Originally published on The Huffington Post

“I had the dream again last night,” a client tells me with a slight tone of shame in her voice. “You know, the dream where I’m having sex with my ex. Every time I have that dream I wake up feeling horribly guilty. Here I am in bed with my partner and I’ve practically had sex with my ex. And it was good sex, too. What does this mean? Does it mean I’m still in love with my ex and I don’t really love my partner?”

That would be the most obvious and understandable interpretation, especially when the client describes that when she wakes up she’s filled with longing for the ex. She says it will usually take her about ten minutes to pull herself out of the magnetic dream state and remind herself that she’s not actually with her ex. And then it’s a hard thud down to the reality that her everyday feelings for her partner could never compete with the ecstatic and consuming feelings in the dream.

I invite you to pause here to ask yourself what you’re thinking: Are you thinking that she’s with the wrong guy, that if she were really in love with her partner then she wouldn’t be having these dreams about her ex, that the dream is a message that she’s unfulfilled sexually by her partner and a harbinger that her marriage is doomed to fail? Or do you understand that dreams are signposts to the soul and that the images in dreams are metaphors for aspects of oneself that need attention?

I’m guessing you’re thinking the first, as it’s the most logic and obvious interpretation. But here’s the clincher: Dreams aren’t logical! Have you ever had a dream that all of your teeth fell out? Was the dream a sign that your teeth were about to fall out? Not likely. Or how about the archetypal dream that you’re walking around the supermarket in your underwear? A sign that you’re going to forget to get dressed that day? I don’t think so. We generally understand that dreams are bizarre, illogical, and sometimes downright absurd, yet why are we so quick to assume the obvious and logical interpretation about an engaged woman’s dream about having sex with her ex?

I now invite you to suspend your attachment to the logical interpretation and go along for a ride on the wings of Jungian dream interpretation. From a Jungian perspective, sex dreams have nothing to do with sex at all and everything to do with expressing the soul’s journey toward wholeness and uniting with the underdeveloped aspects of ourselves. According to Jung, when a woman dreams about having sex with a man it’s an indication that she’s needing to connect with the masculine aspect of herself, referred to as the animus. Likewise, a man’s inner feminine is his anima, also known as his muse or siren. When we connect with this opposing energies inside of ourselves, we’re also connecting to our creativity and spirituality.

Because of our cultural obsession with romance, we immediately understand sex dreams as indicators of actual urges toward the opposite sex instead of symbols of inner needs or drives. As Robert Johnson writes in We: Understanding the Psychology of Romantic Love:

“Romantic love is the single greatest energy system in the Western psyche. In our culture is has supplanted religion as the arena in which men and women seek meaning, transcendence, wholeness, and ecstasy.” p. xi

And on anima (for men) and animus (for women):

“For men, the symbol of soul is the image of woman [the symbol of the spirit is the image of man]. If a man is aware of this and knows when he is using the image of woman as the symbol of his own soul, then he can learn to relate to that image as symbol and to live his soul inwardly… Until he learns to confront the motives, desires, and unlived possibilities of his own secret heart, he can never be complete within or genuinely fulfilled. That power within, which constantly urges us to experience our unlived possibilities and values, is the most awesome force in human life. Anima is that force for men: She is the soul. [Animus for women: He is the spirit.]” p. 65

Now let’s examine the dream now through this new lens, remembering that every element of a dream represents some part of the dreamer’s unlived life. This is how I guided my client:

“How would you describe your ex?” I asked

“He’s very outgoing, extroverted, intelligent, charismatic. He’s also a jerk and not someone I could ever build a life with.”

“Are those positive qualities things that you would like to have more of in your own life?”

“Yes, definitely. But I end up projecting them onto my partner and wishing that he was more social and extroverted.”

“Yes, that’s easy to do. If you could peel the projection off of your partner and recognize that these dreams are your soul’s yearning for wholeness, to grow these underdeveloped parts of yourself, you wouldn’t feel so disturbed by them. How are you feeling in general in your life right now?” I asked.

“Pretty bored. I don’t love my job and I know I need to think about a career change. I’ve been feeling pretty bland for a while now.”

“Do you notice any correlation between when you’re feeling bland and bored and when you have these dreams about your ex?”

“Well, yes, now that I think about, I usually have a dream like this after a particularly boring day at work, and the thought I have is, ‘Really? Is this it for the rest of my life?’ I have the urge to blame my partner for my boredom but I know it’s not his responsibility to make me feel fulfilled and happy. I thought it was but now I know better! I just don’t know what else I would do with my life.”

