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Filling the Void: The Rebound

You’re such a beautiful drug
I can’t get enough
Addicted and I’m dying for a hit of your love

“Beautiful Drug” – Zac Brown Band


It’s helpful to look at the love from forming a relationship with a partner, and the subsequent breakup, as a drug and withdrawal. When you’re in a relationship, and in love, the high is great. Just looking at your partner makes you feel warm inside. Add to that hugging, kissing, and of course sex, and the endorphins that flow through your body are as amazing as those found with drugs or alcohol. The same is true for the breakup. The feelings of rejects, loss, and depression that come after a relationship has resolved can be as hard to deal with as a withdrawal from a drug addiction. How do people deal with a withdrawal from a drug or alcohol addiction, sadly they often use again. The same is true for love, and it is called a rebound.

There is no concrete definition for a rebound, so I’ll define it here as simply: a relationship, after a previous serious intimate relationship, with the sole purpose of filling the void left by the previous relationship. A lot of people might argue this is too broad or vague of a definition, but I think it’s appropriate. Only after you have truly processed and gotten over your previous serious relationship can you enter into one that would not be considered a rebound.

A paper written in 2014 by Brumbaugh and Fraley titled, “Too fast, too soon? An empirical investigation into rebound relationships,” conducted two studies where they looked at 77 and 236 participants respectively from a large Northeastern university who had previously been in a romantic relationship and are either still single or are currently in a relationship. They found that the people that engaged in a rebound relationship, ” were more likely than those who were single to report confidence in their desirability.” They also found that, “dating participants were also less likely to report having residual feelings for their ex-partner, or to be maintaining contact with their ex-partner.” However they also found that, “dating status was not strongly correlated with general well-being or self-esteem.” Stated differently, “being in a new relationship appears to be correlated with outcomes that are specific to relational issues (e.g., confidence in dating worth) and not necessarily to broader indices of psychological health.” This makes perfect sense because the rebound has filled the void left by the previous relationship. However, a person that does not have self-esteem or generally feels good about themselves will continue to feel this way even after engaging in a rebound relationship.

When looking at correlations between the amount of time between the previous relationship and the rebound they found:

In general, people who were single for a shorter period of time were more likely to report higher levels of well-being, self-esteem, and trust. They also reported a greater degree of contact with their former partner, and they felt a stronger desire for vengeance toward their ex-partner. However, they did not indicate more residual feelings for their previous partner. In terms of their feelings
in their new relationship, people who started the relationship more quickly reported a greater level of respect for their new partner. Participants who began their new relationship more quickly also tended to compare their new partner to their former partner more.

This is like giving someone who is trying to become sober a different type of beer to drink. When you enter into a rebound relationship you again feel the high of being in a relationship, but often don’t see the new person for who they really are; it’s always a comparison to what you had. This is where the trap of a rebound comes into play. While you feel better for filling the void — though you might be vengeful towards you ex which is never a good sign that you’re in a healthy relationship — eventually you’ll realize that you’re not in a relationship with your previous partner and the new relationship will probably fail.

A rebound, like the relationship itself, can take a number of different forms depending upon the loss. If you and your ex-partner were great friends and enjoyed going out to restaurants together, then you’ll probably find you and your rebound heading out to restaurants together. If you and your ex-partner spent a lot of intimate moments together, than you’ll probably find yourself in bed with your rebound. While this is a natural mechanism to combat the feelings of loss from the previous relationship, it’s unhealthy because the other person, the rebound, will end up hurt. There is almost no way around it. You can try communicating your feelings: “I’m just looking for a friend right now” or trying to clearly establish friends-with-benefits. However, the other person usually has other expectations and will become hurt in either of these situations as they are probably looking for a real and healthy relationship, not just someone to fill the void.

So how do you avoid the hurt feelings that inevitably come from a rebound? Simple to say, difficult to do: do not engage in a relationship until you no longer feel the void from your previous relationship. This can take months or even years. If you still feel like something or someone is missing from your life because of your breakup, then you’re not ready to engage in a new relationship. If all you want to talk about on a first date with someone is your previous relationship, then you’re not ready for a new relationship. If you spend most of your time during your day analyzing what went wrong in your past relationship, or even thinking about how you might be able to get back together with your ex, then you’re not ready for a new relationship. You need to process the loss of your last relationship before you engage in a new relationship, otherwise there will be hurt feelings.

As an aside, if you’re prepared for the hurt feelings or cold-hearted and just don’t care, then a rebound can be helpful to regain self-esteem and confidence. However, these are false feelings. True confidence and self-esteem come from within, not as a reflection of how someone else sees you.

On the other side of the coin is the, often unknowing, person who is someone’s rebound. How can you recognize if you are someone’s rebound? Here are a few questions to help identify if you’re possibly a rebound:

  • In the first few dates, does the other person bring up their previous relationship or ask you about yours? They’re looking for sympathy and a connection… misery loves company.
  • Do they push the relationship faster than any relationship you’ve been in before? They’re trying to get back to that place/connection they used to have with their ex.
  • You can always simply ask, “How long ago was your last relationship, and for how long was it?” Anything that makes you feel uncomfortable or seems too soon, probably is.
Published inPersonal Relationships

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