What Is Hysterical Bonding In A Relationship?

Relationships have a lot of ups and downs. Even the most stable relationships can't always keep things on a permanent even keel without the boat being occasionally rocked — and the boat needs to be rocked because there's no such thing as forever calm waters just as much as there's no such thing as couples who never fight. One aspect of arguing with a partner can stem out of jealousy and surprisingly, it can affect a relationship in a positive way — at least temporarily.

"Mild jealousy can be healthy," psychiatrist Dr. Leela Magavi, M.D. tells PureWow. "It reiterates the fact that an individual cares about his or her partner, values them and does not want to lose them."

Not only does it assert value, but when one partner sees that the other partner is being desired by someone outside the relationship, for example, flirted with, hit on, or even being actively pursued, it can really trigger something within the partner who's watching it take place. Suddenly, it's not just about how much they value their partner but how valuable their partner apparently is to others too. This feeling is an example of hysterical bonding.

What is hysterical bonding?

In our relationships, we're all presented with situations that make us question our partnership, as well as our trust in our partner. Even if our partner has been faithful and wouldn't even dream of cheating, the very thought can evoke strong emotions, even hysterical emotions, that can push healthy jealousy over the top.

"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," psychotherapist Perpetua Neo tells Insider. "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.'"

Because it's not rational, neither are the reactions. Such behavior can involve acting out, being suspicious, and even blaming the partner for having done something to attract someone else — as we saw between Ethan and Harper in "White Lotus." Ethan was so consumed with the idea that Harper had cheated on him with Cameron that he couldn't stop picturing the two going at it on the table. His eyes, when we watched this imaginary act, were literally full of rage. It's this rage and fear of what may have happened between Harper and Cameron — something that viewers will never know for sure — that pushes Ethan back toward Harper, ultimately rekindling what had been lost.

Is hysterical bonding good for a relationship?

Although any relationship expert will tell you that a little jealousy in a relationship can be a good thing with positive results, hysterical bonding takes mild jealousy to heightened levels. In other words, like anything that's so high in nature — especially emotions — it can't be sustained forever and eventually needs to crash. 

"Sometimes, just realizing someone else is attracted to your partner jogs your memory about how much you want them," relationship expert Chloe Ballatore tells Popsugar. "But beyond that, if there is suspicion or cheating, the trust gets damaged, and long-term relationships are built on trust ... You get that dopamine hit right away, and maybe it continues for a week or a month, but it's not going to last longer than two months. Then you two are right back where you were before the cheating, except now, the trust has been damaged, perhaps fatally."

What it comes down to is that, although not the most ideal way to bring the spark back into a relationship, hysterical bonding can serve its purpose in the short term. But in the long-term, if you want to maintain a healthy relationship with your partner, you need to nurture it by learning to communicate in a productive way that gets results — and not in a way that one or both partners are seething with anger and jealousy.