8 signs you're in a rebound relationship after divorce

A rebound relationship can be hard to spot when you're in the moment, here relationship experts reveal what they look like

Woman's hands holding up a bouquet of flowers, representing gifts received in a rebound relationship
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A rebound relationship is something many people find themselves in after a breakup as they search for emotional support or something that was missing when they were with their ex-partner. While some people may relish being single again, others will struggle with sadness or loneliness, which is why they jump straight into another relationship.

If you’ve been married or with your partner for a long time, adjusting to not being with that person anymore can be really difficult - even if you initiated the breakup. Most people are not just losing their partner but many will lose their homes and friends, and they might have to deal with shared custody of children. However, not all outcomes from divorce are negative. Many people stay in unhappy marriages for a long time and find a new lease on life and a sense of independence once it’s over. If you were in an unhealthy or toxic relationship, this sense of freedom may be even greater.

It's no news that the pandemic and its effects have impacted our relationships over the past few years, leading to a spike in divorce rates after the lockdown was lifted - and a surge of sign-ups to dating sites, especially dating apps for over 50. Among those going through a divorce, rates of rebound relationships are likely to be quite high. To find out whether you're in one - and whether that's even a bad thing - we spoke to the experts. 

What is a rebound relationship?

A rebound relationship begins quite quickly after the breakdown of another relationship or marriage, perhaps before feelings about your ex-partner have been resolved. It can be an avoidance tactic, says consultant psychologist Dr Elena Touroni, as many people start seeing a new person without giving themselves the time needed to heal. "By rushing into a new relationship, someone can put off having to process the previous one," Touroni, who is also the founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic, explains.

As much as a rebound relationship can help people avoid their feelings, it can also provide temporary relief from them, adds Clare Deacon, a certified psychology coach and therapist. “Entering into a new relationship can provide us with temporary relief from those emotions through distraction," she explains. "Of course, the problem with this is that the relief is likely to be short-lived as unresolved emotions have a tendency to let us know they are still there and we will start to feel uncomfortable again or perhaps transfer issues from the previous relationship onto the rebound relationship.”

A rebound relationship may look a little like a "honeymoon period", which happens with all relationships. But while this can be a welcome distraction for some people, it may lead others to suppress unpleasant emotions that should be dealt with first. And of course, if you're the reboundee in a relationship with a rebounder, it can prove to be quite a confusing time.

So, are you in a rebound relationship? Whether you're wondering if you've stepped into something new too quickly yourself or you think your partner might have, and you're looking to learn how to build trust in a relationship, this is what the psychologists want you to know.

Romantic couple sitting together over candlelit dinner holding forks and drinking wine, representing a rebound relationship

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Signs you're in a rebound relationship

1. Things are moving fast

If you’ve been hurt by your ex-partner and subsequently have low self-confidence, you might seek a new relationship to prove to yourself and others that you’re still desirable. But Kate Daly, who is a divorce advisor with a background in psychology, says, ”If you are hurtling full throttle into what you think is going to be your next big romance without the personal insight of what is happening, then you could be heading for a fall.”

Daly, who is co-founder of the online divorce services company amicable, says being clear in your communication with a new partner is key. "It's important, as is recognizing you might need to slow things down and take your time before committing beyond a few dates."

Divorce is one of the most stressful things you can go through in life and some people may want to go a bit wild and have some fun and frivolity afterward it's over. Amanda Gardiner, 52, entered a rebound relationship after separating from her husband. She tells woman&home, “Coming out of a long-term marriage left me feeling completely rudderless and I thought I needed to meet somebody as soon as possible. So, as my divorce came to a close I did meet somebody and had a huge rebound fling."

She adds, “It was really fun and gave me a big confidence boost but ultimately wasn’t the right thing for me in the long term."

2. You find yourself ignoring toxic traits

If you’ve rushed into a new relationship, you might find that you haven’t given yourself enough time to let go of any negativity from your marriage. You may not have had a chance to work out what you really want from a relationship, what your deal breakers are in a relationship, and what’s good for your emotional and mental wellbeing. 

This might mean that the partner you’ve chosen isn’t the right fit for you. Many people may find themselves slipping into a pattern of choosing someone similar to their ex, which could lead to the same issues and conflicts they experienced in their marriage. This might be a particular issue if you’ve got low self-esteem or have been in a toxic relationship previously.

3. You talk or think about your ex all the time

If you weren’t the initiator of the divorce and you’re still in love with your ex, or really looking to get back together with an ex, then the chances are they’ll be on your mind frequently. If you’re still in touch with them, perhaps if you have children, this will make things even more complicated. In this situation, you may be using the rebound relationship as a distraction from these feelings. This is obviously not fair to your new partner and is a sign that you’re not ready for a new relationship. 

However, if you’re hurt and angry and your new partner empathizes with these feelings - if they’ve been through a divorce too, for example - then it could be that they can help you work through these emotions. A study by the University of New York found that “people who quickly re-partnered may have had heightened wellbeing partially because they had contact with two romantic partners (their ex and their current partner) and were able to receive social and emotional support from multiple sources.” 

Woman scrolling through her phone with interested look on her face

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4. You're with someone that's not normally your type

The study by New York University, aptly called 'Too Much, Too Soon?', mentions that rebound relationships aren’t usually “typical” relationships. “A rebound partner is usually thought of as a transitional mate or a stepping stone on the way to a more legitimate relationship,” say professors of psychology at the  City University of New York and the University of Illinois Claudia Brumbaugh and R Chris Fraley

Daly agrees that being with someone you might not be compatible with is often a sign of a rebound relationship. “Rebound relationships can vary in length and intensity, but they are generally seen as temporary and may lack the emotional depth and commitment that are often found in more long-term, stable relationships. Rebound relationships can sometimes be characterized by a sense of urgency to move quickly, a focus on physical rather than emotional intimacy, and a tendency to idealize the new partner as a way to compensate for the emotional wounds caused by the previous relationship.”

