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I’ll See You in My Dreams

I met my friend for coffee the other day. Samantha’s* 25 year marriage ended in divorce several years ago, and after a prolonged recovery period, she is making great strides in her newly rebuilt life.

We simultaneously arrived at our destination and after a brief greeting she turned to me with a worried look and announced, “I had the most realistic dream about Brian last night. It really freaked me out. It’s been five years already – why am I still dreaming about him?”

This is a question that is regularly posed to me by friends and clients during and after a breakup or divorce.

It’s been over a century since Sigmund Freud introduced his theory on dreams. According to Freud and his contemporaries, dreams represented buried traumas or “neurosis” in our subconscious, which required prolonged therapy in order to analyze and ultimately resolve them.

Today it is speculated that dreams may represent many things, but they can also be fantasy, fiction, and fun; ergo the saying about that cigar.

It is completely normal to dream about an ex – and most people do. It is unrealistic to think that someone we once cared deeply about, and who took up a great deal of space in our lives, hearts and minds will be erased once the divorce papers are signed. Yet dreaming about an ex can undoubtedly be disturbing – especially if there are unresolved issues and feelings, or if there was minimal closure during the ending. I’ve had numerous clients express to me their acute feelings of anguish, shock, fear, guilt and rage after awakening from a realistic dream. This unsettling experience can make you question your reality, your choices, and even worse, agonize that your recovery is in jeopardy.

On occasion these dreams will represent something substantial regarding your ex and your split. If that is the case, it is prudent to spend some time contemplating the meaning of your dream, or what you think the dream represents. The reason being is that it is nearly impossible to reach a meaningful, healthy and full recovery from your divorce without a thorough and honest understanding of your personal circumstances and narrative. And at times, a dream may help you fill in some missing gaps, and that is actually a very good thing.

If your breakup is a recent occurrence, there is a good possibility that your ex will make nocturnal visits a bit more than you will like. Try not to get too rattled and try to make peace with that fact. And if you’ve been divorced for several years and find that you are having a spell of frequent dreams, perhaps there is something happening in your current life that is triggering these dreams.

After discussing my friend Samantha’s dream, we were able to make some astute conclusions. It was her ex’s weekend to have their children in his home. Plus, it was Halloween, and she was worried that her teenage sons wouldn’t receive proper supervision. After she realized this, she decided to call her former husband (calmly and rationally) to discuss her concerns, and the conversation assuaged her fears. Since then, there have been no dreams about Brian.

Here are some suggestions to help you turn your dreams (and occasional nightmares) into interesting insights:

• Take a moment to gather your bearings and tell yourself that you have just had a dream, and although realistic, it is a fantasy in your mind, and you are safe.

• Remind yourself that dreaming about your ex, although unsettling, is completely normal, and remember that you are not alone.

• If you are keeping a journal (something I highly recommend to anyone grappling with the ending of a marriage) try to recall the details of the dream. Write down what you remember. Even a few bullet points will be helpful. If don’t recall much, write down what you were feeling when you awoke.

• Review your notes at a later date. Perhaps there is material there worth examining? If so, please do.

Alternatively, not all dreams have significance. If you’ve reviewed your dream and determined it was simply an old memory, or not particularly representative of anything at all, let sleeping dogs lie.

As much as we may wish to erase memories of our ex from our brains (both good and bad), it’s simply not possible. Our exes were once a vital part of our lives, and our recollections and feelings, even when we think they have been processed and released, will surface periodically. So try to accept and even expect an unforeseen nocturnal visit from time to time. Once you make peace with that concept, chances are you will have sweet dreams.

*Please note that all names in this post have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.





  • Deli

    Despite what individual dreams may seem like -- fantasy, fun, a bummer, whatever -- the dream world is actually a gift to the individual person for their growth, exploratio­n, and as a testing ground, in the same way as the waking world is a gift of life for similar activities­. If you practice being present in your dreams, consistent­ly, they will become quite vivid; you gradually will be more present in them; will be able to 'ask' for more specific experience­s prior to sleep; when asleep will be able to direct events and experience mind-blowi­ng resolution of life issues. We are meant to look forward to the amazing gift of sleep each night for the power it brings to open up massive potential. There is more than just a physical reason that beings are compelled toward the pillow for the second half of each day. Don't squander it behind of veil of unknowing!

  • George

    great article. i've had some crazy dreams about my longtime ex.
    sometimes erotic, other times shes estranged.

    I find talking about it very helpful (even to yourself), a kind of a venting process that may be required to end the dreams.

  • Ken

    I kinda like it when I dream about my ex's (not wives, girlfriend­s, im with my one and "hopefully­" only wife) It feels like a tiny vacation where no one gets hurt. In fact I hope my wife has them too. That way I dont get too commonplac­e

  • Mona

    Fully understand the dream issues with mine being about an ex, as this occurred frequently to me on and off after the divorce for at least 15 years since the 18 years it happened. However, in most dreams he would return stay as if living with me again, then just vanish again, returning to the one who is the other party in our situation-­now the wife (this dream occurred for at least 3-4 years). They finally ended about 1 year ago. Periodiaca­lly there are dreams about them or someone in their family. Most time these mean something is going on not so positive in their lives or some good news too.

    Learned to accept these type dreams as notificati­ons of the elevated mind contact state that occurs between people who were very closely connected at some point; resulting from that person thinking about you on some level-so how the connection­s are being made between you and them. It did upset me at first because was trying to move on/put all that in the past, eventually did accept all that happened and have moved on, so when dreams come just accept as such with hope all is well with them/famil­y.

  • Amy

    Very interestin­g. My first-love dreams are always very positive, although he was anything but a positive person in my life. He was extremely selfish and never really amounted to much of a boyfriend, however, whenever I dream about him, it feels like a really good thing. Like he's a good-luck charm, like you said about yours.

    Other past men in my life also figure in my dreams, but in more ambiguous ways. It's fascinatin­g when I analyze these dreams. I always learn something about myself - I've long since realized it's really about me, not them.

    • Ellen

      Are you saying that you're taking responsibility for your own behavior, dreams, etc? If so, that's a really good thing! We always blame our exes, and it's not all about them!

  • Diane

    Liked this article v much and read it on Huffington too. Glad to know I'm not alone and everyone dreams about their ex from time to time.

  • Paige

    I hope the New Year will bring me less dreams about my ex! I really don't like to find him wandering around in the wee hours!

    • Deli

      I fully agree!!!

      • Paige

        I find it helpful to get up early and start my day. Wallowing in bed with those dreams in my head isnt' good for me.

  • Karen

    I don't know about any one else, but i'm dreaming a lot this week maybe because of the holidays and all of my memories spending Christmas with my ex. We got engaged in December 2001. I find I still have a hard time this time of year. We've been divorced for 2 years.

    • Tom

      I find that I dream a lot about important people in my life around the holidays. Yes, I still dream about my ex, but not nearly as much as I used to. But it is strange when I haven't thought about her for awhile, and then she pops up in my dreams.