Revenge Of The Ex

If you can’t stop fantasizing about getting even with your acrimonious ex, you could be doing more harm than good… to yourself. Find out here why getting even isn’t always worth it.

By Diane Mapes

e’ve all seen the stories in the news: a jilted boyfriend puts his ex’s pictures and contact information on a prisoner dating site; a scorned girlfriend decides to exact revenge on her former beau by pulling out all of his teeth while he’s under sedation in her dental chair.

While some of these stories — like that of the dumped dentist — turn out to be hoaxes, there are plenty of angry, resentful exes who do engage in acts of revenge of varying
Yes, wreaking revenge can feel good in the moment…
degrees against their former partners. Some key cars; others dump mildewed love seats (an apt metaphor if ever there was one) onto an old flame’s lawn. Still others, like Seattle area marketing executive Anne H., come up with small — but creative — forms of payback. “I got revenge after the campus cad broke up with me by sneaking back into his apartment and stashing not one, not two, but three different pairs of underwear around his bedroom so his hot new girlfriend could find them,” she admits. “I never heard how that discovery went, but I certainly felt better.”

Revenge: More harm than good?
Yes, wreaking revenge can feel good in the moment… but is it truly satisfying in the long run? Or is it just a momentary salve that will eventually come back to bite you in the relationship rear, so to speak? “Revenge may feel good in the moment and provide fodder for future cocktail party conversations, but the reality is that you will be the subject of talk amongst your family, friends, colleagues and neighbors, who will all be commenting on how ‘psycho’ you are,” says Monique Honaman, author of The High Road Has Less Traffic, a self-help guide about love and divorce. “I don’t believe revenge is a healthy option.”

Honaman says that she dabbled with the idea of wreaking revenge on her ex after her divorce, but eventually, she realized the only person she’d be hurting was herself. “It just got tiring and wasn’t healthy to have all this negativity swirling around me,” she says. “One day, I had an epiphany and realized that I needed to forgive him and move forward… and that I was the only one suffering. After that, my life changed quickly — and for the better.”

Honaman — who has since remarried — says that she hears from many women looking for ways to overcome their urge to lash out at an ex (or an ex’s new love interest). She’s also heard stories from women who have given in to the urge — and suffered some embarrassing consequences afterward. “One woman said she rang the doorbell of her ex and started screaming at his mistress,” Honaman says. “Unfortunately, she screamed so hard that she wet her pants. How sad is that?”

How holding onto resentment hurts your dating prospects
Even if you’re just fantasizing about revenge, Honaman says that constantly rehashing old resentments can turn you into a dating downer. “If you’re going around with a chip on your shoulder, that chip will come off at some point on the first three dates,” she warns. “If you’re having drinks with somebody and talking about what a jerk your ex was and all the things you plan to do in return, your date is going to run out of there.”

Those who think they can get away with exacting some kind of revenge unscathed may also discover how wrong they are after the deed’s been done. “It’s a small world, and social media makes it smaller,” warns Honaman. “If you do something against your ex, people are going to talk — and you’re going to be on a dating blacklist. No one will go out with you if you wreak revenge on an ex. People may think it’s funny, but they won’t want to date you.”

Where the need for retribution comes from
So who’s more likely to exact revenge, and how do people usually do it? According to research by social psychologist Ian McKee of Adelaide University in Australia, those who seek revenge are motivated by power, authority, and the desire for status. In other words, the people who are most likely to seek revenge are the ones who hate to lose their own good reputations.

In addition, psychotherapist Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D. (also known as “Dr. Romance”) and author of The Unofficial Guide to Dating Again, says that men are more likely to seek revenge by getting physically violent with people or objects, while women are
Once you get it out of your system, you’ll feel better.
more likely to seek social or emotional retribution by turning people against their ex, playing the victim role, or cutting off contact with the offending person. But ultimately, there are no rules when it comes to how people will try to get back at each other. “One woman I know smashed every bit of glass in her cheating husband’s childhood home (including the TV), set his car on fire, and then left for another state,” says Tessina.

Tessina also says that it’s normal to feel angry when you’re dumped or hurt by someone, but it’s important to stop and think before you act — even when it comes to badmouthing your ex on Facebook. As for other “lesser” forms of revenge (such as the planted undergarments), she says that while these type of pranks may be funny, they ultimately don’t do you any good. “It’s pretty childish and negative, and the risk of it coming back to you is high,” Tessina cautions. “Also, it won’t make you feel better as a person. It doesn’t develop character, and it keeps you connected to this person when you really should be walking away.”

Instead of flaming an ex online (and there are definitely sites where you can do this) or egging this person’s car, Tessina suggests something more symbolic, like destroying a picture or sending back old love mementos. Honaman also points to healthy ways to express anger and frustration over a breakup: “Roll up the windows of your car and scream, buy some plates at Goodwill and throw them against a brick wall, or join a kickboxing class to get all of that anger out,” she suggests. “Once you get it out of your system, you’ll feel better.”

Why living well really is the best revenge
There’s also that old adage about living well being the best revenge. Towards that end, Tessina suggests plotting your own path to success rather than someone else’s downfall. “Focus on rebuilding your life,” she advises. “Use the energy from your anger and grief and channel it into doing things just for you. Take dancing lessons or an art class, learn to scuba dive or plant a garden. All of those things will keep you focused on the present and the future instead of the past.”

If all that fails, you can also try a revenge reversal, like Kevin M., a 40-year-old artist from Sarasota, FL did. “I’m usually friendly with all of my exes, but after I broke up with this one woman, I got to thinking about the way she treated me… and I got more and more upset,” he recalls. “I was out with another woman and we were walking around at 3 a.m. and talking about it, and we ended up toilet-papering my ex’s car.” After a couple of hours, though, Kevin felt remorseful. So he left his date’s house, went back to the car they’d vandalized together, and systematically cleaned off all of the toilet paper himself. “It had gotten misty out, so I spent quite some time scooping it all off,” Kevin says. “I probably should have left it, but it saved me from feeling guilty — and I don’t like feeling guilty!”

Diane Mapes is a freelance writer based in Seattle and the author of How to Date in a Post-Dating World. She can be reached via her Web site,
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