This is something we often see depicted, usually from a negative perspective, in films, and on television. A character may enter a relationship with someone who is the complete opposite of their ex to create a dramatic storyline. Society’s fixation on celebrity culture also means that rebound relationships among high-profile names are also frequently covered in the media, leading to the assumption that we should jump into a new partnership as soon as one is over.

5. You're filling the gap your partner left

If you’ve been married for a long time, life as a singleton can be tough to navigate. Some people will find this too much to cope with and will search for a new partner to fill the void, perhaps via the best dating apps for relationships. Brumbaugh and Fraley’s study states: “The ‘honeymoon period’ that accompanies the onset of a new relationship might also help to push unpleasant emotions and memories into the background, offering a person a new set of ideas and emotions to fixate upon.”

This is something relationship expert Jessica Alderson, who is also the co-founder of dating platform SoSyncd, agrees with. “People sometimes get into rebound relationships to feel less alone because they miss the companionship and emotional intimacy that comes with being in a relationship. After a breakup, people can feel the absence of their partner acutely, and some are tempted to jump into a rebound relationship just for the sake of having someone around."

6. You're in need of a confidence boost

Getting divorced can lead to a whole range of emotions from shame and anger to sadness and anxiety. No matter what age you are, you’re likely to have had a knock to your confidence and the thought of starting afresh can be overwhelming. Your self-esteem might be especially low if there was a lack of respect and love in your marriage.

Deacon, who is also a life coach at Happyacoach, says some people will feel a need to seek validation after a divorce. “After a breakup, a person's self-esteem and self-worth may be impacted and [they] will seek reassurance from another. As humans, our survival is dependent on being part of a community so it can feel unsafe to experience rejection or deal with loneliness.”

Gardiner, who founded The Divorce Hive, an online community and program for women, says this is exactly what happened to her after her divorce. “I wanted to ‘fix’ my life and at the time felt that a replacement partner was the solution. In reality, I needed to heal myself first. Also, the man was only a few months out of his long-term marriage and was most definitely on the rebound.” 

Smiling couple in a rebound relationship, with man sitting down on sofa and woman hugging him from behind

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7. You're having guilt-free fun

There’s nothing enjoyable about getting divorced - even if it's in everyone’s best interests. It can be draining, upsetting, and expensive. Most people who’ve been through one deserve some fun and happiness. Once everything is settled, a rebound relationship may be just the tonic. A rebound situation can provide the emotional and sexual connection you need at that moment and it can make you feel happy and confident.

Deacon also believes a rebound relationship can be a good way of working out what you really want. She says, “The rebound relationship may serve a purpose in providing emotional support or providing evidence that there is something different and more positive available. It can also serve to increase your own self-awareness of your needs and expectations.”

So while guilt-free fun is the sign of a rebound relationship, it's no bad thing. But don’t forget to consider your new partner’s feelings too. Check you’re on the same page when it comes to whether the relationship is a casual fling or something more serious as early as possible. 

8. You want to make your partner jealous

If you were badly treated by your partner or you weren’t the one to initiate the breakup, you may feel a need to seek revenge. You might choose to exact this revenge by getting together with someone quickly and making sure your partner knows about it. This is a sure sign of a rebound relationship and one of the big red flags in a relationship. Some people may even put more energy into hurting their ex or making them angry than nurturing their new relationship. 

A study in by the University of Missouri, published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, found that “those who were ‘dumped’ by their partners were more distressed and angry and more likely to have sex to cope and to get back at or get over their ex-partner”.

One woman I spoke to, who wanted to remain anonymous, says she married her second husband in a bid to annoy her first husband who was the love of her life. They were married for less than a year and she says she thought about her ex every day.

How long does a rebound relationship last?

Unfortunately, as relationship expert Daly tells us, "When a relationship is entered into too quickly, without proper healing and self-reflection, it may more likely be a rebound relationship and these seldom last. Once the excitement and intensity wear off, there are fewer solid foundations on which to build a long-term relationship."

If your partner is fully invested in the relationship and is not on the rebound themselves, it may be that they have different expectations. If the pair of you aren’t communicating about your expectations things could go awry very quickly, so it's best to be honest with your partner from the beginning. 

As noted though, not all rebound relationships should be written off as soon as they begin. Some people can move on and find love again without being influenced by their previous relationships, especially if the relationship was strained long before it ended. If you’ve not taken the proper time to process your emotions or you’re seeing someone you’re not compatible with, then it’s likely things still won’t last long though. Tell them what you’re looking for, what you’ve been through, and what you need to make you both happy. If you manage to do this, there’s no reason why your new relationship can’t be fulfilling and happy - no matter how long it lasts. 

Kat Storr

Kat has been a digital journalist for over 12 years after starting her career at Sky News where she covered everything from terror attacks to royal babies and celebrity deaths. She has been working freelance for the last five years and regularly contributes to UK publications including woman&home, Stylist, ES Best, Metro, and more. 

Since having her three sons Kat has become more focused on writing about parenting and health and wellbeing. She has looked at postnatal mental and physical health, how to exercise when you're hypermobile and tips for coping with sleep deprivation.