Study shows impact of relationships on self

Anne Wilson, an associate psychology professor at Laurier, is currently focusing her research efforts on studying the self, motivation and self-concept.

In her paper On the Rebound: Focusing on Someone New Helps Anxiously Attached Individuals Let Go of Ex-Partners, which she co-authored with former Laurier honours student Stephanie Spielmann, Wilson examines how relationships impact the self and, more specifically, how the rebound relationship affects insecure versus secure individuals.

“[The research] doesn’t necessarily mean that rebound relationships are great and that we should prescribe them, but it could mean that maybe they’re not as bad as everybody always supposed,” said Wilson.

Wilson’s research on relationships began in 2006 when she was approached by Spielmann, who was interested in studying the effect of break-ups on the self for her honours thesis.

Through a collaborative effort, Wilson and Spielmann conducted studies at Laurier as well as at the University of Toronto, where Spielmann went on to pursue her PhD and where relationship expert Geoff MacDonald joined their research team.

Throughout the study, the definition of a rebound relationship remained broad, simply described as any relationship that followed a past relationship.

The study also focused solely on university students at Laurier and the University of Toronto.
Wilson and Spielmann aimed to uncover how break-ups affect individuals with different attachment styles. One’s attachment style develops in early life through the relationship with one’s parents and is often repeated in subsequent relationships, including those with romantic partners.

Wilson explained that there are two attachment styles the study focused on: securely attached and anxiously attached.

“Someone who is securely attached is pretty comfortable with their relationship. They think that
they’re a good, loveable person. They’re not constantly questioning whether or not people are going to like them. But people who are anxiously attached are the ones who come across as clingy in relationships, who need constant reassurance.”

Wilson explained that anxiously attached people cope poorly with break-ups, even if they are the one who ended the relationship. The research revealed that for this type of person, rebound relationships allowed them to move on.

“Rebound relationships seemed to help these anxiously attached people get over their past partners,” said Wilson.

The study also suggests that the rebound relationship can function as a means to fulfill a need for reassurance and validation.

“It’s probably not the rebound itself, not the fact that they’ve rekindled a new romance, it’s that they have this underlying need for proof that they’re going to be accepted and that they’re loveable people. One way for them to confirm this need is to get into a new relationship.”

As well as revealing the effect of the rebound relationship on anxiously attached individuals,
Wilson and Spielmann also disproved the notion that rebound relationships fail.

“We didn’t find any relation between how quickly people get into a new relationship and how happy that relationship was. Rebound relationships seemed to be just as happy as non-rebound relationships,” said Wilson.

Furthermore, attachment styles and how an individual copes with a break-up did not depend on gender.

Wilson maintains that while the rebound relationship can allow for certain individuals to overcome a break-up, the broken-hearted should seek to uncover the root of their insecurities.

“What [anxiously attached individuals] need to do in the long term is to find ways to be more secure about their own worth and if they can feel like they’re loveable people, then they’re not going to always need to be in a relationship to prove that.”