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Monkey Branching: Who Does It? Why? 12 Telltale Signs

Breakups are hard. 

What’s worse than a breakup? Seeing your ex start a new relationship immediately after ending yours. 

How did they move on so quickly? 

One week the two of you are together, and the next, they’re posting selfies with someone else like you never existed.

Is your ex a monster incapable of human feelings? Potentially.

An even likelier explanation is they are a classic monkey brancher. 

What is monkey branching?

Monkey branching is when a person swings from one relationship into another. It’s named for how monkeys move from branch to branch in the wild, never letting go of the first branch until they successfully grasp onto the next.

In this metaphor, people are the branches, and your wretched ex is the monkey.

Monkey branchers form emotional connections with outside people to line up the next relationship before properly ending their current one. It’s the dating equivalent of having someone on deck. 

It’s a cowardly way to move through life, and we’ll discuss who does it and why. 

Is monkey branching cheating?

It can be. I certainly think it is.

At the very least, monkey branching is a form of emotional cheating. After all, the only way to line up a relationship is to pursue (or at least allow) an emotional connection with someone else that is wholly inappropriate.

Sometimes that emotional cheating turns physical, too. 

Beyond cheating, monkey branching indicates deep-seated fears of commitment and low self-worth. Imagine being so terrified of being alone with yourself that you line your relationships up back to back, no matter who gets hurt. 

Three people sit on a bench. A man and woman lean their heads together as the woman secretly holds hand with the second man behind the bench. The title reads What is Monkey Branching?
What is monkey branching?

Is monkey branching the same as a rebound?

Monkey branching and rebounding are not the same things. Monkey branchers line up their next relationship before ending their current one. Rebound relationships, however, are formed after the previous relationship is over. 

The motivations are different, too. 

Monkey branchers internalize the breakup before they break up with you. But in a rebound relationship, the rebounder uses the next relationship to cope with the pain of their previous breakup. They hope this new relationship will help them forget their ex and heal quicker. 

For more on the differences between monkey branching and rebounding, I highly recommend this video:

Monkey branching or cushioning?

Cushioning in a relationship is a lot like how it sounds – you build a cushion for yourself by flirting and forming emotional attachments with someone else in case your primary relationship falls through. 

These outside people become emotional backup plans. 

Is there a difference between cushioning and monkey branching? Not that I can tell. These are two terms that describe the same bad behavior. 

A woman sits on the couch, sad while her male partner looks off into the distance. The title reads "Why do people monkey branch?"
Why do people monkey branch?

Why do people monkey branch?

People monkey branch because, at their core, they have low self-esteem and can’t tolerate being alone. 

Of course, you may hear excuses for why people monkey branch, such as dissatisfaction with their current relationship or feeling like their needs are unmet, but those aren’t valid reasons to monkey branch.

Secure people with moral boundaries will break up with a partner in that situation. They don’t deal with dissatisfaction in their relationship by securing a backup partner. 

There is also a connection between monkey branching and narcissism

Relationship coach, Kim Saeed, refers to monkey branching as a tool narcissists use to maintain their narcissistic supply, defined as the amount of attention and adoration a narcissist needs to feel whole. 

Here’s how monkey branching achieves that:

1. It satisfies their inflated ego. 

Narcissists feel entitled to things and people. When they don’t get their way, they experience something Saeed refers to as an “ego threat.” 

In this context, if a partner challenges them or tries to establish boundaries, they may perceive it as a threat and use it to justify looking outside of their relationship for connections that will make them feel powerful and desirable again. 

Narcissists struggle with emotional regulation. Monkey branching is a manifestation of that. Instead of working through normal relationship problems, they look for “something better,” to which they believe they’re entitled. 

2. To refuel their narcissistic supply. 

Relatedly, many monkey branchers have a strong desire to feel important and wanted. They get a lot of validation from feeling wanted. 

As their primary relationship cools and starts to settle into a comfortable familiarity, they feel unsatisfied. Narcissists thrive off of intense, emotional attachments. It’s why they love bomb partners in the beginning.

But every relationship has a natural rhythm.

The intensity can’t stay cranked to 100. It’s unsustainable. But they can’t handle that, so they take it as a sign to look for something better while in a relationship with their current partner. 

Monkey branchers are perpetually unsettled. They crave the adrenaline hit of a new relationship where everything is fresh, exciting, and intense. But it’s impossible to live that way with one person, and that’s why they bounce from one relationship to the next. 

Of course, they have no capacity for self-reflection, so the story in their mind is the partner was the problem, and they’re just looking for something right for them.

