If you’re surprised you’ve found yourself wondering if you’re in a rebound relationship as an adult—not a high schooler surrounded by hallway whispers—well, don’t be. Rebound relationships are a common occurrence in dating at any age, and they’re not necessarily a bad thing.
Seriously! If you think about it in basketball terms, a rebound—you know, where you take an immediate second shot at the basket after missing it initially—is a skill that teams actively seek.
“Someone who is able to ‘get back out there’ after a breakup shows maturity and resilience.”
Similarly with relationships, someone who is able to “get back out there” after being let down or hurt after a breakup shows maturity and resilience.
And it can have a very positive effect on your bond: If someone got out of an unhealthy relationship after trying to make it work with a dysfunctional (or even just incompatible) person, they might be extra ecstatic when you come into their path. Their stormy history could make them more conscious and appreciative of someone who wants to—and is able to—have a healthy relationship with them.
That said, regardless of what side you’re on, a rebound requires you (or them) to have a lot of self-awareness to handle the ball well. (The ball = your relationship, in case that wasn’t clear.)
Let’s start with the scenario that you’re the one rebounding after a split. First, my heart goes out to you—breakups are never easy. Second, I urge you to make sure that you aren’t repeating your past.
Because, you see, when something didn’t work out once, we often try it again and again so we can figure out how to get it right. It’s human nature! So even though you might have swapped bully Brian for confusing Casey, you might be repeating a different version of the same relationship. The result? You’ll be the losing team, every time.
You might also be experiencing a temporary dip in self-esteem, especially if you got dumped (again, my heart goes out to you). Notice if you’re accepting things from this new person that you wouldn’t have in the past. For example: Are they unemployed, a heavy drinker, or unable to manage their finances?
If they’re involved in any self-sabotaging behaviors, you could be drawn to that right now—misery loves company, after all. Hardships can bond people, but they can’t be the foundation of a new, healthy relationship.
To get a bird’s-eye view, imagine that you are your best friend. Would you support her tolerating the type of behavior her new partner is showing? Would you want her to keep seeing the person? This activates a healthy sense of protectiveness that may be easier to extend to “a friend” than to yourself when you’re hurting.
Now, on the flip side: What if you suspect that you’re just a rebound for the man or woman you recently started seeing? There are a few red flags to watch for:
- Sporadic availability: Do they come on strong for a few days and then go MIA without explanation, just to resurface again? This chaotic quality might mean they’re looking to you as an escape from the pain they’re feeling or just need attention and validation from someone else.
- Communication with their ex: Staying friends with an ex isn’t a deal breaker, unless it is for you (if so, you need to have a convo about that). If they can’t stop seeing or talking to them, there could be a reason they’re not willing to let that connection die. Notice if they keep stuff from their ex around, too (photos, concert tickets, sandals in the closet)—they might be trying to keep the proverbial door open.
- Talking (or never talking) about their ex: On that vein, if they bring up their ex often (especially when unsolicited) or are way too cavalier when they come up (“Oh, I’m totally over last month’s breakup; she never crosses my mind anymore”), that’s not great either. The ideal rebounding partner can express their disappointment about a relationship not working out without getting too riled up or too blasé. Otherwise, it’s possible they’re in denial and haven’t done the work to process their feelings.
It’s possible to stay friends with an ex—in a healthy way. These celebs did it!
If your partner doesn’t show those signs, amazing! Your fear or insecurities about their recently ended relationship may still get to you (totally normal). But if they talk about future plans with you and follow through on them—and continue to check in with you about what you want and need in a relationship—that’s a good indication that they’re ready to move on…with you.
Of course, rebound or not, it’s always possible that people will return to an ex (remember what I said about the allure of trying to “get it right”?). But dating and love always entails some level of risk, and you can’t win without taking one.
After all, there’s a reason they decided to grab that ball and try to take another shot.
Who knows? Maybe you’ll both score.
“Dr. Chloe” Carmichael, PhD, is a relationship therapist in New York City, author of Dr. Chloe’s 10 Commandments of Dating, and proud member of WH’s advisory board. She’s here to answer all your dating, relationship, and life questions—no holds barred.
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