Here’s how to tell if you’re in a rebound relationship

And how to know if it'll last. 👀

12 April, 2024
Here’s how to tell if you’re in a rebound relationship

There are endless ways to heal a broken heart, from drinking cheap wine to watching romance movies and sobbing into your dog’s fur. And while some people prefer to take time to themselves when going through a breakup, others have more of a “thank u, next” mentality. Enter: the rebound relationship. This rapid leap into a new connection is often seen as a way to fill a void, but that doesn’t necessarily mean these fast-moving flings are inherently doomed or unhealthy.

While no two rebounds are the same because, hi, no two relationships are the same, Janet Bayramyan, LCSW, a LA-based psychotherapist specializing in relationship wellness and infidelity recovery, says that a rebound relationship is generally defined as any romantic relationship that comes on the heels of a previous relationship. For some people, this might mean jumping into something new as soon as they break up with their ex. For others, it might mean dating someone new before fully processing their feelings surrounding a previous split. TL;DR? A rebound relationship isn’t always about how *quickly* a new ‘ship starts, but where things stand emotionally when it does.

Granted, the whole concept of a rebound might feel kind of...not the most romantic? But marriage and family therapist Elisabeth Crain, PsyD, emphasizes that rebounds aren't necessarily "bad." Success hinges on everyone being on the same page and maintaining open communication. If everyone knows what's up, a friends-with-benefits or no-strings-attached situation can be fun and fulfilling.

The catch, of course, is that it’s not always easy to figure out if your new relationship is actually a rebound. That's why we’ve tapped some of the top relationship experts to break down all the nitty-gritty nuances of rebound relationships, from what they are, to how to handle one, to whether or not they can ever turn into something more…

Signs you might be in a rebound relationship

New relationships often come with questions (read: how often do you want to see each other, will you be keeping a toothbrush in their bathroom, where is this going in the next two to five years, etc.), but one that you probably want answered ASAP is whether or not your new partner is rebounding from their most-recent ex with you. If you’re trying to suss out the situation, here are a few signs the pros say could indicate you’ve entered rebound relationship territory:

They literally *just* got out of a relationship

One of the biggest (and most obvious) signs someone is rebounding is how long ago things ended with their ex. If the metaphorical ink on their breakup Instagram post is still fresh, that’s a clear sign they might not be over their last partner. Bayramyan says this rapid leap from one relationship to the next is often done in an attempt to dodge the discomfort of the previous breakup.

But! It’s important to note that the exact date the previous breakup took place isn’t an end-all-be-all indication of a rebound. In fact, Crain says it’s more about how the relationship ended—and whether or not there are any lingering feelings there—than the “when.” Some people emotionally check out long before the separation, so they could have already processed their feelings and be emotionally available for something new before a split even happens.

Things get real intense, real fast

Rebound relationships often have a Romeo and Juliet quality, Crain says, in that they can become very intense, very quickly. If one second you’re exchanging last names and the next you’re exchanging declarations of love, it could be a result of displaced emotions—the person who's rebounding is taking the feelings they had for their ex and "placing them" onto someone new. While ~love at first sight~ might seem like the reason (and, maybe it is!), more realistically, it might have more to do with misplaced affection and lust. It takes time to build a genuine connection, Crain says, and if you fast-forwarded through that foundation-laying stage, it could be a sign that they’re not actually looking for something withstanding.

…Or things stay super casual for a long time

On the flip side, if you’ve been dating your partner for a while and things don’t seem to be progressing (or they refuse to define the relationship), it could be because they haven’t quite gotten over their former flame. “They may feel emotionally detached or numb in the rebound relationship and not fully emotionally invested in it,” Bayramyan says. The lack of commitment could be a sign that they haven’t fully moved on.

There’s a lot of ex-related baggage

Another big sign that you might be a rebound is if your new S.O. brings up their ex a lot or has extreme emotions (like anger) surrounding them. “What tends to be under these rebound relationships is a lot of unprocessed 'stuff' from the previous relationship,” Crain explains. “For some, rebound relationships are a defense to the previous serious or long-term relationship that has ended. Instead of taking the time to process the grief or sadness around the ending of the previous relationship, some people do the opposite and jump into a rebound relationship as an avoidance tactic.”

How long do rebound relationships last?

The good news is that rebound relationships aren’t necessarily synonymous with short and/or unhealthy bonds. Sure, some rebounds are quick flings in which both partners realize there’s not much long-term potential, but others can turn into something more lasting.

“There's no fixed timeline for how long a rebound relationship will last,” Bayramyan explains. “Some rebound relationships may fizzle out relatively quickly as the individuals involved realize that they're not compatible or that they entered the relationship for the wrong reasons. On the other hand, some rebound relationships may last longer, especially if both partners genuinely connect and form a strong bond over time.”

The key is knowing what you’re getting into and having open communication about wants and needs, no matter which side of a rebound relationship you’re on. “Not all rebounds lead to another serious relationship, so take it for what it is,” says Crain. “If you know there’s no longevity in it, but you’re being safe and protecting your heart, and that’s what you’re in need of at that time, then a rebound relationship may be okay."

Can rebound relationships ever become something more?

Even though rebounds tend to get a bad rap, both experts say they absolutely can turn into something serious, but it all comes down to whether or not the rebounder has sufficiently processed the end of their previous relationship.

“Individuals in rebound relationships may not be emotionally ready for a new commitment, which can create tension and dissatisfaction,” Bayramyan says. “Hopefully, they’ve done the work to close the door and have amicably parted with their previous partner, because rushing into commitments or trying to replicate the intensity of a previous relationship can be detrimental.”

The truth is that sometimes the right person comes into your life unexpectedly, and just because the timing seems off, it doesn’t mean the relationship is doomed from the start. “Someone may leave a long-term relationship and jump into a rebound relationship, and the rebound ends up being the love of their life,” Crain says. “If someone was in a serious marriage that drained the life out of them for 15 years and then quickly finds someone that infuses their life with light and fun, I don’t necessarily look at that as a bad thing, so long as those individuals are processing and protecting their emotions along the way.”

What should you do If you’re in a rebound relationship?

Navigating a rebound relationship requires a delicate balance of self-awareness and communication. If you find yourself in the midst of one, here’s how to get the most out of the sitch without breaking hearts (yours or theirs) in the process:

  • Address emotional needs and motives ASAP (and ideally before the relationship starts).
  • Don't use someone else as a means to heal your past heartache.
  • No matter how serious or casual, show your S.O. respect, empathy, and honesty.
  • Actively work on unresolved emotions and trauma from past relationships.
  • Seek support from a broader circle, including friends, family, or professionals.

Whether you’re looking for your rebound to be a fun detour or the start of something more long-term, Bayramyan says establishing clear boundaries and having open dialogues about each partner's needs and expectations can prevent misunderstandings. The key is to proceed with caution, armed with self-awareness and an open heart.

“If your intuition flares up, listen to that,” Crain urges. “Listen to the roadmaps and signs of your emotional states surrounding the rebound.” Whether the relationship evolves into something more substantial or serves as a stepping stone in your emotional journey, understanding its nature and navigating it thoughtfully can lead to personal growth and future relationship success for all. Love that for you.

Feature image credit: Khadija Horton//Getty Images

Credit: Cosmopolitan USA