On the Rebound

In our relationship seminars we frequently hear people ask about “rebound relationships”. How do you know if you or someone you’re dating is really on the rebound? Can it ever be a good thing? And what’s the best ways to handle the strong urges you may have to be with someone new after a breakup?

A breakup of a serious intimate relationship can be a very difficult experience, and is often accompanied by feelings of confusion, sadness, anxiety, sleeplessness, appetite loss (or binge eating), and generally feeling off-balance. Feelings of self-worth may be low. We may question our attractiveness and desirability for future relationships. We may feel emotionally raw, vulnerable and needy at times. We may feel lonely and miss the affection and sensual gratification of our previous relationship.

One very tempting way to cope with this unpleasant state is to literally fall into the arms of someone else who will catch us, hold us, and tell us what we most want to hear and feel: that’s we’re okay, we’re worthwhile, we’re attractive, we’re desirable, and we’re lovable. And when we choose to sexualize this coping strategy and experience the wonderfully mesmerizing fireworks of infatuation and lust, we can all but forget about our past pain. Loss? What sadness? Who? Life becomes a joyous spontaneous encounter with the present moment. Ah, relief and distraction from our pain. And for the other person who has rescued someone from their pain, and who is connecting with someone in an extreme state of openness and vulnerability, they may feel that they have finally found their soul mate: someone who listens, is open, is willing to share their feelings, is deep, authentic and spontaneous, and who seems different than anyone they’ve ever met.
Which all sounds well and good except for one thing: one or both people are usually getting set up to get really hurt. For weeks or months later when the glow fades and the person begins to feel like themselves again, they may see their new partner as merely a helpful transitional friend who helped them through a hard time. One day they wake up and wonder, “Why am I with this person? What was I thinking? I’m not in love with them.” And then they say they need to date other people, and their helpful rescuer is crushed. Unfortunately, the normal illusions and fantasies of falling in love are even more pronounced in a rebound relationship.

So what do you do if a newly-alone person comes rushing into your arms? First of all, see them for who and what they are: needy and vulnerable. By all means give them support and companionship and affection, but recognize that anything further or deeper is a huge risk for both of you. They can’t know which end is up, and at least for a while, everything they do gets filtered through the lens of need, not through health and love. You may enjoy the adoration of temporarily rescuing someone from their pain, and they can be incredibly honest and fun as they explore creating a new independent identity. But don’t mistake that for who they will eventually turn out to be, because they are on a journey of transformation that may or may not include you. Neither of you know who they will be at the other end. Be kind, compassionate and wise enough to give them what they REALLY need, which is usually a true friend, not a lover. And if it should turn out that the two of you really do have a genuine romantic connection, there will plenty of time to explore that in the future. Don’t rob your future relationship of the loving possibilities it may have by prematurely romanticizing your friendship.

If you’re the one who’s suddenly alone, recognize your own needs for healing, regrouping and creating yourself anew. Realize that being out of a relationship is not all a bad thing. It’s a precious opportunity to grow in ways that you cannot grow when you’re with someone. It’s a wonderful time to forge a better relationship with YOU, to learn from the past and resolve resentments and judgments you may have about yourself or your past partner. It’s a time to reconnect with your spiritual life, or to explore that realm if you haven’t done so before. It’s a terrific time to take up a new hobby or study something you’ve never had time for. It’s great to suddenly have space to bond with friends on a deeper level. There’s time to expand your support system, to create more balance in your life, to build a solid foundation for whatever life you choose to lead in the future.

You’re going to survive, and you will live to see another day of laughter and fun and love. But every season unfolds in its time, and it’s best to accept the season you are living in rather than artificially try to rush through to the next one. Walking around in your bathing suit in January doesn’t make it any warmer out, any more than trying to fall in love makes you any less needy.

On either side of a rebound, it’s risky. In fact 4 out of 5 people who remarry within a year of their divorce end up getting divorced again! So take it slow, heal, feel your feelings and learn from the lessons of your past choices and decisions. In that way when the sun shines again for you, it will be genuine and warm, and you stand a much better chance of creating the love that can last a lifetime, if that’s what your heart truly desires. And if you decide not to partner again, you will have created a meaningful, multi-dimensional and fulfilling life to live.