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Dead Sparks

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"Are we like those poor couples you feel sorry for in restaurants? Are we the dining dead?"

Alice and Bob went through the whole Romance Arc. They started out as Just Friends. They developed some Unresolved Sexual Tension. Then the two shared their First Kiss and it was magical. Alice and Bob were on the road to Happily Ever After (or at least Happily Married).

But that was all a long time ago.

Now they're the couple who sit silently across from each other at the restaurant, eating perfunctory dinners. The sex is rote (assuming they even have sex anymore). Alice finds herself noticing that Chris is looking especially good lately and wonders what it would be like to kiss him. All the little quirks Bob found endearing about Alice now drive him up the wall.

Maybe there was passion here once, but now there's nothing but Dead Sparks.

Unfortunately Truth in Television.

Compare No Accounting for Taste, No Sparks, Awful Wedded Life; Contrast Happily Married and True Love Is a Kink.


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    Comic Books 
  • Batman: By the time the reader is introduced to Jack and Janet Drake, any romantic feeling they once had for each other has withered away. Their son Robin Tim Drake implies the trip they're on (which Janet ends up dying on) is their last attempt to salvage their relationship, with the plan being for them to divorce if it doesn't work. In Batman #444:
    Tim Drake: They've been fighting. Or they were. They were hoping this trip would make things work…Otherwise…

    Comic Strips 
  • In the Swedish comic strip Hälge, Edwin and his wife are completely apathetic to each other. One strip has Edwin start to call her over, only to realise that he's forgotten what her name is.

    Fan Works 
  • The poem Does Marge have friends? implies that Marge is feeling this way towards her husband Homer. She feels lonely, which allows a romance to bloom between her and her next-door neighbor Maude.
  • Entrancing Wendy: Wendy finds that her husband isn't the same as he was when he was courting her. She loves him, but not quite like she used to.
  • In Lantern's Day, In Canary's Night: Since this story takes place in the last quarter or so of Season Four, Oliver Queen and Felicity Smoak. Oliver can't even remember whether or not he knew Felicity liked sci-fi (which is a basic thing someone should know about their significant other), her snarky comments on the comms are beginning to grate on him again, and she never hesitates to make her opinions on his many drawbacks and flaws plenty clear. All of this together with the memories of the numerous fights they had during their relationship forces Oliver to recognize that whatever they had has completely burned out and there's no hope of them getting back together anymorenote . Something that is only cemented when Oliver realizes that he still loves his ex-girlfriend Laurel Lance, who has already confessed her own love to him.
    Whatever they had been together, it had burned hot and fast and gone out, leaving only a smoky haze of what once had been. And with that flame banked, a different light stood out to him. Distant and dimmer, perhaps. But still burning. Like the stars he kept turning towards every night.
  • Portraits of a Marriage is a Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town oneshot explaining how Manna and Duke's marriage failed. A combination of alcoholism and their daughter Aja running off has ruined their relationship.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • One of the oldest, most concise and most visually effective examples can be found in Citizen Kane, where one scene tracks the progression of Kane's relationship with his wife by looking at their breakfast discourse over the years. They go from cuddling together and having lovey-dovey conversations to sitting on opposite ends of an overly-long table without saying a word to each other.
  • In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, we first meet Joel and Clem when they are at the Dead Sparks stage of the relationship. The rest of the movie is about how they ignited those sparks in the first place and ends with the hope that they could be reignited.
  • In Unbreakable, the Dunns' marriage is like this.
  • In The Sixth Sense, we're led to believe that Malcolm and his wife have this problem. Subverted with The Reveal that he's dead, and she's in mourning.
  • Six Degrees of Separation: John and Louisa Kittredge's relationship has lost its spark.
  • The Power and the Glory (1933): Tom and Sally were once deeply in love but later, after they've become rich and Tom has become a great businessman, their marriage has descended into sniping. Sally begs Tom to take her on a trip to Europe so they can re-connect, but it's too late; Tom has fallen in love with Eve. Tragedy ensues.
  • In Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005) the eponymous characters' marriage has hit this stage. But it seems that trying to kill each other creates enough sparks to revitalize the relationship.
  • In Date Night Steve Carrell and Tina Fey play a married couple who have lost the spark. But not to worry! Nothing a few spy-related adventures can't fix!
  • Blue Valentine: The present-day Dead Sparks scenes are made much more painful by being intercut with scenes of the couple falling in love.
  • Journey to Italy features a married couple who go to Naples to sell a house they've just inherited, and discover on the way that they don't really like each other anymore.
  • Osaka Elegy: If Mr. and Mrs. Asai ever loved each other they certainly don't any more. Not even the presence of the doctor in the room will stop them from hurling insults at each other. When Mr. Asai says that he should get a mistress his wife says he doesn't have the guts.
    Mrs. Asai: [edge of sarcasm] Shall we go back to calling each other darling?
    Mr. Asai: Don't be absurd! With a face like yours?
  • At the beginning of the film, Vacation from Marriage, Cathy and Robert (played by Deborah Kerr and Robert Donat) are just together because they’re used to each other; sadly, there's no passionate love between them.
  • La Notte: Giovanni and Lidia once had a passionate marriage, but the sparks are dead. He barely blinks when his gorgeous wife gets up from the tub, naked. She shows only Dull Surprise when he kisses another woman. In the end, she pulls out an old love letter and reads it. He asks who wrote it, and she says "You did."
  • Private Life: The sparks are so dead in Sergei's marriage that Natalya tells him not to look when she's changing, and flatly refuses to take his hand when he asks. (Sergei, who was a workaholic who ignored his family for decades, has come home after being forced into retirement and found that none of them really like him.)
  • Nobody: Hutch and Becca have grown distant, most visible early in the movie when they sleep with a pillow barrier between them. Hutch later notes they "haven't had sex in months, haven't made love in years". Hutch returning to his violent ways revitalizes both him and the marriage.
  • Cassanova Was A Woman: Cassanova's and Peter's marriage (on her end at least) has played out. She's lost all attraction to him, and isn't interested in their having a child or moving for his job. The two split up after she tells him this, along with that she's attracted to a woman.
  • Dil Dhadakne Do: Kamal and Neelam Mehra's marriage, even if their reputation as part of New Delhi's upper crust means they have to carry on a Happy Marriage Charade. Things weren't always like this – indeed, the two had started out deeply in love, culminating in 19-year-old Neelam eloping with 21-year-old Kamal, and she stood by him through thick and thin as he built AyKa into a successful business – but the years, combined with Kamal's infidelities, have caught up with them, and they remain together only due to the societal stigma around divorce. When Kamal has what looks like a heart attack after he sees Noorie and Rana making out, Neelam realizes that she still cares for him, and once Kamal apologizes to her for taking her for granted, the two have a much better relationship.

