Why Do I Keep Dreaming About My Ex? (And How To Stop) - Max Jancar
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Why Do I Keep Dreaming About My Ex?

By Max Jancar | Updated: November 20, 2021 | 16 Minute Read

Why Do I Keep Dreaming About My Ex

If you think you’re the only one who keeps dreaming about your ex, think again. Truth is, you’re not alone. We’ve all grazed against the painful and disorienting feelings of ex-infested dreams at some point in our lives.

Sometimes our dreams are mundane: we saw our ex in them and then woke up. Sometimes, they’re emotional: crying on our ex’s shoulder, for example. And other times, they’re downright fucked up: having imaginary sex with our ex while being in a completely different relationship in real life.

Some people only dream about their ex periodically. Other people dream about them every night. The frequency varies from person to person and depends on the intensity of one’s breakup.

For example, if you broke up with a fling, you’ll probably stop dreaming about them shortly after. But if you broke up with a partner of 10 years, chances are, you’ll struggle with dreaming about them for years.

Nevertheless, why do we do it — why do we keep dreaming about our ex, what the fuck does it all mean, and how do we stop?

11 Reasons Why You Keep Dreaming About Your Ex

There are far more reasons that explain why you keep dreaming about your ex than I can cover in one article. So don’t take the list below as exhaustive. It’s only an accumulation of the most common reasons why people keep dreaming about their exes.

Also, be aware that you can always dream about your ex for not one but multiple reasons. So don’t be surprised if you find yourself relating with more of them below.

1. You want them back. The most common reason you keep dreaming about your ex is because you, on some level, want them back. However, usually, it’s not your actual ex that you’re missing, but the mere idea of them, that is, what they could’ve been.

2. You miss having someone by your side. A lot of people mistake this reason as missing their ex, while in reality, they simply miss the emotional connection they had with them — they miss having someone who loves and cares for them by their side.

3. You lack closure. Closure is another disturbing psychological foe that makes you keep dreaming about your ex. The first thing to understand about it is that it comes from within you, not outside. So don’t try to get it by pressuring your ex to explain why things didn’t work out. As soon as they give you the answers you want, you’ll only want more of them. Getting closure like that is a losing game. The only time you’ll actually get it is when you forgive your ex (and yourself) and move on with your life.

4. You saw your ex’s social media post. We all know the drill. You browse social media. You see a photo of your ex. You feel pain. You feel nostalgia. You start to reminiscence the memories you shared. You dream about them.

5. You keep thinking about your ex. Rumination goes hand in hand with ex-related dreams. If you keep thinking about your ex, you’re probably dreaming about them day in, day out. And if you’re constantly dreaming about them, chances are, you’re also continually thinking, even obsessing about them.

6. You’re disappointed by reality. Another reason you keep dreaming about your ex is because you thought reality would be different from what it actually is. Perhaps you hoped that your ex would one day become your spouse. Maybe you believe they were “the one.” But now, when those things didn’t turn out as you wanted or expected them to, you’re disappointed and in pain — so much that those emotions promptly spilled into your dreams.

7. You’re lost in an existential abyss. A lot of people slump into a crisis of meaning when they break up with their partner. This crisis pushes anxiety, fear, and hopelessness at the vanguard of their mind. They lose themselves, don’t recognize who they are, and sometimes, even become purposeless. And when you have nothing going on in your life and don’t know who the hell you even are, you’re going to dream about your ex. You’re going to dream about the times when you still knew yourself.

8. You’re dissatisfied with your life. When people are dissatisfied with their life, they often start fantasizing about a better one. As a result, they even begin to dream about it. And when they’re concurrently heartbroken, their “better life” almost always has their ex in it. Put two and two together, and you get an extensive array of ex-related dreams in anyone dissatisfied with their life after an unwanted breakup.

9. You’re in an unfulfilling relationship. Maybe you got yourself into an unhealthy rebound relationship, or you’ve jumped into one where your partner is needy, unable or unwilling to meet your emotional needs consistently, or is simply incompatible.

10. You’re under a lot of trauma. When we break up, the trauma we experience afterward is pretty severe. Its consequences include PTSD, panic attacks, hypervigilance, sleep disorders, self-destructive beliefs, a damaged sense of self-esteem, mass confusion, emotional numbness, a loss of hope (depression), and of course, perpetual dreams about an ex. (1)

11. No reason whatsoever. Not every effect needs to have a cause. Life is intrinsically irrational. Sometimes you’ll dream about your ex, even have nightmares about them, for no reason at all. And the more you’ll try to explain the phenomenon to yourself, the more confused you’ll become.

