Therapist Barbara Massey sees a lot of people in pain come through her door. Many of them are trying to recover from an intimate relationship that has ended badly. Sometimes it's a marriage or long-term partnership; other times it's a rebound — a relationship that quickly followed on the heels of a big split.
When dealing with rebounds, Massey often listens as women tell her about the new guy who ended up being a lot like the old guy.
Such are the dynamics of a classic rebound — repeating the very patterns that helped fuel the implosion of the former relationship. Taking some time between liaisons to reflect and evaluate can help you reduce the risk of being a repeat offender.
"What creates bad rebounds is you're always looking at the future and not dealing with the hurt," says Massey, founder of ParkPlace Counseling Center in Medford and Ashland. "Right after a breakup, you want to be able to focus on the present so you actually gather information."
Massey calls the process "unlearning old relationships so you can learn new ones."
"We know from interpersonal neurobiology that couples' brains get 'wired together' and learn certain patterns — an interaction pattern really gets established," says the counselor.
This pattern often is caused by trauma and drama within the relationship, especially toward the end. Traumatic stress causes cortisol and adrenaline levels to ramp up, and these hormone surges affect the brain.
"So all parts of the mind and body systems are working together, and that's the roller-coaster feeling — when everything is shifting and changing all the time," says Massey. "It can take two years for the hormones to wear down, and the more difficulties in the relationship, the more patterns there are to unlearn."
Common examples of such trauma-induced relationship stress are infidelity (sexual or emotional), where the noncheating partner can become hypervigilant, jealous and paranoid; an overly responsible person who is always picking up the pieces for her irresponsible partner, leaving her confused about roles and self-worth; and the addict and the enabler, where neither knows how to stop the behavior and both are left damaged.
"After the breakup, there's a whole disentanglement process to look at those patterns, let go of the resentments and really get clarity about what happened," says Massey. "It takes time to unlearn that."
Massey counsels clients to not get seriously involved with someone for a year after a serious relationship ends. During this pause, it's wise to face grief so it doesn't creep back in unexpected ways.
"A big piece of rebounds is that you can bypass the whole painful process of grieving," says Graham Collins, a counselor who works with adults, adolescents, couples and families and is co-owner of Ashland Holistic Health. "It takes courage to go through a grieving process and take a look at what piece you had in the relationship falling apart."
Looking inward provides an opportunity to really identify functional and dysfunctional patterns. "Lack of awareness about what your issues are is the danger that leads you to pick the same type of person with the same issues," says Collins.
That goes double for anybody who has left an abusive situation.
"That's a big, red flag," stresses Collins. "There are plenty of people out there going from one abusive relationship to another, including relationships of domestic violence; this has a big impact on them and on children they may be bringing along."
Compulsive rebounders may even be addicted to love or sex, a cycle that often requires counseling and support to break.
While it is possible for a rebound relationship to work, more often than not rebounds do not equal healing. To reduce the chance of a backfire when contemplating a rebound, don't keep it to yourself — especially if you've got iffy feelings about the new partner.
"You need somebody objective to weigh in," says Massey. "Listen to friends you trust or go to counseling. If they're bringing up concerns, you need to reconsider."
In the meantime, it's wise to "inquire within" and to deepen your relationship with yourself. This not only increases self-confidence; it boosts the chance of finding the perfect match.