Center for Shared Insight, PC

Relationship Overlappers

October 26, 2020
Posted By: Kristen Hick, Psy.D.

If your partner has recently ended your relationship and you find out soon afterward that they already have a new romantic interest, there is a good chance that they began a new relationship before ending yours. This phenomenon is also known as “relationship overlapping”. Relationship overlappers take rebounds to the next level by proactively - though sometimes subconsciously - cultivating a new relationship before they end their existing one. 

There are several reasons partners choose to end a relationship in this way, which we’ll examine in this post, along with alternatives to overlapping, and ways to grieve if your partner has chosen to end your relationship by “overlapping”.

Why Overlap?

It’s hard to leave a relationship, even a bad one. The fears of starting over, being alone, or making the wrong decision and living with regret, are real. You’ll grieve and feel sad even when ending a relationship that wasn’t meeting your needs, and many people aren’t comfortable feeling these emotions.

Like so much of our reactions to pain in the 21st century, individuals look for ways to take away discomfort as quickly as possible. Thanks to digital technology, finding a way to numb discomfort is easier than ever with digital shopping, Tinder and other online dating apps that help you find a new date in minutes, or even social media as a way to quickly get attention and validation.

Choosing to overlap your breakup by starting a new relationship without officially ending your existing one is just another example of a way to avoid discomfort. And, once the overlapper begins to get close to someone new, they may unconsciously start to pull walls up or feel guilt or pressure to end the relationship because of promises to - or honeymoon stage dreams with - a new partner that feels much more exciting and attractive. Other reasons that people choose overlapping include:

  • Codependency and the inability to be alone and address one’s own needs

  • Love addiction and the need to have a partner for validation and a sense of self

  • Guilt about the reasons they want to end the relationship and instead using the new relationship as a better reason to let go of the old one (believing the new partner is a better fit)

  • Fear of abandonment when their current relationship ends (even if they plan to end it themselves)

  • Fear of closeness and the need for relief by replacing a long-term relationship with someone new that feels “safer” as it relates to intimacy and expectations

Overlapping creates confusion for the one on the receiving end because they sense how easily their partner is ending their relationship and are confused why they seem less emotional about the breakup. Instead of the overlapper feeling sad about the breakup, they often channel their feelings into the new partnership, and they don’t have to immediately spend time reflecting on what went wrong and how they can fix it in the future. Oftentimes, being on the receiving end of the breakup feels like there is a lack of closure or limited understanding, which can prolong the healing necessary to move on. 

Alternatives to Overlapping

If you find yourself chronically looking for a new partner before ending an existing relationship, getting to the root cause of that behavior is essential. At our practice, Center for Shared Insight in Denver, Colorado, we help clients understand what about their past is driving behavior like overlapping. Most often, overlappers are unable to sit with the pain and discomfort of a breakup and the void that exists following a relationship ending. That might be due to a trauma of the past or their attachment style. Alternatives to overlapping are really new coping mechanisms for a breakup, which include:

  • Committing to time for self-care and reflecting on the relationship’s lessons post-breakup

  • Finding time to rediscover your own self, interests, and needs in-between relationships

  • Examining how friends, family, nature, and even animals can fill the void left by a relationship ending, or how you can fill that void with self-care and self-love

Over the last few decades, many new approaches to ending relationships have emerged, including ghosting, benching, overlapping, and rebounding. While some of these are not entirely new, they are more prevalent in our increasingly complex and digital-first world. If you find yourself using these tactics to overcome the challenges of dating and breakups, consider how a therapist might help you understand the root cause of your behavior and how to overcome it. Our team offers a free consultation. 

Contact us today to learn more about how we can support your dating and relationship journey.

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