A Dream of Past Love Points to New Beginnings

From Understanding Dreams Blog with Psychology Today

Discover how a dream can teach us to look forward in a disappointing time.

People sometimes dream about a past relationship or a lost love but doing so does not necessarily mean they still want to be with that person. Instead, it could be a good time to ask what feelings or memories come to mind when thinking of that person.

Gabrielle has been married for five years, but occasionally she dreams about her previous lover. When she has such a dream and wakes up feeling sad, what is she really longing for?

The Dream

Gabrielle explained to me, “Before I met my husband, I was in a relationship for three years with someone who really broke my heart. We don’t speak too often but I dream about him a couple of times a month.

“I don’t know why. Sometimes there is no event that triggers thoughts of him; it just happens at random. It’s always like we’re just walking around together hanging out or he’s looking for me and asking me to see him.

“Last night I dreamt we walked around outside and sat by the water, my head on his shoulder. I hear my alarm going off in my dream and I tell him I need to leave. Then I wake up feeling sad, as if I’m missing him, but I’m really not.”

The Discussion

Since dreams are often triggered by a very recent event, my first question was, “When was the last time you saw your ex?”

“I haven’t seen him since 2015, and we spoke for a bit in May last year.”

Knowing that this dream isn’t really “random” but has a triggering event, I am now looking for some other recent situation. I inquire about one of the symbols in the dream, asking, “What does water bring to mind?”

“Our first date was by the water. At the time there was a new area of home construction going on. There was even a new home being built right by where we sat that evening.”

“Any other thoughts about water?”

“Yes. Water makes me think of travel, and I love to travel. As a matter of fact, I was planning a trip away with my husband and two friends and we had to cancel it. Breaks my heart.”

I offered, “These are definitely strange times. I am struck by your unconscious choosing the particular association you have to new construction.”

My observation, coupled with her feelings of sadness when she awoke, led Gabrielle to her connection. “No kidding. We are in strange times for certain. Plans, just like those I had hoped for with my ex, fall to the wayside and break my heart. It’s as if the virus forces me to regroup and find another way, just like I had to do with him.”

While the images from her dream hearken back to a previous relationship, they are, in fact, really describing Gabrielle’s current feelings and situation in the time of COVID-19.

“All of us are under construction,” I responded. “We have to rethink our travel, our relationships, who we can see and who not, wearing masks or not, and a host of other changes in our behaviors.”

What We Can Learn

As Gabrielle and I observed, we are living in strange times. Her dream triggered her sense of sadness for what she has lost, but it also offered hope with the image of water, which she associates with new construction and activities she loves. Gabrielle’s ex is about endings, but new construction is about beginnings.

Gabrielle’s feeling of longing points not to her relationship with her husband, but to the way her life used to be. Her dream evokes the strong language of heartbreak in a way so many people will recognize in these times of lost plans, lost family members, lost jobs, and loneliness.

When she analyzed her dream and rediscovered the new construction in the images from her past, Gabrielle empowered herself to look ahead. She can begin to rebuild her life as she finds ways to manage under quarantine and the threat of illness. Soon, with vaccinations rolling out, it will become easier for Gabrielle and others to balance a sense of what they have lost with the new construction of their own lives.

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