Meet, Catch, and Keep

A scientific look at the complexities of romantic relationships

Can a Rebound Relationship Be the Real Deal?

New research blows up some common assumptions.

Shutterstock
Break-ups can be heart-wrenching experiences, marked by distress, unhappiness, even a loss of sense of self (Lewandowski, Aron, Bassis & Kunak, 2006).

Can seeking comfort in someone new help the healing process, or is diving into a relationship too quickly after a break-up an unfair and unhealthy way to move forward? Are rebound relationships always doomed to be temporary flings, or can they become long-term, stable, and happy partnerships? 

Rebound relationships can be defined as romantic relationships that begin shortly after a previous relationship has ended but before the emotions tied to that previous relationship have been resolved (Brumbaugh & Fraley, 2014). Basically, rebound relationships reduce a person’s time being “single” between relationships, sometimes eliminating it altogether.

Common wisdom advises against rebound relationships because a relationship begun too soon might be an indulgent distraction that prevents individuals from properly dealing with the break-up of the earlier relationship. Caring friends or relatives might worry that a rebound relationship cuts short the opportunity to evaluate who you are and what you really need, on your own or in a relationship. A rebound relationship might make you feel good and boost feelings of self-worth, but supportive others might question how healthy it is, especially if it seems like you’re trying to find a substitute for the former partner or are using the relationship as revenge against an ex. All of these concerns might come from a good place, but are they warranted?

Maybe not.

It turns out that new research shows rebound relationships are surprisingly healthy. 

Recent evidence suggests, in fact, that people who dive into rebound relationships get over their ex-partner more quickly and feel more confident in their date-ability (Brumbaugh & Fraley, 2014). This evidence builds nicely on research showing that individuals with high attachment anxiety are better able to sever their emotional attachment to an ex-partner when they start a new relationship (Spielmann, MacDonald, & Wilson, 2009). 

If the goal is to move on, it seems, starting something new helps.

Brumbaugh and Fraley (2014) also discovered that less time between a break-up and a new relationship generally predicts greater well-being, higher self-esteem, and more respect for a new partner. Further, contrary to what many people might predict, having less time between a break-up and a new relationship is linked to attachment security—which refers to habits of trusting, comfort with intimacy, and feelings of safety in relationships. In other words, individuals who tend to be emotionally stable were actually more likely to have a shorter amount of time between a relationship’s end and a new one’s beginning.

In sum, we have quite a few empirically-supported pros and only a handful of cons to the formation of rebound relationships. Yes, people who want revenge on their ex-partners also tend to form new relationships more quickly, and the more quickly individuals begin relationships, the more they compare their new partners with their exes (Brumbaugh & Fraley, 2014)—but this doesn’t take away from the evidence that individuals are recovering more quickly from their emotional distress by participating in something new.

Further, evidence on the stability of marriages which occur after the dissolution of a previous marriage showed no evidence of a "rebound effect" (Wolfinger, 2007). That’s right: Subsequent relationship success (i.e., does your rebound relationship last?) was not a function of whether the relationship was formed as a rebound or not.

This evidence suggests that focusing on a new relationship might be a healthy solution to a difficult break-up—and that rebound relationships can be just as stable as others. 

The “get back out there” advice may be much wiser than the cautionary warning, “don’t get involved again too soon.”

 

 

Other Reads

References

Brumbaugh, C. C., & Fraley, R. C. (2014). Too fast, too soon? An empirical investigation into rebound relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.

Lewandowski, G. W., Aron, A., Bassis, S., & Kunak, J. (2006). Losing a self‐expanding relationship: Implications for the self‐concept. Personal Relationships, 13, 317-331

Spielmann, S. S., MacDonald, G., & Wilson, A. E. (2009). On the rebound: Focusing on someone new helps anxiously attached individuals let go of ex-partners. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 35(10), 1382-1394.

Wolfinger, N. H. (2007). Does the rebound effect exist? Time to remarriage and subsequent union stability. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 46(3-4), 9-20.

Theresa DiDonato, Ph.D. is a social psychologist and assistant professor at Loyola University Maryland.

more...

Subscribe to Meet, Catch, and Keep

Current Issue

Love & Lust

Who says marriage is where desire goes to die?