More>> Love Bombing vs. Infatuation: How To Know The Difference

3. It’s all a game to them. 

Sometimes monkey branchers do what they do because they view all aspects of life, including relationships, as a game they intend to win. They view everything as transactional and measure their life in terms of upgrades. 

People are no exception. 

If something in their existing relationship is imperfect, they will seek a “better” partner. Again, they’re never satisfied. They want a better job, higher status, fancier car, house, and partner.

4. Opportunism

Many people who monkey branch are opportunists. They constantly seek the next best thing, including in their romantic life. It’s the whole “grass is always greener” mentality. 

They never truly commit because that would represent a type of security and stagnation (to them) that is untenable. Internally, they are consumed by the idea that something better is always out there. This occurs in all aspects of their life. 

Of course, no job, status, or relationship can ever fill a cup like that, so they are never truly happy with their life. 

5. Fear of being alone

Monkey branchers over-identify with their relationship status. They are terrified of being single and connect their self-worth to whether or not they are with someone. 

This is true even for narcissists. 

Monkey branchers are terrified of being alone because they lack self-esteem. Even the boastful narcissists who outwardly behave as if they are some special gift feel incomplete without the adoration of others. 

They associate being single with being unwanted, which they cannot tolerate. 

6. They have an anxious or avoidant attachment style.

Attachment styles also play a big role in the mind of monkey branchers.

People with an “anxious” attachment style are prime candidates for monkey branching. They’re the ones who need constant validation and are always on the lookout for that next hit of emotional security.

On the flip side, those with an “avoidant” attachment style might monkey branch for the entirely different reasons. For these types, the goal is dodging emotional closeness. What better way to achieve that than by keeping your options open so there’s always an exit?

7. They’re impulsive.

Some monkey branchers act on a whim. This is related to chasing the high of a new relationship.

For the impulsive monkey brancher, the thrill of that new relationship overshadows the emotional toll it takes on their current partner. They’re driven by the instant dopamine rush that comes with new love or lust, neglecting the stable but less exhilarating emotional connection they already have.

And because they’re impulsive, they don’t stop to think about what they’re doing. They just go with it because that’s what feels good to them in the moment.

Signs of Monkey Branching

So how can you tell if your partner is secretly monkey branching you?

If your gut instinct tells you something is up, you’re probably right. But there are also signs you can look out for. 

A woman talks on her phone and makes a "shh" gesture with her hands. Her husband is asleep beside her. The title reads" Signs of Monkey Branching"
Signs of Monkey Branching

1. They’re flirtatious. 

Monkey branchers are notorious flirts, often in front of their partners. If confronted, they become defensive or accuse you of being the real flirt, but that is all deflection. 

Flirting partners do not respect the boundaries or sanctity of their relationship. 

2. They’re overprotective of their phone.

If your partner is overly protective of their phone and other tech, this might be a sign of monkey branching. Some people get defensive about this one. 

Why should I let my partner go through my phone or email?

I’m not suggesting that.

However, if your partner becomes visibly nervous or fidgety if you ask to look something up on their phone because yours is out of reach, that is a signal they may be hiding something from you. That “something” could be another partner. 

3. They spend more time on their phone.

If your partner is suddenly texting more, spending more time on social media, or taking calls away from you, that is a red flag. 

Take note of their phone behavior. Has it changed? Are they hypervigilant about locking their screen or placing their phone face down around you? 

Are there late-night messages? Does your partner wait till you use the bathroom to text people back?

Talk to them about it. If they become overly defensive, take that as an additional clue that something is up.

4. They still have dating apps. 

If you’re in a committed relationship, dating apps should be deleted. Full stop. 

Don’t fall for the old “I forgot to delete them” shtick. And don’t allow them to brush it off by saying, “Oh, I never check them. It’s not a big deal. Why do you care?”

Ask your partner to delete the apps, and if they refuse, you know where you stand.

Dating apps make monkey branching much easier. There’s no reason for anyone to keep dating apps on their phone except to use them. 

5. They spend more time away from the house. 

Monkey branchers will find ways to be out of the house. They suddenly want to go to the gym more often or run errands that inexplicably take hours to complete. 

If your partner spends a lot of time away from you and the house, this might indicate cheating or, at the very least, an effort to create physical and emotional distance from you in preparation for monkey branching. 

6. They go out with friends more (without you). 

Another sign of monkey branching is when your partner’s social life pivots back to nights out with friends and away from nights out with you. 

Of course, balance is important. You both need time to hang out with friends independently of each other. But if you’re in a committed relationship, you shouldn’t be living the single life on the weekends with friends at the bar.

This is another sign your partner could be seeing what’s out there.