  • Margaret Peterson Haddix's Just Ella: The premise is that this is experienced by Cinderella sometime following her marriage to Prince Charming.
  • In Les Misérables, this happens to the Thenardiers after their fall into poverty. It's noted that while Madame Thenardier still acts like she's in love with her husband, she feels only "the ashes of affection" for him.
  • In Ordinary People (both the book and the film), the death of their oldest son pushes Beth and Calvin to this point. It doesn't end well — she walks out at the end.
  • While My Pretty One Sleeps: Seamus and Ruth Lambston's marriage was initially happy, but over the years their financial woes have taken a toll on them. They now spend a lot of time arguing about money, are rarely intimate and hold some resentment towards each other; Seamus is well aware of Ruth's contempt for him, and knows it's because he hasn't aged well and she thinks of him as weak, while he finds that she reminds him more and more of his despised first wife Ethel. Seamus often lies to Ruth or goes behind her back to avoid setting her off, and Ruth comes to fear his anger and believes he really could've killed Ethel despite his protestations of innocence. It's implied that after they're cleared of any involvement in Ethel's murder and are freed of the burden of paying her alimony, their marriage may improve.

    Live Action TV 
  • In Apple Tree Yard, Yvonne and Gary's decades' long marriage has become stale and humdrum, and while they're not unkind to each other they're not exactly affectionate either. This results in Yvonne having an affair. Gary too later admits to cheating on Yvonne, citing the fact they "never have sex".
  • In Peep Show, this is what happens after Mark finally gets together with Sophie. It doesn't stop him from marrying her (or, at least, from calling off the ceremony).
  • NCIS. After her husband admits to having an affair, Ellie Bishop is sadly forced to admit that their heretofore happy marriage has become this.
  • Schmigadoon!: At the beginning of the show, Josh and Melissa have been dating for four years and their relationship is in a rut.
  • Sex/Life: When the series starts, Billie's marriage to Cooper has grown stale after they had their two kids. They attempt to spice things up, but Billie is drawn by her ex-boyfriend Brad. In Season 2 they separate and start seeing other people after attempting to repair things fails.
  • Strike: Robin and Matthew in Lethal White. She tells him flat out that she doesn't love him anymore and she would have probably broken up with him nearly a decade ago in college if she hadn't been raped. She even says the real problem is that she doesn't care if Matthew cheated on her again.
  • You Me Her: Jack and Emma have a waning sex life when the series starts. His friend suggests he spice things up through sleeping with another woman. Izzy, the escort he hires, ends up attracting them both and their marriage does get more sexual... as both start seeing her too.

