*Deep Breath* This one is a tough one. Hysterical bonding is steeped in lots of horrible, shameful, and private things that are really difficult to share at the best of times. Its hard when you literally feel disgusted at your own needs being met, whilst you’re broken in two it can be the most confusing of feelings. I want to talk a bit about the key things that come a long in my experience to do with hysterical bonding.
What is Hysterical Bonding?
Hysterical bonding is not something that’s been widely explored in research, scientific study, but anecdotally it’s been reported a lot. Different people describe it as different things, some see it as the strong urge to “get their partner back”, others it’s more about the sex. For us, it was about the sex. After my heart broke in to a million pieces I went away for a few days. I stayed with my family.
I was numb.
Then I started feeling a very strong urge to have sex with my husband. I wanted nothing more than to be in bed with him. He was 300 miles away so it was impossible and pretty much all our communication was angry marathoning texts in which he was answering a constant stream of questions about his affair. I bought nice underwear, sexy pajama’s, stuff I knew he would love, I wore make up and had my hair done.
Little did I know the affair was ongoing whilst this was happening but I guess it’s not all that relevant. I felt how I felt. Wanted to have sex with my husband. I wanted to feel him be with me. It was such a strong impulse. I felt at the time, before I even knew it’s name, it was probably a need in me to feel wanted and validated. A need to feel held and loved when I felt so rejected. I also thought I was trying to convince my husband to love me again. Mark my territory again. Devastation surrounded me, my world falling apart. I was angry. Furious at times. Exhausted and not sleeping. Anxious. Unable to eat. But desperate to kiss him and be in bed with him. Intimate. It was very very confusing.
What if I don’t actually have sex?
You don’t have to go through with it, the sex, for it to be hysterical bonding. That’s the urge not the action. The primal urge to be with your betrayer is the hysterical bonding, it’s that urge which confuses people, it’s that urge which can send your head spinning whether you follow through or not.
Your brain goes in to a bit of a meltdown when you’re faced with sudden trauma, it goes in to protective mode. Fight, Flight, Freeze. Those are the only things that it worries about. It wants to protect us from the sudden pain it’s experiencing. Its agony. Our bodies and brains are very good at protecting us, but sometimes they go overboard.
That urge to have sex with your husband, who has damaged you immensely, makes perfect sense psychologically. Remember what you are experiencing at the point you realise you’ve been betrayed is grief. Grief of what you once knew, what you understood to be true, what you loved. In front of your eyes though is what you are grieving. So your brain makes the connection that You + Them = Pain goes away. Our brain doesn’t really understand nuance so well.
So you have this urge to connect to them, pull them close to you, seek comfort from them. It helps ease the pain that is so overwhelming and unbearable.
Add to all this hormonal changes, a screwed up mood, intense stress as your world around you changes. You don’t have much of a hope really.
Hysterical Bonding Leaves Confusion in its Wake.
So I was in a state of hysterical bonding for about 3 weeks I think. Finding out he was still talking with her rather shook me out of that but we had sex daily for those three weeks. Adventurous, long, passionate love. I felt wrong though, every time it felt wrong.
It hurt again & again, as I was so angry and damaged. So mixed up. My mind was racing a million miles a minute and everything still felt wrong in our relationship. Things WERE still wrong in our relationship. The affair wasn’t over and I sensed it so I was clinging to him as tight as I could, much like before I knew, and hoping to god we came through the other side. Its hard to put into words the mixture of shame and disgust and hurt I feel looking back at those weeks, but if you’ve been there you get it.
I even asked my husband to disclose what he talked about with her when sexting so I would know what he wanted, begged him to explore it with me. Little did I know he was still firmly stuck in limerance. Doing his best to separate both of his relationships in to very separate boxes. I wanted so much for him to want me. Begged him too. It was humiliating.
What I’ve learnt about it is this: Be fucking kind to yourself.
Hysterical bonding can last on average between 2 weeks and 2 months. It usually crashes spectacularly at that point. In our case with me finding out he was still seeing the other woman. (You can read about this more here). No one is better at judging me than me. I’ve looked back at those weeks and thought holy fuck, you threw yourself at the man who treated you like utter trash. You chased a man who was STILL treating you like trash. These thoughts went through my head constantly. I was disgusted with myself. There are posts about it here and here.
I had to face up to the age old truth that our thoughts create our feelings. Think about that a second. What we think creates how we feel.
So all this nasty self talk that I was doing, it was fucking with how I felt. It was validating all the fears I had. It was validating all the terrible things I was thinking about our reconciliation, the judgement of myself was so so strong. So I started changing my thoughts.
Thinking about how I survived through some of the most painful emotions I’ve ever felt. I was destroyed by his actions. Absolutely destroyed. And I survived. I survived in the ways I needed to at the time. I did nothing wrong. NOTHING. And nor did you. Remember that.
In the midst of all the shame, in the midst of the massive shit show which was those weeks, I survived when I could barely function. Why the hell should I be angry and judging myself. Flipping hell, I had enough to deal with the fact that I was able to do anything to try and rebuild my marriage, albeit misguided in application, was a miracle.
Things you need to consider….especially if your partner had a physical affair.
You need to be sure that you’re not putting your own health at risk if you’re sleeping with your partner after he has slept with someone else. He needs to go get tested. ASAP. You need to use protection until that’s done. This is not negotiable. Your health is more important than anything else and you need to keep that front and centre. Mistakes will be made though, if you do then make sure you get tested as well. It’s important.
You are not wrong to feel how you feel. Feelings like this are natural and instinctual. They are strong. You are hurt and working through it the best way you can. That is what is important to remember. Always remember that.
Love yourself hard. Harder than you’ve ever loved yourself before.