Awful Wedded Life

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

The depiction of monogamous marriage as 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 '50s. It is also a staple of Borscht Belt humour, but that may be less to do with venom than with Jews Love to Argue or Jewish Complaining.

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, Like an Old Married Couple, Dead Sparks. Contrast Happily Married for the opposite and Happy Marriage Charade for when this trope pretends to be Happily Married.

Unfortunately, Truth in Television for many people until quite recently, in eras with some combination of marriages being arranged for family advantage (or some other type of Marriage of Convenience) rather than created by mutual attraction, divorce being impossible or hugely disapproved of, or unintentional pregnancy leading to a choice of marriage or social ostracism.


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    Anime & Manga 


  • 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.
    • And before Jo Brand, there was Phyllis Diller and her husband "Fang".

    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.
  • The DC Comics Star Trek: The Next Generation miniseries featured the Bickleys, a pair of married junior officers who were the B-shift conn and ops officers, known for their constant arguing with each other and for their odd choice in Custom Uniform (each wore a green cape over a leotard version of the duty uniform).

    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 Writer 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 husband and wife talking amongst themselves or with their friends about how much they openly hate each other.
    Husband's Friend: My wife is such a bad cook, last night she burned the gazpacho.
    Husband: (deadly serious) My wife is a hell-spawned demon send to Earth to torture me until I die.
  • Charles Addams drew numerous cartoons on this theme, to the point that one half of the marriage is actively plotting to kill the other.

    Fan Works 
  • Fall of Starfleet, Rebirth of Friendship: By Luna's count, Celestia and Celesto have reached thirty arguments in one month at the beginning of the story. Fluttershy's marriage to Rhymey isn't coming along very well either, with Rhymey being quite domineering and overly possessive.
  • In Christian Potter Chandler, Bob and Barb routinely scream at each other and Chris (Barb doing it along with beating Chris up with the sole purpose of getting at Bob, while Bob is genuinely sick of his family's shit.)

    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."
  • A staple of W.C. Fields comedies. In It's a Gift he's a Henpecked Husband with a failing grocery business, a bellowing, nagging shrew of a wife, and a loud Bratty Half-Pint son. In one scene he goes out to the back porch to sleep at 4:30 am because his wife won't stop nagging him, but noisy neighbors and the milkman and such prevent him from sleeping even then.
  • How bad are things for Charlie Chaplin and his terrifying battleaxe of a wife in Pay Day? She goes to bed at night with a roller pin to whack him with.
  • Deconstructed in the film The Marrying Kind with Chet and Florence Keefer who are both unhappy with their marriage, and it doesn't help when their son dies.

  • The single oldest joke in this vein - "Take my wife... please."
  • A priest and a nun are on a road trip, but at one hotel they are forced to share the same room with one bed. The priest piles up blankets between them and they lay down. After a bit, the young nun says "Father, I'm cold." The priest gets up, gets another blanket for her and returns to his side of the bed. After a little more time, she again says "Father, I'm still cold." The priest gets up, gets another blanket for her and returns to his side of the bed. Finally she says "I'm sorry, Father, but I'm still cold." The Priest looks at her and says "Sister, I know it's inappropriate, but would you like to play husband and wife for one night?" The nun's face lights up and she says "Oh, yes Father!" He looks at her and sneers "Then get your own damn blanket!"
  • Some jokesters liken the last line of the One Ring's inscription to wedding vows:
    One ring to rule them all,
    One ring to find them,
    One ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them, in the land of Mordor where the shadows lie.
  • "A Man is incomplete until he is married, because then he will be finished."
  • It is said that most girls who read Cinderella (or another similar tale) only get to the words "Cinderella married the prince" and stop. They don't notice what's written next. It says "End of fairy tale".
  • There are three rings in marriage: the engagement ring, the wedding ring, and the sufferring.
  • 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.

