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- Breaking up with someone is particularly painful if they mistreated you. Paradoxically, this can make us want them even more. It can be about winning, wanting to make something up to them, self-blame, or simply seeking out comfort. It’s not necessarily a recipe for disaster, but it’s worth thinking about why you’re suddenly so attracted to your ex.
Whether you’re the dumper or the dumpee, breaking up with someone is painful. If you were mistreated by your partner in some way, it can be particularly difficult to let go.
Mistreatment such as cheating in a relationship is so damaging because it comes from someone we trusted.
Logic suggests that if someone does treat you badly, you would want to get as far away from them as possible and find someone new. However, it doesn’t always work out that way. According to psychotherapist Perpetua Neo, this is because humans are not rational creatures, especially when it comes to our romantic endeavors.
Humans don’t make sensible decisions.
Neo told Business Insider that first and foremost, our actions don’t make sense.
“One of our major assumptions is that humans are rational creatures, but we know that doesn’t happen because we do a lot of stupid things,” Neo said. “If you think about people buying things they don’t like, or spending money on nights out and then the next day regretting it, and doing it all over again… you can use this as a parallel to explain something called ‘hysterical bonding.'”
Hysterical bonding is a term which hasn’t been studied extensively yet. However, it’s a phenomenon that many people can relate to.
It describes what happens when someone is cheated on by their partner, or is broken up with, and they want to do anything to win back their ex’s affections. It sounds counter-intuitive and paradoxical, but that’s because there are many different emotions at play.
For example, in simple terms, your partner is probably the closest person to you. When something traumatic happens, they are the person you seek comfort from. Although they were the person that hurt you, the experience may still drive you into their arms as a way to find solace.
Also, if you find out your partner was unfaithful, this might flick a switch in your brain to suddenly see them as something incredibly attractive.
It often comes down to desirability.
“One of the most obvious reasons is this whole thing about desirability,” said Neo. “When someone touches your partner, you think this means they are desirable. So that may create a whole different set of beliefs in your head. Your hormones go crazy and while you previously may have been in a rut and seen them as dull and boring, now you want them.”
As well as suddenly seeing your partner as an object of desirability, having someone cheat on you is a very traumatic experience.
“Having someone cheat on you is a very horrible thing to happen,” Neo said. “That’s going to make you feel a massive sense of betrayal and trauma. And when that happens, biologically things change within you. Adrenaline, cortisol are being pumped out, your fight or flight hormones, your stress hormones, so your changing biochemistry may lead to you to do irrational things.”
Neo says you may start to do things you wouldn’t normally do as a way of coping. For instance, seducing your partner with adventurous sex.
In psychology, there are two main forms of coping: problem-focused coping and emotion-focused coping. Problem-focused coping involves actions you take towards solving a problem, whereas emotion-focused coping is anything that makes us feel better, from talking, to drinking and drugs, to sex.
“Hysterical bonding may be a form of emotional-focused coping,” said Neo. “When we are very stressed, and our whole world has been thrown off-kilter, the human being does a lot of very strange things.”
The person may also believe that if they use up all their partner’s “reserves,” then they won’t have the energy or desire to look elsewhere again.
It depends on what state the relationship was in before.
If the relationship was a bad or toxic one, or if your partner was abusive, it can be easy for the victim to blame themselves for everything that went wrong. That includes their partner cheating on them.
“They might think, ‘It’s because I was a prude, or because I didn’t have enough sex,'” Neo said. “Suddenly… you realise it’s all unravelling, and it’s not working anymore. So that might be a wakeup call for doing something you would never associate yourself with.”
In more severe cases of abusive relationships, the partner may have gaslighted the victim into thinking everything is their fault. Sometimes, they will even think the cheating is a punishment for their incorrect behaviour.
“It could be a form of masochism,” Neo said. “If someone’s mistreated you, it reinforces the idea that you’re not good enough, or these words we don’t say out loud – ‘I’m worthless, I deserve to be treated badly.’ So how do you reinforce this idea? You let yourself get hurt again by this person.”
In relationships with narcissists, they were probably very kind and attentive at the beginning, which is partly why the victim will do anything to try and get that person back. Over time, the relationship is poisoned so the victim’s world view has completely changed. The view they have of themselves is completely skewed, so they become irrational, and willing to accept blame for things that weren’t their fault.
“During the honeymoon period with a narcissist, everything is perfect – so you want to get back to how it was,” Neo said. “You’re not being crazy and delusional. It’s not a pipe-dream, because you’ve seen it before and you know it’s real. So if someone tells you, or tries to insinuate to you that it’s because of your behaviour that they’ve stopped being so loving, you’ve got to work super hard, bend over backwards, pedal super hard, in order to get back to those old days.”
Now the victim is stuck in the cycle of trying to make it up to the cheater by hysterically bonding to them, and trying to fulfill their every need. However, no matter how they act, no matter how many sexual fantasies they engage in, the narcissist won’t change back, because the person they were in the beginning was never real.
In relationships that were previously healthy, and someone made a mistake, it could be different. Some therapists believe that cheating in a relationship can actually be a good thing, and open up partners to positive change.
Whichever it is, if you find yourself in this situation, it’s worth taking a step back and wondering why your ex is suddenly looking so attractive. Then you can make sensible, considered decisions about what you do from there.