The “rebound” is an inescapable trope in romantic novels and rom-coms, understood to be relationships that are started up almost immediately after another one has ended. People who enter into these relationships are often uncharitably thought of as being “hung up” on their previous partners, trying to deal with unresolved feelings by jumping into something new with ill-advised speed. But is this really fair? We take a deeper dive into some of the psychology around the rebound.
Do rebound relationships ever work?
In a 2015 paper, psychologists Claudia Brumbaugh and R. Chris Fraley wrote, “Despite the pessimistic views that people tend to have concerning rebound relationships, there is essentially no empirical research on these relationships, nor even an authoritative definition of them.”
In other words, people have an opinion about something that isn’t backed up by objective facts. Surely not.
To start to remedy this situation, the pair performed two studies. The first followed people who had just gone through a breakup, looking at factors that might encourage some to start up a new relationship more quickly, and the impact this had versus waiting a while before dating again. The second study was similar but used a larger sample size, and asked people to report retrospectively on their previous relationship experiences.
The findings were a little different than most people would probably expect. Not only did they find that people who rebounded were not necessarily worse off than those who waited longer, but in some areas it was actually found to be beneficial to start a new relationship quickly rather than remaining single.
“Contrary to what is commonly believed about the need for a ‘waiting period’ following the end of a relationship […] we found that beginning a new relationship quickly after a breakup seemed to have positive consequences,” the researchers wrote. “Specifically, people who started a new relationship quickly had higher well-being and a better opinion of themselves compared to those who waited longer.”
Now, this doesn’t mean that it’s always best to throw yourself head-first into a new relationship after a breakup. After all, as the authors point out, “Relationship dissolution is often one of the most distressing events that an individual can experience in life,” and what works for one person in dealing with that trauma is not going to work for everyone. However, this research does challenge the conventional wisdom that rebound relationships are always a bad idea.
Tips for a successful rebound relationship
So we know that rebound relationships can work, and can sometimes even help someone through what is an undeniably difficult time. Is there a way of maximizing the chances of a successful rebound?
Relate, a UK-based charity that is the largest provider of relationship counseling in England and Wales, talks about the potential risks of rebound relationships.
“The biggest risk is that the new relationship is simply being used as a way of avoiding emotions and feelings bound up in the previous one,” they say, with another key risk being partner selection. It’s common for people to start a rebound relationship with someone who is either very similar to, or the complete opposite of, their previous partner. There are possible pitfalls with either approach, but again the charity is keen to point out that “rebound” does not necessarily equal “doomed to failure”.
“As with many things, when it comes to relationships, it doesn’t pay to be too prescriptive," Rebound explains. "As many of us can attest having witnessed the newly developing relationships of family and friends and indeed our own, occasionally what some might describe as a classic ‘rebound relationship’ turns into a strong and loving partnership that lasts many years.”
As with many things that can jeopardize relationship harmony, if you think you might be in a rebound relationship, or you’re tempted to start one up, it probably pays to have an honest conversation with yourself about why that is.
Speaking to Verywell Mind, Licensed Clinical Social Worker Micaela Stein had some tips for questions you could ask yourself in this situation, such as “Am I uncomfortable being alone?” or “Am I relying on someone else to validate my worth?”.
In an interview with Healthline, licensed psychotherapist and sex therapist and founder of The Gender and Sexuality Therapy Center Jesse Kahn also talked about the importance of honest communication with your new partner. “In any relationship, you need to be clear and transparent around your wants, needs, expectations, limitations, and boundaries – and that stands for rebound relationships.”
But, once again, both Stein and Kahn stressed that rebound relationships can and do work out well for many people.
Given that the prevailing expert opinion seems to be that rebounding is not inherently a bad thing, it’s hard to see where this accepted societal wisdom comes from. Perhaps the many portrayals of disastrous, unhealthy rebound relationships in the media have something to do with it.
Many of us will know people whose once-rebounds have turned into deep, lasting partnerships – we may even be those people ourselves! So while a rebound gone wrong can make a great plot for a novel or movie, just remember that in real life, there’s really no reason to write-off the rebound for good.