I have a client who has been struggling at the end of a long marriage. Recently, she came back to see me. In our discussions in the aftermath of her break up, she talked about how she felt nothing but pessimism and unworthiness. How she didn't think there could ever be anyone else for her out there.

In our latest discussion, she told me she has met someone special. But she's not happy about it. In fact, she is consumed with anxiety, in case it's a rebound relationship.

The idea that rebound relationships are doomed seems to have a currency which has made its way into folk wisdom about heartbreak and new love.

Those on the rebound are assumed to be shamed, angry or sad. Their emotional availability and, indeed, their judgement is questioned.


This "wisdom" continues to say that those on the rebound are incapable of emotional attachment, or are simply looking for a substitute for the love they have lost.

They are seen to be driven by fear of being without a partner. And if they still have strong feelings about the break up, then this further indicates that the "rebounder" is still emotionally tied, and looking only for distraction.

Hardly surprising with this rather gloomy advice prevailing, that those who have what we call an anxious attachment style are full of self-doubt, pessimism and depression. They feel that they are seen to be radioactive around new relationships.

Should you heal before you move on? This is the catch cry question of endless magazines, celebrity gossip, romance columns and movie plots. The problem with advice about relationships - this column included - is that there can be an assumption of one size fits all. And in affairs of the heart, there seems to a lemming-like adoption of ideas and folklore.

Any good advice will always take waivers into consideration - or what the research calls "variables". The advice for a 17-year-old reeling from his first big heartbreak surely needs to be very different from that to the 50- something year old who has just split the equity in the family home.

But what if being 50-something with a broken heart makes you doubt yourself? What if it makes you feel and act like a 17-year-old?

While taking advice can be a smart thing to do, make sure you trust the advisor, and remember that generalisations based on assumptions are never particularly helpful.

Lingering or unresolved feelings for an ex-partner does not, in fact, make a person incapable of emotional connection with a new partner. Research suggests that finding a new partner may be the very best thing you can do to mend a broken heart.


Researchers from the University of Toronto, Geoff McDonald, Stephanie Spielmann and Anne Wilson, back in 2009, surveyed a group of 69 people currently involved with a new partner since a break up. Then they surveyed a further 80 who were still single following a break up.

Those with a new partner were much less inclined to dwell on and retain a sad attachment to their ex-partner.

Those who were single still spoke with grief and longing about their ex. They also spoke with pessimism about ever being able to love again.

In other words, those who struggle the most with grief after a break up are often the ones who have an anxious attachment style in general. They don't believe love is safe, or that they are loveable - which is pretty much the same thing- and they live in a state of emotional connection to their exes. Painful in the extreme.

In a related piece of research the same authors found that by giving those who were in grief some upbeat and positive articles about how easy it is to find new partners, the bereft started reducing their sense of attachment to their ex and thought more positively about moving on.

A second group of single people in grief were given material to read about how difficult it would be to find someone else. After reading the material this group described feelings of increased intensity of attachment to their ex, along with a sense of deep and ongoing yearning.

Those other participants in the study, the ones who were low in anxiety, weren't effected either way. In other words, their level of emotional attachment to their ex stayed much the same and was manageable.

No one would suggest grief is not real. No more more than choosing an inappropriate partner, or focusing on someone unavailable will do anything other than make things worse. But we can't ignore the fact that yearning to love and be loved is real too. The advice that you need to "heal" may just be counter intuitive.

Being open and hopeful about the possibilities of loving again - and receptive to opportunity - would appear to be just what the doctor ordered. It seems to beat the socks off the alternative which can feel like a prison sentence in the desert of sadness, (because you are responding to the received wisdom).

So waiting for the grief to pass might just make the grief feel worse - which means you have to keep waiting even longer for the grief to pass. Put simply: focusing on somebody new can help you to let go of the sadness.

Seems that those old aphorisms about "plenty of fish in the sea", and one person "not being the only pebble on the beach", turn out to be cheerfully accurate pieces of advice.

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