The dangers of dreaming about your ex

Sometimes ex-related dreams become so vivid and intense that they alter your mood for the day or even a whole week. You’ve probably experienced this before.

You go to sleep. You dream about your ex. You wake up all grouchy and sad and in shock. Some people start crying afterward. Some feel disoriented and alienated. And others go on a temper tantrum and kick their dog in the face.

Bad reader, bad!

Now, sometimes the consequences of dreaming about your ex — particularly when you dream about them every night — can transpire into even more severe mental issues than feeling bad for a few days.

For example, you may experience heightened anxiety and insecurity, lower sleep quality, self-esteem, and confidence, as well as eating problems (undereating/overeating) and depression.

As a result of those issues, you could further develop tendencies to chase and pursue your ex, stalk them, overanalyze their behavior, or show up at their place unannounced, just waiting for that sweet, sweet restraining order.

That being said, don’t get too worried about these outcomes. You’re likely not going to experience them. For the most part, ex-related dreams are totally harmless. It’s only in rare cases where dreams become dangerous for one’s mental health.

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What does it mean to dream about your ex

The meaning behind your dreams depends entirely on their content and context.

Whatever the case, your dreams could also mean absolutely nothing. It could all be a purely biological quirk, containing no significance, no signs or signals, only a pitch-black infinity.

Deciphering why do you dream about your ex

If you’re interested in figuring out the hidden meaning (or a lack thereof) of your ex-related dreams, try any of the four modalities below.

Freudian dream analysis

Freudian dream analysis was developed and coined by Sigmund Freud and looks exactly like in the movies. You’d lie down on a comfy couch, and a therapist next to you asks a series of questions relating to the dreams you keep having about your ex.

After a few sessions, they begin to point out different symbols in your dreams and help you understand the meaning behind those symbols. Connect all the meanings, and you get a glimpse of what your entire dream — or streams of dreams — meant.

You can also do this analysis process yourself. Grab a piece of paper as soon as you wake up and freely write about whatever you’ve dreamt of for 10 to 15 minutes. Do this for 30 days. Then analyze everything you’ve written, look for thematical patterns or familiar symbols, and try to form a meaning based on that knowledge.

Jungian dream analysis

Jungian dream analysis was developed and coined by Carl Jung, and like Freudian dream analysis, Jug’s version also focuses on the symbols in your dreams. However, there’s an additional step in the analysis process — you’re searching for your dream’s overall message.

According to Jung, if your dream’s interpretation or message doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t helpful, and you should dislodge it and search for a new one.

Gestalt Dream analysis

Figuring out why you keep bumping into your ex every time you fall asleep through gestalt therapy is something you thankfully don’t need a therapist for. Here’s how to do it by yourself (3):

  1. Identify the first 1-3 objects and all of their attributes (color, shape, sound, taste, etc.) that you remember most within a dream.
  2. Reflect on these objects (your ex, in your case) like you would reflect on them if they were right in front of you and create an imaginary dialog with them. Ask your ex things like, “What are you doing in my house? or “Why do I keep dreaming about you?” Then switch characters and provide the answers.
  3. After some time conversing with yourself, write down how you feel about the experience. This should give you insight into what your dreams about them could mean.

Existential Dream analysis

From an existential viewpoint, your dreams are not something that interpretation can make sense of; they hold countless meanings, and hunting down symbols in them is a waste of time since there are too many of them (or none at all).

Analyzing why you’re dreaming about your ex using existential methods boils down to contemplating your relationship with yourself, the world, and the objects in it.

As you can guess, this is an abstract and complex subject and far beyond the scope of this article.

So instead of me trying to sound like I know what I’m talking about, read Existential Psychotherapy and the Interpretation of Dreams by Clark Moustakas. It’s a solid book on getting familiar with the basics of existential dream analysis. I haven’t read it, but my friend who is a psychologist has, and he says it’s great.

(Optional) Top Questions on dreaming about an ex

1. What does it mean when I keep dreaming about my ex with someone else?

It means that you’ve accepted your breakup to a higher degree than usual. It’s one of those dreams that signify peace is around the corner. So it’s probably a good sign. But then again, you just might be too concerned with what your ex has going on in their life.

2. Why do I dream about my ex every night?

Dreaming about your ex every night is how you process the pain associated with them. You have to feel the depths of it to heal and move on. Even better, learn how to extract lessons from it and use your pain as the impetus for profound personal growth.

Sometimes this period of constant dreams about an ex lasts only for a few days. Other times it drags on for months. Whatever the case, know that the period will eventually pass. Don’t fuss about it too much.

