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Happy Marriage Charade

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Jerry: I wasn't paying attention, which you would know, if you ever paid attention to me.
Beth: Oh, here we go, right to the victim role.
Jerry: Am I a victim, Beth, or am I married to a mean, unfair monster that always hurts me?
Rick: (shouting) Jesus Christ! Will you fix your marriage or get a divorce already?!

Alice and Bob met. They fell in love. They got married. Everyone around them thought they were perfect together.

However, the course of true love — or raging hormones — never did run smooth. Eventually things get a little rocky but the couple can't break up.

Bob's family will cut him off if he gets a divorce! Alice won't get her inheritance if she doesn't have a child born in wedlock! The family will be subjected to the scrutiny of the media and embarrassment from the same if it gets out that the perfect couple — isn't. There could be some political reason that would make things complicated and unpleasant if they divorced or divorce is against their religion. Perhaps they live in an era where divorce is difficult to obtain (i.e. requires either legal fault or lying to a judge, requires both spouses to be present, only one sex is permitted to file for divorce, etc). Maybe it's a Citizenship Marriage, and divorce would mean that the immigrant spouse could be deported. They could be ostracized from their community (religious or secular) if that community has a great stigma against divorce. Perhaps one or both of them might lose their jobs over it (whether that's legal or not). Maybe they have a prenup that heavily favors one spouse over the other, or fear a Divorce Assets Conflict. Maybe one of them is a Gold Digger and knows that if they get divorced, the ride on the gravy train is over. Maybe it's the holiday season, and they don't want to ruin Christmas (or whatever they celebrate) by dropping the D-bomb, or face the criticism from all the relatives that have come to visit. Or maybe they don't want the kids to grow up in a broken home (and that's not even taking the Parent with New Paramour problems into account).

So they leave the marriage intact on paper and work out an agreement to hold up appearances, while secretly getting on with their separate lives.

If Alice and Bob aren't really in love because Bob loves Chuck or Alice loves Danielle, then either Alice or Bob is The Beard and the marriage is still a charade.

Compare Sexless Marriage and Citizenship Marriage. For the Dom Com genre, see Awful Wedded Life. See also some examples of Good Adultery, Bad Adultery.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Stepping on Roses:
    • Soichiro and Sumi's marriage at first. Soichirou needs to get married to inherit his fortune, Sumi needs money to support her very poor family, and they reach an agreement over marrying without love.
    • Nozomu also thinks this way towards his own marriage with Miu. He also needs to marry to get his position secured, while Miu is an Impoverished Patrician. At the very end, they seem to have gotten better.
  • Tonari no Kashiwagi-san: Sayaka's parents were like this when she was in middle school (they didn't want to disrupt her studies), though they've been divorced for over a year by the time the story starts. Sayaka at one point claims that it would have been better if she was never born since they would have been able to get divorced sooner (though both of her parents and her boyfriend tell her otherwise).

    Comic Books 
  • Batman: The Drakes have a very unhappy home life, and Jack and Janet fight constantly but both are able to hide it from the rest of Gotham's high society and play a happy couple in public. Shortly before Janet's murder Tim implies they're considering a divorce.