  • 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, so 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.
  • The various cultures in A Song of Ice and Fire employ heavy usage of Arranged Marriage, and while Perfectly Arranged Marriage isn't uncommon it does result in plenty of this trope.
    • Robert Baratheon and Cersei Lannister, whose union was the result of an Arranged Marriage. Robert's real love, Lyanna, was killed in the civil war of Westeros and he never got over her, and Cersei hated him even before their marriage because he killed her lifelong crush, Rhaegar, in said war.
    • Stannis and Selyse Baratheon. She's loyal to her husband's cause but their marriage is as cold as ice and they rarely sleep together. Their personalities don't help either.
    • Aerys II, aka The Mad King, and his sister-wife Rhaella. Both would have preferred other suitors but were made to marry by their father thanks to a prophecy that The Chosen One would be born of their line. Never a golden union (its happy days saw Aerys sleeping with most of his wife's attendants), it slipped gradually into a nightmare as Aerys earned his future epithet, capped off by heavy usage of the Marital Rape License.
  • In The Crowner John Mysteries, the marriage between John and Matilda is a bitter and loveless one. It was a political marriage arranged by their parents that neither really wanted. John deals with it by being away from home as much as possible, first by going soldiering in Europe and then joining the Crusade, and later by spending as much time out in the field doing is job as coroner as he can.
  • In The Goblin Emperor, Maia's parents had this kind of marriage. However, his father, the emperor, did not suffer much from it, as he just sent his unwanted wife and her child to some faraway estate and waited until she died and he could remarry. Chenelo, on the other hand, lost all contact to her family, as in this extremely patriarchal culture, wives are considered their husband's property. So she had only Maia for company until she died a couple of years later.

    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).
    Husband: Good night... mother of six.
    Wife: Good night... father of one.
  • 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 separated at the time of the show.
  • Frances and Terry's marriage in The Librarians (2007).
  • 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 & 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, so 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.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • Much like their book counterparts, Robert and Cersei. The major difference is that here Cersei actually did love Robert for quite a while in the beginning (though he still only ever loved Lyanna in this version, too), and tried to make the relationship work at first despite knowing he didn't love her back. Still, in both versions, by the start of the story, they've hated each other for years, as Cersei confesses to Ned and Sansa. Her only source of happiness and comfort was her affair with Jaime (which is sad in itself) and their children.
    • Also like their book versions, Stannis and Selyse Baratheon have an unhappy marriage. The main variation from the books in this case is that show Selyse is mentally unstable and Stannis at least shows some pity to her.
    • Tyrion and Sansa have no love for each other after being forced to marry, but manage a quasi-friendship that is shattered forever when Sansa learns the Lannisters murdered her mother and brother. Tyrion is at a loss at what to do with her since she doesn't speak to anyone.
    • Sansa's brief marriage to Ramsay is definitely this. Unlike her previous (also-unwanted) husband, Tyrion, Ramsay made full use of his Marital Rape License; Sansa essentially stayed locked up in her room for the entire day, only for Ramsay to come and rape and beat her every night, leaving her crying in her bed. Luckily for her, she escaped. She later fed him to his dogs after he lost the Battle of the Bastards.
  • If you thought this trope was heteronormative, the British gay Dom Com Vicious shows that it can be done with a gay male couple as well.
  • Scrubs: Played for laughs in some of the Imagine Spots when all the other characters imagine being married to Elliot. Kelso and Elliot are sitting across from each other at a huge dining table; Kelso knows that his wife hates him but he doesn't care. Dr. Cox is so annoyed at Elliot being his wife that he murders her within two days and considers going to the chair as a result Worth It.
  • Life of Riley: The Weavers are constantly one badly placed word away from killing each other. Roger is incensed at every attempt his wife makes to freshen things up and Alison even keeps a baseball bat hidden away in case anything turns nasty. Ironically, this is the one advantage the Rileys have over the Weavers in terms of family life.
  • Kaamelott: Just about every single marriage is horrible, several of them because on is an asshole and one is a dumbass:
    • Arthur and Guenièvre: Arthur is the Only Sane Man Surrounded by Idiots trapped in an Arranged Marriage. It doesn't help that he never sleeps with his wife due to an oath he made to the one true love of his life, and while she's inclined to Think Like A Romance Novel, his mistresses are all self-serving social climbers.
    • Lancelot and Guenièvre aren't much better: It turns out both are virgins (and stay that way), and as time goes by Lancelot becomes more obsessed with toppling Arthur so he can give Guenièvre a kingdom worthy of her (even though she says she's happy enough being with him). The final nail is when he ties her down to the bed before leaving on a quest so she won't leave, something Arthur snarks at when he rescues her.
    • Karadoc and Mevanwi: Karadoc is an utter dumbass and obsessed with food (his bed always contains cheese and sausages, and he kept a live pig for a week during a siege) and while he understands sex is necessary for children he avoids it if he can. Mevanwi was at first a nice girl concerned with raising her children, but in later seasons became Arthur's mistress and went the God Save Us from the Queen! route.
    • Leodagan and Seli (Guenievre's parents) are the closest the show gets to a happy marriage- and even then, that's because both are looking out for number one and are more concerned with hanging on to their position as the king's in-laws (not that this stops them from tearing into each other at any occasion, in fact Leodagan is more likely to side with Arthur rather than his wife). It's telling that a young prince Leodagan kidnapped her from a rival tribe for ransom (they paid him twice what he asked for to keep her) and years later, she still hasn't forgiven him... because she never saw a cent of that money.
  • Vernon and Becca from You're the Worst go between being Played for Laughs and Played for Drama. Vernon is an immature loudmouth who still acts like a Frat Bro despite being almost 40 years old, Becca is an egotistical and self-absorbed Jerk Ass with major shades of being a Stepford Smiler, and it's heavily implied that they married each other just for the sake of getting married (Becca in particular admits later on that she wanted to show her mother she had her life all figured out).
  • Deconstructed during Marshall's bachelor party in How I Met Your Mother. Narrator!Ted advises us that the jaded married man is a staple attendee of every bachelor party, and Stuart plays this role to a tee, injecting comments like "Because marriage is like being in prison, right guys?" The comments start off slightly humorous, but wind up being so melancholic that this exchange occurs:
    Ted: Is everything okay at home, Stuart?
    Stuart: (sadly and emphatically) No-oo!

