An Anxious Defense of Romantic Rebounds

It’s okay to be in a relationship even if you’re not over your ex. Agree or disagree? 

Here at Marriage Pact, we agree to disagree (literally– we’re very divided).

Most people hear the word “rebound” and instinctively recoil. It’s common knowledge that getting into a relationship with someone immediately after breaking up with your ex will only lead to heartache for both parties…or will it?

Research shows that people who have an anxious attachment style actually experience more self-growth following the end of a relationship if they had a stronger “proclivity to rebound”. It turns out that rebounding with a new person (or even just thinking about rebounding with a new person) is an exceptionally adaptive way of dealing with a breakup for someone with attachment anxiety.

These findings challenge the conventional wisdom of all rebound relationships as dysfunctional, especially because approximately 20% of the general population are anxiously attached (which is not an insignificant number!).

So how could the prospect of a rebound relationship actually be good for you? Here’s how it works for 20% of you:

Having an anxious attachment style already makes it incredibly difficult to get over an ex. This manifests itself behaviorally in “hyperactivating strategies” with the goal of continuing the relationship past its expiration date– like seeking excessive physical proximity (i.e., being “clingy”), or intentionally displaying heightened emotional distress in an attempt to rekindle the relationship. 

These hyperactivating strategies reflect the anxiously attached person’s search for a “safe haven”, or some person who can provide them with comfort, security, and protection. To prevent these strategies from being aimed at an ex, finding a new safe haven (or even just the promise of one) can be a relatively healthy pursuit for someone who, due to early life experiences, needs it the most. 

Of course, anxious attachment styles— just like any type of insecure attachment—can be problematic regardless of the mitigating effects of a rebound relationship. These findings aren’t meant to extol the virtues of attachment anxiety, or to promote self-destructive hyperactivation strategies. It’s simply to say that rebound relationships aren’t always inherently doomed—and this is especially true for people who suffer from attachment anxiety. 

A valid point to consider is that there are two people in every couple, not just one. The stigma around rebound relationships might stem from empathy for the person who is “the rebound”, and that’s totally valid—who wants to constantly be reminded that their partner isn’t over their ex? 

Needless to say, it’s wrong to put that kind of negative pressure on any relationship, whether it’s been one day or three years since your last breakup. People with attachment anxiety don’t get a pass to be mean and outwardly resentful to their current partner. But, as the research shows, it’s totally possible to have a healthy rebound relationship that helps you get over your ex while making room for a hopefully healthier love to blossom.