Is It Love? The False Dawn of a Rebound Relationship
I remember the first time I felt alive again after my husband left-
I was giddy that night, retelling the tale of the improbable day to my friend, my heart standing at attention like a new recruit. My mind was swarming with the possibilities. My body tingled with the memory of touch and trembled at the thought of more. I felt alive, awakened. For twelve amazing hours, I could forget about the pain and the misery and pretend to be healed.
Pretend being the operative word.
Like many people recently out of a serious relationship, I clung to that feeling. It was such a relief after months of drowning in anguish and anger. I wanted more. It was like a drug, damping the pain. That spark awakened my body after the slumber of trauma and survival. I feared my body had forgotten how to feel pleasure much like it had forgotten how to eat. I was relieved to discover that some lessons are not easily forgotten. I relaxed into the respite from my daily struggle with the legal system, as I was still in the gory midst of a malignant divorce. But most of all, I felt hope, optimism that I would be able to trust again. To love again.
I wanted that spark to be real, to be fanned into a full-fledged flame that would continue to burn. But the truth was that I was nowhere near ready. I still relied on medication to get me through the endless nights and to trick my body into eating. I still became overwhelmed by the tears that seemed to sneak up on me. I still responded physically to telling my story and I avoided known triggers like they were land mines ready to explode. I was still learning how to be single; I certainly didn’t yet know how to be partnered again.
I was ready for the idea, but not the reality. I was prepared for the fantasies but not the work. I wanted so desperately to be healed and that spark let me believe, at least for a moment, that I was. But the truth is that the spark was real, but the promises of an easy escape were simply a mirage, glittering temptingly on the horizon.
For several reasons, that spark of attraction never developed into anything resembling a relationship. It was there and then it was gone, gifting me with the desire and confidence to enter the dating scene.
Yet often that’s not the case.
Sometimes that spark is nurtured into flame, lighting up the sky with the false dawn of a rebound relationship.
It can be a beautiful sunrise, warming your soul and becoming a ray of light to guide you out of the darkness of divorce.
And like a sunrise, it’s usually fleeting.
How do you know if it’s love or a rebound?
Follow on the Heels of the End
Rebound relationships follow closely behind the end of another relationship. I’m not a fan of absolutes when it comes to the time needed to heal and process the end of a marriage – it’s too individual and dependent on too many factors. Before you’re ready for love again, you need time to exhale the sadness from your divorce. You need enough distance to gain perspective. And perhaps most importantly, you need to be in a place where you’re not grasping or running away, as neither is a good way to start a healthy relationship.
There’s wisdom in the saying that you have to be okay alone before you can be okay in a relationship. And it takes some time to learn to be okay alone.
These relationships tend to burn hot – an intense attraction that feels overwhelming to your previously deadened self. They can make you feel animated. Exhilarated. Intoxicated. It can create a sense of, “THIS is what I’ve been missing.”
Sometimes real love can ignite quickly. But at some point, it has to settle into a smolder if it’s going to last.
Seems to Solve All Your Problems
Maybe your ex didn’t make you feel appreciated and this new person expresses gratitude for your every breath. Perhaps you felt disconnected and alienated from your former spouse and the new crush makes you feel attached and understood. A rebound relationship often seems to solve all of our problems by replacing one person (who obviously wasn’t a good fit) with one that seems custom-made.
It would be nice if creating a strong relationship was all about finding the “right” person. But that’s only the first step. In order to build and maintain love, you also have to address your own issues and fears and judgments that led you to this place. Nobody is going to save you other than you.
Ignore Inconvenient Truths
If somebody appears to be perfect, they’re either hiding something or you’re ignoring something. Rebound relationships often exist in the world of make believe, built on hopes and dreams. And that’s a weak foundation because at some point, reality will intervene.
Love, on the other hand, sees those flaws and accepts them.
Possess False Intimacy
A couple in a rebound relationship can appear to be very close, extremely connected and intimate. Yet it’s often a false intimacy because neither partner is willing or able to become completely vulnerable. If one person is in a savior role, they are using their position to refrain from feeling emotionally exposed. If one (or both) possess a victim mindset, they are leaving parts of themselves protected.
Love takes intimacy. Intimacy takes vulnerability. And vulnerability takes trust, self-awareness and time.
Creates Disproportionate Pain Upon Ending
Sometimes rebound relationships mature into love. And often they end within a relatively short period of time. And the pain of that ending is frequently disproportionately large to the duration of the relationship. I often have people tell me that the end of the rebound is more painful than the end of the marriage. That happens for several reasons – a loss of hope, a realization that a different and infinitely more difficult path is required and the allowance of the brunt of the pain of the divorce (that was delayed due to the rebound).
Some people advise to avoid rebound relationships. Not bad advice, but often impossible to follow since it’s difficult to see a rebound while you’re surrounded by it.
Instead of striving for complete avoidance, I counsel restraint – don’t rush into any major decisions in a relationship that ignites soon after your divorce. There’s no hurry.
Be honest, with yourself and with your partner, about where you are in the healing process.
Pay attention to your motivations – are you running away from an uncomfortable truth or grasping on to keep from drowning?
Besides, rebound relationships have value – They give you a moment of respite and hope. They highlight want you want in a relationship and what you need to address in yourself before you’re ready. And rebound relationships give you the belief that you’re not broken beyond repair and that you can love and be loved again.