All i have to do is dream...?
September 8, 2010 11:57 AM   Subscribe

Why do i keep dreaming about my ex even though i'm married?

So here's the deal. Ex and i broke up after being together for about 9 years (junior high till end of college). We both moved on. We're both married. We've been apart from each other for 12 years now. After we broke up, i dated sporadically and the longest relationship i had after that was 1 year, until i met my husband. I've been married for 3 years, have one kid, and another on the way. The relationship with my husband could be better - but in the grand scheme of things, it's a normal relationship with its ups and downs i guess. So the question is why do i never EVER dream about my husband? All the dreams i have in which i'm with a significant other are of my ex instead of my husband. Every single one. Him (the ex) as the father of my unborn child. Him as the one i turn to for support. Him as the one making hot passionate sexytime. The catch though is the ex and i broke up rather acrimoniously, (we were both too young and foolish at the time and didnt know how to handle a grown up relationship). I have absolutely no desire to be back with him - i saw him a couple of years back and honestly i was a little disgusted. But!!! I can't stop dreaming about him. I want my dreams to be about my husband. (I'd say these are crazy preggo dreams, but even when i wasn't pregnant i still dreamed about the ex.) What's going on?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (21 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Dreams are the defragging program of our brain. It's trying to sort stuff out. I wouldn't worry too much about it. You likely are still upset that the relationship you had someone you had such a long history with didn't ultimately work out. But who know? Does it affect the rest of your life? If so, then see a therapist. If not, there's not really a problem.
posted by inturnaround at 12:01 PM on September 8, 2010 [4 favorites]

Brains are funny, and I don't put much stock in dream analysis besides the most obvious interpretation of dream "symbols" as they pertain to your actual life. You were with your ex through a huge portion of your life, and your entire adolescence, at that. He was in your life when important ideas about sex and attraction and what you wanted from your partner were being formed. It's much more likely that he signals youth, or love, or early passion to you than representing something about your feelings for him as an actual person.

If it's any comfort to you, I had a crush on a guy on-and-off through junior high and high school. The most we ever did was hold hands, and I still dream about him once a year or so--often these are very tender, very emotional dreams, where this dude appears pretty much as he was at 16 (despite the fact that he's a gross, pretty icky person now). I don't let myself feel guilty about them, because there's no use feeling guilty about subconscious feelings you have no control over. Also, it's nice to feel a little rush of the emotions of youth come back via a dream state. I think what you're experiencing is really common, and nothing to feel bad about.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:04 PM on September 8, 2010 [3 favorites]

Sometime a person in our dreams "represents" someone in our real life. There could be some characteristic that your ex has that reminds you of something about your husband. For instance I've had a dream where I was daring my brother, but my brother was really a stand-in for the guy I was actually dating at the time, because there personalities had some overlap.

I try to avoid being overly literal when recalling dreams, because my sub-conscious does some really weird things. A lot of times what I feel or believe in the dream is way more important than what is happening visually. Sometimes a character in my dream appears to be Joe by next door neighbor but I *know* that it's actually my best friend from high school. I hope that makes sense or helps.
posted by thankyouforyourconsideration at 12:04 PM on September 8, 2010

I don't think that is particularly unusual or uncommon. Agree with "inturnaround" totally. I was married to my ex for 16 years, it ended 14 years ago, been with current hubby 8 years, but ex is still in my dreams, current isn't. Don't have sexy dreams about him ... many of my dreams are that he just won't leave ... so I agree its my subconcious trying to sort things out. Like inturnaroiund said, if it's a problem, get counseling, otherwise, perhaps some journaling will help you sort things out more consciously.
posted by batikrose at 12:06 PM on September 8, 2010

I dream about all kinds of random people, including my ex. Heck, even people from Metafilter sometimes show up in my dreams. It's not *that person*-- It's what that person represents to my subconcious, so I don't give any more weight to my ex showing up in a dream than I do if Obama, David Bowie or Jessamyn do, riding on unicorns and farting rainbows.