    Fan Works 

  • In The Count of Monte Cristo, Mercedes and Fernand are in one of these when Edmund returns from the Chateau d'If. The facade has been thoroughly broken by the end.
  • Dave had the (real) President and First Lady unable to stay in the same room or look at each other unless the press was watching, at which time they both play the loving couple. He only stays married for his career image (and has plenty of affairs) and she only stays so she can do important work with charities.
  • In Double Harness, things get sour right off the bat with the Fletchers: they spend their honeymoon is separate quarters, but they still stay married for Joan's sake.
  • Father of the Bride (2022): Billy and Ingrid agree to hide their impending divorce until after their daughter's wedding, and are seen negotiating in the car about how affectionate they can be.
  • In Name Only: Alec thought that Maida loved him, but it turns out that she was just a Gold Digger, and they have to keep appearances to their families and society friends.
  • The Empress pretends that the Emperor is winning her over while plotting to kill him in Legend of the Black Scorpion.
  • In The Love Parade, Queen Louise and Prince-Consort Alfred have to hide the strain in their relationship to avoid a scandal that could ruin the country.
  • In Theodora Goes Wild Michael Grant is stuck in a loveless marriage but has to keep up appearances because his father holds public office.
  • Nick and Honey from Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, unlike George and Martha who fight bitterly in front of everyone, and yet they are too emotionally dependent on each other to seriously consider divorcing. They seem to be happily married, yet Nick only married Honey for her father's money (the fact that she was pregnant was a convenient excuse) and Honey is implied to have aborted her baby after marrying Nick, and when Honey drinks herself sick, Nick goes to bed with Martha.


By Author

  • Agatha Christie uses this trope liberally:
    • In A Caribbean Mystery, roughly the same storyline is played with Edward and Evelyn Hillingdon.
    • Inverted in Evil Under the Sun. Patrick and Christine are a happily married couple, but pretend their marriage is on the rocks in order to cover up their murder of Arlena.
    • In The Mysterious Affair at Styles, John and Mary Cavendish. Mary was not in love with John when they got married and he eventually forms an affair with another woman. Subverted in the end because she finally falls in love with him and he finds out, thus leading to an actual happy marriage.

