How Humor Helped Me Get Through Divorce

Dena Landon

By Dena Landon | Jul 5th, 2018

The scene was Iceland, sitting on a narrow hotel bed and texting a close friend thousands of miles away. I’d always been a bit shy and a late bloomer when it came to sex and relationships and had never had a one night stand. After a year plus of celibacy, I’d decided that it was time. And where better than on a fabulous vacation to a beautiful country full of gorgeous men?

Except that I chickened out. I dolled myself up, went and sat on a couch in a coffee shop sipping a glass of wine and knitting, and then went back to my hotel room. For all my bold pronouncements about being a strong and sexy woman I felt like a failure. So I texted all my fears – never gonna get laid again, had no clue what I was doing with men, cats and knitting were going to be my future (not a bad one, honestly) – to a friend who was not only thousands of miles away but in a different time zone.

She texted back reassurances and then closed with, “Stop beating yourself up, Dena. That was M’s job.”

There’s a lot to be said for a friend whose dark humor can make you laugh in the middle of an emotional breakdown. For friends who text back at 3am their time. For another friend who sent a card that showed two women walking down the street, one saying to the other – “Nice purse,” and the other woman, who is carrying an alligator purse, responding with, “Thanks, it’s my ex-husband,” the week my divorce was final. That one showed up in the mail the same day as one of my final legal bills. Needless to say, I needed the laugh.

And if you feel guilty, or vaguely bad, for either celebrating or laughing about your divorce – don’t. Dark humor serves a psychological function. It can help us face our fears – ending up alone as the neighborhood cat lady, our vagina growing cobwebs (see the movie Something’s Gotta Give) – and make them seem less serious.

According to studies on humor, “an ability to laugh at rough moments can reduce the negative emotions surrounding a stressful event and also create the positive feelings associated with amusement in general.” In other words – laughing at your divorce can help you cope. It can make a situation feel less threatening or less stressful.

It’s also a sign of healing, as distance from the situation has also been shown to contribute to finding its humorous aspects. Now I can laugh at the pettiness of a man who makes six figures arguing with me that I should pay him fifteen dollars to keep our son’s art table at my house. Remembering how, two weeks after I left him, he walked into the living room and said, “Dena, I have a lot of clothes that need to go the dry cleaners,” and my response of, “Well, then, you should take them,” give me both deep joy but a good chuckle now.

The fact that you can laugh about the bad parts of your relationship – my ex’s cheapness, how he took me for granted – is an indication that you’ve started to heal from it. That time and distance are doing their job.

The fact that you can laugh about the bad parts of your relationship is an indication that you’ve started to heal from it.

Newer research on humor has shown that it is a sign of strength, part of a group of traits called transcendence. Transcendence is defined as rising above, forging connections that provide life meaning. Those same connections – my friends – which helped me make it through my divorce. And they probably helped you, too.

Don’t be afraid to share funny memes and posts on Facebook or worry about the people who may call you ‘petty’ or ‘bitter.’ Humor serves a proven psychological function. It’s part of your healing – and that matters more than anyone else’s opinion of how you’re healing.

Go ahead, let yourself laugh. You may need the relief and emotional release. Worthy just put up a divorce humor board on Pinterest and if you need a break from the emotional heaviness of divorce I suggest you check it out. My personal favorite? “I’d rather be a cat lady than your wife.”

Dena Landon

Dena Landon

Dena Landon's bylines have appeared in The Washington Post, Good Housekeeping, Salon and more. The proud mom of a boy, she specializes in parenting and divorce.


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