When Mary’s relationship of 10 years broke up, she ate a quart of ice cream and tearfully swore she’d never love again. Within months, she was living with another man.
Rebound romance. Most people experience it at some point in their lives. TV star Roseanne recently divorced Tom Arnold only to turn around and walk down the aisle with her bodyguard.
Can these relationships lead to happiness or is Rebound Row simply a dead-end street? Experts say the outcomes of rebounding are as varied as the people involved. And despite the stigma associated with it, not all hasty liaisons are doomed to failure.
Take Joe and Lisa, both 47, who have been married for 15 years. Lisa moved in with Joe three weeks after his live-in lover, Susan, moved out. Joe and Susan had lived together for 5 1/2 years. Although Joe repeatedly told Susan he wasn’t ready for marriage or kids, she wanted both. After years of waiting for a commitment, Susan had an affair and broke Joe’s heart. Three weeks later, Joe moved Lisa in. After six months, Lisa became pregnant and they were married. The couple has three children and say their marriage is a happy one.
“Rebound love can be the best revenge for a frustrating relationship but it can also be a big mistake,” says Gayle Kera West, a licensed marriage and family therapist specializing in relationships. Knowing the reasons that rebounding occurs can help determine the success or failure of these unions.
One reason people jump into a new romance after an old relationship breaks up is fear of change. The idea of being alone could be frightening to someone who is used to living with a mate. During a breakup, people become vulnerable. That’s why therapists caution clients about entering a new affair.
“People need to go through the grieving process,” says Linda Blakeley, a licensed psychologist and marriage counselor. “It’s important to wait at least a year so you can deal with some of the issues from your old relationship such as anger, fear and sadness. Otherwise you carry some of the baggage into the new relationship.”
It’s not uncommon for people to look for a new love to fill the void. Blakeley uses the example of a woman who came to her while in an unhappy marriage. The client had realized for some time that the marriage wasn’t working and wanted to move on.
But after her husband moved out, the woman’s first inclination was to find another relationship. “We talked about replacement objects,” says Blakeley, and that “it’s best not to replace somebody.” Through therapy, the woman decided she would take the next year to date, not necessarily seriously, and find out what she wanted in life.
Many people, like Blakeley’s client, know for quite some time that they are unhappy in their situation. Often a person has already “left” the relationship long before moving out, Blakeley says. “The physical act of leaving is just the formal end.” A rebound affair is often used as a catalyst to escape an unsatisfactory relationship.
For the person who leaves, finding another mate can be a way to ensure that the former partner will not pursue the relationship. However, the lover who is left behind may become involved with someone quickly “in order to prove that they’re desirable,” says Dr. Sheldon H. Kardener, an associate professor at UCLA and a psychiatrist specializing in couples therapy.
People who experience one rebound affair after another could be looking for an “ideal” mate. Repeatedly they will project the dream lover upon their new romantic interest. But with time, the prince or princess mask they have created wears away revealing the real person. Finding another fantasy is often more alluring than dealing with the personality of their mate.
“You have to get beyond the first three months, which can be very deceiving because this is a period of symbiosis, intense bonding and sexual chemistry,” says West. “This period of love is like a drug and is highly addictive. Love is like having a baby, it actually takes nine months before the relationship is fully developed. Then one can see the real dynamics and structure and know if it is workable.”
Often people in a rebound affair believe that they have found someone who is the opposite of their old mate. Pete, 40, said he knew his marriage was headed for Splitsville. But when his wife kicked him out of the house after 12 years, “I was totally shocked and unprepared for it,” he says. “I started drinking again . . . everything was out of control.”
Pete started dating Peggy within five months and after eight months they had moved in together. “I didn’t feel like this was a rebound situation. I asked my therapist and she said it wasn’t rebound. I wasn’t looking for a transitory lap. I was looking for a mate,” he says. “She was responsive to my needs and pretty much the opposite of who I had been living with for 12 years.”
But a person seeking someone totally different from their first mate can wind up with a similar partner. In the bestseller “Getting the Love You Want,” Dr. Harville Hendrix writes: “From my vantage point as a marriage therapist, I see the unmistakable pattern in my clients’ choice of marriage partners. One night, in a group-therapy session, I was listening to a man who was three months into his second marriage.
“When his first marriage broke up, he had vowed to the group that he would never be involved with a woman like his first wife. He thought she was mean, grasping and selfish. Yet he confessed during the session that the day before he had ‘heard’ the voice of his ex-wife coming from the lips of his new partner. With a sense of panic he realized that the two women had nearly identical personalities.”
Blakeley agrees: The new relationship “may look different but it’s often the same. People didn’t learn lessons in between. It’s very important to grow.”
Childhood relationships can play a role in the mates we choose. When childhood issues are unresolved a person is more vulnerable to negative rebounding. “Beyond our conscious awareness, we carefully screen potential partners who, by their own familiarity with the old roles, provide exactly what is needed to restage the old parental play,” Kardener says.
People choose mates more consciously when early relationships have been resolved. “When what one wants as an adult is compatible with what one emotionally needed as a child, one can operate on ‘automatic pilot’ in the selection of a mate,” Kardener says.
“This occurs when we have resolved the needs of the child and are operating more in the present. But more often than not, [people] are playing house based on scripts they learned as children. Marriages aren’t made in heaven, they’re made in childhood,” he says.