Why You Shouldn’t Bad Mouth Your Ex
Our guest shrink pops by with her thoughts on why you shouldn’t badmouth your ex.
Psychological studies have found that divorce and romantic losses are up there with death and moving house as the most stressful life events. Despite the impact of a breakup much of the advice your friends and families will give you for dealing with one can seem infuriatingly cliché and unhelpful, such as “time heals” and “there are plenty more fish in the sea”. In the absence of sound advice and internal resources for coping, Bears run the risk of impulsively and defensively bad mouthing their ex. This is not dissimilar to gossiping which, like eating that second helping of chocolate cake, makes you feel good at the time but leaves you feeling sick in the long run. So how does a grief-stricken Bear effectively manage a heart break?
Phase One: Breaking the News
Typically both parties will attempt to do this in a way that preserves their dignity. Emotions experienced during the initial phase of a loss typically include shock, disbelief, anger and sadness. Some Bears might attempt to mitigate these intense emotions by contacting their ex’s friends and family outing them as a cheat, drug-addict or fraud. The writers were once witness to a Facebook photo uploaded by a recently-dumped Bear depicting his ex-girlfriend’s work roster ‘proving’ she was cheating on him. Needless to say the writers did not judge the ex-girlfriend, but rather, the jilted Bear*.
On another occasion the writers followed a soap drama-esque ‘Facebook Meltdown’ of a young woman publicly decrying her ex-boyfriend for leaving her for another woman. Amidst psychotic free association were cliché one-liners about “grass appearing greener on the other side” and metaphors about “gates not being open” should the dumper change his mind and want to “re-enter her paddock”. We aren’t sure if this was a reference to their relationship or her genitalia. If the latter, ‘paddock’ might go some way to explaining his waning interest. Her pitiful rants about how she had been wronged were supported by seemingly endless comments from her mother (and this was 2008 when middle aged people barely touched Facebook).
After about two months of muckraking the writers grew bored and unfriended her. In sum, reacting to a breakup by impulsively bad mouthing one’s ex reflects very badly on the person doing the bad mouthing and is not likely going to change people’s perceptions about the ex. This is because the information is secondhand and has been fired off from the hip and who hasn’t said something outlandish or untrue in the heat of the moment? The best way to break the news is to swiftly state that the relationship has ended and change the topic until you are in a better headspace to elaborate. You need not trot out the “it was mutual” line because it rarely is and people know this. Good friends will respect your privacy and will try to cheer you up by distracting you and having fun. Bad friends will pry and speculate behind your back.
Phase Two: Grieving
As the healing of time takes place Bears will begin to move toward accepting the breakup and incorporating it into their life. This may involve shifting the focus away from the personality traits and behaviours of the ex and onto their own role in the breakup. Bears may still feel the temptation to take a cheap shot at their ex during this process, perhaps as a way of signalling they are over their ex. Examples include sharing incriminating personal information about their ex such as nudes or details about their sexual prowess or criticising their new lover. This usually reflects poorly on the Bear because the Bear liked the person enough to go out with them in the first place. Such behaviours make the Bear look devious, mean and jealous. That said, the recent revelation by one of the writers that an ex-girlfriend had effectively doubled her weight during the relationship and didn’t understand that chocolate coated peanuts aren’t a healthy treat led to roars of laughter and in-jokes that have lasted weeks. Note that the revelation came several years later and was in the context of a conversation about gaining weight.
Rather than defensively defaulting to focussing on one’s own flaws or the negative traits and behaviours of their exes, Bears are encouraged to take a self-compassionate approach to grieving. This might involve writing oneself or one’s ex an ‘unsent letter’ detailing their experience in, and now outside, the relationship including things they liked and did not like about their time together. Self-compassion can include doing something kind and nurturing for oneself and for another like running a bath, cooking a healthy meal or going for a pleasant walk. Meditating and paying attention to the present moment on purpose will help reduce obsessional thoughts about the past and future that usually come with a breakup and will help the person come back into awareness of the fullness of who they are. Positive self-talk and mantras can also help one nurture oneself through a breakup especially since we tend to beat ourselves up even more than usual when we are going through one.
You can learn more about self-compassion by watching this interview with psychologist, Tara Brach: http://mindfulinmay.us4.list-manage.com/track/click?u=af2dac78b0ce3fb2dda67e6cf&id=970d069c1a&e=e689e27eb0
Remember, living well is the best revenge.
*ok…we might have sniggered a little about her dalliances with several co-workers in a hospital bed