therapist, a Medium and Freud

Spoiler: It’s complicated

Dreaming about your ex: illustration of a woman asleep
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While difficulty falling and staying asleep is a persistent concern of basically everyone these days, there’s another complaint that’s making bedtime an unsettling experience for one of our colleagues here at PureWow: She keeps dreaming of the boyfriend she broke up with nine months ago. We get it, and while the virtual office cooler concurred that many of us had experienced the same dream (or nightmare, in some cases), we were at odds for what exactly it means. So we turned to experts and TikTok—as well as the writings of dream analysis pioneer Sigmund Freud—to get the answer. Our takeaway? Just like the Facebook relationship status: It’s complicated. Here’s what we uncovered, with helpful tips on how to interpret dreams of your ex you might have.

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Meet the Experts

  • Dr. Nancy Irwin is a clinical psychologist and certified hypnotherapist in Los Angeles, CA. She completed her doctorate in clinical psychology (PsyD) at CalSouthern University and is also a diplomat at the American Academy Experts of Traumatic Stress. 
  • Amanda Lieber is a psychic medium, intuitive and dream interpreter based in New York City.

Is It Unusual to Dream About an Ex-Lover?

“Dreams about exes are quite common,” says Irwin. “Depending on the content of the dream, and most importantly your feelings about it when you wake up, you want to ask yourself the right questions of a dream: Is this really about my ex, or something that he/she represents in me?  More than likely there is unfinished business of some sort around that relationship, and you'd have to look at what is happening in the dream. Is it sex? Is it an argument?”

Lieber says we often dream in symbols that don’t always make sense initially. “While dreams can be highly nuanced according to your past experiences, as a dream interpreter, I’ve found that dreaming of your ex in a positive way (read: you feel good during the dream) generally symbolizes desire,” she says.

Does Dreaming About an Ex Mean I Should Be with Them?

Freud said that there are two elements to a dream—the manifest content (what we remember that happens in the dream) and the latent content (the underlying ‘dream thoughts’ that make up the dream). The Freud Museum offers this helpful explanation: “The wishes expressed in dreams are found at the level of the latent content, which can be brought out through free association. They are represented in the manifest content, but in a disguised form.” The important takeaway here is free association: Freud encouraged his patients to talk about what the dreams reminded them of, or made them think of, to make sense of them. He didn’t interpret them literally.

“For the most part, dreaming of your ex doesn’t mean that you want to get back together with them; rather, it’s an indication that you’re missing a certain feeling state you once experienced together,” Lieber tells us. “For example, maybe your ex was spontaneous and adventurous and you often felt joyful together, or maybe you regularly shared deep, meaningful conversations that felt supportive and expansive. Or maybe you had mind-blowing sex and felt safe with your ex. Dreaming of them is an invitation to go find them on your own.”

Irwin’s got a similar read. “The dream may not be about your ex per se. It might be a symbol for something: loss, love, sex, miscommunication, pain, cheating, etc. It is hard to generalize; dreams, messages from your psyche, are specific to the individual. They get your attention and have a message for you. Dreaming about your ex does not necessarily mean you want them back. Sometimes it is a warning to choose partners more carefully next time,” she explains.

What Are Questions to Ask to Help Have Clarity Around a Dream about an Ex?

Irwin suggests these highly analytical questions:

  • What did I learn from that ex that I can use to move forward more responsibly in future relationships? 
  • What unfinished business do I have with them? 
  • What do I need for complete closure of that relationship?

Alternatively, Leiber advises self-interrogation that leans into your feelings:

  • During the dream, how did I feel when X occurred? For example, if you dreamed about going on a hot-air balloon ride with your ex, did you feel scared or hesitant? Or joyful and free? Your ex is a symbol for what you value and desire.
  • Do I wish this dream was reality? What about this dream felt so good—was it really your ex or could you have interchanged any hot random person and felt the same way?
  • Did you notice any “weird” symbols in the dream (e.g., a number, an animal, an image or anything made no sense during the dream)? If your ex gave you a snake, for example, journal on what a snake might mean to you. Maybe a snake feels threatening, or maybe it reminds you of Britney Spears. Either way, this will give you clues to what you truly desire in relationships and in life.

Finally, What If I Just Want to Stop Dreaming of My Ex?

Ah, the “let’s just be done with this” sentiment. Here’s what Lieber says to think about. “If you're dreaming of your ex and want it to stop, it's important to neutralize your emotional reaction to the dream(s). After all, per the Law of Attraction, we will keep attracting whatever we focus on,” she tells us. The medium suggests remembering that the dream is symbolic, not literal, that your ex is just an actor in the dream. “Instead of focusing on your relationship and all the things that went wrong, simply focus on the dream itself and what it can teach you about your core beliefs and desires,” she said. “Remember that, truly, it has little to do with your actual ex—and more to do with helping you create a better future for yourself.”

Welp! After a dash of Freudian free-association, a little self-reflection and some analysis of steps we want to take forward in our life, we feel ready to enjoy some new dreams.

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dana dickey

Senior Editor

Dana Dickey is a PureWow Senior Editor, and during more than a decade in digital media, she has scoped out and tested top products and services across the lifestyle space...