This goes 1,000 times more when you are pregnant. Pregnancy dreams are oddly vivid and the only thing that comes close to pregnancy dreams are when I was taking Lariam as a malaria prophylaxia.
posted by ambrosia at 12:08 PM on September 8, 2010

We often hear that we should "follow our dreams" but that is not to be taken too literally. Hopes and aspirations are, metaphorically, dreams. But actual dreams are just subconscious expressions of problems that the brain is trying to digest, as inturnaround states. Your husband does not have to appear in your dreams to be important to you. Don't worry about your dreams.
posted by grizzled at 12:13 PM on September 8, 2010

Because you're pregnant. This is what happens when you're pregnant--you dream about ex-boyfriends. Before I even read sentence two of your question, I knew you must be pregnant.
posted by rabidsegue at 12:22 PM on September 8, 2010

I have a similar thing going on. I've been happily with current hubby for ten years, but for the longest time I rarely dreamed about him, I always dreamed about my previous husband who I was married to for 13 years. Or occasionally the dream-husband shapeshifted between current and ex. None of the dreams were happy ones, though, they are either emotionally fairly neutral-but-weird or sometimes very unpleasant (like, we're fighting.)

I have no idea why this is. I don't secretly want to be back with my ex, but I don't hate him either, so I don't think it has to do with emotional baggage. It's just weird.

Luckily I've never had sexy time dreams about my ex, as that would feel really creepy to me. I usually dream sexy dreams about my husband (or faceless strangers or people from my work that I'm SO not attracted to, or else I'm desperately looking for a place to masturbate and I can't find anywhere private...) Ahem.

So yeah, weird.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 12:31 PM on September 8, 2010

The catch though is the ex and i broke up rather acrimoniously, (we were both too young and foolish at the time and didnt know how to handle a grown up relationship).

Random armchair analysis: The old relationship represents misspent youth, "wasted on the young." If only you could be "young" and "free" again, but do everything right. As you said, you don't actually wish you could do things over and marry your ex instead of your real husband. In real life, meeting him face to face in the year 2010, you would not be overcome with lust and abandon. But the hazy, distant-past version of him represents something else. I think many people have had this thought (at least, I've had it): wouldn't it be great if you could go back in time and start over at age 18/19/20 and relive the fun parts but with the more mature/wise mind you have now?
posted by John Cohen at 12:38 PM on September 8, 2010

So the question is why do i never EVER dream about my husband? All the dreams i have in which i'm with a significant other are of my ex instead of my husband.

Because there is no need to dream of something that is already a reality.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:48 PM on September 8, 2010 [7 favorites]

The people in your dreams are, for the most part, two-dimensional people who are made up in your own images of them. This happens to me sometimes too and I feel stupidly guilty about dreaming about exes. Upon more reflection though, I'm not even dreaming about exes, but sort of a best-case unreal person who I exist temporarily in a perfect together-space with. And I have a hard time wedging my current boyfriend into that space because I spend too much [excellent, wonderful, interesting but often IMperfect] time with him to be able to suitably objectify him in my dreamland. So I think it's okay, the brain does strange things to you when your body is under various stressors. If it were me, I'd surface these dreams just to get them out of my subconscious. I'll tell my bf "I had the weirdest dream about a guy I used to know..." occasionally and see if that helps break the cycle. Best of luck.
posted by jessamyn at 12:52 PM on September 8, 2010

Dream images are like metonyms - e.g. when you talk about Wall Street, you really mean the financial sector. Dreams are wish fulfillment in the sense that dreaming about being with an ex stands in for the some other unconscious desire. Without knowing more about the dream its impossible to know, but for the sake of an example: your ex might represent your past or your youth, so the dream is really about your anxieties about your loss of freedom in becoming a parent or maybe fear of being a bad mother, not about your relationship. This is too traumatic so you express it in a dream in a coded form.
posted by AlsoMike at 12:59 PM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Like many of the other responders, I don't think it unusual or something to be concerned with.

I frequently have "nightmares" that involve issues and people in my (long) past. I welcome these dreams. I think it is our way of trying to bring resolution to things that are unresolvable. I think it the sign of a healthy mind.

I think also that dream analysis is, for the most part, futile. Especially recurrent dreams about the past. I didn't always feel that way.

I think it is the effect of dreams that matters. I think we can choose that effect. I think we can choose to laugh at that cantankerous, recurrent nightmare. Mental weather. High pressure, low pressure. Weather happens and no one is at fault.

