Relationships are beautifully unique, sometimes messy, and almost always an opportunity of personal growth. And while the beginning of a new relationship should be exciting, things can feel a little more complicated when one partner is fresh from a breakup. That's known as a rebound relationship, and it doesn't always have the best connotations.
Simply put, a rebound relationship is a relationship that somebody goes into quickly after another, often serious or long-term, relationship ends, says Elizabeth Fedrick, PhD, a licensed professional counsellor and founder of Evolve Counseling & Behavioural Health Services in Arizona. "It's a relationship that someone often uses to avoid feelings or as a distraction," she explains. It typically means someone isn't totally over their ex.
Every relationship is different, but those with an anxious attachment style — someone who desires closeness, connection, and has a hard time being alone — are more likely to rebound after a breakup, says Dr. Fedrick. This is what you need to know about what a rebound relationship looks like, the risks of getting into one, and what to do if you suspect you or your partner might be rebounding.
What Are Rebound Relationship Signs?
If you're the one who's rebounding, a big warning sign is if you can't stop thinking about your ex, Dr. Fedrick explains. That might be harder to spot than you'd think. So besides just noticing that your former partner is on your mind, other flags you can watch for are if you catch yourself comparing partners (either favourable or not), internally or out loud; if you fantasize about getting back together with your ex; if you try to find excuses to run into your ex; and if you spend a lot of time on your ex's social profiles.
Being hypercritical of your new partner can also be a sign of a rebound. "It's usually on an unconscious level that you're trying to sabotage [the relationship] if you know this isn't a good fit for you," Dr. Fedrick explains.
If you're someone else's rebound, you might notice your partner constantly talking about their ex, finding reasons to run into or spend time with them, comparing you often, or bringing up the past relationship a lot ("This was our favourite restaurant"), Dr. Fedrick says. You may also notice your partner is not emotionally invested or available, or they find ways to avoid emotional or physical intimacy. "On the flip side, if the relationship is almost all focussed on sex, that's another sign that it's more of a rebound because you're not going deep emotionally and keeping it more surface level," Dr. Fedrick adds.
If you or your partner has moved on quickly and you feel guilty, rest assured that timing doesn't definitely mean you're in a rebound relationship — chemistry can't always be planned. But you can also trust your gut. If something feels off, and you suspect you or your partner isn't totally over an ex, there may be a reason you're feeling that way.
How Long Do Rebound Relationships Last?
"There is no timeline, but research typically suggests that a rebound relationship lasts between about a month to a year," says Dr. Fedrick.
That said, there is no hard and fast rule, and every situation is different. The length of a relationship may also depend if someone is in denial about being in a rebound, Dr. Fedrick adds. If both partners are not on the same page or are avoiding reality, it can be tough to recognise any flaws, faults, or insecurities, and the relationship may be prolonged.
What Are the Rebound Relationship Stages?
Like any relationship, a rebound has stages. The first stage typically occurs shortly after a breakup and is a state of loneliness, sadness, unprocessed emotions you're trying to avoid, and/or a feeling of missing your ex, Dr. Fedrick explains.
This ultimately leads into the second stage where there is a willingness or intrigue in meeting somebody. "The second stage is the attraction or the interest, and somebody uses it as a bandage," Dr. Fedrick says. "It feels good to have that attention again, or the affection, and you get sucked into it pretty quickly."
The third stage is the honeymoon phase. "Everything is great, emotions are high, and chemistry is off the charts," Dr. Fedrick says. This is also known as the "grass is greener" stage because you'll start to identify or notice that your new partner does things your ex did or did not do, or that your new partner takes care of you in a new or better way.
Unfortunately, this blissful state typically doesn't last long and quickly transitions to the fourth stage of comparison. "You start to recognise that even though [a new partner] does these things your ex didn't, they also don't do these things your ex did," Dr. Fedrick says. You may become more vocal about comparisons and might make jabs about your new partner, or mention things your ex did better. This is usually where reality starts to set in.
Remember, comparison can happen even when you don't realise it. While most people would never consciously say or even realise that they miss an ex's toxic traits, the truth is that people can become accustomed to the push-pull of a negative relationship dynamic, to the point where they might feel off in a healthier or more stable relationship.
The final stage is the "decision-making stage" where you either accept this is a rebound relationship, but you see potential in this person so you want to make it work, or you decide to break-up. "The final stage can often put people back at square one if they don't do the work that needs to be done on themselves emotionally," says Dr. Fedrick.
Can Rebound Relationships Last?
Yes. Rebound relationships aren't doomed — but for them to last in the long run, it takes work. "As long as there's self-awareness around what's going on, and there's a willingness and ability to address some of the underlying issues that either took place in the other relationship or that were brought into the current relationship, it can work," Dr. Fedrick says. There has to be a mutual agreement between partners to be honest and open about the terms, feelings, and goals of the relationship.
The person in the rebound relationship also needs to be willing to heal from past emotions, trauma, or distrust, and focus on their mental health, so they're present in the current relationship, Dr. Fedrick notes. It might mean the new relationship progresses a little more slowly than you'd like, so the partner who's rebounding can fully work through the past relationship while investing in the new one.
But remember, you're the only expert on how you're feeling and what you want out of a relationship. "Do your best to not be influenced by everybody else's opinion, because they're not the ones who have to live it."
What Should You Do If You're in a Rebound Relationship?
It's imperative to be open and honest with your partner and tell them how you're feeling. Yes, it can and likely will be uncomfortable, but transparency is key. "Being vulnerable is a really hard thing, but it has to take place in this dialogue," says Dr. Fedrick. Talk about where you're at and what you want long-term. "It's really easy for both people to put their head in the sand and try to just continue on, but that creates further resentment and cracks in the foundation," she says.
That initial conversation might lead you and your new partner to break up, or at least take a break for a while. If you mutually decide to put in the effort and make the relationship work, Dr. Fedrick suggests designated weekly check-ins and asking questions such as, "How do you feel this is going?" or "Is there anything you're needing, or is there any way I can show up for you better?" These built-in reflections are a great opportunity to assess emotions and gives you an opportunity to address any issues before they grow into a bigger problem.
But if you're the person who's rebounded and you've done it before, you might be stuck in an unhealthy pattern. In that case, it could be helpful to seek professional help from someone who is trained in relationships, attachment, or trauma, says Dr. Fedrick. "A professional can help you understand why you're jumping from relationship to relationship, or if you are trying to cover something up."