There’s also the chance they aren’t really out with friends. Monkey branchers will go out with potential partners to see if their new relationship is ready to take off before ending things with their current partners. 

Nights out with the boys (or girls) might be a cover for date night with someone else. 

7. They accuse you of cheating. 

It’s incredibly frustrating, but monkey branchers will often project their feelings of guilt onto you by accusing you of the very behavior they are guilty of. 

If you notice suspicious behavior from your partner and they suddenly start accusing you of flirting or cheating, that is a major red flag. 

Some monkey branchers use this type of emotional manipulation to justify their own cheating. If they can convince themselves (and others) that you were acting suspiciously, it makes their behavior seem reasonable. 

8. They are increasingly private and secretive. 

Does your partner leave for long periods without telling you where they’re going? Do they make plans with friends and speak vaguely about what they did?

If your partner starts behaving secretively, giving vague ideas about their evenings away from you, and generally appears to be hiding something, they might be trying to monkey branch. 

No matter what your partner says, this isn’t about controlling or keeping tabs on them. It’s about honesty.

9. Their behavior changes. 

Behavior change is the glue between every other sign on this list. If your partner used to behave one way towards you, and now they behave differently, that is a sign that something has changed. 

If your partner denies anything is different, despite clear evidence to the contrary, you may have an even bigger problem. It means they aren’t even willing to engage with you honestly about the dynamics of your relationship. 

People who can’t have honest conversations about their relationships are prone to monkey branching. Rather than work on problems, which every relationship has, they decide it is easier to find a new person to be with. 

10. They start pulling away emotionally. 

If you feel your partner pulling away, physically and emotionally, it may be a sign your relationship is near its end. It would be great if they talked to you about it, to see if there’s anything salvageable between you.

But monkey branchers don’t often do that. 

They’re only 70% sure they don’t want to be with you, so rather than break up or separate, they hedge their bets. 

It’s easier for them to test the waters with other people before deciding to break up with you. Sometimes that process looks like emotionally detaching while you’re still together.

They won’t admit to it or talk to you about it. In fact, they might even gaslight you into believing you imagined the whole thing and everything’s fine. 

But it’s a sign that something is wrong, and you should trust your instincts here.

11. They appear to sabotage the relationship to force a breakup.

If your partner has been exhibiting one or more signs on this list and is now picking fights, they might be at the tail end of monkey branching you, and getting ready to swing to whoever is waiting for them. 

And it sucks.

If they can force you into a breakup, then it will appear like a mutual decision, which (they hope) blunts the effect of them popping up two weeks later in a new relationship. 

This is about saving face and assuaging their underlying guilt over monkey branching you. 

But you don’t have to take the bait. 

You can call it like you see it (more on that point in a minute).

12. They have a lot of exes.

If your partner is rarely single, that’s another sign of a potential monkey brancher. Do they have a lot of exes? Small gaps between relationships, if any gaps at all? Did they monkey branch from an old relationship to you?

If your partner has a history of dating people back-to-back, they will likely do the same to you. Unless they’ve been actively working on themselves, this pattern will continue for them. 

What To Do If Your Partner Monkey Branches You

What if it’s officially happening to you? The signs are all there. Maybe you even have evidence that your partner is monkey branching. What then?

1. Know that it’s not your fault. 

Monkey branching is always a choice. Even if you were an imperfect partner (as all of us are), it’s not your fault. There is nothing you could have done differently to change this outcome. 

At some point in the not-so-distant future, I hope you’ll come to see this as a blessing in disguise. 

Monkey branching is an indictment of your partner’s moral failings and character. That sounds harsh, but it’s true. What kind of person strings their partner along as they look for new relationships? 

Relationships fail all the time. But if your partner was unhappy, they should’ve ended things with you. This is not your fault. 

2. Decide if it’s worth confronting them. 

Once you find out a partner has been sneaking behind your back, planning to monkey branch you, do you confront them? 

There are good arguments for and against confrontation. 

On the one hand, calling people out when they wrong us is cathartic. This is especially true if that person is someone we love. 

But it could backfire if you aren’t willing to say your piece and walk away immediately.

Monkey branchers can be very manipulative. You don’t want to get into a drawn-out back-and-forth with them. What good does it do? 

They’ll either deny it’s happening or try to gaslight you into believing you’re crazy or somehow to blame. Pay attention to signs of gaslighting when speaking to them.

In the grand scheme of things, what difference does it make if they know that you know? It’s not worth risking your dignity just to argue with someone who does not respect you.

3. End the relationship. 

Monkey branchers are terrified of being alone. If you call them out on their scheme before they’ve confidently secured a new partner, they may react out of fear and try to get you to stay with them. 