  • The Bickersons - who, with 1946 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.

  • 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.
  • In The Elder Scrolls series, Emperor Uriel Septim VII was the Emperor of Tamriel in each game until his death at the start of Oblivion. While Uriel himself was a Reasonable Authority Figure who often acted as a benevolent Big Good, his wife, Caula Voria, was an absolute nightmare. While beautiful and beloved by the people, she was said to have "ensnared" a young Uriel and was a deeply unpleasant and arrogant woman. Fortunately, Uriel's seeking comfort in an adulterous relationship would result in the birth of Martin Septim, hero of the Oblivion Crisis. Caula died sometime just before or shortly after the start of the Imperial Simulacrum.

  • Anak's parents from Tower of God. Her being wed to a commoner away from the court of King Zahard certainly was a bit of a culture shock for her, so they tended to argue almost everyday. Why did they stick together? Because Aww, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other of course.

    Western Animation 
  • Done in plenty of old cartoons — examples include Mickey's Nightmare , Porky's Romance, Wimmin Is A Myskery, Donald's Diary, Beau Ties and His Bitter Half. Almost all of these involve dream sequences that cause the character to resolve to never get married.
  • The premise of the Show Within a Show from Rocko's Modern Life, The Fatheads. It's revealed that Ralph Bighead created the show that way as a Take That! against his parents.
  • Clay and Bloberta Puppington from Moral Orel are a decidedly unfunny example of this. Bloberta essentially tricked Clay into marriage in the hopes of changing him into a better man. It didn't work; Clay only tolerates Bloberta at best thanks to his excessive drinking, and Bloberta is near a mental breakdown. Clay also takes his frustrations out on his kids, all for the sake of some kind of attention, even if it's negative. They can't considered divorce, because the town they live in is so overtly religious that it's unthinkable to get divorced. The end of the series reveals that Orel took his own kids away from his parents, and that Clay and Bloberta end up old and bitter, still utterly despising each other.
  • Nearly happens to Mr. Peevly in the Help! It's The Hair Bear Bunch! episode "Bridal Boo Boo". The bears send his name to a dating service, and his bride-to-be is a plus-sized, gung-ho battleaxe.
    Peevly: Uh, Bertha, can't we talk this marriage thing over before we...?
    Bertha: The only marriage talk I want out of you is "I do!"
  • Kaeloo: The trope is discussed in one episode where Mr. Cat decides to show Pretty what would happen if she got married. He enacts the whole thing with her by sitting with her at a dinner for two and telling her how she can now pay half of his car loan, and then they go home and he just sits on the couch watching sports on TV and makes her buy him some beer.
  • Seth MacFarlane seems to have this view of marriage if this clip is anything to go by.