Rebound relationships can be quite intense. It’s often the case that the longer the previous relationship, the more intense the rebound. Why does this happen?
Rebounds have a lot to do with our attachment makeup (based on early life development). To create a visual, imagine for a second that you have a bunch of strings coming out of you — each string representing a type of need based on your attachment type. When in a relationship, most or all of these strings are attached to our significant others (like a plug into an outlet). When we make this connection, our partner essentially soothes our attachment needs by being the recipient of these strings.
When going through a breakup, it’s a form of emotional crisis. Even if we weren’t happy in our relationship, there’s an overarching feeling of being grounded in the sense that our attachment needs are being soothed. The longer the relationship, the stronger the “strings” become, and the more unconsciously dependent they become on this other “object” (our partner) to maintain this connection. So, when the strings are suddenly pulled away from our partner, we suddenly end up with these emotional strings aimlessly flying around in the wind waiting to attach to someone. It can feel similar to breaking a long-term addiction all at once — there’s generally no weaning process in a breakup. (It has been said that love is a form of addiction).
What ends up happening is that we end up looking for somebody who can be the recipient of our attachment strings in order to soothe our emotional crisis. When this happens, we end up in a rebound relationship with an increased sense of urgency to re-connect, from the reaction of the sudden detachment. This paves the way for a fast and intense connection.
This leads to a combination of problematic issues that often present in a rebound relationship:
- The previous relationship hasn’t been resolved. Rebounds are generally reactive. These relationships start out as an emotional response to a removal from emotional security and stability (whether or not the relationship was healthy). Therefore, the previous relationship as a whole, and the accompanying emotions from the breakup have not been processed or resolved. A rebound relationship is a subconscious way of trying to avoid feeling the loss — the hurt, sadness, disappointment, and other emotions from the relationship that didn’t work. The new euphoria drowns the grief and mourning. But only temporarily. Eventually, these emotions usually surface and can often cause confusion within the rebound relationship.
- The rebound partner is often idealized. In a rebound relationship, it’s common that the new partner is viewed as perfect — the person that we always wished we’d found first, and were so lucky to find this time. It’s euphoric. This response has a lot to do with our attachment needs seeking a state of stability to resolve the emotional crisis we experience in a breakup. In a metaphoric sense, we end up plugging all of our emotional strings deeply into a new partner all at once, in order to emotionally stabilize ourselves. Eventually, the idealization (and euphoria) goes away, and this is when rebounds often hit a wall. (See “The Grass is Greener Syndrome” for more on this).
- Our own role in the previous relationship has not been explored. People often find they deal with similar types of struggles from one relationship to the next. This is because we have a role, based on our developmental history, in the formation and dynamic of our relationships. Simply said, if we don’t work to understand how our previous relationships went wrong, and what we can do to learn and grow from the experience there’s a significant chance we will end up dealing with similar issues again, only with a different person. (See “What Attracts Us to Bad Relationships?” for more on this).
It’s worth mentioning that many rebound relationships have grown into long-lasting, happy relationships. So they aren’t doomed from the start. But at a certain point in a rebound relationship, the above issues (as well as other possible issues) will most likely emerge and will need to be resolved. It becomes confusing when we’re in a new relationship that’s exciting and intense, and then suddenly we start experiencing the loss of the previous relationship. The question starts becoming, do we slow down the rebound, get to know our new partner, and stick with the new relationship?; or, do we end the rebound, resolve the residual issues from the other relationship, and work on ourselves?; or, possibly consider resolving and returning to the other relationship? There are options.
On the other side of the coin, it’s also worth noting that the new partner in a rebound relationship is in a vulnerable position just by being the rebound partner, due to the issues above. While the relationship can certainly grow, there are obstacles. The partner who’s fresh out of a breakup is forcing emotional space into a crowded well in order to have the rebound relationship. The question is, is the partner who is rebounding emotionally available for this relationship? This puts the new partner nearly at the mercy of the other. When the euphoria settles to reality, there can often be a feeling that the partner is pulling away, which is generally due to the unresolved issues from the previous relationship.
So, both people in a rebound relationship do have options. While rebounds aren’t necessarily doomed, there are built-in obstacles that likely will have to be addressed in one way or another at a certain point. Slowing down and facing the emotional process may become a necessary step in determining how to move forward.
Contact Nathan Feiles to inquire about therapy for recovering from a breakup and rebound relationships.