  • This theme is covered in a lot of Country Music songs:
    • Brooks & Dunn's "Husbands and Wives" and "The Long Goodbye."
    • Garth Brooks' "Somewhere Other than the Night"
    • Luke Bryan's "Do I"
    • Tracy Byrd's "I Wanna Feel That Way Again" is right there in the title.
    • Johnny Cash and June Carter's "Jackson"
    • Andy Griggs' "Tonight I Want to Be Your Man," about a husband who realizes his relationship with his wife has hit the stage and wants to fix it.
    • Faith Hill's "It Matters to Me"
    • Jill King's "98.6 Degrees and Falling"
    • Martina McBride's "Whatever You Say" and "Where Would You Be"
    • Reba McEntire's "Somebody Should Leave"
    • Lorrie Morgan's "Five Minutes" and "Maybe Not Tonight", a duet with Sammy Kershaw. It's also the final, bookend stanza in "Something in Red."
    • Brad Paisley/Carrie Underwood duet "Remind Me".
    • Kenny Rogers' "Buy Me a Rose"
    • Shenandoah's "Ghost in This House" has the narrator comparing himself to a ghost who makes his presence scarcely known in the house. The second verse reveals that he perceives his lover identically.
    • George Strait's "I Know She Still Loves Me"
    • Shania Twain's "Home Ain't Where His Heart Is (Anymore)"
    • Tanya Tucker's "Love Me Like You Used To"
    • Clay Walker's "This Woman and This Man"
    • Tim McGraw's "Maybe We Should Just Sleep On It" and "Angry All the Time"
  • Clay Davidson's "Sometimes" is a variant. In the first verse, the female fears that this trope is setting in; she wants to be assured that he still loves her, and not just sometimes. He asserts his position in the second verse.
  • Rupert Holmes' "Escape (The Piña Colada Song)" starts out this way:
    I was tired of my lady
    We'd been together too long
    Like a worn-out recording
    Of a favorite song
  • Carly Simon's "That's the Way I've Always Heard It Should Be" describes every marriage the narrator has ever seen as having turned out like this.
  • Simon & Garfunkel's "The Dangling Conversation" and "Overs".
  • Gordon Lightfoot's "If You Could Read My Mind"
  • Carole King's "It's Too Late"
  • Amanda Palmer's "The Bed Song"
  • Bobby Goldsboro's "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore"
  • Neil Diamond's duet with Barbra Streisand, "You Don't Bring Me Flowers".
  • Tracy Chapman's "Smoke and Ashes"
  • Israeli singer Arik Einstein's song "Tsa'ar Lakh" ("You are Woeful"), about a couple that's been reduced to this having a casual conversation over lunch.
  • "For No One" by The Beatles. "And yet you don't believe her when she says her love is dead, you think she needs you."
  • Reverend And The Maker's "Heavyweight Champion of the World" has a first verse entirely about this.
    Now that she's older
    As the embers of romance
    Fade to mortgages and 'leccy bills
    Been comfortable and that
    Nobody told her
    That she'd ever reach the stage
    Where her husband bored her
    Or she lied about her age
  • "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" by The Righteous Brothers. Its first line alone is legendary.
    You never close your eyes any more when I kiss your lips
  • "Cumbersome" by Seven Mary Three is about a man who fears his relationship is becoming this:
    I'd like to believe we could reconcile the past
    Resurrect those bridges with an ancient glance
    But my old stone face can't seem to bring her down
    She remembers bridges, burns them to the ground
  • "Weird Al" Yankovic's "You Don't Love Me Anymore" has the girl in the song getting with everyone on the local hockey team, telling her friends that the protagonist in the song is the Antichrist, and then she starts trying to kill him on multiple occasions.
    Oh, why did you disconnect the brakes on my car?
    That kind of thing is hard to ignore
    Got a funny feeling you don't love me anymore
  • Possibly the meaning of "Serenity" by Godsmack. Part of the chorus says "where do we go when we just don't know how and how do we relight the flame when it's cold?"
  • "Do We Still" by Rockie Lynne:
    How long can we keep holding on
    To something that's already gone
    Girl, life's too short to love like this
    Too tired to try, too scared to quit
    We took to heart the vows we made
    But somehow lost the will
    We said 'I do', but do we still?
  • Discussed throughout Billy Joel's "A Matter Of Trust", saying that this trope happens due to a lack of trust between the partners, and he assures his partner in the song that as long as they trust one another, they'll be able to avert this trope themselves.
  • the Mountain Goats has a range of songs that fall between Happily Married, rekindling relationships, and this trope. "No Children" is a stand-out example through its sheer bitterness:
    I hope it stays dark forever
    I hope the worst isn't over
    And I hope you blink before I do
    And I hope I never get sober
    And I hope when you think of me years down the line, you can't find one good thing to say
    And I hope that if I found the strength to walk out, you'd stay the hell out of my way!

