The other night my ex-boyfriend appeared to me in a dream. He was calmly explaining why we couldn’t get back together. I don’t remember if I was trying to make this happen or if he just came out of nowhere. His eyes seemed sad, like he was trying to let me down without causing me too much emotional distress. I felt deeply uncomfortable and was tongue-tied. I woke up still uneasy, as if he’d had the last word and I couldn’t do anything to change it.
Dreams featuring an ex can be downright disturbing. It’s like seeing a ghost of heartbreak’s past — or, if you did the heartbreaking, a ghost of guilty conscience’s past. Your logical mind knows you’re over your former partner, but it makes you wonder if your subconscious is trying to tell you something different.
But there really is no need to be alarmed. If an ex is making guest appearances in your dreams, it’s likely a reflection of your own feelings and energy. “Consider dreams about your ex [as representing] an aspect of you or a way of being that you were when you were with them,” says Kelly Sullivan Walden, dream expert and certified hypnotherapist. In other words, it is a message from your subconscious that you’re longing for a certain feeling from that time in your life, not that you’re pining for that person.
For example, my therapist and I believe that my dream about my ex is a reflection of my anxiety about my impending move to London. Holding onto something that grounded me to home (i.e. my last relationship) is my subconscious’ way of grappling with such a big change.
If you’re wondering what your ex dreams are telling you, read on.
1. You find yourself walking hand-in-hand with your ex. You know something is off, but you can’t quite figure out what. You wake up feeling confused and a bit gut-punched.
Dreaming that you’re in a relationship with your ex rarely means you actually wish you were still with them. It’s more likely that you’re missing the good times and the good feelings you had while in the relationship, especially since our brains have a way of blocking out the bad stuff in favor of the positive, says Fran Walfish, Psy.D., a family and relationship psychotherapist
Or you might be iffy about the way things ended. “You may be wrestling with conflicts that you left unaddressed, and you are still trying to resolve old business,” Walfish says. Sometimes when things don’t end on our terms (which happens a lot in relationships), we wind up trying to make sense of them long after the fact. ”You [could be] venting, sorting out, and processing issues [that] were hot buttons for you back then, or perhaps [they were the] reason you broke up,” Walden says. “[In your dreams,] you get to ‘redo’ how you wish you would’ve showed up [in the relationship].”
2. You are getting hot and heavy. You’re about to have an orgasm when you suddenly wake up. You feel a bit disgusted with yourself for how good your ex was making you feel.
I used to spend most days despising one ex for breaking my heart, only find myself having sex with him in my dreams. I would wake up so shaken that I often cried. According to Walden, while experiencing intense emotions following a dream like this is normal, these dreams are usually an attempt to connect with certain qualities within yourself.
Dreaming about sex with an ex can also be your subconcious attempting to pull an aspect of your former sex life into the present. It’s a sort of energy-transferance: “[Dreaming about] sex with an ex could be simply about remembering your passionate way of relating to [them] and wanting to enliven your current sex life with that particular brand of mojo,” says Walden. There’s nothing wrong with that. As we become fully mature sexual beings, we bring our past experiences with us.
3. You’re on your hands and knees crying, begging your ex to take you back. You keep asking “why” but they aren’t giving you the answer you want. You wake up, look around your room, and think, WTF?!
Walfish explains that feelings of desperation and need often present themselves in dreams when we find ourselves craving something totally unrelated in real life. The dream is a sort of messenger. “A dream where you beg to get back together with an ex likely means that somewhere in your current life you feel you are not getting what you deserve,” she says. That could be within a new romantic relationship, at work, or in a friendship. If you have a dream like this, take a look at everything in your life and try to discern where specifically you are feeling unfulfilled.
Begging for an ex to take you back can also be a way of coping with and releasing some of your feelings. This is especially true in situations where you were broken up with and didn’t get the last word. “This dream may be helping you to vent out feelings that you may have been ‘too cool’ to express in waking life,” Walden says.
Let’s face it: Getting dumped is a major blow to the ego. It makes sense that you’d dream about something so upsetting from time to time.
4. You get a call from your ex’s mom. She tells you that your ex has died in a terrible accident. You feel sick to your stomach and are suddenly filled with a treasure-trove of what-ifs. You wake up and check your phone for missed calls.
When we dream about the death of an ex, it’s usually a reflection of the feeling of loss we have when a person of such importance leaves our lives. If you’ve ever gone through a breakup that felt like a matter of life and death, you get it. This was a person who was a huge part of your life, and you are entitled to grieve them like you would any significant loss.
In that same vein, you’re grieving for the person you were inside of that relationship. But remember, when something ends, we learn and we grow. This can be painful. Your dream “could be about the pattern you were in with this person ending (dying) so that a new (healthier) relationship dynamic can be born,” Walden says.
5. You’re standing outside of your apartment. You’re not sure what you’re screaming about, but you know you’re incredibly angry at your ex. You feel betrayed and furious. They scream back. You wake up feeling enraged even though you haven’t seen or spoken to them in months.
This dream indicates that you have some unresolved feelings or anger toward your ex, says Wafish. But that doesn’t mean you should call your ex and have it out. Time heals all wounds, and it’s best to let the past stay in the past.
Plus, you’re really yelling at yourself, not your ex. “When we fight, we often are trying to get someone else (our ex, in this case) to understand us, see our point of view, and validate how good we are,” Wafish says. “Really, we’re shouting at the [person] in the mirror — the approval, validation, and understanding we are truly fighting for is from [ourselves].”
Ultimately, there is no definitive guide to what a dream means. What matters most is how a dream makes you feel, or how you feel during one. Dreams are a reflection of your identity. All of those people who make cameos? They’re all created by your brain. They are reflections of you and your emotions.