The end of a relationship is a common loss and may bring pain, anger, humiliation, abandonment, and grief. Some businesses sell products, such as divorce cakes, dead fish, the Ex Voodoo Doll, and Bury the Jerk kits. But does seeking revenge help or hurt the healing process?
Many examples in popular culture would have us believe that revenge is good for the soul. A growing “divorce party industry” promises closure through products that emphasize 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 and divorce ceremonies complete with divorce announcements and party gifts. Let’s take a look at a few examples.
No break-up party would be complete without a cake. A few years ago, Shanna Moakler said she had 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. Because Shanna is a celebrity, various entertainment magazines reported on her party, which inspired more divorce cakes and increased public interest in celebrating the end of relationships.
Another example of a divorce cake is multi-tiered with the bride and groom on separate parts pointing guns at each other. A more grisly cake features a decapitated groom standing next to a bride who is holding the groom’s bloody head.
Several businesses offer revenge themed break-up gifts. For $79.95 you can buy “The Ex,” which is a 5-piece knife set shaped as a body. The description says, “Store your knives in an anonymous effigy dedicated to whomever you please! Take out your frustrations as you store your knives.”
Divorce Party Supply is an online gift store for those who want to indulge in mock vengeance. For only $17.95, you can buy the Ex-Wife Voodoo Doll. The description reads: “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.” The Ex-Husband Doll is also available.
Bury the Jerk describes itself as a business for “Relationship Closure and Recovery.” For only $24.97, you can get the Traditional Relationship Funeral package, which includes a basic jerk doll, a coffin that the doll rests in, a tombstone, personalized eulogy, and a certificate of closure. For $64.97 you can upgrade to the 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 products and services designed to get revenge on someone. You can pay to send dead flowers or dead fish. The Payback.com advertises such services: “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 and one dead smelly fish costs $19.99 plus shipping.
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 study it.
Social psychologists found that aggression does not reduce anger but rather is likely to increase it. Focusing on vengeance intensifies 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 follow acts of revenge in the long term.
People who believe that vengeance will bring closure are headed for a disappointing ending. Acts of vengeance cause people to continue thinking about the target of their revenge longer, thus perpetuating the anger rather than ending it. Or 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 products that have themes of vengeance and death may lie in the hope that making light of the situation will help the pain go away. People want to get over the pain without grieving the relationship. They want to find closure. Quick. But seeking revenge extends the pain.
Using mock vengeance and symbolic death rituals promotes humor and humiliation, but it fails 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. But making fun of the “death of a relationship” will just mask the grief.