Why Do I Keep Dreaming About My Ex?

We asked therapists, life coaches, and relationship experts to explain why you still keep dreaming about your ex.

Here are the likely reasons behind it:

Natalie Maximets

Natalie Maximets

Certified Life Transformation Coach, Online Divorce

It is wonderful to wake up after a pleasant and colorful dream that charges you with energy and joy. But when visions of your ex burst into your idyll, it’s not so beautiful anymore. Many people suffer unconscious thoughts about their former partner and cannot deal with it.

If you wonder what it means when you dream about your ex, get ready to receive some essential insight.

Repressed emotions make themselves felt

It is not uncommon when one partner initiates a couple’s breakup while the other still has feelings. At the same time, people try to suppress love to reduce the emotional pain of parting. But our subconscious doesn’t work that way.

Suppressed emotions will find their way out. And it’s okay if these are dreams about getting back together. In the worst case, suppression of feelings can lead to neurosis or even heart disease. But this can be dealt with.

The first step in healing is to understand and accept the feelings you have for your ex. Next, you need to survive them and stop hiding from your nature. Give yourself time to get over the breakup. It’s okay when you feel bad. It is just another facet of you. Allow all of your feelings to manifest with the full range of emotions.

When you release them, you will feel much better, lighter, and freer.

Your ex-boyfriend or girlfriend is like a habit

When people are in a relationship for a long time, they get used to each other and live in a certain way. Partners can share common hobbies, tastes for movies, music, wine, and so on. It is difficult for your brain to readjust to a new lifestyle immediately after a breakup, especially if you are not dating anyone.

That is why our memory reverts to the usual memories of an ex-lover. Moreover, this happens both in sleep and during waking. Give yourself time for your brain to rebuild for a new life.

To speed up this process, change your behavior. Take a different route to work, have dinner at a cafe you’ve never been to, make new acquaintances, change your schedule.

The resentment that rules your mind

Negative feelings make you constantly think about the person. When you focus on a person, it’s no surprise that they appear in your dreams all the time. The resentment can be of varying degrees and may not always manifest itself outwardly.

Your breakup could be very peaceful, and you think that you have nothing to blame your ex for, while negative emotions live inside you. Resentment can arise from any incorrectly spoken word; when a husband ignored your hobby, or a wife never baked your favorite dishes.

For a very long time, resentment against a partner may not be felt, but at the same time, it grows deeper into the subconscious. If you have an annoyance with your ex and cannot stop replaying certain moments from your relations, this is a sign of resentment against your past love.

When an ex appears in your dream because of pain or resentment, you should forgive them. I suggest you start writing a letter. You don’t actually need to send it to your ex-partner. You can do whatever you want: burn it, tear it up, and so on. This technique is effective and very common in psychological therapy.

You need to write a letter to your ex, expressing everything you feel. Even if you think you have no resentment, you will raise deep feelings during the writing process that will allow you to identify your main problem.

I also recommend you read the book “Radical Forgiveness” written by Colin Tripping. It is a powerful tool that will help you to deal with your unresolved issues independently.

Guilt as a way of self-flagellation

Another sense that makes the subconscious mind focus on a person is guilty. If deep down, you are sure that you have harmed your lover, you will think about it all the time and even dream about them almost every night. Feelings of guilt are just as destructive as resentment.

Moreover, it may be born in completely different conditions. It does not have to be something tragic like adultery or physical pain. You may feel guilty if you earned more money than your partner, or if you didn’t pay enough attention to them, didn’t keep communicating, etc.

To get rid of these negative manifestations, you have to do everything the same as in the previous section, but in relation to your person. In other words, forgive yourself.

Consequence of psychological trauma

Many women who suffered toxic relations tell how they wake up in a cold sweat wondering, “why do I keep having dreams about my ex?” If you are a victim of mental or physical violence, then this behavior is a consequence of inner trauma.

When a woman leaves the abuser, she subconsciously blames herself for being treated this way or tolerating too long. This is a psychological trauma caused by an abusive ex associated with the victim’s inner state, and the woman begins to inflict moral pain on herself.

But the worst thing is that the next partner will also be an abuser; after all, a “victim” subconsciously always builds relationships with those who will hurt her. It is almost impossible to cope with such trauma on your own. It requires therapy with an experienced psychologist.

You miss certain events from the past

Sometimes dreams about the former partner are not associated with a specific person but with a specific period of life. If you were once happy in a certain place, the subconscious mind could associate this with the person who was nearby.

For example, you had a great vacation with an ex at Yellowstone National Park that you absolutely loved. When you sleep, your brain relaxes and brings you back to the moments you enjoyed. If you were together with an ex, you would also see them in the dreams.

