People love a rebound after a breakup. It’s understandable; it’s a rush to find a relationship that feels better, new, or different. However, in order to get that, you can’t go searching with the same set of eyes you were using in the last relationship. Speaking from their experiences providing individual therapy after breakups, our Director Heather Mayone and Director of Supervision and Training Kelly Scott had a conversation about the rebound:
Kelly Scott: A rebound feels like the ultimate expression of “moving on”—acting as if a breakup doesn’t shatter your heart, make you question your ability to love another person, or systematically deconstruct every part of your life. They’re also a (delicious) distraction that allows us to distance ourselves from feeling bad. New relationships are exciting, full of novelty and surprise. There is often so much pleasure involved in getting to know someone new. But while we’re in a pleasure bubble with this new person, we’re typically not thinking about our last relationship. That’s kind of the whole point of a rebound.
This is why rebounds are a bad idea. After a breakup, we need to reflect on, reexamine, sift through, and re-experience parts of a relationship to really understand it in a deep and useful way. A rebound denies and prolongs the pain and robs us of the opportunity to actually learn something from our suffering.
Heather Mayone: Rebounds also can be fuel for our denial. They can be such a breath of fresh air that we fool ourselves into thinking we don’t have growing to do coming out of our last relationship: “That was bad, but this is so good! Maybe things can just be good.”
Kelly: We have this fantasy that by ignoring a feeling, we can eventually wait it out and it will disappear. But that doesn’t happen. Feelings linger, especially painful ones. And the longer we avoid feeling, the more painful it usually is when we finally do.
Heather: And right after a breakup, when we feel that pain, is the perfect time to learn something! When the pain of a breakup is fresh, we are closest to what didn’t work or what we want more of. Additionally, nothing is more motivating than some goddamn heartbreak. Pain can be fuel and motivation for growth. We think, “I never want to feel this way again,” “I don’t want to be alone anymore,” and “I don’t want to keep doing the same thing over and over again.”
Kelly: What we don’t understand, we repeat. Amidst all the heartbreak, disappointment, and struggle that can come with a breakup, the biggest tragedy of all is to go through all of that and not learn anything from it. What a waste! And what a sad thing to keep doing the same things over and over without realizing it—choosing the same type of partner, creating the same types of dynamics in relationships, and handling things in the same problematic ways.
We need to look at our past relationships so we can hopefully figure out why they ended, what worked, and what didn’t. Then, we have something meaningful to bring forward with us into future relationships.
Heather: I’m sitting with how much, when we are stuck in relationships, it’s historical. When there is a stuck and unwanted pattern that is playing out in a relationship (and bonus points if it has shown up in other relationships), it has historical roots that must be addressed in order to do something different. It’s not something we can muscle through or override on our own.
This feels within the realm of only some good therapy can help. We need to revisit the origin of those dynamics and truly understand why we are attracted to something that does not serve us.
Kelly: One thing therapy does is help reveal patterns in relationships—not just within a single relationship but over a lifetime of relationships: friends, romantic/sexual partners, families, and professional relationships. We all repeat what is familiar, often unconsciously. Figuring out what those patterns are is an essential first step to making changes going forward.
Heather: And step one is to admit there is a problem! It’s a big deal when a patient sees that they are repeating something or that the stuckness that they felt in their relationship isn’t just about, “Oh, I picked the wrong person.” If it’s not been established already, the first task is to try and begin to suss out: What of this can they own? As you said, what took place in the relationship that has shown up in other relationships?
Eventually, we will get to the point in therapy where that dynamic plays out in our relationship (the relationship between the therapist and patient), which is really when the fun begins, meaning we can talk about everything openly in ways that are not always possible to do in other relationships. We can work together to see what might be based in a real relationship and what is historical or part of the patient’s relationship blueprint. What feels familiar? What is happening in this relationship that has happened in other relationships? This exercise in itself is reparative and gives the patient an opportunity to move towards whatever history is influencing them in ways they have been unaware of. This is the only way that patients can enter new relationships with a new awareness and a clearer sense of what is happening between them and others.