“That’s a great question to explore,” I responded. We spent the rest of the session talking about her passions and interests, and how many of those had fallen away in recent years. We talked about how she could access the more social, extroverted parts of herself. As we spoke, the intense power of the dream fell away and she could see the dream figure of her ex as a symbol for uniting with parts of herself that are longing to grow.

It can be particularly disturbing to dream about sex with an ex during an engagement. This is when many of clients and e-course members find their way to my virtual doorstep and one of the first topics of conversation often centers around an ex. It can take a lot of time and attention to understand that the dreams are not an indication that they’re with the wrong guy but an indication that – as transitions always are – it’s an opportune time to grow the underdeveloped aspects of oneself, whether a deeper connection to one’s creativity, spirituality, aliveness, fulfillment, or connection with the world in a meaningful way. When my client can approach the dreams through this lens, they embrace the opportunity of their transition into marriage and take a strong first step toward the person they want to become on the other side of the wedding day.


  1. Hi Sheryl
    I was wondering if this is also true of dreams of searching for an ex, wanting to speak to him but not being able to, that feeling of being a child who’s gotten lost and is trying to find her parents almost? As I’m going through my transition I realise how disconnected from my true self I have become and how much I reject myself. In my daily work I’m trying hard to reconnect, do you think these dreams of tearful searching and longing could be a symbol of this?

    • Absolutely, Laura. It sounds like the dreams are representing your abandoned child searching for a cut-off aspect of yourself – your own Loving Adult. Have you started working with the Inner Bonding process yet?

  2. Hi Sheryl, thanks for your response. I have been doing Inner Child work but i’m switching to your method today! I think maybe that particular dream was a good sign and some sort of acknowledgement that’s a reunion is close. This is such a great article and has got me trying to figure of what last nights dream was all about, where I was standing up for my wonderful husband and the ways that he supports me and puts me first to the ex the I was referring to in the earlier dream, who was messing me around and disrespecting me. This sounds like a good part of me breaking away from an old unserving part of me, what do you think? Thanks again and also wanted to say you and your work is a lifeline to me and I feel the universe answered my plea for help when I found my way here. Lx

  3. “This sounds like a good part of me breaking away from an old unserving part of me, what do you think?” I completely agree. I’m so glad the article touched off this level of work and insight for you.

  4. This article couldn’t come at a better time for me as this idea of animus is really becoming more prevalent in my transition. I was going to post about this on the forum (post sitting in drafts!) but this is as good a place as any 🙂

    What I’ve been dealing with over the last week is dreams about celebrities, as opposed to exes. I am not having sex with these celebrities (two very attractive men who I have been attracted to in films/tv shows!) but I have been feeling an extremely strong attraction/connection to them in the dream. It is really quite upsetting to wake up after having these dreams. I feel so guilty! And also sad but I don’t know why (obvious reason would be that I don’t have that same connection with my husband I guess). I ended up in tears this morning after I woke because I felt so sad and confused by these dreams. My husband was great as always but I don’t really want to continue to have these unsettling dreams. Do you think that these could be my animus also? I’m just not sure seeing as there is no sex ( but definitely attraction/connection) and they are not my ex ( but similarly unavailable I suppose?) The fact is sex with any of my exes wasn’t that amazing (sorry if TMI – lol) so maybe that’s why I’m focusing more on attraction to unavailable celebrities as opposed to sex with an ex?

    Eugh sometimes I wish I could switch my brain off!

    • Scottish: Yes, these are undoubtably animus dreams. In fact, it’s much more common to have animus dreams about celebrities than it is about exes because celebrities represent the masculine energy manifest in the world. As you know, I’m holding the strong position that your work at this point of your life is about connecting to your creative work and bringing that work into the world, and whenever I see this in a woman I also see that they frequently have attraction or longing dreams about a celebrity. Please take the focus off the literal interpretation and your guilt will be relieved. The powerful connection you’re having in the dream is the same energy that comes through when you’re bringing your creative work into the world. It’s time, Scottish. It’s time.

    • I know, I know. It’s just hard to take the leap into the unknown!

