Why Do I Keep Dreaming About My Ex? A Dream Expert Explains


I’ve had a similar dream about an ex for years now: I pass them on the street, and they don’t acknowledge me. So why do I keep dreaming about my ex?

After long feeling ashamed to admit this, I was relieved to learn that not only is it completely normal for someone you cared about to make a cameo in your dreams but it’s also quite common. And that’s for a number of very good reasons, according to dream specialist Deirdre Barrett, PhD, a Harvard psychology lecturer, past president of the International Association for the Study of Dreams, and author of the 2010 book The Committee of Sleep, which explores how notable creative minds in art, music, film, science, literature, and other fields have used revelations in their dreams to inform their work.

Below find everything you need to know about why we dream about exes—and what to do about it.

Why do we dream?

Good luck getting dream researchers to agree about that, per Dr. Barrett. “Some more neurological types will say that we have rapid-eye-movement sleep, in which most dreams occur, for necessary biochemical things that the body needs to do, like replenishing certain sets of neurotransmitters that get depleted through waking, consolidating memory, and resetting temperature regulation,” she says. “Physiologic people like to say that dreams don’t have a function, that they’re a side effect of what our body needs to be doing physically during this time.”

But dreams also help us visualize more vividly and feel emotions more strongly than most of us are capable of when we’re awake, and they help us think outside the box, with the logic areas tamped down. For those reasons, we’re able to work through problems better in dreams than in waking hours. “Dreams are about all of our hopes and fears,” Dr. Barrett says. “Just about anything that we ever think about turns up in dream content. They’re about trying to problem solve things we’re facing in real life.”

Is it normal or common to dream about an ex?

Most people dream about their exes to some extent. “Dreaming about an ex just means they were a significant person in your past,” Dr. Barrett says. The people who you spent intense amounts of time with at any period of your life and who were important to you are likely to show up in your dreams, she notes, and that, of course, includes your exes, as well as parents and other family members or close friends. “Even if they’ve died or moved away or you’ve long lost touch with them, anybody you interacted with a lot will still be a significant person in some part of your unconscious for the rest of your life.”

Common dreams about exes—and possible readings

Each person’s dream about an ex is likely to have a meaning that’s entirely specific to them, involving both their feelings toward that ex and their life circumstances at the moment. Remember that meaning can vary widely from person to person—for example, a dog can mean safety and loyalty to one person or fear and anxiety to another. “For most dream elements, it’s a matter of what is this to the dreamer?” Dr. Barrett says. She also warns that the dreams may not be about that particular person, but more about issues one may have in the present.

Here are some broadly common dreams that can suggest certain underlying issues and unresolved feelings.

Lingering Love

Maybe you were dumped by someone you were deeply in love with—a devastating experience, not to mention a significant ego blow, that may leave you wondering whether you did something wrong or perhaps weren’t “good enough” for them. Such an experience can lead to the following dreams:

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