THE BLOG

Are Rebound Relationships Doomed From the Start?

09/13/2010 10:15 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

In honor of National Singles Week this month, BounceBack.com is assessing a question you might be facing if you're newly single: To rebound or not to rebound? Rebound relationships tend to have a bad reputation. Typically they're equated to the band-aid that falls off eventually, exposing a still-tender scratch (or gouge) that needed tending to all along. We often blame them for distracting us from healing, or believe that feelings left over from the relationship just walked-away-from will become entangled in the new relationship, dooming it from the start.

What about the rebound relationships that succeed, or the possibility that one can heal from heartbreak and fall in love at the same time? What if you meet someone during or after a relationship's end who compliments you well, and that in itself is healing?

There are few studies examining the phenomenon of the rebound relationship, its general positive and negative effects, and when and for whom it's a good or bad idea. In the absence of such research, we're left with this question (which we need to ask ourselves despite science anyway): Is this situation good for me?

If after an honest evaluation of your new relationship you determine that it's not good for you, it takes self-control to avoid it or walk away. Dating and/or sex with a new person create chemical reactions in the brain that are similar to those created by powerful, illicit drugs (more on that in a future article). In that way, rebound relationships can be a form of "self medication" that's hard to quit. It's vital to your overall healing and peace of mind, though, to consider why you're in a new relationship so soon and how it's affecting you.

Here are some questions to think about:

Are you a chronic rebounder?

Looking back, have you jumped from one relationship to the next with little or no time in-between? If so, think about any fears you might associate with not being in a relationship. Is the thought of being alone terrifying? If it is, what scares you most about being single? Also consider whether romantic relationships are fulfilling needs that you might be better off fulfilling yourself. For example, some chronic rebounders seek nurturing exclusively from outside sources. A healthy relationship does involve both parties nurturing each other, but it's essential that we're able on some level to nurture ourselves.

Did you go out looking for a new relationship or did it happen spontaneously?

Answering this question won't determine whether your new relationship is healthy, but it will offer clues about your motives. If you went out looking for a new relationship, you might be on the "self medication" train. Like someone who drinks in order to avoid painful feelings, you might be focusing on a new relationship for the same reason. On the other hand you might've been going about your new single life, focusing on yourself and on recovering from heartbreak. Maybe a new dating prospect came around unexpectedly, and you're motives for wanting to enter a new relationship have more to do with that person's qualities than with dodging painful emotions.

Is your new relationship boosting your self-esteem?

You might've just gotten out of a relationship in which you felt unnoticed, unappreciated, or uncared for. Perhaps your new companion dredges you with attention that you've been craving for months or years. This could be a good or bad thing. Obviously being noticed, appreciated and cared for are ingredients in a healthy relationship, and perhaps receiving this attention is a reminder of what you deserve. But, if your sense of worth was badly damaged by your previous relationship and you're relying on you new relationship to fix that, be careful. Relying exclusively on others for validation is a slippery slope; healthy self-worth requires personal attention from number one: you.

Are you in "I'm just having fun" mode?

If you're able to balance dealing with the emotional fallout from your last relationship while casually spending time with someone whose company you enjoy, this mindset isn't necessarily a bad thing. It can be a hard balance, though, especially if sex is involved and you consider that the emotional detachment required for "casual sex" is often hard to maintain. Another obvious question here is whether both you and the other person are open about your intentions. If the other person believes that they're in for a long-term relationship when your intention is to enjoy a short-lived fling, you might be setting yourself up for a tricky breakup down the road.

Are you putting up with bad behavior because at least it feels better than being alone?

You might have jumped into a new relationship that feels wrong on some or several levels, but you're going with it because even bad behavior (like inconsistency or disregarding your feelings) feels safer than loneliness. Again, be careful. The more entrenched you become in a relationship that isn't good for you, the harder it will be if (or more likely, when) the relationship ends. As difficult as being alone can be, learning how to be alone without feeling lonely is possible.