  • In The Barber of Seville, Figaro helps the Official Couple get together. By the time of The Marriage of Figaro, that same couple is now pretty dysfunctional, and the plot of the latter revolves around Figaro trying to bring the sparks back to life before the Count decides to bed Figaro's wife instead.

    Video Games 
  • During the backstory to The Secret World, the Fallen Angel Samael and the Humanoid Abomination Lilith used to have a truly loving case of Unholy Matrimony, having first partnered up out of a mutual love of domination and power. However, after several millennia worth of failed schemes, Samael lost his passion for trying to take over the world and went native on Earth as the CEO of the Orochi Group, Samuel Chandra; genuinely hurt by the rejection of the very goal that brought them together, Lilith never forgave him. By the start of the game, their relationship is all but dead, and the two have only remained a couple out of nostalgia for the good old days. It's gotten so bad that Lilith's actually been burglarizing Orochi resources to carry on world domination schemes behind her husband's back.

    Visual Novels 
  • In Daughter for Dessert, this features in the “bad” epilogues for some girls. The protagonist and his partner just lose interest in each other.
  • In Melody, the protagonist and Bethany were on the rocks for a long time before their breakup at the beginning of the story. Bethany would go out of her way to schedule her business trips for whenever the protagonist was home, and even when the two of them were together, they wouldn’t talk except to fight, and they would never have sex.

  • Yumi's Cells: A few months after Yumi broke up with her boyfriend of two years, they decide to rekindle their relationship. Yumi isn't quite into it and sees him as a colorless sketch until they truly resolve to make their relationship work. However, when Yumi finds out that his former mutual crush drunk-dialed him, she feels too calm for someone who ought to be in love. It turns out it was her Emotional Cell who wanted them back together, not Love Cell. When Babi proposes to Yumi, she rejects him and breaks up with him for good.

    Western Animation 
  • Big Mouth plays a painfully true to life example with Jessi's parents, Greg and Shannon Glaser. Initially being Happily Married, their conflicting life goals and interests ended up destroying their marriage over the years to the point that Shannon ended up having an affair.
  • In the first episode of Family Guy after its UnCancellation, Lois starts calling out male celebrities' names during sex instead of Peter's. He fears that it's the first step towards a life where all they do is sit at the table across from each other talking about Special K cereal.
  • In Bojack Horseman, Diane and Mr. Peanutbutter gradually go from Happily Married to this trope with them going to couples therapy in season 3 and then struggling to have pleasurable sex in season 4.
  • In South Park, Eric Cartman and Heidi Turner's relationship went from being portrayed as Sickening Sweethearts in season 20 to this by season 21. Cartman no longer can stand Heidi and is only keeping her around because of the attention she gives him. Meanwhile, Heidi is only staying with Cartman because she doesn't want to admit to her friends that she made a bad decision and eventually decides to break up with Cartman in the season finale when she learns that he's a bad influence for her.
  • In Total Drama seasons 5 Total Drama All-Stars it is Implied this is what's happening to Duncan and Gwen relationship. Although their relationship did not deteriorate as it did with Duncan's relationship with Courtney, they're shown to lack chemistry and affection at the start of All-Stars. With them being moved to different teams, Gwen's attempts to make up with Courtney combined with Duncan's attempts to get Courtney's attention eventually causes Gwen to break up with Duncan. It's telling that Duncan's more confused than heartbroken regarding the break-up.

    Real Life 
  • Psychologists assume that the powerful initial infatuation and powerful sexual drive will last (at maximum) for four years. Unless the partners have anything deeper (hobbies, interests, likes) in common, the prognosis of the relationship is poor after four years.
    • Colloquially this is often referred to as the "seven-year itch", though seven years would appear to be optimistic as far as psychologists are concerned. The conventional wisdom was that 7 years is the time required to reproduce and raise the offspring to a point where they would be able to at least see to their own most basic needs, after which a relationship no longer serves any procreative purpose.
  • As a variant: no matter how much a person enjoys a given thing (be it a song, movie, book etc) they will eventually get bored with it. This is not completely a bad thing, as if reading one's favorite book was just as enjoyable no matter how many times they read it, most people would only ever buy one book and just keep re-reading it for the rest of their lives.