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Is your rebound relationship actually harmful?

It’s complicated.

If you’ve ever dealt with a breakup, you’ve probably heard the saying that when one door closes, another one opens. Or, maybe someone told you that all endings are beginnings in disguise. There’s also the age-old advice that the best way to get over someone is to get under someone else. Those platitudes may be accurate, but they might contradict other post-breakup advice: Take time for yourself before you get back out there.

In the middle of a pandemic, dating post-breakup might sound sort of impossible. But, despite the challenges (FaceTime first dates and swipe apps galore), you might find that you have options for moving on pretty quickly (and safely). Enter: the rebound relationship.

It’s not entirely clear where the term “rebound relationship” comes from, but think of your little heart as a basketball careening into a hoop of lasting love. You’re flying high, ready to sail through the net when you suddenly hit the rim and bounce away from your last relationship. These breakup conditions leave you ripe for a rebound.

Admittedly, the basketball metaphor is sort of dark, which might explain why rebounding has such a bad reputation. But it can also be pretty accurate. Rebounding is a part of the post-breakup process where you might bounce around a bit. You might go on more dates than normal and hit what starts to feel like too many virtual happy hours. You could fall in love with a new person before you’ve processed your past pain. But when romantic relationships end, the advice isn’t always to immediately run out and start something new, especially during a pandemic when dating comes with inherent risks. So how do you know when you’re “getting back out there” responsibly versus rebounding in a harmful way? We asked experts for their advice.

What can go wrong with rebound relationships?

As you can imagine, rebounding isn’t inherently harmful. “[Rebounding] gets a bad rap because a lot of people associate rebounding with impulsive negative decisions, and that can be the case, but it's not always,” Emily Jamea, Ph.D., L.M.F.T., tells SELF. “When people are on the rebound, they might be looking for ways to feel good about themselves again. That may mean accepting more dates than one ordinarily would. It could mean being a little more impulsive, but that doesn't always have to be a bad thing,” she says, adding that it can be an opportunity to rediscover parts of yourself that you may have lost in your last relationship.

But, much like situationships, there is room for misinterpretation and heartache. Why? When you’re fresh out of a relationship—or even a situationship—you might be in a good deal of pain. Your last romantic entanglement might have involved a fair amount of time, care, and attention. That means, whether you like it or not, you probably have some residual emotions to process. You might even be feeling things like anger, shame, or grief.

So the new person, who is probably lovely (hopefully), isn’t the inherent problem (and neither are you, BTW). The issue is that, under the veneer of a new and exciting relationship, your old unprocessed feelings might linger. This could be a bad thing for your own emotional health, but it could also even be unfair for whoever you’re rebounding with if they think you’re all-in.

That said, there is nothing wrong with finding distractions and healthy ways of keeping your spirits up post-breakup. So, if you’re going on a bunch of Zoom dates and happy hours and genuinely feeling great and hopeful, more power to you. However, if you’re ignoring any lingering feelings you have post-breakup, things can get a bit more complicated—especially if you zero in on a new relationship.

Okay, but how do you know if you’re rebounding?

Sometimes, shortly after you end a relationship, you fall hard for a new person. As you’re reading this, you might be thinking of that couple you know who fell in love immediately after breaking up with other people and lived happily ever after. That’s why—when you’re in the throes of something new and exciting—it can be hard to tell if you’re rebounding in a way that is skewing your perception or you’re just fortunate. Still, there are a few signs.

“If you're the kind of person who doesn't typically jump into relationships, but you find yourself doing so on the heels of another one, then you may want to pump the brakes a bit,” Dr. Jamea says, adding that—without automatically ending the relationship—you can take a second to make sure you’re in the right headspace for something new.

Another red flag? Any interactions that seem unhealthy or self-destructive (like fighting, possessiveness, or any abusive behaviors) are signs that you might be rebounding into a harmful situation. Dr. Jamea also says that how you talk and feel about your ex is a good indicator of whether you’re as over things as you suspect. It’s okay to have residual anger and hurt around a breakup, but “if you're feeling more neutral about it, exploring other relationships is less likely to have a negative consequence,” she says.

How do you know when it’s time to end a rebound?

Provided you’re not in an unsafe or unhealthy situation, you don’t have to break up with the person you like (but, we beg you, make sure you’re dating responsibly given COVID-19 transmission risks). Still, you should “assess whether or not you're doing so with the right intentions,” Dr. Jamea says. Check-in with yourself to understand how you feel about the past, how you think about your future, and ultimately, how you feel about yourself. (Pro-tip: If you’re focused on how jealous your ex would be if they saw you, you might be in a less-than-healthy rebound situation.) This might involve talking to friends for support, journaling about your feelings, or simply reflecting on what you want from the situation.

If your intentions are pure, but you are moving more quickly than usual, acknowledge that past feelings might be a factor. Once you admit that you’re not as far removed from the past as you’d hoped, you can temper your expectations or adjust the pace of your relationship, if necessary, Dr. Jamea explains.

It can also be a good idea to talk to your new partner about all of this. “Be open and honest that you've ended another relationship or that you don't typically start dating so quickly,” Dr. Jamea says, adding that you can mention that you’d like to keep dating this new person. You don’t have to provide too much detail about your last relationship, Dr. Jamea explains. In fact, if you have the urge to go on a long tirade about your ex, that might be another sign that you’re not as emotionally available as you think. However, calmly explaining your situation is a healthy way to foster intimacy with someone new.

Ultimately, rebounding isn’t inherently terrible. But bringing another person into your life amidst a pandemic is a major decision, so you want to respect your new partner as much as possible. Transparency and thoughtfulness don’t only benefit you. It shows your new partner that you value their autonomy. If you speak openly about where you are, “they're able to make an informed decision about whether or not to continue with you,” Dr. Jamea explains.

Original article appeared on SELF | Author Patia Braithwaite

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