Ah, rebound relationships. These oft-maligned dalliances get accused of being shallow, hindering emotional recovery and being a lesser form of relationship. But what if they’re useful? According to research, that might just be the case. Researchers at Queens College and The University of Illinois published a study earlier this year in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships on the psychology of what happens when you allow yourself a tryst or two.
The researchers did 2 studies: one to assess the impact on the physiology of people who had rebounded after a relationship ended (controlling for the time since the split), and a second that explored what happened psychologically in the time between the first relationship and the rebound. Of 70 people tracked, 27 went on to have a second relationship, for whom the average amount of time that had passed was about 6 months. Because the participants were recruited from a larger study that had been ongoing, researchers had access to information about what the participants’ earlier relationship had looked like. They then measured psychological traits like distress and satisfaction during and after the breakup, as well as during the course of the rebound relationship.
There are several reasons, the researchers hypothesized, that people might jump back into the pool quickly: as a pleasant form of distraction, as a confidence booster, to fill a metaphorical gap left behind by the ex partner, or as a means of getting back at someone. The results fell in line with their hypotheses: interestingly, those who had been single for the least amount of time reported the highest sense of well being in their rebound relationship. They also tended to report less thoughts and less romantic feelings for former partners, as well as higher self esteem and more respect for the new partner. There were, however, some cautionary pieces of data: that many of those who had rebounded reported doing so for revenge-like reasons, and that those who had rebounded more quickly tended to compare partners. Even when researchers controlled for low attachment anxiety (the attachment style that best copes with breakups), the early rebound group still appeared to improve the fastest. This suggests that it’s not just a selection bias; rather, regardless of your attachment style, a rebound relationship can spur you along in getting over someone.
In a second follow-up study, researchers looked at a little over 200 participants, which was pretty evenly divided between those who were single and in relationships. The second study replicated the results of the first: those who had gone on to date other people quickly were more confident in their desirability and had less feelings for their exes. The second study also seemed to suggest that those who were partnered had a higher sense of well being, with lower anxiety and avoidance.
The bottom line: jumping back into the dating pool may not be risk free, but if you’re honest with yourself about your motives, then diving in head-first after a breakup seems to have a slough of positive consequences.
For a range of perspectives on the virtues and the vices of rebound relationships, check out this post.