Freedom to Grieve

Protecting grief from "closure," consumerism, politics, and other cultural distortions

Does Relationship Revenge Bring Closure or Delay It?

Why your instincts may be wrong.

The end of a relationship is a common loss. Most of us know that it can bring feelings of pain, anger, humiliation, abandonment, and grief. To address those feelings, some businesses now market products like divorce cakes, dead fish, an ex voodoo doll, and "Bury the Jerk" kits.

But does seeking revenge in this way help or hurt the healing process?

Many pop-culture messages tell us that revenge is good for the soul. A growing "divorce party" industry promises closure and even celebration through rituals of mock vengeance and symbolic death. Options include: writing relationship obituaries, buying wedding-ring coffins, symbolically burying your ex, or planning end-of-a-relationship services or divorce ceremonies complete with "divorce announcements" and party gifts.

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Let's take a look at what these marketers truly offer:

No break-up party would be complete without a cake. A few years ago, reality TV star Shanna Moakler said she had a divorce party to get closure. She served her guests a three-layer cake featuring a knife-wielding bride on the top and a bloodied groom on the bottom layer. After entertainment magazines reported on her party, there was increased interest in both the cakes and celebrations of relationship ends in general. Another style of divorce cake is multi-tiered with the bride and groom on separate parts pointing guns at each other. A more grisly version features a decapitated groom standing next to a bride who is holding his bloody head.

Several businesses offer revenge themed break-up toys and gifts. For $79.95, you can buy "The Ex" set, a 5-piece knife collection with a holder shaped as a man's body. The description reads: "Store your knives in an anonymous effigy dedicated to whomever you please! Take out your frustrations as you store your knives." 

For only $17.95, you can order the Ex-Wife Voodoo Doll from Divorce Party Supply and then indulge in mock vengeance: "Whenever you feel your ex-wife needs to be punished, use one of the pins to put her back in line. Stick the pin into the activity that you want your ex-wife to stop doing and instantly she will stop acting like a bitch." (An Ex-Husband Doll is also available.)

Bury the Jerk describes itself as being in the business of "Relationship Closure and Recovery." For $24.97, you can purchase its Traditional Relationship Funeral package, which includes a basic doll, a coffin to rest it in, a tombstone, a personalized eulogy, and a certificate of closure. (For a higher fee, you can upgrade to a formally-dressed jerk.) For the tombstone, you can choose an epitaph such as Gone and Forgotten, Loser, He Never Did Last Long, or Waste of Time. The business also offers a "Bury the Bimbo" kit for men.

A variety of other websites sell revenger products and services. You can hire The Payback.com to send someone dead flowers or dead fish. As they explain: "There's nothing that gets your message across better than a smelly, nasty dead fish! These packages are very popular and are most often sent to ex-boyfriends/girlfriends, backstabbing friends, or anyone who has pissed you off." A dozen dead roses cost $24.99; one dead smelly fish costs $19.99.

Does Revenge Work?

Seeking closure through vengeance is rooted in a widespread belief that viewing aggression or acting it out will relieve anger. But is it true? Not according to those who've studied its effects.

Social psychologists have found that aggression does not reduce anger; rather, it's likely just to increase it. Focusing on vengeance intensifies our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors related to aggression and anger. Although revenge may be sweet for a brief time, regret, fear of retaliation, and shame are some of the negative emotions that typically follow such acts in the long term.

People who believe that vengeance will bring closure are headed for disappointment. Planning and engaging in acts of vengeance cause us to continue thinking about the target of our revenge longer, perpetuating our anger rather than ending it. To quote Sir Frances Bacon: "A man that studieth revenge, keeps his own wounds green, which otherwise would heal, and do well."

The appeal of these vengeance and death-themed products may lie in the hope that making light of a tough situation will help the pain go away. People want to get over the pain without grieving for the relationship. They want to find closure. Quick. But seeking revenge extends the pain.

Mock vengeance and symbolic death rituals may promote humor and humiliation, but they fail to provide an opportunity to grieve for the loss and pain that frequently follows a break-up. Grieving the end of a relationship can help one understand the loss. Making fun of its "death" will just mask the grief.

 

Nancy Berns is the author of Closure: The Rush to End Grief and What It Costs Us. To read more, go to the blog Freedom to Grieve or her personal page, www.nancyberns.com.

Nancy Berns, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Drake University and the author of Closure: The Rush to End Grief and What It Costs Us.

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