NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Problem With Rebound Relationships

A rebound relationship is a relationship that usually occurs shortly after you've ended a serious long term  relationship.  Sometimes, it occurs while someone is still in a relationship because s/he doesn't want to end one relationship without having someone else.

Heartbreak, Fear of Being Alone and Rebound Relationships
Generally speaking, many people go into rebound relationships because they're afraid to be alone.  Often, they're also afraid to go through the painful emotions involved a breakup.  So, rather than dealing with the feelings of loss, they find someone new to be in love with and excited about.

The Problem With Rebound Relationships

So, you might ask:  What's wrong with falling in love again?  And I would respond that, while it's true that some rebound relationships work out, many don't for a variety of reasons.

Why Rebound Relationships Often Don't Work Out:

Fantasies and Projections:
Usually, people who jump right into a new relationship, after being in a prior long term relationship, don't really know the new person that well.  Since they don't know the person that well, they fill in the blanks with wonderful fantasies and projections about who this new person is.

Then, as they get to really know the new person, reality sets in, and they usually discover that this person isn't who they thought s/he was.  And this leads to disappointment.

Unresolved Grief:
Since the motivation for a rebound relationship is often due, in part, to a wish to avoid feeling the pain of a prior breakup, the person who jumps into a new relationship quickly ends up pushing down their grief.

But the grief doesn't just go away.  It can come out in many different ways, including somatically.  Your body holds onto the grief even if you aren't consciously aware of it, and you might find yourself more susceptible to getting sick.

Also, once you begin to feel the disappointment when you realize that your new relationship isn't what you thought it was, you will often feel the emotions related to the unresolved grief along with your disappointment in the new relationship.

When you rebound into a new relationship, as I mentioned earlier, your own fantasies and projections can sweep you off your feet.  At first, you might not realize that the two of you aren't really compatible.  Evaluating compatibility takes time and the rebound relationship often happens too quickly to understand if you're compatible or not.

Let's take a look at a scenario, which is a composite of many different cases, that is typical of the problems related to rebound relationships:

Alice and Bob, who were in their early 30s, were living together for five years when they decided to break up.  They still loved each other very much, but Alice wanted to have children, and Bob didn't.

Alice knew when they started dating that Bob didn't want children, but she fell in love with him and she hoped that, with time, he would change his mind.  But neither of them ever changed their minds about having children, and they each knew that they would be unhappy if they gave in to the other's wishes.

Alice was very aware that time was passing, and she knew that she might have problems with infertility if she waited much longer to have a child.

She struggled with her feelings for a couple of years when she realized that Bob wasn't going to change his mind about having children:  Should she stay with him because they loved each other so much and give up her desire for having children or should she leave the relationship and give herself a chance to meet someone new who would love her and want children too?

What if she didn't meet anyone new that she loved as much as Bob?  Or, what if she met someone new and they had a wonderful relationship, but it turned out that she couldn't have children?

These were very difficult questions that she perseverated about endlessly in her mind.  But, in the end, she knew that having children was a priority for her, and she wouldn't be happy unless she gave herself a chance to be with someone who wanted children.

Although there was no acrimony when she told Bob she thought it was best if they ended their relationship, the breakup was painfully sad.  Bob agreed that it was for the best for each of them, and they agreed that he would move out.

As Alice watched Bob pack his things, she felt her mind reeling:  Bob is a wonderful guy.  Is she making a big mistake by ending their relationship?  What if she never meets anyone as wonderful as Bob?   Although she really knew it was for the best, on some level, she still felt very uncertain about the breakup.

The first few weeks after the breakup, Alice's sadness was excruciating.  She felt like she would never stop crying.  She was tempted to call Bob, who would normally be there for her to comfort her, but they had agreed that it would be best if they didn't have any contact for at least six months.  So, whenever she found herself picking up the phone to call him, she would hang up again.

Alice's friends tried to comfort her, but she felt inconsolable.  Just getting through the day was excruciating.  And the nights alone in the bed that she shared with Bob were even more excruciating.

Until then, she had been avoiding social get-togethers with friends.  But her best friend, Tina, convinced her that staying home alone would only make her feel worse, and she convinced her to come to a friend's birthday party.  Although celebrating was the last thing she felt like doing, Alice knew that isolating herself wasn't good for her, so she agreed, reluctantly, to go.

