Why Do I Keep Dreaming Of My Ex? (And Ways To Stop)

The vivid images of your subconscious usually fade away at first light, but lately, all you can remember is that you keep seeing your ex in your dreams.

This isn't a sign that you made a grave mistake by breaking up with them. And it certainly isn’t your cue to abandon rational thought and send them a text.

In fact, it probably has nothing to do with your ex at all.

Things to know

  • As the limbic system (which is responsible for emotional memory) becomes more active during dreaming, dreams of your ex may occur due to the emotional significance of your relationship.
  • The process of matching new information with emotional experiences from the past creates special memories known as dream images, and exes are examples of potent dream images due to emotions like love, joy, anger, and resentment being linked to them.
  • Dreams of an ex may also be linked to your current emotional state, as the brain labels memories with certain emotions and brings them up in dreams to provide greater insight and help you cope with current situations.

From the psychology behind dreams and what they reveal about your waking life, to what to do about it, there's still more to explore. Here's what we'll cover in this article:

The Purpose Of Dreams

Dreams are hardly straightforward. Sometimes they can be downright strange. This is because, during the deepest stage of sleep, where we do most of our dreaming, the part of the brain responsible for logical reasoning is shut off.

Do our dreams serve any purpose at all?

They do, according to modern psychologists and neurologists.

Storing Memories

As we dream, the limbic system (which is responsible for our emotional memory) becomes more active than when we're awake. It's responsible for our consciousness, sense of free will, and self-awareness.

The limbic system also connects our emotions and past memories to make new ones. All the things we've experienced throughout the day are filtered, linked to similar, older experiences, and stored.

Linking Emotions To Memories

The process of matching new information with emotional experiences from the past creates special memories known as dream images.

Ex-partners are examples of potent dream images. This is because emotions like love, joy, anger, and resentment are usually linked to our exes.

Greater Insight

Dreams may seem random, even disconnected but they are linked to our current emotional state. What does an ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend have to do with your life right now?

Well, your brain has labeled all your memories with certain emotions waiting for just the right time to bring them up, so it's not so random after all.

By going over these memories, your dreams are giving you greater insight to cope with whatever is happening.


Ever noticed how negative emotions feel less powerful after a decent night's sleep?

Dreaming keeps us emotionally healthy by helping us process emotions. It’s similar to therapy where we connect current negative emotions with past events that made us feel the same way.

The dreams we have during stressful times tend to help us deal with negative emotions and develop strategies to move on.


Dreams are crucial for our intellectual development. They allow us to make connections and solve problems.

Our minds use metaphors in dreams to help us solve real-world problems. This is where the popularity of the phrase ‘sleep on it’ comes from. What we really mean is that we intend to 'dream on it'.

A dream usually moves a problem from the unconscious mind into consciousness, spurring us to solve it.


The neural patterns we exhibit while dreaming are similar to those we exhibit when awake. As a result, dreams make for great real-life practice or preparation.

We’ve made it through a lot of close calls in our dreams. Our dreams remind us that we survived and that we can do it again.

Dream Interpretation

For as long as we've been able to dream, we've been intrigued by the mysteries of our unconscious minds. Contemporary neuroscience and psychology offer us a unique way of decoding our dreams.

A Modern Perspective

Rosalind Cartwright, a neuroscientist dubbed the queen of dreams, proposed that dreams are a reflection of life events that are important to us.

In her famous works, she explores the role dreams play in regulating emotions and memory. Unlike her predecessors, Cartwright's ideas are supported by studies and empirical research.

Cartwright conducted a study on women going through a divorce. Over five months the women were asked to record how frequently they thought of their exes. They were awakened during the deepest stage of sleep and asked to describe the content of their dreams.

Cartwright and her colleagues discovered that there was a significant link between how often these women thought about their former spouses in their waking lives and the number of times they appeared in their dreams.

Modern Dream Analysis

It is now widely accepted that dreams symbolize what's happening in our waking lives. Even renowned dream experts like Lauri Loewenberg echo Cartwright's sentiments.

Dreams are not about specific people or situations, but about the emotions tied to them.

The people who show up in our dreams are usually symbols and metaphors. They represent certain emotions, time periods, places, or even situations. Sometimes they represent extensions of ourselves.

Modern dream interpretation involves figuring out what these people symbolize and what feelings they evoke when you dream of them.

Recurring Ex Dreams: What They Might Mean

An isolated, random dream about your ex may simply be a coincidence, but recurring ex dreams usually indicate a need for emotional healing from:

  • Stress
  • Past relationships
  • Anxiety
  • Unresolved feelings
  • Negative unconscious thoughts
  • Unresolved issues
  • Past trauma

These common recurring ex dreams may help you decipher what your mind is trying to tell you.

Your Ex Keeps Dying

Sure, you have a rocky history but watching your ex die in the weirdest ways your mind can cook up is getting creepy. You can't deal with another episode of waking up in a cold sweat.

Weirdly enough, this dream is symbolic of inner healing and moving on from toxic emotions. Although breaking up hurts so much, your mind could be trying to communicate to you that the matter is dead and buried. It could be a sign that you are sabotaging your own attempts at making a fresh start.

