We've all been there. I've definitely been there.
My alarm goes off, my eyes shoot open, and I shift to my side to see who's sleeping next to me. It's my significant other, the person I've been head over heels in love with for a year now. All is right in the world, right? Not exactly, because I just woke up from another dream about someone I used to date. But I’m completely over this previous partner, so why do I dream about my ex at all?
What kind of message is the universe trying to send me when I dream about a former flame? Is it because however blissfully happy I think I am, I'm secretly pining for this other person? After interviewing some sleep experts on the topic, I'm happy to report the answer isn’t an automatic yes.
If you’re like me — a person who dreams about their ex, even though they don’t have any lingering feelings for them — here's what's actually going on:
1. You're craving closure.
Dr. Michael Breus, a clinical psychologist, board-certified in sleep medicine, tells me that dreaming about your ex is a “natural response to a breakup that did not allow one person (in this case, the dreamer) to express their feelings at the end of the relationship to their satisfaction, or in some cases, at all.”
Terry Cralle, a registered nurse and sleep expert with the Better Sleep Council, agrees that unconscious thoughts about your ex could be related to the need for closure, and may even provide “some level of emotional resolution.” After all, “Stressful situations and experiences that occur during our waking hours are well-represented in our dreams.”
2. You want your current relationship to work out.
If you're in a new relationship, you may be dreaming about your ex more than usual. Don't be alarmed — this isn't a red flag.
“Since the previous [relationship] did not work out, your unconscious may be reviewing this old relationship to make sure you are not doing the things that may have caused the relationship to fail,” says Breus.
Breus adds that there may also be some “anxiety” surrounding your new romance, “since your last one did not work out. That anxiety can be expressed in your dreams as well.”
3. You're looking for more love in your life.
It's only natural you'd want to revisit happy time periods and relationships once in a while, so if you find yourself dreaming about a love from long ago — a high school sweetheart, for example — it doesn't mean you're still thinking about your 17-year-old SO in a romantic sense.
Breus says, “Depending upon how good your previous relationship was, if you have nothing going on in your current love life, this is an easy time to start thinking about when you were last in a relationship.”
He adds, “Also, if you’re feeling lonely, again, from an unconscious perspective, dreams are where this loneliness can play out, and a positive previous person in your life is likely to be called upon by your unconscious to help.”
Even if you’re having dreams of a more intimate, sexual experience with your old boo, that still doesn’t necessarily indicate sexual attraction to them (although it could). Sex therapist Dr. Stefani Threadgill previously told Elite Daily, "It could also mean that you have some untapped desires or fantasies that you might want to discuss or explore” with someone else.
If dreaming about your ex is a frequent occurrence, Cralle advises keeping a dream journal so you can remember, keep track of, and analyze the content on a deeper level. Every situation is different for each individual person.
Additional reporting by Kaitlin Cubria.
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