Awful Wedded Life

Take it from me Spaghetti Man, better dead than wed.
Richie Tozier, IT

A species of Dom Com based on the premise that monogamous marriage is rather like a long, slow, exquisite torture by a sadistic god from whose malicious clutches escape is impossible. Husbands are child-like buffoons who watch too much football, leave the toilet seat up, ogle hot women, and forget anniversaries. Wives are frigid, nagging, hateful shrews with zero interest in sex. Children destroy your home and what little peace of mind you have left, while waiting their turn to perpetuate the cycle. Obnoxious In-Laws serve to add to the misery. The audience may be left wondering, "Why don't they just get a divorce, if they're so miserable?"

Married... with Children was probably the first time this trope was the main focus of an American sitcom, but it's been a mainstay of British shows since The Fifties.

The name, for those who don't get it, is a reference to the line of the traditional wedding vows, "Lawful wedded wife".

Similar to No Accounting for Taste, but you'll rarely (if ever) see the Aww, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other moments occasionally found in that trope. Compare The Masochism Tango, Belligerent Sexual Tension, and Like an Old Married Couple. Contrast Happily Married for the opposite and Happy Marriage Charade for when this trope pretends to be Happily Married.


Examples

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    Anime & Manga 

    Comedy 
  • Too often a source of jokes in stand-up comedy.
    • Rodney Dangerfield was particularly big on this joke.
    • Henny Youngman was also famous for his one-liners about his wife. (In real life, he was happily married for almost 60 years).
    • Today, Jo Brand does the same thing from a woman's perspective—although she freely admits that jokes aside, her marriage is actually pretty good.
  • A little boy runs into his parent's room crying that there's a monster under his bed. His father gives him these words of wisdom: "Enjoy it while you can, my son. When you grow up, the monster'll be in your bed!"
  • "Daddy, why does the bride wear white on her wedding?" "Because it's the happiest day of her life." "Oh... So why does the groom wear black?"
  • Many a joke has been made over the expression "happiest day of her life", as this phrase implies that there are no happy days afterwards.

    Comic Books 
  • In Convergence: Supergirl: Matrix, Lord Quark and Lady Volt do almost nothing but argue and insult one another, although Lady Quark actually does most of the insulting. Matrix seems to think this is because the two of them are actually gay and have been stuck in an Arranged Marriage, although as Matrix puts it it's kind of obvious just by listening to them.

    Comic Strips 
  • The Lockhorns, though thankfully the eponymous couple apparently doesn't have kids.
  • For Better or for Worse since going into reprints/new-runs seems to spend a lot of time dwelling on how John is an insensitive dolt and the children have nothing better to do than make Elly's life harder. Perversely, the strip also implies that anyone who doesn't settle down and live the same kind of life is irresponsible, childish and a bad person.
    • Likely a case of Author On Board mixed with Take That, considering Lynn Johnston's husband left her after the original run of the strip.
  • Andy Capp seems like this much of the time, although Andy and Flo definitely have their Aww, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other moments. (No kids here either.)
  • Stanley and Harriet Parker of The Better Half started out like this, but a change of cartoonists in the '80s brought a much more lighthearted tone to their relationship (as well as a rather dramatic Art Evolution).
  • Tom the Dancing Bug parodies this with "Marital Mirth", which is stylistically modeled after "The Lockhorns". Unlike other examples the thin veneer of jocularity is removed, with every strip featuring the two talking about how much they openly hate each-other.
  • Charles Addams drew numerous cartoons on this theme, to the point that one half of the marriage is actively plotting to kill the other.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In The Hangover, Phil, who misses life before marriage and kids, tells Doug that once he gets married, he's going to start dying a little inside every day. He also discourages Stu from marrying his Control Freak girlfriend.
  • In Old School, Vince Vaughn's character, who is the best man at a wedding, reminds his friend that "you only gets one vagina for the rest of your life" just as he's about to get hitched.
  • Rick from Bachelor Party gets this several times throughout the movie; his Henpecked Husband older brother tells him that before long, the novelty of marriage wears off and it becomes a chore, and his friend Brad, who just went through a heart-wrenching divorce, tells him that "as soon as you get married, everything changes."
  • The whole point of the movie Tomcats.
  • Wayne's World: "Garth, marriage is punishment for shoplifting in some countries."

