What adjectives come to mind when you hear the phrase “rebound relationship”?
Likely, words like “bad,” “selfish,” and “doomed.”
But sex and relationship educators say rebound relationships can actually have their perks.
Surprised? Read on to learn the signs of a rebound relationship, the potential downfalls and benefits of them, and how to transition a rebound relationship out of rebound territory.
“There isn’t one universally agreed-upon definition for the terms ‘rebound’ and ‘rebound relationship,’” says Jesse Kahn, LCSW, CST, director and sex therapist at The Gender & Sexuality Therapy Center in New York City.
That means every dater, pleasure seeker, and situationship survivor has their own definition.
Some define a “rebound relationship” as the first relationship that follows a Very Serious Relationship. Some only define that next relationship as a rebound if it happens i-m-m-e-d-i-a-t-e-l-y following that Very Serious Relationship.
Others believe you *don’t* have to have been formally dating someone —nor dating someone for a long time — to be able to (or want to!) rebound from them.
In other words, they believe that it’s less about the officiality or longevity of a relationship, but the intensity of that relationship.
While rebound relationships are most often talked about in regard to monogamous coupling, rebound relationships are possible for people of all relationship orientations, including those who are polyamorous.
But according to Justin Lehmiller, PhD, social psychologist and research fellow at The Kinsey Institute and author of “Tell Me What You Want: The Science of Sexual Desire and How It Can Help You Improve Your Sex Life,” the quality, quantity, or intensity of the previous relationship *isn’t* what determines what’s a rebound relationship.
The motivation of and intention in the current relationship is what determines if it’s a rebound relationship, he says.
If your goal in dating is to help yourself get over your last relationship (or FWB or situationship!), distract yourself from the pain, or make your ex jealous, then you’re probably in rebound relationship territory, he says.
“People are much more likely to have rebound relationships if they were the one who was dumped,” says Lehmiller.
“That’s because getting dumped can be highly distressing and a serious hit to your self-esteem, which is going to prompt more coping behaviors, like rebound sex and relationships.”
To suss out whether you’re rebounding, you’ll need to reflect on your own wants, desires, needs, and emotional state.
Some question to ask yourself:
- What emotions do I feel when I think about my ex?
- Do I believe that I have the capacity to love multiple people? Do I still love my ex?
- Do I have the emotional capacity to start a new relationship?
- Do I understand why my last relationship didn’t work?
- What level of commitment am I ready to share with another human?
The best way to find out is to ask them what their dating intention is.
Questions you might ask them to learn that information out include:
- What are you currently looking for?
- What types of relationships are you open to exploring right now?
- Are you polyamorous or monogamous?
- Do you believe that you’re able to develop a loving relationship with me while you heal from your past relationship?
- How are you feeling following your breakup?
Rebound relationships are, in short, a coping mechanism.
The end of a relationship can be incredibly distressing, says Lehmiller.
“There’s a lot of variability in how long it takes to get over a breakup,” he says. “But if you’re exiting a really long-term or valued relationship, distress might go on for months, maybe even years.”
Rebound relationships act as a salve to, or distraction from, that pain, he says.
Rebound relationships get a bad reputation because there’s an assumption that the rebounder is using the reboundee, says Lehmiller.
“But there’s nothing inherently wrong wanting to rebound or actually rebounding.”
On the contrary, “for some people, rebounding can boost or restore self-confidence in a way that really does help them to move on with their life or start a new relationship,” he says.
For others, rebounding can help them reconnect with their sexual self if, for example, they were previously in a sexless relationship.
Further, some people are genuinely able to meet someone they’re incredibly compatible with long-term while on the mend from someone else.
“At the same time, however, not everyone who has rebound sex makes great decisions or has positive experiences,” he says.
For example, if your rebound involves trying to turn a life-long friend into more, and ultimately ruins that friendship, then it might be counterproductive by causing a further hit to your self-esteem.
“The context and circumstances surrounding rebound sex matter greatly in terms of its impact,” he says.
Meaning, is it possible to date someone without talking about what you’re looking for?
“In any relationship, you need to be clear and transparent around your wants, needs, expectations, limitations, and boundaries — and that stands for rebound relationships,” says Kahn.
Failure to (honestly!) communicate what you’re looking for is a recipe for hurt and mess.
Imagine this: Post-breakup you downloaded the apps and swiped yourself silly. You ended up finding The Perfect Rebound, and you two hit it off.
Only problem? You’re now a few weeks in and you’re realizing that you two have Real Relationship potential. In other words, you want to transition your relationship from rebound territory to potentially lasting.
“That’s totally possible,” says Kahn.
How? Communicating! In order for someone to know what you want, and where you want your relationship to remain at or evolve to, you have to tell them, they say.
“It can be really vulnerable and scary to communicate wanting more, but no one can read your mind and will only know if you communicate that.”
Some ways to bring it up:
- “It’s been a minute since we talked about what we’re both looking for. As we spend more time together, I’m realizing that I’m starting to develop feelings for you. I’d love to hear how that makes you feel.”
- “For the sake of transparency: I’m realizing that I started to develop feelings for you and am interested in giving this a real go. Has what you’re looking for evolved?”
- “I’m nervous to admit this because I love what we have going. But I’m starting to like-like you and would be open to dating you. How are you feeling about this?”
You might be wondering, “Well, what if they were rebounding with you but now you want to be with them but not as a rebound?”
The answer is still to communicate!
(The above conversation prompts will work in this scenario, too.)
Tough love time: If you want to date someone seriously, and they only want a rebound relationship with you, it’s time to cut your losses.
As the saying goes, when someone tells you who they are (and what they want!), believe them.
Otherwise, at best you’re wasting your time and at worst you’re in for future heartache.
If you’re on the other end and enjoying your lil rebound situation and not looking for anything else that’s great, but please communicate as much to your now-has-feels-for-you-reboundee.
You might say:
- “I’ve really enjoyed seeing you casually, but I’m not ready to date anyone seriously.”
- “Hanging out with you has brought me so much joy. But I’m truthfully not over my ex, and I don’t want to string you along while I heal.”
Contrary to common belief, there’s nothing inherently bad or doomsday-y about rebound relationships.
But keeping a rebound relationship healthy and enjoyable for all parties involved entails constant, clear, and honest communication along the way.
Gabrielle Kassel (she/her) is a queer sex educator and wellness journalist who is committed to helping people feel the best they can in their bodies. In addition to Healthline, her work has appeared in publications such as Shape, Cosmopolitan, Well+Good, Health, Self, Women’s Health, Greatist, and more! In her free time, Gabrielle can be found coaching CrossFit, reviewing pleasure products, hiking with her border collie, or recording episodes of the podcast she co-hosts called Bad In Bed. Follow her on Instagram @Gabriellekassel.