Fighting With Your Ex

Your ex could symbolize a frustrating situation in your waking life. This situation is bringing up strong emotions and this is why your mind is linking them to your ex.

Fighting with your ex could signify wrestling with intense negative emotions. Much like your old relationship, this issue is evoking similar feelings.

Entertaining Your Ex

You know that your ex is trouble and by entertaining them in a dream, your subconscious could be warning you that you are courting disaster in your waking life.

Perhaps you know a certain situation is likely to end badly and yet you refuse to accept it. Your subconscious is using one of the most unpleasant dream images it has to shock you into doing something about it.

Your Ex Is Ignoring You

It wasn't enough that they broke your heart in real life, now your ex is following you into the dreams just to reject you again. Experiencing emotional distance in your current relationship could be manifesting as dreams of your ex-partner ignoring you.

This dream could even point to feeling rejected by someone important in your waking life. Overwhelming inadequacy or insecurity could be plaguing you and surfacing in your dreams.

Your Ex And Their New Partner

All that social media stalking has backfired and now you can't seem to get your ex and their new partner out of your head. Their new love taunts you in your dreams on a regular basis.

Dreaming about your ex and their new partner can feel like rubbing salt into fresh wounds, especially if you are trying to move on and still want to get your ex back. The bitterness, disappointment, and rejection you experience in your dream can follow you into your waking life, causing you emotional distress.

If you're in a new relationship, don't allow dreams about a former partner to bring up old hurts and insecurities. Your subconscious mind may just be reminding you that it's time to let go of the past and focus on your own happiness.

Your Ex Is Apologizing To You

If you've recently broken up with your ex, these could be the words you desperately want to hear. Maybe you and your ex have some unfinished business that's preventing you from moving on. It could even point to unfulfilled wishes of reconnecting with your ex.

You could also be craving companionship, intimacy, and emotional connection in your waking life. You don't miss your ex. You miss what that particular ex stood for. Maybe your ex was your first love and you miss who you were when you were together.

Perhaps you’re seeking closure from a completely unrelated issue that's causing you a great deal of pain in your current life.

How To Stop Dreaming About Your Ex

We have no control over how the things we experience during the day are processed as we sleep. However, by working on certain things in your waking life, you're less likely to experience recurring dreams.

Keep A Dream Journal

Keeping a dream journal will allow you to track how often you have these dreams about your ex. By writing down what you remember, you'll be able to pick up on any patterns or similarities between the dreams.

Reflecting on what you experienced in the days leading up to a dream will help you recognize your triggers. This will give you a better chance of understanding your dreams and resolving the emotional issues tied to your ex.

Deal With Stress

Stress can affect your physical and mental health. There’s also a strong a link between chronic stress and mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. These conditions can affect your sleep quality, leading to recurring dreams and nightmares.

By finding healthy ways to reduce stress during your waking hours, you're less likely to suffer from disturbing dreams. Consider getting to the root cause of why you're stressed, and explore simple ways to improve your life.

Acknowledge Your Feelings

The strong negative feelings we experience in our waking lives can follow us into our dreams, especially when we try to suppress them. This is because our dreams help us work through our emotions and come to terms with them.

Repressed feelings usually lead to recurring dreams. It's more beneficial to acknowledge your feelings, feel them and move on. You could follow certain steps to get over a crush to help you, or you could work to move on from your ex once and for all.

Prioritize Your Mental Health

Not dealing with anxiety, pain or past trauma is counterproductive and will keep you trapped in a vicious cycle. It will also sabotage your future relationships. Prioritize your mental health. Look into proven coping strategies or see a mental health professional who can help you process your emotions.

Get Real About Your Needs

Unmet needs can be a source of negative emotions and stress. Instead of avoiding the areas of your life where you feel stuck, acknowledge them and take action.

If you feel like you aren't getting what you need out of a romantic relationship, talk to your current partner. Discuss the different ways you could improve the current situation. Maybe your needs require you to make long-overdue changes or try different things.

Seek Professional Help

Sometimes our dreams malfunction and reinforce the negative emotions we may be experiencing in our waking lives.

In such cases, our dreams may actually lead to depression and stress instead of being the healthy emotional response they are meant to be.

If you've recently suffered a breakup or are going through an emotional slump, dreams of your ex could be working against you.

Instead of having good dreams that help you wake up in a great mood, your dreams are dull and dreary, compounding the sadness you experience in your waking life. If this is the case, you might benefit from seeing a clinical psychologist.

Lucid Dreaming

While unconventional, lucid dreaming is certainly an option for dealing with recurring dreams. Lucid dreaming helps you recognize that you're dreaming, giving you the power to observe or control your dreams.

The assurance that you're just dreaming also makes it easier for you to cope with strong emotions like fear, panic, and sadness.

Feel like turning your ex into a giant toad and zapping them into oblivion? Done. Better yet, how about zapping yourself to your ultimate holiday destination? Let’s face it, when you can control your dreams, nothing is off-limits.

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