To get rid of such visions, I recommend creating new memories. Visit a new place you’ve never been or dreamed of for a long time. Fulfill your cherished desire to replace your memory with new joyous events.

You want them back

If you dream of your ex confessing their love, apologizing and wanting to reunite, this actually indicates your feelings. On a subconscious level, you want them to do all this in real life. Many women, even already dating someone else, continue to dream about an ex suffering without them.

There are several reasons for this behavior. It can be love that hasn’t cooled down, or when you don’t like something about your current partner, or when a breakup hurt you. Some of my clients mention dreams about their ex in which they (my clients) reject the confessions of their exes.

This behavior of mindfulness indicates that you are not happy with HOW your breakup happened. Well, you have to accept this situation as it is. Deal with your internal grievances against your former partner to further build new happy relations.

You are afraid of new relations

If there was too much pain in your previous relationship, you might be afraid of entering new ones. Asking why I keep seeing my ex in my dreams, you may not even suspect that this is some kind of protection of your subconscious. All your attention is focused on the past in order to ignore potential partners from the present.

Anything can be the cause of your trauma. But to get rid of imposing dreams, you have to understand yourself clearly. This is a rather complicated process, so I recommend that anyone who has experienced a painful relationship undergo therapy sessions.

Codependency makes dreaming about an ex

The topic of codependency is quite complex, so I want to take a closer look at it.

You may have no feelings for your ex, but you experience loneliness, which pushes you to rebuild the relationship. It’s okay if you feel depressed for a while after breaking up. But if your love union ended a long time ago, and the ex continues to appear in your dreams while you think about getting back in a relationship, this speaks of your loneliness.

Deep down, you feel inferior because of the lack of a partner. Your subconscious mind tries to conjure up images of your ex to feel better, but you may not necessarily still love them.

The biggest insidiousness of this situation is that your partner will not solve the problem. Many people try to fill their loneliness with other people, while the only correct solution is to deal with it on their own. This is how codependent relationships manifest. Even after a breakup, the addiction does not go anywhere. It only gets worse, pushing people to immediately start new relationships or focus on their exes.

Codependency consists in the formation of certain behaviors and perceptions of the world based on children’s experiences. Simply put, codependency is the unhealthy attachment of one person to another, caused by certain behavioral patterns.

We acquire skills to interact with people and build relations from early childhood based on how our parents treat us. It means that patterns of codependency are formed at an early age.

For example, when a girl was little (let’s call her Alice), her father was often not at home, and she did not receive enough attention, care, and love from him. Another one is that there was no father in her life at all.

As she matures, she will try to compensate for the lack of paternal love through relationships with men. Such union is always doomed to failure since Alice will only date with cold partners who cannot give her attention. The problem is that she subconsciously chooses a partner, like her father.

The way out of this situation is to independently give yourself all the love that was not received in childhood. That is, Alice will have to change the patterns of her behavior completely and learn to provide herself with love, care, protection, and attention, which she did not receive from her parents, to become a full-fledged person.

Codependency has various manifestations. According to statistics, more than 90% of Americans are codependent. The only difference is the gravity. Some have soft signs, while others have a severe stage. Unfortunately, coping with codependent relationships on your own is very difficult.

You can read books on related topics, watch webinars, practice at home, and it will take you decades to heal. The problem with codependent relationships is that they reveal differently in each person. So it requires individual treatment. I recommend that people who suffer from these patterns of behavior seek help from certified professionals.

Related: 8 Must Read Books on Codependency Recovery

Final words

Sleeping is not just an opportunity to relax and disconnect from impassive thoughts but also a chance to know yourself deeper. Everything that happens to us in the kingdom of Morpheus is an important signal that the subconscious mind sends. 

When my clients complain that they keep dreaming of their ex, I say it’s a good sign. Your subconscious is saying that certain things need to be solved inside your soul to harmonize your life.

I hope the answers in this article about the main reasons you focus on your ex all the time will be helpful. Although each case is individual, you can stumble upon a whole heap of internal problems if you dig more. In general, working with the subconscious is a complex and delicate thing that must be performed by a specialist. 

If you start working with your own mind (reading the relevant literature, listening to podcasts or webinars), it is good but not as effective as therapy with an expert. If you understand that you have some problems in the relationship, resentment towards your ex, or obsessive thoughts, it is best to seek a professional’s help to make powerful healing of your soul.

Generally speaking, there are three basic reasons why we dream about an ex.

Romanticizing the past when comparing it to our present

Loneliness or boredom can cause a person to look upon a past relationship with “rose tinted glasses”. With the benefit of time many of us tend to focus on what worked in a past relationship as opposed to why it failed.

Certain triggers such as recently crossing paths with an ex or coming across a memento, old photo, or hearing a certain song might ignite memories.