By Title

  • The Age of Innocence: Newland and May Archer, though he "honestly mourned her" when she dies.
  • A Cry in the Night:
    • Erich invokes this on behalf on his parents, painting a picture of them as a perfect couple who provided him with an idyllic life growing up until his mother's tragic accident. However, he eventually begins letting slip details that his parents' marriage wasn't as good as he claims and Jenny discovers that Caroline was planning on abandoning the family.
    • Jenny herself keeps insisting that things are fine with her marriage to Erich even as it becomes increasingly clear things are not fine at all; she is embarrassed at the thought of having another failed marriage and genuinely believes she can make things work with Erich. When she calls her old neighbor from New York however, who asks her how things are going with her new life, Jenny breaks down and admits how everything has gone wrong.
  • Deconstructed in A Frozen Heart, a tie-in novel to Frozen (2013) that expands on Prince Hans's backstory. He notes that his parents and 12 older brothers have loveless marriages, but keep a charade for social reasons. He ends up assuming that it's better to suffer for the sake of appearances and that Love Is a Weakness, but it also leaves him clueless on what an actual happy relationship would be when he notes how Anna and Elsa have reconciled with each other despite being separated in childhood.
  • Nick in Gone Girl reacts violently to Amy's insistence that they remain married, but feels responsible for the child and reluctantly decides to stay with Amy. The story ends with the "happy" couple announcing on television that they are expecting a baby.
  • Everett and Ivy Noble of Heroine Addiction are also still happily married on paper. Why? They're both superheroes, and the toast of the town to boot. But even juicier? Everett actually left Ivy for a guy named Morris Kemp — who is a supervillain, and one of the family's arch enemies. So they go through the motions in public of being happily married, including a date night.
  • King Christian and Queen Isabel in The Kingdom of Little Wounds. They don't hate each other, but their marriage is not the miracle their daughter Sophia thinks it is.
  • Oscar and Judie Valentine of the Lucy Valentine series are still married on paper. In fact, they're still good friends and occasional lovers, though they maintain separate residences, and Oscar tends to philander. But Oscar's family business is matchmaking and it would be a blow to the business — and their wallets — if the King of Love were revealed to be having a failure to achieve marital bliss. So they hang out together and do social events together to keep up appearances.
  • Maryse and Robert Lightwood from The Mortal Instruments only pretend to be Happily Married, when in reality their marriage has nearly fallen apart at least thrice: once when the Circle disbanded and Robert blamed their wrecked lives on Maryse, twice when Robert was caught cheating (but Maryse told nobody save her daughter), and thrice when their youngest son dies. The general distrust between them led to their daughter Isabelle's "all-men-are-untrustable" attitude.
  • In Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca, Maxim and Rebecca.
  • In Summers at Castle Auburn, Bryan and Elisandra know how to put on the performance of future king and queen and look good together (Corie notes that they are fantastic dance partners for example), but they don't love each other, or even like each other. They don't even have anything to say about each other. But politics demand they marry anyway.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Kanes from Boss maintain their marriage and share s home because it benefits their various machinations. Away from the public, they maintain separate lives and are strangers to each other.
  • William and Nora Walker on Brothers & Sisters. William works hard to preserve a personal and professional image as a conservative, traditionalist, husband, father and businessman. In reality, he is supporting a mistress on the side in a decades-long affair that is virtually a second marriage, while at the same time having short-term affairs with other women as well. His wife learns of the affair but goes into willful denial when he promises to end it. When he dies, the truth comes out, and it is devastating to his whole family. Especially his daughter Kitty, a conservative pundit who has held her parents' marriage up as a role model all her life, and the youngest son Justin, who had gone to war to try to win his father's respect, only to learn how sleazy his father really was.
  • Community: Subverted. Annie tearfully tells the hotel staff that the reason she has a separate room from her husband Jeff is that they're having some marriage problems, but they're trying to work through them, and she's trying to put on a brave face. The subversion is that Annie and Jeff aren't married or even dating; Jeff paid for both of their rooms under his name, the hotel assumed they were married, and Annie ran with it. This causes problems when Jeff (who is completely unaware of what Annie is doing) starts flirting with a woman in the hotel bar. The wait staff think he's cheating on Annie, and she has to pretend to get mad and throw drinks in his face to keep the ruse going. Jeff isn't exactly happy about losing his date, but he forgives her for it.
  • In Dexter, Dexter is perplexed to learn that Arthur Mitchell, AKA the Trinity Killer, is the patriarch of a picture-perfect nuclear family. Since Dexter struggles with maintaining the charade of a functional home life, he strikes up a friendship with him to learn how he does it. Turns out that the wife and kids are utterly terrified of Arthur, who rules the family with a vicious iron fist, so much so that when the Mitchells' teen daughter tries to seduce Dexter, the wife begs him to accept if only to get her away from Arthur.
  • This is the situation behind Los Exitosos Pells. The husband is gay, the wife is just there for the career bust, and both are planning to elope with their real love interests at the first chance, but both are forced to being together because their network contracts and have to keep the happy charade for ratings' sake. The hero, who is forced by the same network to secretly impersonate the husband after an accident, is quite shocked when he discovers all of the above.
  • Father Ted: John and Mary are married shopkeepers who are always plotting to murder each other, but who go into over-the-top perfect couple mode whenever anyone else is around.
  • On Frasier, Niles marriage to Mel deteriorates once it becomes clear how much he loves Daphne. However, Mel forces Niles to maintain the appearance of a happy marriage in public for a period of time before she'll agree to a divorce.
  • In Longmire, one guidance counselor is well-known as a conscientious family man with a happy home life. When his death is investigated, he turns out to be a gambling addict and abusive, neglectful alcoholic, whose young daughter ran him over with the family car to save her mother from him.
  • Stevie's parents apparently did this in Malcolm in the Middle, to protect Stevie while he was still very much unwell. When she felt Stevie was now old and strong enough to handle it, Stevie's mom left him and her husband.
  • Lindsey and Melanie do this in Queer as Folk (US) after they separate when Lindsey cheated on Melanie with a man. Needless to say, they got found out.
  • The White Lotus: Harper is certain that Cameron and Daphne's blissfully picturesque, "we never fight" marriage is a facade. The cracks begin to show in "Bull Elephants", where Daphne admits to Harper that she knows Cameron is hedonistic, philandering, and runs with a bad crowd, so she acts out in turn, though she insists she's not a victim.
  • The Wire: Beginning in season 3, Cedric Daniels and his wife Marla are separated, but he's willing to continue to keep up the appearance of a happy marriage to help Marla advance her political career. This complicates things for the new romantic relationship Cedric has developed with Rhonda Pearlman, as he knows it will look bad on him as a black police lieutenant, and, as Marla's ex, to have left her for a white woman.
  • You (2018):
    • Love and Forty's parents. Ray and Dottie Quinns' public image is that of an influential and loving Bourgeois Bohemian business super-couple. In truth their marriage is quite bitter and they don't get along with their children. In season 3 they finally go through a very acrimonious divorce, reflected in Dottie's deteriorating mental state.
    • By mid-season 3, Love and Joe keep up the facade of the handsome young suburbanite couple, but the ennui of the suburbs and their increasing distrust each other causes their marriage to implode.