    Literature 
  • A Brother's Price has this in the backstory. The princesses (yes, all of them) were married to Keifer Porter, who charmed the eldest princesses with his beauty, but was a nagging, temper-tantrum-throwing man, who made all of his wives unhappy to varying degrees. They eventually became happy widows.
  • In Dragon Bones there are several examples. Ward's mother was not happy with his abusive father, and is a shell of her former self when her husband finally dies. The queen likewise is not happy in her marriage to the king ... his having a male lover on the side, and killing off her lovers on top of it, may contribute to that. Subverted with the king's "favourite" (i.e. male mistress), who the main characters assume is gay - he is actually very happy with his wife, much to the protagonist's surprise.
  • Being forced to marry the foolish, irresponsible Lydia is essentially Wickham's punishment in Pride and Prejudice. It is also implied that, although she loves him now, marriage to Wickham will one day be this to Lydia as well. Many other couples in Jane Austen's works exemplify this as well, sometimes softened with moments of Aww, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other. Justified in that while divorce was possible in Regency England (as seen in her novel Mansfield Park), it was a huge deal and a one-way ticket to social ruin. (You got your Member of Parliament to introduce a Private Bill dissolving the marriage. The bill had to say why; basically, it meant that your private life was now public record.)
  • Midnight's Children:
    • Aadam and Naseem Aziz. He's a secular, foreign-educated progressivist, while she's a deeply religious traditionalist. They butt heads constantly over this, and Naseem once tries to starve Aadam to death when he throws the children's religious tutor out on his ear. Aadam eventually dies before her, and she doesn't seem to care one whit.
    • Amina and Ahmed Sinai. After Saleem is born, Amina devotes most of her attentions to their son, which infuriates the attention-hogging Ahmed. Alcoholism and financial hardship drive them even further apart. After Mary confesses that Saleem is not their biological son, they break off and Amina moves in with her family. In a subversion, she later returns to nurse him back to health after a heart attack, at which point they finally become Happily Married.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Mad About You became this in the later years.
  • Curb Your Enthusiasm
  • The husband is the frigid one, but Married... with Children otherwise fits. They do nothing but snark at each other, one of their children is a Dumb Blonde and the son is not much better.
  • Home Improvement occasionally slipped into this.
  • As did Family Matters.
  • And Everybody Loves Raymond, which increased over the years, though Ray and Debra weren't nearly as bad as Ray's parents.
  • Same with Reba, although they spent more time dancing around it.
    • Reba holds bitter feelings toward Brock and "other woman" Barbara Jean for the collapse of their marriage, despite constantly putting down Brock for other things and generally saying how the last few years of their marriage were miserable anyway before Barbara Jean entered the picture.
    • Similarly, the last couple of seasons showed Brock and Barbara Jean entering this, constantly bickering and fighting, separating at one point, and teetering on the brink of divorce several times.
    • Finally, back in the first season, Brock meets Barbara Jean's father, who acts morally superior to Brock since he has been married for over 50 years and would never divorce his wife... "mostly because she's too ugly to kiss goodbye." Reba showed that, while this is becoming a Dead Horse Trope in a lot of ways, in some conservative and religious communities (the show took place in Texas), a bad marriage is still preferable to a divorce, especially amongst the older generations.
  • Til Death is somewhat of a deconstruction in that the better you know Joy, the slobbier she seems, and the better a match for Eddie.
  • My Family
  • Keeping Up Appearances. Poor Richard deserves a sainthood for putting up with Hyacinth for all those years.
  • About any time a married couple is seen in The Benny Hill Show, it falls square into this (the very rare exceptions being Insatiable Newlyweds).
  • Fawlty Towers shows marriage as being a constant battle between Basil and Sybil.
  • Friends: Rachel's parents before they got divorced and Joey's parents. Also Chandler's mom and dad when he was growing up, though they're seperated at the time of the show.
  • Frances and Terry's marriage in The Librarians.
  • Joe and Phyllis Britt in The Twilight Zone episode "What's in the Box?"
  • Stanley and Helen Roper, on Three's Company and The Ropers (and their UK counterparts in Man About The House and George and Mildred).
  • Frasier: Niles and Maris, off-screen, though they eventually got divorced. He had a habit of choosing women who treated him badly.
  • A married couple were recurring characters (Joseph and Mary) in Father Ted where the gag was they loathed each other; with the husband verbally abusing the wife and the wife constantly beating the husband until Ted appears. At which point they they would switch and become lovey-dovey towards each other. The joke works because the island is predominantly Catholic, were divorce is still highly frowned upon.
  • Revenge has Victoria and Conrad. Not funny at all.
  • In the backstory of The Millers, Carol and Tom had this kind of relationship. In the first episode, they are finally convinced that it's all right for them to divorce.
  • Despite their squabbles, disagreements, and Zany Schemes, Lucy and Ricky Ricardo were still always Happily Married. Best friends Fred and Ethel Mertz, on the other hand? The king and queen of this trope.
  • Most of the marriages shown in Midsomer Murders fall under this trope, which helps to increase the Red Herrings if and when one of the couple turns up dead. Barnaby and Joyce are very rare in their Happily Married status.
  • On Amen, the Reverend often counseled couples like this. One in the first season sued him for contributing to the marriage's failure—he had encouraged the husband to confess to his adultery, which the wife reacted to by trying to run him over (and given that she'd apparently been like this since they first got married, one really can't blame him for cheating. Another had a husband so insanely jealous that he flew into a rage if another man so much as talked to his wife, accusing him of trying to steal her from him. She—no prize herself, mind you—finally got fed up and dumped him.

    Radio 
  • The Bickersons - who, with 1949 origins, may be the Ur-Example, at least for the Sitcom.
  • On Cabin Pressure, Mr. and Mrs. Birling openly hate each other, which is part of the reason Mr. Birling pays the protagonists to fly him far away from her.

    Theater 
  • Beyond the Horizon by Eugene O'Neill offers an especially dark take on this trope. After Robert and Ruth fall in love, he casts aside his dream of going away to sea and stays home to work the family farm. It's a disastrous mistake, as he turns out to be a terrible farmer, and their marriage dissolves into mutual contempt and recrimination. He hates her for trapping him on their dump of a farm, and she hates him for being bad at farming. Her realization that she did love Andrew after all and she made the wrong choice doesn't help.

    Video Games 
  • Micheal de Santa from Grand Theft Auto V is an ex-bank robber living a life of luxury in Rockford Hills, Los Santos, San Andreas (the GTA-version of Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, California) with his wife, adult son, and late-teens daughter. However he and his wife are on pretty rocky terms at best, going so far as to openly understand that they're cheating on each other. Meanwhile his son is a projector, trying to blame all of his own problems on everything besides himself (usually his father), and his daughter is a reckless tramp who wants to live a party-girl lifestyle on his dime. All this guff is what fuels Micheal's desire to become a bank robber again and by the end of the game things start to settle down and smooth out for him and his wife while their kids begin to redirect their lives in more positive directions.

    Western Animation