3. If I dream about my ex, does it mean he/she misses me?

Probably not. It would be unrealistic to think otherwise. I know it’s a common cultural notion that when you dream of someone, it means that they are thinking of you, but I guarantee it’s bullshit.

There’s not one single shred of scientific evidence that backs up the belief. Ultimately, your ex may miss you while you dream about them, but it’s never because you dream about them.

4. What if I’m dreaming about an ex years later?

There has been a flood of these sorts of questions. “Why do I keep dreaming about my ex from years ago?” and “What if it’s been years and I still dream about my ex?” were some of the most frequent ones.

The answer is simple: you’re just not over them yet. You’re still carrying some conscious or unconscious emotion that you’ve not adequately processed yet that’s keeping you stuck.

The same goes for the people asking, “What if it’s been weeks and I still dream about my ex?” or “What if it’s been months and I still dream about my ex?” It’s because you’re not over them yet.

5. Does my ex dream about me too?

You’ll never know for whether your ex dreams about you for sure. It is possible if your relationship meant a lot to them or if they’re still in love with you and/or not over you. But if I were betting money on it, I would bet that they aren’t dreaming of you, especially if you’re the dumpee.

How to stop dreaming about your ex

If you’re dreaming about your ex at a frequency that’s generally causing you to underperform and stress in your day-to-day life, here are five tips on how to stop dreaming about them or at least lessen the amount of ex-related dreams.

1. Keep yourself busy throughout the day

The movie you always wanted to watch, the video game that’s calling you to play it, the little errand you’ve been putting off, the work-related tasks you have to do — commit to doing these things.

Keep yourself as busy as possible. But never forget to mix productive AND unproductive activities into your day. Like it’s unhealthy to engage in exclusively unproductive ones, it’s likewise unhealthy to engage exclusively in productive ones.

The more activities you throw yourself in as the day goes by, the more material you’ll be giving your unconscious to build dreams of another kind than anything along the lines of ex-related.

2. Meditate Before Bed

It’s no secret that meditation dramatically reduces rumination and stress, both major causes of dreaming about your ex.

I’ve written about the benefits of mediation and how to do it extensively in a previous article, so I won’t go deep into it here.

But I will say this: when meditating, don’t be afraid to experiment. Try guided meditation, ASMR, body scans, different forms of breathing, adding music or ambient sounds, meditating with a friend, using a white-noise machine, etc.

When meditating, the feeling you get will eventually spill into your waking life and help you think less of your ex, and thus you’ll also stop dreaming about them.

3. Do 7-4-8 Breathing Exercises

Corollary to meditation is what most people refer to as “calm breathing.” While there are loads of variations of it, the most popular one for when you’re trying to stop yourself from dreaming about your ex is called The 4-7-8 Breathing. (2)

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Breathe in for 4 seconds (through the nose).
  2. Hold your breath for 7 seconds.
  3. Exhale for 8 seconds (do it forcefully through your mouth by pursing the lips and making a “whoosh” sound)
  4. Repeat the cycle 3 to 5 times.

This technique will not only help you stop dreaming about your ex but will also lessen any anxiety or fear that you feel around those dreams, and you’ll even sleep better after doing it.

4. Find Someone Better Than Your Ex

Let me be clear: finding someone better than your ex is the ultimate way to stop dreaming about them — hell, it’s the ultimate way to get over them, too. However, under any circumstances, do not go and try to find this “special someone” if the prospect of dating does not sound exciting and fun for you.

This is exactly what I did during a few of my breakups. I started dating before I felt like it. What ended up happening was that rather than cleansing my pain, I only covered it up. And gradually, it grew and grew until it came out in the form of a tantrum, low-key depression, general irritability, and sour moods.

So again, find someone better than your ex only when that idea feels pleasant. Don’t force yourself to go on dates, or you’ll never stop dreaming about your ex. Give yourself a few weeks, maybe even months, if it’s a pretty serious breakup. Take it easy. Learn to enjoy yourself by yourself before bringing anyone new into the picture.

5. Give It Time

There’s a false belief sailing up and down the breakup advice industry: time doesn’t heal all wounds; only actions do.

Well, I disagree.

Sure, time won’t heal your past and current trauma or the needy tendencies that perhaps got you into your breakup in the first place. But it will eventually get you feeling great and like yourself again. And when you start feeling that way, you’ll also stop dreaming about your ex — or you’ll at least dream less about them.

Till then, take it easy.

56 Essential Breakup Survival Tips That Will Help You Feel Like Yourself Again

Whether you want to get your ex back or get over them, emotionally recovering from your breakup is always the first step. Get therapy-proven tips for taking it successfully.