If pop culture has taught us anything, it’s that rebound relationships are a common phenomenon in the dating world. Simply put, a rebound relationship is when you start dating someone new without being entirely over your previous relationship.
There are several reasons why someone might enter a rebound relationship, or jump from one partner to the next. In some cases, rebound relationships can be a helpful distraction from heartbreak, but in other cases, they can become a harmful form of avoidance.
Here’s what you should know about rebound relationships, including whether or not they’re always doomed to fail, and how to know if you’re in one.
There’s no official definition of what a rebound relationship is, but in general, a rebound relationship is when you rush into a new relationship, without having processed a recent breakup.
In most cases, one person is ready to fully commit while the other is still reeling from their last long-term relationship. Although it’s entirely possible for both partners to be on the rebound!
Rebound relationships are usually a coping mechanism to deal with recent heartbreak. Some people intentionally seek out a rebound relationship, while others fall into them without even realizing it.
Some people enter a rebound relationship as a harmless distraction from a recent breakup, to experience something that was missing from their last relationship, or as a way to spur self-discovery. In this case, rebound relationships can be a way to figure out what you want from future partners.
In other cases, people enter a rebound relationship as an emotional crutch from the pain of break-ups — like a band-aid over a bullet wound. Someone with an anxious attachment style who has a hard time being alone is more likely to go on the rebound. After all, romantic relationships can offer comfort and safety, and it’s hard to readjust to sudden loneliness after forging an emotional connection with someone.
Another reason might be that your ex-partner has moved on, and you want to make them jealous.
It’s hard to say whether a rebound relationship is universally healthy or unhealthy. It depends on your reason for pursuing the new relationship in the first place, as well as when the last one ended, how long it lasted, who your new partner is, and whether you’ve done the emotional work of recovering from your breakup.
That being said, rebound relationships do come with risks. After all, creating a meaningful relationship with someone new is hard enough without having to process a breakup at the same time.
Rebound relationships can be unhealthy if the rebounding partner is using someone simply as a way of avoiding the pain and uncertainty of a breakup. As hard as it is to end a relationship, it’s important to take the time to grieve it before jumping into something new. You could end up hurting your partner’s feelings if you’re just using them as a stepping stone to get over your ex.
It’s worth noting, though, that everyone moves on at a different pace. Dating someone who has recently gone through a breakup doesn’t necessarily mean you’re being used as a rebound. And if we’re being honest, you don’t have to be 100% healed from a past relationship in order to start a new one — we all have some emotional baggage.
Equally, a rebound relationship can be perfectly healthy if you’ve both agreed to keep things casual. As long as you and your partner are both honest about what you’re looking for, there’s no reason why a rebound relationship can’t provide comfort and fun for both of you.
“Something you can ask yourself if you’re currently rebounding with a new relationship is, ‘am I continuing to work on myself in this relationship?’,” says Moraya Seeger DeGeare, a licensed marriage and family therapist and Paired’s In-House Relationship Expert.
“If the answer sounds like, ‘no, I can’t think about the hard stuff I need the distraction,’ you might want to reconsider,” she says. “Because all of that unprocessed emotion from your last relationship will probably start showing up pretty quickly in this one.”
There’s no real timeline, but one study suggested that a rebound relationship (that starts within three months after the end of a significant past relationship) usually lasts between four months to a year.
It can be hard to recognize if you're in a rebound relationship, especially if you’re seeing things through the rose-tinted glasses of a new romance — or are in denial about your breakup.
All relationships, including rebound ones, are different, but there are helpful warning signs and red flags to look out for.
One or both of you just got out of a very serious relationship.
Your connection feels surface level or lacks emotional intimacy.
Most of the time you spend together revolves around sex and not much else.
The relationship feels like it’s going nowhere.
You or your partner won’t commit to any future plans.
The relationship feels one-sided, like one of you is putting in more effort than the other.
You can’t stop thinking about your old relationship.
You find yourself comparing your current partner to your ex.
Your partner won’t introduce you to their friends or family.
You and your partner don’t seem to have anything in common or you’re totally incompatible.
The general consensus is that all rebound relationships are destined to fail, because one partner will realize they’re being used as a distraction, or because the relationship simply lacks a healthy emotional attachment.
But it never helps to be prescriptive about relationships, and it’s hard to predict whether a relationship will or won’t last. Rebound relationships can work out as long as both partners are committed to making them work.
It’s unlikely that the relationship will survive if one partner has no intention of sticking around long-term from the get-go. You’re not starting things off well if you’ve hastily entered a new relationship as a way to fill a void or side-step the very hard work of processing a breakup.
One of the risks of rebound relationships is that you’re not giving yourself time to process your last relationship, and therefore bring unhealthy dynamics or hangups into the new relationship.
But, on the flip side, a rebound relationship could blossom into something unexpected. It could be that you met someone fantastic while you were getting over your breakup, and you’ve been honest with them about the fact that you’ve just ended a major chapter of your life. Or maybe your last relationship wasn’t that important to you and there’s not much to get over. In these cases, a rebound relationship has every chance of succeeding.
It takes effort, empathy, and emotional availability from both sides for a relationship to work, and that includes rebound relationships.