What do dreams about your ex mean?

Psychologist and relationship expert Briony Leo shares the most common explanations for why exes show up in our dreams, long after we’ve said goodbye to them.

You’ve been broken up with your ex for a while now and you’re finally coming to terms with the split. In fact, you may have completely moved on and even found yourself in a new and improved relationship with someone who genuinely cares and loves you.

But as you doze off to sleep one night… that ex makes an appearance in your sweet dreams.

You wake up confused, unnerved and worried. Are you still not over them? Is it a sign? Should you reach out to them?

To help you solve these questions, we asked psychologist and relationship expert to share the main reasons as to why you still might be dreaming about that ex.

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3 main reasons why you’re dreaming about your ex

There are several reasons why you might still be thinking about your ex, even if you’re in a new relationship. Here are the three most common:

1. Unfinished business

Probably the most common reason is that the relationship hasn’t run its course. Maybe they ended things or maybe you did spontaneously and now regret it. The reality is that most relationships that end still have some good things in there – and we can find ourselves with a lot of regrets when we look back. This can particularly be the case when something external (e.g. a move overseas or a major life event) was the cause of the breakup – rather than lots of fights and growing further apart.

If this is the case for you, it might help to chat to a friend or professional about it to figure out whether this is wishful thinking (i.e. you might have been miserable in the relationship but it looks rosy through the rear-view mirror), or whether there might be something worth pursuing.

2. Current gaps

A really interesting thing that can happen when we’re in an otherwise happy relationship is that we can find ourselves drawn to people who represent something we’re missing. Maybe our new partner is great, but not very emotionally open, and we might start to feel a connection to a colleague we confide in. Maybe our new partner is not overly affectionate in public, and we start to miss our ex-partner who was all about the PDAs.

If this is the case for you and you’re finding yourself comparing your old and new partners, it might be good to consider what the gap for you is. Often it’s something that can be resolved (e.g. talking to your new partner about wanting them to open up to you more, and finding ways of helping them feel comfortable doing this, or asking for more affection and validation in public). Again, rose coloured glasses sometimes help us remember the ‘good times’ with our ex while conveniently blocking out the times that we were miserable or upset.

3. Emotional hold

This is probably the most sinister of the three reasons. For some relationships that have been, shall we say ‘intense’, we can find ourselves somewhat addicted to our ex. The relationship has had so much drama, so much intensity (even things like fights or breakups count for this, since they are emotional), that it occupies our minds. When that ends for whatever reason, we don’t just go back to normal. We can find ourselves wanting to see them or thinking about them constantly, which makes sense, since our emotions aren’t able to switch off automatically.

If this is happening to you, it might be worth talking to a friend or counsellor to process what’s going on. Unfortunately, we can be drawn back into toxic relationships because of things like this. We believe our ex needs us in their life, or that we won’t find another partner as loving or available as them (this is definitely not true by the way).

Often no contact and radio silence, as well as lots of friend support and distractions like exercise, hobbies and personal growth, is the only option. Think of it like breaking an addiction: the longer you can go without a hit, the stronger you’ll become.

Briony Leo is an Australian psychologist, currently based in New York City, with specialist training in EMDR, Neurofeedback, Schema Therapy and ACT therapy. You can find her here.