Dissatisfaction or unhappiness in one or more areas of our current relationship might cause us to compare our partner with our ex. Maybe our ex was a better lover or they “got us” when it came to understanding certain things we are passionate about.

We would do well to remember the words of Neil Barringham: “The grass is always greener on the side you water.”

We never fully moved on

In some instances, former couples never fully disengaged after breaking up. They may have chosen to remain in each other’s lives as friends or they might have children together which they co-parent.

Sometimes a person may still be hoping for a magical romantic reconciliation at some point or truly believes their ex is their “soulmate”.

Many of the best love stories and fairytales include a plot device whereby couples break up and find their way back to each other.

Bear in mind, in order for your ex to have been “the one” he or she would have had to see you as being “the one”. At the very least a soulmate is someone who actually wants to be with you! (And vice versa).

An ex from a long-term relationship may have become ingrained with our extended family and inner circle of friends over the years.

Having an ex who periodically contacts you to reminisce or there are people close to you who occasionally bring up their name might elicit thoughts and feelings. The old adage of: “Out of sight out of mind” is difficult to test when you and your ex’s lives remain intertwined.

Unfinished business

Relationships which ended without fully satisfying our need for closure may stir up visions in our mind from time to time.

This is also true for those who were in toxic relationships and have yet to mentally or emotionally heal. Although their ex is physically out of their life fear and anxiety remain with them.

It’s not uncommon to replay bad memories or imagining potential future frightening scenarios involving an abusive ex.

Another related unfinished business component is that of worrying about one’s ex. Those of us who are nurturers may believe we were the best thing to ever happen to our ex.

During our conscious state, we know full well the relationship didn’t meet our needs and it was best for us to move on. However, once we moved on we can’t help but sometimes wonder how they may be doing due to our knowledge of their various issues.

In this case, having a dream or possible nightmare regarding their status might be a gnawing irrational sense of guilt we feel for “abandoning them”. We need to remember life is a personal journey. You can’t rescue people from themselves.

Each of us is responsible for creating our own happiness. When we change, our circumstances change.

Laura Richer, MA, LMHCA, NCMHCE, CHT

Laura Richer

Therapist | Founder, Anchor Light Therapy Collective

Unresolved feelings & finding closure

Your subconscious mind is constantly working to process unresolved experiences and feelings. One of the main ways this is accomplished is through your dream time. When someone continues to dream about their ex-partner it can signify many different things. It depends on what the ex-partner symbolizes to the individual.

For example, if the relationship feels incomplete or unresolved in some way the dreams may signify that the individual is working towards finding closure to the relationship.

Fear of commitment or major life changes

Someone who feels complete with a past relationship and continues to dream about an ex is most likely processing something that the ex may symbolize like a time when they were younger and more carefree. It may also be showing them how far they have moved beyond a past situation or help them process traumatic events.

It is not uncommon for pregnant women to report dreaming about ex-partners. This can be interpreted as the subconscious processing the commitment they are making to become a parent or deepening their level of commitment with their current partner. The subconscious may be bringing forth images of an ex to give them deeper insight into their emotions or fears about a major life change.

Individuals who would like to gain deeper insight into the meaning of their dreams and consciously process their meanings can explore their dreams using therapies such as hypnotherapy, EMDR, and talk or psychotherapy.

Dr. Donna Novak, Psy.D.

Donna Novak

Licensed Psychologist, Simi Psychological Group

Dreams can be a sign that there’s something lacking in your life

Dreams are very mysterious and can be hard to decipher. You could be dreaming about your ex for a number of reasons. It’s possible you just miss the relationship and the person themself, and you’d been thinking about them during the day.

Dreaming about an ex can also be related to unfinished feelings or anxieties about instances that occurred within the relationship or concerns of their perception of you. There are some questions you may want to ask yourself such as “is there something coming up for me in relation to my extra?” The content of the dream itself could give some insight into why you are dreaming of your ex as well.

We often have dreams connected to our deeper fears or worries. Maybe there is something that you are still holding onto that happened within the relationship and have not yet processed through it. If this is the case, this may come up in your dreams.

Dreaming about your ex could be a sign that you are lacking something in your life overall, like love, and may want this in your life currently.

It’s important to remember that dreaming isn’t a bad thing. It just means that we are still processing through something. In life, we go through a journey and it is a process.

Dr. Irina Logman, DACM, LAc

Irina Logman

Life Coach and Founder of Advanced Holistic Center

In Chinese Medicine, the main organ that is involved with dreaming is the heart, which at the same time represents hope and desire. Unmet desires can injure the heart and the blood, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine. If there is a yin deficiency in the blood, it allows for yang to float up at night and disturb the production of vivid dreams.