The only way this behavior ends is if you leave the relationship and don’t allow them to try to come back

4. Take time to heal. 

Most importantly, give yourself space to heal. Don’t be afraid to talk to a therapist. They can help you process what happened.

It’s going to take some time. 

Monkey branching is a betrayal, one you did not deserve. It’s okay to feel wounded, to struggle with trust. You won’t feel that way forever. 

Lean on your friends and family, give yourself grace, and find the support you need to build yourself back up. 

Is monkey branching ever okay?

No. Monkey branching is never okay. It’s not an acceptable way to react to a relationship that isn’t working for you, nor is it “fun” (an actual thing I read in a popular women’s magazine that shall remain unnamed).

Monkey branching is childish and cruel.

If your relationship isn’t working, talk to your partner about it. You can decide what happens next. Do you attend couples therapy? Do you separate for a while? Mutually agree to break up?

What you don’t do is string people along because you’re afraid to be single. In fact, if you have a history of jumping from one relationship to the next, it’s a sign you have some heavy emotional work to do.

There’s a famous quote from the movie “Annie Hall” where Woody Allen’s character says:

“A relationship, I think, is like a shark, you know? It has to constantly move forward, or it dies. And I think what we got on our hands is a dead shark.”

If you got a dead shark on your hands, do the right thing and just break up. 

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  1. M Doe your story feels exactly like mine it’s been bit more than a month now.
    Every point you made happened exactly the same for me EXACTLY i’m kinda shocked right now that this is a real thing i didn’t even know it existed and was blaming myself for everything.
    I still love so much her but this feels like i dodged a bullet.
    I’m sorry for you going through this i know how it is now and i can’t even describe it.
    Wish you best days!

    1. Thank you so much to let me understand people’s behaviour.

      Can monkey branchers stay forever even old age?

  2. Oh my god, this article describes 99% what happened to me by the end of my relationship…

    My BU started in mid August, when my girlfriend (30F) of 6 years told me she did not know if she wanted to be with me anymore, if she is happy. I was desperate to save the relationship so I have proposed couples therapy, changing myself whatever it was she was not happy with, we struggled and had a lot of discussions for three weeks (since I was invested emotionally and thought she is the one – we have bought a piece of land to build a house, adopted a kitten who I loved with all my heart, moved to her parents’ second and vacant house, so that we can be closer to future build site and so that our kitten can be happy in the open, so that she and we are happy being closer to nature).

    She deflected all my propositions and said that it is not about us only but about things in me (since I played games a lot and drank alcohol – which I did and do not deny) and that I will not change (and I would since both things were not that important to me). Hearing this I put all the blame on myself, and when she finally decided that she does not want to continue our relationship I have moved out.

    The following three months were very, very hard but with time I have started to come in terms with reality – came December and I am feeling a bit better, anxiety, obsessive thoughts eased and normal sadness came. Still processing, still wounded but with a glimpse of hope for the future. And then second baseball bat hit last Thursday – I came to know that there is someone else. That they already were on vacation together. When confronted (I broke our limited-to-urgencies no contact) she admitted that she met him before breaking up with me but was not physically involved with him. She kind of apologized and admitted that it was not the way it should have been done, but asked me not to attack her because she is already happy (LOL).

    Maybe there was no physical cheating but emotionally she lay ground for monkey branching to him. He was there every time we discussed our relationship, every reason, when I proposed changing myself. Maybe our differences led to BU but also – led to meeting him, which contributed to her decision. Now she says she is happy and that she did not want to hurt me (oh, rly?) and that she did not tell me (even though I have asked if there was someone else) because she did not want to break mu heart.

    Everyday I have been crying often (yesterday a bit less) and processing this (which I guess is better than bottling up and denying).

    Why do I cry now so much? How could she lie to me (I have been asking her at the beginning if there was someone else)? Why would someone who I have loved and would give everything to make her happy – do something like this to me. I do not think that I have lost all the progress of grieving but with that new information I am so hurt and sad. I am feeling like the whole time when we discussed the relationship at the end – was a lie, that she was already thinking about him. That all the time I was putting blame on myself and myself only I was wrong. From time to time these thoughts appear that she is with him, that she is happy, that she replaced me with someone with no respect for me to tell the truth and end this before meeting anyone. That the reasons she told me are within me were not the only reasons. I feel betrayed, been lied to and bitter 🙁

    I keep telling myself that it was for the better, that the reason she started to look around were already there, that we were not good together; yet still – this hurts and stings.

    1. I am so sorry you went through this! It will take time to heal and trust again, but please know this is not a reflection of your value or worth. Wishing you some much-needed healing in the days and months ahead.