Dress for the weather and you will be just fine.
posted by private_idaho at 1:07 PM on September 8, 2010

I would second a lot of the above and chill out.

I sometimes dream about my ex, who is the guy with whom I had my longest ever relationship (like you) and, also similarly, we had a pretty ugly break-up. I have absolutely no desire to get back together with him.

This may sound simplistic, but these dreams you are having could have something to do with the fact you might be experiencing so many changes in your life that you sort of miss what you had/were back in your college years?

I find that sometimes I miss that stage of my life when I was with my ex, but not because of him, but because of who I used to be and what I used to do around that time (crazy rave parties, not having any real responsibilities, being much younger, etc). But not so much I would ever exchange that life for what I have now. No way.
posted by heartofglass at 2:20 PM on September 8, 2010

Your ex is a significant figure in your life, and because it was so long ago (when you were younger with few responsibilities) he represents a figure in your life that has no baggage attached. You can love him until the ends of the earth, but your husband is a prominent figure in your life now, and is inexorably tangled in your responsibilities. As you come to terms with these responsibilities, you're bound to fantasize about the time (and person with whom) you had no responsibilities.

Don't sweat the dreams. Start to pay attention if you begin daydreaming, too, and recognize that you and your husband would be much happier without responsibilities than you are now, so take steps to make sure you're happy with them.
posted by davejay at 2:29 PM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

I rarely dream about my husband because my husband is a real, whole person in my current, day-to-day life. When I do dream about him, he always represents himself. When I dream about people from my past, including exes, they always represent an aspect of myself. It could be a long-lost side of my personality, or a character trait I had in common with them, or a way of feeling that I felt with them. In essence, I am only "using" them in my dream as a means of self-reflection. I don't put much stock in universal dream symbols, but if this is true for me, maybe it is true for you as well.
posted by Knowyournuts at 4:28 PM on September 8, 2010

I suspect you're dreaming about high school and college, and that just happens to be who you were dating at the time. I dream about my high school boyfriend too, even though I haven't seen him in a dog's age and have been with my partner for 7 years. I also dream about surprise exams, handing in assignments late, and not being able to find my locker far more often than I dream about my current job.
posted by heatherann at 4:44 PM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


I broke up with my last partner because I convinced myself that not dreaming about her must mean I don't love her. I can never now get back what I realise was actually perfect.
posted by spaceandtime30 at 4:48 PM on September 8, 2010 [7 favorites]

Your question really resonated with me. I had an awful divorce after 23 years of marriage. I have been with my current SO for 8 years. I rarely dream about him. But I have regular reoccurring dreams about my ex. The theme is always that I've somehow gotten back with him and in my dream mind, all I can think is, "How did this happen? I thought I was rid of him." I've tried to analyze it and all I can come up with is that he was a significant part of my life and the break up was devastating and ugly. I don't know. Dreams are just strange that way. I wouldn't worry about it. Pregnant dreams are especially confusing and weird.
posted by wv kay in ga at 5:10 PM on September 8, 2010

Came here to echo everybody else: I dream about my ex-husband about once a week and they're usually unpleasant dreams, but not always (not sex dreams). We were together 10 years and split up 4.5 years ago.

I am not pregnant though.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 5:21 PM on September 8, 2010

I have the same experience as heatherann. As a data point, I'm 34 and never ever ever dream about any people who have been around in my life during the past 15 years or so: not my husband, not my children, not my friends, not my colleagues. If I dream about people, they're either total figments of my imagination, or people I knew in high school or college, and none of them are in my life now. The real people usually appear in stress dreams about missing class all semester long and having to take final exams.

I suspect that for many people, the teens and early 20s is a time when many long-lasting impressions are made, when emotions are strong, hormones are raging, and for whatever reason people and events get stored in the part of your brain that fires up when you dream.

I don't think you can force yourself to dream about your husband, or not to dream about your ex. You're not harboring any unresolved feelings for your ex, and there's no reason to feel guilty about your dreams. At least not any more than I should feel guilty about the school work my dreams tell me I haven't done all semester.

Dammit, people. I'm a sysadmin, not a psychologist. Maybe someone who actually knows what they're talking about can step in with a better explanation.
posted by ellenaim at 7:12 PM on September 8, 2010

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