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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).

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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.


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Examples:

Comic Books

  • Batman: By the time the reader is introduced to Jack and Janet Drake any romantic feeling they once had for each other have withered away. Their son 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…

Live-Action Film

  • 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.
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  • Six Degrees of Separation: John and Louisa Kittredge's relationship is Dead Sparks throughout.
  • 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.
  • One of the oldest and most concise 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.
  • 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.
  • This ends up being the whole arc of Like Crazy.
  • In 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. At the end, she pulls out an old love letter and reads it. He asks who wrote it, and she says "You did."

Literature

  • Margaret Peterson Haddix's Just Ella: The premise is that this is experienced by Cinderella sometime following her marriage to Prince Charming.
  • 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.

Live-Action TV

  • 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.

Music

  • This theme is covered in a lot of Country Music songs:
    • Johnny Cash and June Carter's "Jackson"
    • Tanya Tucker's "Love Me Like You Used To"
    • George Strait's "I Know She Still Loves Me"
    • Reba McEntire's "Somebody Should Leave"
    • Tracy Byrd's "I Wanna Feel That Way Again" is right there in the title.
    • As is the Carrie Underwood duet "Remind Me".
    • Lorrie Morgan's "Five Minutes" and "Maybe Not Tonight", a duet with Sammy Kershaw
    • Luke Bryan's "Do I"
    • Jill King's "98.6 Degrees and Falling"
    • 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.
    • Clay Walker's "This Woman and This Man"
    • Faith Hill's "It Matters to Me"
    • Garth Brooks' "Somewhere Other than the Night"
  • 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 Love 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
  • 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.
  • "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" hilariously takes it Up to Eleven when the girl in the song, gets with everyone on the local hockey team, tells 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

Theatre

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.

Western Animation

  • 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 Total Drama seasons 5 Total Drama All-Stars it is Implied this is what happening to Duncan and Gwen relationship. Although their relationship did not deteriorate like 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.
  • 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.
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.

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