The One Detail That Separates Healthy Rebound Relationships From Unhealthy Ones

by Benjamin Ritter

Welcome to the Ex Games: a content series about love lost. Whether it's the realization things need to end, the act of rejection, the reality of being single, or the resurrection that is moving on, the Ex Games has every stage of a breakup covered.

And to really bring these stories to life, we've launched the Ex Games podcast, where we delve into the two sides of a break-up story with a new couple each week, and aim to end up somewhere near the truth. Because when it comes to affairs of the heart, everyone plays, but does anyone win? Let's find out. 

You've recently gotten out of -- climbed, struggled, dealt with -- a serious relationship, and you're craving some sort of intimacy and comfort. You could go back to your ex, but you broke up for a reason. Maybe you should find a rebound, maybe even another ex, but would that make things better or worse?

Relationship experts' advice is mixed about rebound relationships. Some dismiss their seriousness or potential viability, while others suggest that they are a required step towards a more legitimate relationship, and a great distraction and strategy for dealing with getting over an ex. Since “expert advice” is not clear, maybe science has an answer.

The journal article, "Too fast, too soon? An empirical investigation into rebound relationships," published in 2015 in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, is one of the few recent research studies on rebound relationships.

The authors define a rebound as a relationship that starts before feelings about a previous relationship are over, or before “closure” over a previous relationship. The research indicates that people who entered into a rebound relationship more quickly than others had greater overall mental and physical health, confidence in their desirability, and resolution toward their previous relationship.

It also indicates that people who entered into new relationships the quickest were more likely to have greater levels of respect for their new partner, and were also found to compare their new partner to their ex more than people who took longer to get into a new relationship.

Another journal article, "On the Rebound: Focusing on Someone New Helps Anxiously Attached Individuals Let Go of Ex-Partners" published in the Society for Personality and Social Psychology in 2009, indicates that focusing on someone new can help people recover from the negative effects of a breakup.

A breakup causes an emotional and physical gap and a rebound can be the solution. Not only can a partner supply the physical needs that were lost through their physical presence and by fulfilling sexual needs, but if a new partner is in some way similar to an ex, feelings of attachment can naturally transfer towards a new partner without a large investment of time.

Science supports that rebound relationships can be beneficial in dealing with getting over an ex, but it leads to the assumption that a rebound is only as good as its ability to be the same or better than your ex.

Your ultimate choice to either seek out a rebound or deal with your emotions on your own should be based on the answer to the question, “Is the rebound better than your ex in any way, physically or emotionally?” For example, if your ex always comes out on top, you're going to think about and miss your ex more, which means the rebound is doing the exact opposite of what it was meant to do.

If you were the one dumped in your last relationship, it may be harder to find someone who surpasses your ex. In this instance, you may be tempted to lower your standards just because you need a distraction, but be warned, this will probably make you more attached to your ex, and feel even worse than before.

Think about it: You can't stop thinking about your ex, so you distract yourself with someone for a night, and then afterward not only are you still thinking about your ex, but now you're thinking about how much better your ex is than anyone else.

There needs to be something about a rebound that is better than your last relationship. Is this person more physically attractive, funnier, or do you get to do really fun things you never had the chance to do with your ex?

You want to interrupt the connection from your ex, and the best way to do so, especially while you are still dealing with the breakup, is by seeking out positive and unique experiences with someone new. A rebound is supposed to help you move on from an ex, and should distract your thoughts and body. The more time you spend with someone, the more you hardwire responses toward each other -- and if you're currently out of a relationship, you are hardwired to your ex.

A rebound that is in some way better than your past relationship may disrupt that connection. It literally can alter the neural pathways in your brain, and re-teaches it to feel good without having your ex around -- which means you have to feel good around your rebound.

If you can't find anyone who even comes close to your ex, and you find yourself needing a distraction of any sort — emotional or physical — take some time to yourself.

A rebound has positive benefits because it boosts your confidence and replaces the void from the previous relationship. You don't have to physically rebound with someone else to gain the benefits. If you really need comfort, you can also distract yourself with other forms of non-physical rebounding connection, such as through social media, texting, etc.

Next time you're just recently out of a serious relationship, and you're craving some sort of intimacy and comfort, feel confident that a rebound might actually be a good thing — as long as it's an upgrade, either physically, emotionally, a fun date, or even just finding a way to shift your mentality toward viewing your situation now as better than your situation before.