What does it mean when you dream about your ex? You can be having a wonderful dream—feeling the butterflies of a blossoming relationship—and then bam! You realize the dream lover responsible for these feelings is you ex. Cue the confusion.
“The first thing to know if you are dreaming about your ex is you don’t need to panic,” says Lisa Etherson, a psychosexual therapist based in the UK. “It doesn’t mean that you want to get back together, made a mistake or you’re not over them yet.”
If fact, dreaming about your ex, like most dreams, is more a reflection about what you want out of a partnership, be it romantic or professional—not necessarily about a specific person. “A common mistake that people make when interpreting their dreams is that they assume they are literal,” Etherson says, “however dreams are symbolic and the characters of our dreams are merely representative of something else.”
Your ex has taken up more than enough of your headspace, rest assured the universe is not encouraging you to run back into their arms. So if it’s not about getting back together, what does it mean when you dream about your ex?
You realize the qualities you like in a relationship
Dream interpreter Lauri Loewenberg says oftentimes, what you’re really dreaming about is not the person, but what they represent: “It is not because you desire to have him or her back in your life but that you may desire to bring back some dynamic from that relationship: excitement, passion, feeling desired by someone else, etc.”
Again, the dream is really about you. “If you dream that you and your ex are back together and you are happy about this, it doesn’t mean this is want you want in real life,” Etherson says. “Your ex is representing something else, possibly a part of your own self or experience.” Are you and your ex honestly communicating in a way that felt impossible to do so when you were dating? That could mean what you value is open communication, which is the backbone for growth in a relationship.
Etherson shared the story of a client who had a series of reoccurring dreams in which she was back with an ex and their relationship was fantastic. The relationship was far from perfect in real life but talking through the dream, the client realized that while the relationship had its flaws, she did feel a certain level of freedom in it. “When asked to consider what was going on in her life, she was excited as she was about to set up her own business and become self-employed for the first time,” Etherson says. “While she was naturally anxious about taking a risk, she was also looking forward to the freedom this venture would afford her.”
You’re not satisfied with where you are in life
Maybe you’re dream has actually descended into a nightmare and you wake up feeling as if you’ve just had yet another explosive fight. “It may be that you are concerned about having to turn down an opportunity or that you are unhappy with someone’s behavior,” says Etherson. “If in your dream your ex is rejecting or arguing with you, it is important to reflect on what is going on in your life currently.”
Your brain comes across countless stimuli during the day and sleep is where it gets a chance to catch up with not only what you’ve experienced but how you feel about everything. While experiencing a confrontation, even subconsciously, can be draining, reflection can unearth some valuable insights.
The key to interpreting comes down to context. “The context will tell you a lot: how you are coping, how to look at it from a wiser perspective,” says Loewenberg. “A common dream we have of a recent ex is being in their home and snooping or stealing things. This is because their home represents their mindset, and being in their home in a dream is how you are trying to get inside their head and understand what went wrong at the end.” Basically, inception of the exes.
You still have something to learn from the relationship
Loewenberg kindly adds that the dream also doesn’t signify that your ex is thinking about you. “It means there is a lesson from your relationship with that ex that you are in the process of learning.” As the saying goes, they’re an ex for a reason. Instead of seeing your dream as a sign from the heavens that you should immediately rekindle the flame, take it as a opportunity to reflect on the qualities you want to bring forth in a relationship and the healthiest way to achieve them.