  • One of the themes in the song "Dollhouse" by Melanie Martinez is an unhappy marriage; the husband is cheating on the wife, and the wife simply goes with it, hiding it with expensive jewelry and alcohol.

    Video Games 
  • This is the whole premise of Fašade (2005). Trip and Grace are very unhappy in their married life, and you're welcome to either encourage the discord or try and patch things up.

  • In AGENCY, Fox and Krystal McCloud have a very rocky marriage, but they put on a happy face in public. They are, after all, heroes and have a young son to care for. Sandy Cheeks is quick to pick up on this, but so far, the charade hasn't affected the plot much. With one of them kidnapped and held in an unknown location, it might not come up for a while.

    Web Original 
  • In Demo Reel, Donnie desperately tries to convince others (and even himself) that he is happily married to his very cold and distant wife, and as long as they are not in the same room he is almost convincing. But when you have a prenup that explicitly forbids you and your partner to appear together in family gatherings, that's quite the facade to maintain.
  • Homestar Runner: Parodied in the Strong Bad Email "parenting". While caring for a bag of pudding for a parenting class, Marzipan and Homestar still despise each other, but Marzipan doesn't want the "baby" to think its parents are fighting. So, Marzipan calmly and gently calls Homestar a "lump of underbitten cluelessness" while calling him out on his nonsensical parenting advice. She then openly tells Homestar that they need to pretend they don't hate each other until their "baby" goes to college.

    Western Animation 
  • A recurring arc in Rick and Morty is how Jerry and Beth married because he got her pregnant on their prom date and they agreed to keep it — and as such, they're more like co-habiting adults rather than married as they refuse to even consider divorce. However, each round often resolves with their problems disappearing and their love seemingly getting stronger and everyone thinking they're better, only to revert straight back in a few episodes when they're back to snarking and arguing.
    • In "Rixty Minutes", inter-dimensional goggles show that, in every timeline where Summer exists, Beth and Jerry are pretending they're happily married for the kids, yet in realities where Summer doesn't exist they're free to pursue their dreams, increasing the rift between Beth and Jerry. It's then inverted when their parallel-universe selves are pretending to be happy with success and single life, when in reality they've never stopped loving each other.
    • And finally there's the Season 3 premiere "The Rickshank Redemption", where they finally get divorced via Jerry pulling a "him or me" decision on Beth, which Rick has been planning ever since he suggested turning Rick over to the Galactic Federation the prior episode. However, after a series of mishaps (and a little Character Development on both sides), they end up reconciling and call the divorce off, after which it stops being a charade, as they really are significantly happier together.
  • The Simpsons: Selma almost got into one of these with Troy McClure, so he could salvage his career. But when he wanted to have a baby, that broke the deal for her.
    Look, I'm sorry. A loveless marriage is one thing, we're not hurting anybody. But bringing a child into a loveless family is something I just can't do.


Video Example(s):


Babies Understand Tone

While caring for a bag of pudding for a parenting class, Marzipan and Homestar still despise each other, but don't want the "baby" to think its parents are fighting.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (17 votes)

Example of:

Main / HappyMarriageCharade

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