Repairing Relationships

Building intimacy and joy into your relationships

Is Rebound Sex The Answer For A Broken Heart?

Will hooking up help heal the dumped?

Researchers at the University of Missouri reported in the Journal Archives of Sexual Behavior that 35% of college students who had broken up with a longtime love engaged in casual sex to help them cope with the emotional pain brought on by the end of the liason, otherwise known as "rebound sex." An additional 25% said they "revenge sex" to get back at their ex-partner. Co-author of the study, University of Missouri Psychologist Lynne Cooper, commenting on the findings, observed that "people really do use sex as a way to get over or get back at their ex-partner in the aftermath of a breakup."

Rutgers University Anthropologist Helen Fisher has mapped the brain and discovered that there are three areas of the brain involved in our feeling romantic love. She found that the same areas of activity that allow us to feel intense romantic love also are the areas of activity after we are dumped by a lover or spouse. Professor Fisher says we feel the same release of dopamine in the brain with romantic love as we feel taking cocaine, which gives us the same feelings of focus, craving, distortion of reality, risk taking, tolerance, withdrawal and relapse. Because we feel "addicted" to a person as we would to cocaine, when it ends we feel more intense craving. We react by wanting to fill that need for a dopamine rush with another person or try to get our old lover's attention by starting a relationship with a new lover in an attempt get the old lover who made us feel so good to come back to us.

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We see this behavior all around us. Donald, a thirty-four-year-old chemical salesman, found out his wife of ten years was leaving him after she had finally realized the true nature of her husband and gradually lost all respect for him. This could have been a beginning of a new life for Donald. The time  of separation could have been a time of introspection and therapy, a time to mend his deceptive ways and seek a new healthy way to relate to women. But before he even signed the divorce papers, Donald had enlisted an online computer dating service to plunge back into another heterosexual relationship based on physical attraction and charm with no regard to compatibility. Within six months he was remarried. To Donald and millions of other American men and women, rebound sex or revenge sex is the answer. They believe any relationship is better than being alone and feeling that craving.

Today we see men and women hooking up, joined at the hip, cohabitating or married who wouldn't otherwise be friends. Often all they share  in common is the weekend romp together, a dorm room, an apartment, a house or  children. But the union, no matter how superficial and exploitive, is worth it to them neurologically.

Saddest of all, many women have come to accept that these shallow relationships are the best that can be expected. Typical of these jaded mates is Chicago Tribune writer Cheryl Jarvis, who proudly proclaimed her marriage "a winner," even though she and her husband share little in common besides the same zip code. According to Cheryl, attending weekend social events escortless while her husband stays home is normal married behavior. She has conversed with many other long-time married women and has found that marriages like hers "are not uncommon." She states that the secret to her twenty five year marriage is "we don't see each other too much."

Talk about tolerance! The rush of dopamine that married couples felt during the Honeymoon period of the relationship when they couldn't get enough of each other is long gone. Now the differences that were ignored early in the romance take center stage and physical contact diminishes to zero as a limit. Addiction experts say that at the end stages of an addiction you just use the drug to get back to normal but no longer feel any joy. It is the same for dopamine driven romantic relationships. Euphoria eventually is replaced with joyless, bland existence. Tragically, women all over America are buying into Cheryl Jarvis' standard of marriage as an extremely low level of happiness. If this is all we had to look forward to, there would be no point in pursuing relationships. We could follow the new Japanese trend and opt for virtual love. But the good news is there is a better way.

 

J.R. Bruns, M.D., is co-author of The Tiger Woods Syndrome, a book about repairing relationships.

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