What does it mean when you dream about your ex? I asked a dream specialist

PHOTOGRAPHY BY amelia j dowd


A message from the subconscious.

Unless you’re a professional lucid dreamer (which I’m assuming most of you aren’t), it’s highly unlikely that you can control the fate of your dreams. There’s every chance you might wake up one morning and realise that your dream love interest was nobody other than your old flame cue the confusion. 

This confusion typically manifests as guilt and worry, especially if you’re dreaming of an ex while in a healthy and loving relationship. Studies show that dreams are a means of communication between you and your subconscious, but herein lies the problem. How exactly do we decipher our dreams? 

Relationships are tough. Need something to take your mind off of your love life? Head to our Life section.

And if our subconscious is conjuring up images of past romance and pleasure, does this mean we should reignite the flame? Dreams feature an endless (and often somewhat mad) array of scenarios, from horrifying and embarrassing to sexual and romantic. But questioning the meaning behind your REM activity can feel like opening Pandora’s box where does one even start?

I spoke with Jungian psychoanalyst, Dr Adrienne Margarian, to get an expert’s perspective. “Dreams are metaphors; they are not this equals that. When we work with dreams, we are more in the right side of the brain (the imaginal, creative, metaphoric) than the left (the concrete, rational),” she explains. 

Dr Adrienne tells me that a significant part of Jungian dream analysis is dissecting the dream into levels of interpretation the subjective and the objective. Objective interpretation is incredibly literal, and dream characters are often taken for who or what they are in reality.

But on the subjective level, all aspects and characters of the dream symbolise traits and qualities that reside in you. If this is the case, am I cheating both myself and my partner by dreaming about my ex?

“Absolutely not,” Dr Adrienne says. “I would be looking at the subjective aspect of that dream. It would have nothing to do with the relationship you’re in. So, I would be dismissing all guilt and rather be curious about what this dream is trying to communicate with you; what’s so important that you need to pay attention to?” 

Although this is comforting to hear, one explanation won’t relieve all of our anxieties. The ex-partner dream can follow a variety of plots: confrontation, sex, and even murder! I put this to Dr Adrienne. 

What would it mean if I dreamt that my ex apologised to me?

“I consider this a dream of healing. Maybe there’s a coming together or healing around that relationship, or you’re feeling more like you’ve integrated it, and it’s not so distressing to you anymore. And again, to flip into that idea of the subjective, remember, what does that person represent in you? And is that a coming together and feeling more at ease within you?”

What would it mean if I dreamt that I had sex with an ex? 

“Often we like sex dreams because it’s not necessarily about having sex, it’s about a coming together. I would look at that as wishful thinking or that aspect of your ex within you is really coming together for you right now.”

What would it mean if I dreamt I was confronting an ex or an ex was confronting me?

“The confrontation, whether this is positive or negative, is about you processing this relationship. It could be at the objective level; you are still trying to work out how it ended and what you feel about it. Or the subjective level; you’re confronting and interacting with these qualities inside of you. It could yield a lot of ideas about what is happening for you in the here and now.”

What would it mean if I dreamt that my ex was killing me or I was killing my ex?

“Often, this means killing off or getting rid of that aspect. Going back to that idea of the subjective, whatever your ex represents or that period your ex represents, you’re getting rid of. When you flip it to the other dream of an ex killing you, that’s concerning. What is being killed off in me? What is at risk? I wouldn’t be taking these things literally. Again I would be curious about what I am trying to kill off.”

What would it mean if I dreamt that my ex was dating somebody else?

“Again, that would speak to me immediately, at an objective level, to my feelings about that person how resolved they are, how unresolved they are. Did I have feelings about them being unfaithful? At the subjective level, I would be wondering about what the ex represents and what that other person represents in you. And why are they getting together, and why are you left out?”

So what’s the takeaway here?

Essentially, whether the dream is confronting or not, you need to reflect more and assume less, as this will save you from making any rash decisions. If you’ve been experiencing a series of dreams featuring your ex, start questioning the narrative and try to be introspective. If you’re hesitant, start small and journal or draw your dreams. Dr Adrienne believes that leaning into this experience can be a great way to facilitate therapy and meditation. 

“I would say open up your mind and don’t be concrete; try and step into the metaphoric world,” she stresses. “Think of it as a movie; there’s a beginning, a middle and an end. I’d be really reflecting on each aspect of the dream and not jumping to conclusions, increasing the breadth of the dream. The more you reflect, the more you become aware of your own personal motifs. Ask more and more questions write it out, draw it out, be curious.”

Looking to unpack more of your dreams? Head here.

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