Unmet desires

If you are dreaming about your ex, you may be secretly carrying the desire to continue the relationship longer than it lasted, or you may desire to have a certain memory with your ex that has not yet been created.

Knowing that unmet desires can no longer be created, closing this door on the possibility of them being met in the future, creates this injury in the yin and yang balance.

Something else to consider is that there is an energy exchange that happens every time you are with the person. During an intimate relationship, souls merge into one. You take on the other’s energy and the other take on yours. Strong connections and attachments can be made.

During sleep, the soul elevates into the realm of no time, space, and motion. Your soul or your partner’s soul probably are probably trying to connect as it can be an addiction, attachment, or unfinished lesson.

Lillian Rishty, LCSW

Lillian Rishty

Psychotherapist, NYC Therapy Group

Dreaming about your ex is not necessarily something to be concerned about

Dreams can sometimes serve as a window to our subconscious mind, but do not always directly show what we want or feel. It doesn’t mean you want to get back together or you’re unhappy in your current situation. It’s not always about that specific person but the emotions attached to it.

If you dream about your ex often, it might be worth noticing if there is a pattern or common theme. There are many reasons this could happen and it’s hard to give it a one-size-fits-all explanation.

The dream can be a symbol of something you feel is missing in your life, a feeling you miss having (like closeness or security), or you’re just missing that time period in your life.

While it can sometimes indicate some anxiety with your new relationship or a general feeling of not wanting to go through a similar relationship again, it could also mean you are missing what you had during that relationship.

Oftentimes when you dream of a sexual encounter, it doesn’t necessarily mean you miss that with them, but perhaps that you’re just craving more intimacy.

It’s also possible you are still working through what happened or mourning the loss of them. Perhaps you are still looking for ‘closure’ or something feels unresolved. Many people suppress their emotions after a break up, which can mean there’s still some processing to do.

Sometimes it’s as simple as: you notice something during the day that reminds you of your ex and it causes that person to make an appearance in your dream.

If you dream about your ex regularly, I’d recommend keeping a dream journal so you can notice any patterns and be able to analyze them more clearly.

Christine Scott-Hudson, MA, MFT, ATR

Christine Scott-Hudson photo

Licensed Psychotherapist | Owner, Create Your Life Studio | Author, “Write With Yourself”

Unprocessed feelings

You keep dreaming about your ex because you are still working out what happened, trying to make sense of it all, and are integrating this “new normal.” It is perfectly healthy and important to do so.

Dreaming about an ex is not necessarily an indicator that you are still in love with them. It is more likely a sign demonstrating that you have some unprocessed feelings around the relationship and its end.

Writing down your dreams about your ex can help you process your feelings and get a closer look at the underlying meaning in your dreams. Write down everything you remember about your dream.

When exploring the dreams you have had about your ex, first, try to pay close attention to the feelings you had in the dream. Were you feeling abandoned? Angry? Lonely? Misunderstood?

Secondly, examine the relational patterns that felt familiar in the dream. Trying to be heard? Running away from something? Being chased?

Thirdly, explore the environment of the dream. Safe? Dangerous? Rough? Smooth?

Next, look at how you are moving through space. Climbing a mountain? Running into a brick wall? Crashing? Hiding? Being seen naked or vulnerable?

Lastly, look at personal meaning, metaphor, and symbolism in your dream. What images come to mind? A gift? A key? An animal?

Draw the most salient part of the dream you had about your ex.

Finally, title the dream.

As you collect these dream symbols and fragments, you will start to see certain patterns emerging from your unconscious and subconscious mind. It can help you see what is trying to get your attention.

Katie Lear, LCMHC, RPT, RDT

Katie Lear

Counselor, Play Therapist, Drama Therapist

Wish fulfillment

According to Freud, the OG psychologist, all dreams–even the bad ones–include the fulfillment of a wish that is deeply held by the dreamer.

The wish might not be immediately apparent, and, according to Freud, the dreamer may not even be consciously aware of their wish.

This might be a surprising concept if you’re really bothered by recurrent dreams of your ex, or if your ex befalls some terrible fate in your dreams. However, the wish might be as simple as wanting to see your former partner one more time. Even if the storyline of the dream is upsetting, it gives you another opportunity to connect.

Practice makes perfect

Another theory about dreams is that they are the way our brain consolidates information and makes sense of the world around us. If you’ve ever seen a child play, they love repetition. They watch the same movie over and over, or repeatedly play out the same make-believe scenario for several weeks, before moving on to the next fixation.

Repetition is how our brain learns. Breakups are a shock, and it can take a long time to really process and assimilate the change. Recurrent dreams might indicate that your brain needs to take time to parse out all this information and make sense of it before moving on.

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