Alice thought she would just go and stay for an hour and come home.  She was afraid that she wouldn't be such good company.  But there were many friends that she hadn't seen in a long time, and she was surprised that she was actually enjoying herself for the first time in a while.

Then, she saw John talking to her friend Tina.  She couldn't remember when she had seen such a handsome man.  She thought:  Lucky Tina.  Where did she meet him?

But when Tina came over to introduce John to Alice, it turned out that John was Tina's cousin who was visiting from California.

Alice felt an instant attraction to John, and she sensed that he was attracted to her too.  They spent most of the night together talking to each other, and the more she talked to him, the more she liked him.  And, to her delight, he talked about loving children and wanting to eventually have children.

All the while, she thought to herself:  How is it possible that after only a few weeks of being out of my relationship with Bob, I'm so attracted to this guy?

But she was undeniably attracted to John, and she felt swept off her feet after going out with him on a date while he was in NY.

After he returned to California, she thought about John all the time, and they would call each other and text several times a day.  Since her job involved traveling to the West Coast at least once a month, Alice would visit John and he would come to NYC at least once a month.  These visits were eagerly anticipated by both of them, and their time together was passionate.

Alice's friends liked John a lot, and they were happy to see that she met someone that she really liked.  But her best friend, Susan, who knew Alice since their college days, warned Alice to slow down.  She was afraid that Alice was caught in a rebound situation where she was allowing her fantasies of a long term relationship with John to run away with her.  But Alice was so excited and immersed in her new relationship with John that she dismissed Susan's advice.

When John found out a job in NYC, he and Alice decided to live together in her apartment.  A month before he came, Alice redecorated the apartment, made space in the closet for his clothes, and bought new linen.  She was so happy that they could be together now.  They talked every day about how wonderful it would be.

But within a couple of months of John moving in, tension developed between them.  They discovered that they were very different in many ways.

Whereas Alice was an early to bed/early to rise person who sprang out of bed and couldn't wait to begin the day, John would go to sleep late and get up about 11 or 11:30 AM.  She thought John was an early riser too because whenever she visited him or he came to see her in NY, he was up early with her too.  But she soon discovered that this wasn't John's natural inclination.  He keep this schedule he mostly worked from home.

Alice often got to her office at 8 AM to avoid the rush hour crush, and she often stayed at work until 7 PM.  By the time she got home, she was tired, but he was energized from sleeping late and spending time at the gym.

As time went on, they discovered other incompatibilities.  He was more of a home body and she liked to socialize more with friends.  She assumed that because she met him at a party and they went out a lot before they moved in together that he liked to socialize.  But she found out that he usually didn't go to parties and, other than going out to dinner or a movie with her, John didn't like to socialize that much. So, after John moved in, Alice would end up going to social events alone.

A few months after they began living together, they also began getting on each other's nerves with the kinds of habits that two people only discover when they move in together.  At the same time, they stopped having sex and they began to co-exist like roommates with neither of them acknowledging to each other that their relationship was spiraling down.

This saddened Alice and she realized that their relationship wasn't going to work.  As she wondered how she would broach the topic with John, he brought it up one day when she got home.  After they spoke, John packed his things and moved into a hotel until he could find his own apartment.

Alice cried harder that night than she ever did, and she realized that she was crying for the end of this short relationship and even more so for the end of her long term relationship with Bob.

She realized she had a lot of unresolved grief because she never gave herself a chance to grieve for her relationship with Bob before she got involved with John.  And she and John got involved so quickly that they never dated so they could get to know each other over time.

A few weeks after the breakup with John, Alice began therapy with me to deal with her losses and to understand why she feared being alone so much that she jumped into another relationship on the rebound.  Gradually, Alice began to work through her sadness and fear.

Getting Help in Therapy
These issues are more common than most people think.

If Alice's story resonates with you and you're struggling to overcome the emotional pain of loss, a rebound relationship or your fear of being alone, you could benefit from seeing a licensed mental health practitioner who has experience helping therapy clients to overcome these problems.

With help, you can lead a fulfilling life.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

I have helped many psychotherapy clients to overcome the emotional pain associated with breakups and fear of being alone.

To find out more about me, visit my web site:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.