      Another thing that I am wondering about is that I think I’ve blocked that part of me. When I first started to deal with the anxiety, any thought of another guy (celebrity or otherwise) was so alarming and anxiety provoking that I blocked it all. I used to love reading romantic novels and listening to love songs etc but now any such thing causes a pretty extreme reaction of panic. While in the middle of my anxiety I was ok with avoiding them, now that I am coming out the other end of the tunnel, I don’t want to have to avoid these things for ever. I want to Be able to listen to a love song or read a romance novel and enjoy it for what it is (while realising that it is just fiction etc). I just don’t know how to do this. And now that I realise that this part of me that used to love all these things represents my animus, I don’t think I’m going to be truly whole or happy until I am able to reincorporate that part of me. I just don’t know how to without ramping up my anxiety. I do realise that I shouldn’t b getting my aliveness from these sources and I no longer do. I just don’t want to fear them either. Basically, I just want to have a normal reaction to a song or film or book that denotes ‘romantic love’ and not break out in hives when someone mentions them 🙂

      Something that might be related to all or this is that I also keep having a vision of a young man, who wants me to get into a car with him. He’s intriguing, young and free spirited and he wants me to get into the car with him and drive off into the unknown. Seeing him brings up all sorts of unease and fear in me. I think it’s maybe coz he represents this very part of me that I’ve shut off. Its like if i allow myself to feel those feelings of excitement and aliveness (that i used to get when infatuated) then i might lose my marriage or realise something is not right in my marriage? But then how can I truly feel alive in my marriage if I’m not allowing myself to feel alive period? He’s also blonde (like me). I’ve never dated a blonde guy and I’m not particularly physically attracted to this guy. This is making me think that this guy is maybe me, or a part of me that I have blocked off and now it wants back in.

      Does any of this make sense or am I finally losing the plot?!

      • It makes perfect sense and no, you’re not losing the plot! You’re beautifully connected to your inner world in a way that I rarely see, which is why I’m always encouraging you to channel these images and aliveness into your creative writing. The fact that the imaginary male figure is blond is a clear indication that he represents a part of you. Get in that car, sister, and see where he takes you! And then I will anxiously await the first draft of your novel… : )

  5. Hello,

    My ex cheated on me. I chose to stay with him and would have recurring nightmares that he was cheating on me again. After I finally broke it off, I found out he indeed had cheated on me. I have a new boyfriend now and it’s very serious. We live together and plan to get married (but are not engaged). The problem is that I’ve started to have nightmares about my current boyfriend cheating on me. Usually with women we’re both friends with. I wake up terribly upset with him every time I have a nightmare and grow suspicious of the women who appear in the dream. I have total faith that he hasn’t cheated on me or been unfaithful in anyway, but how can I get past these dreams? I will sincerely appreciate any responses. Very nervous to share these thoughts.

    • This is a different situation than I’ve described in the article but still a very common one. If you have faith that your partner isn’t cheating on you, then it’s clear that your dreams are showing you that the damage caused by your past is affecting your ability to trust your partner. We have several people on the e-course forum that struggle with this exact issue, and it’s only over time and with a lot of hard work that you learn to release the past damage and stop overlaying the ex onto the current partner.

      • Thank you so much for your reply. I am committed to healing the past wounds. Just got to keep having faith 🙂 Thank you for this community

  6. Hy Sheryl,

    Great article. It makes me wonder, what the meaning is of a dream having sex with someone of the same sex. It happened to me recently, thought I am heterosexual.

    Thank you!

    • The first thing you should know is that most people have dreams about having sex with someone of the same sex, and just like the most literal interpretation of a sex with an ex dream is that you’re still in love with your ex, the most obvious interpretation of the dream you’re describing is that you’re gay. But if we understand every element in a dream as representing an aspect of ourselves, and you understand the concepts of anima and animus, then sex with someone of the same sex is usually representative of integrating or uniting with a feminine aspect of yourself (if you’re a woman). If you explore it from this angle, you will probably understand what the dream is trying to communicate.

    • Hy sheryl ,

      I broke up with my ex .Its been almost two years. After that im single and happy .But now there is another boy in my life , he likes me and I like him too but ive been starting to compare him with my ex and now I have dream about my ex. The dream was about my ex calling me and texting me ,in real life he unfollowed me in socialmedia and there is no contact .the next day i dream about celebrating his birthday with his freinds . What is mean by this? Infact I dont know which part of me is unsolved there or try to grow ?

  7. I wonder the same thing that Amanda mentions above, as I too sometimes fantasize in my dreams about making love to a woman.

  8. Thank you for the post and all the comments ladies. I love discussing dreams! I think I have had sexual dreams involving both anima and animus over the years. I remember once having a dream in which I was a medieval lady and consort to the king… who had just been victorious on the battle field, and was half-lion-half-man! My psyche is not very subtle! Another time, I was pursued by a euro-asian nymphette down and elaborate corridor that gradually became a jungle passage, and kissed by her in a way that cut through my shame and demanded me to rise in strength to my best self. I have definitely had dreams involving both men and women (very often ending in orgasm)… and I have in waking life had both male and female partners. Interesting, I very very rarely dream about my partner, and when I do there is never any sexual content. This used to concern me, or make me feel guilty, but more recently I have tried to allow it. What concerns me most at the moment is that my rich dream life, which has been such a source of exploration and interest over the years, has completely dried up since my wedding. I worry that I am now burying my unconscious in order to hold my committed life together. I worry that my lack of dreams is unhealthy in some way… which is strange before for so long I thought my dreams – which were often very dark and symbolic, were indicative of unhealthiness themselves!

    • Wow, those are amazing, archetypal dreams, Carly! I wouldn’t worry too much about your dream life drying up since your wedding. The intensity and expression of psyche ebbs and flows, just like life, and it could be that psyche is directing your attention and energy to other areas right now. As interesting as I find dreams, I also don’t put as much stock in them as I used to. They can be powerful guideposts if interpreted correctly, but what’s much more important is the way in which you’re approaching your waking life.

  9. Hi Sheryl, what if it’s intrusive thoughts ? And instead of an ex it was a friend who I kissed when I was dating my current girlfriend. She knows and she forgave me. But I can’t stop having these intrusive thoughts about the guy and stop feeling guilt. Especially because yes I do think he’s attractive. I also feel guilty whenever I find anyone else attractive.

    • Are there any techniques you have to help with this ? Or any reasoning behind these thoughts ?

  10. I finally got a chance to read this blog post as I didn’t get around to it during the Open Your Heart program. It makes a lot of sense. For YEARS I didn’t have dreams about my ex and then BAM, as soon as we started officially dating the dreams started. The most disturbing part about them is the sexual satisfaction I feel in the dream. I crave this with my current relationship. I know some of it is related to longing but it gives me the urge to keep chasing after my sexual fantasies. I know it will never be fulfilling though. Unfortunately I went through a period where I have fling after fling and although exciting, I felt empty and used afterwards. Struggling a lot right now with the sex issue, hoping to get some answers 🙂

  11. I have been dreaming off and on of my ex ( relationship ended abruptly.. he wouldn’t let go and I felt betrayed by a decision he made ) for a few years now, in these dreams we are together for illicit trysts, but somehow are unable to consummate the act itself. We get started, then something or someone comes into the picture interrupting us. Now what could that mean? I do find myself in waking hours thinking of him, and how things could have turned out differently if there hadn’t been certain trust issues with us. I have been married to someone else now for 16 years, unsatisfied romantically in this marriage but content in other ways.

  12. As of right now I’m 19 weeks pregnant an my partner is very supportive everything I could possibly ask for ,but I recently had a dream about my first the person I loved very much he was really my first everything .In this dream I was replaying moments that we had together before he was sent away it felt so real but in the dream sumthing about his charater changed he was sayin he loved me for all my flaws an all .but its been like 5 years or so since he left. Or I even sent him really ,at the end of the dream he ended up almost being sent away but I woke up .when I awoke it was as if I wanted to cry my chest was acheing an everything It brought back the harsh feeling of everything.?I want to know what’s this about is it sign or somthing help .!!

  13. Hi Sheryl,
    Lately, I having been having dreams about my first boyfriend. Last night, I had a dream I was having sex with him in a bathtub on a front lawn. I thought everyone was asleep but someone snapped a full frontal pic of me nude. I never recall even enjoying having sex with him or for that matter spending time with him as he was a very poor conversationalist and very set in his ways for being a teenager at the time.I don’t understand why I am having sex dreams of me actually enjoying having sex with him. This article has sort of helped but there were not very many qualities about my ex that I liked or would want to emulate so I still feel lost in that respect.

    • It’s not always that he’s a symbol of aspects of yourself that you want to incorporate, but if you explore the dream from the perspective of viewing him as a symbol for some part of yourself or perhaps the need to grieve you’ll discover what the message is for you.


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