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The Masochism Tango

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"Take your cigarette from its holder,
And burn your initials in my shoulder.
Fracture my spine,
And swear that you're mine,
As we dance to The Masochism Tango!"

In fictional relationships, there's a gray area between a Destructive Romance, a Friendly War, and Romanticized Abuse. Sometimes the writers make it hard for the audience to figure out if the relationship is even supposed to be a good thing or not. Sometimes the writers don't even know the answer themselves, and sometimes this question isn't even meant to have an answer—the characters are there for the audience to laugh at, and that's all there is to it.

Two characters are supposed to be deeply in love — despite being blatantly unsuited for each other. They are constantly screaming at each other or worse, and yet the characters insist they like each other. Very often, the only indicator of the characters' affections for each other will be their jealousy when the other shows an interest (real or imagined) in a character outside of their tango.

Basically, there are two ways this trope can be played: 1) either the writers really don't get that the pairing isn't working out, or 2) the writers are fully aware and it's the characters who insist that their relationship is just great. In either case, the audience tends to quickly catch on, and you can bet that the shippers are already thinking up alternatives.

This is not the same as an Odd Friendship or Odd Couple, where everybody knows the relationship is strange and the characters very grudgingly learn to respect each other. In the Masochism Tango, the entire relationship hinges on the mutual hatred between the two lovebirds... for better or for worse.

The partners dancing to this particular beat have already resolved the Will They or Won't They? issue, and won't deny they're a couple — it's just the wisdom of their hook-up that's in question. This is what happens when a Belligerent Sexual Tension couple gets together without actually solving the belligerence.

For the platonic version, see With Friends Like These... or Vitriolic Best Buds.note  For a milder version, see Slap-Slap-Kiss, Belligerent Sexual Tension, and No Accounting for Taste. If the characters aren't at each other's throats, but their relationship feels contrived and artificial nonetheless, they've been Strangled by the Red String. Compare All Take and No Give. If the sadism and the masochism part in the coupling is off-balance, also compare Love Martyr. Played for Drama, it can easily become Destructive Romance. If the characters are married, is also falls under Awful Wedded Life. Not to be confused with Death Trap Tango.

This trope is named after a song by Tom Lehrer, quoted above. As he explains it, a certain genre of love song is "the passionate or fiery variety, usually in tango tempo, in which the singer exhorts his partner to haunt him and taunt him and, if at all possible, to consume him with a kiss of fire." In his version, the singer asks for whippings, broken bones, cigarette burns...

Note that this is actually Truth in Television for many people. Probably including many tropers.

If you are still confused, let Worf explain.

Not to Be Confused with Real Life masochism. Or, for that matter, real tango. Or a combination of the two. Then again, some works don't really make a distinction between masochism and being a victim of abuse...


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Ranma ½ is all about this. Ranma and Akane are emotionally and physically abusive to each other, constantly. Yet the two of them are, horrifically, the most benevolent and stable couple in the entire show, and as much as Ranma would like to leave all his unwanted "fiances" in the dust, for his own physical and mental well-being, he pointedly can't.
  • Poison Berry in My Brain: Ichiko and Saotome try their best to make their relationship work out, and both of them are clearly attracted to one another. However, when Ichiko becomes more successful financially, Saotome is left feeling that he can never catch up to her as an equal and becomes jealous of her independence, which then ends up making Ichiko feel that she is to blame for their issues. In the end, Ichiko decides to break up with him.
  • Invoked by the Yandere Stalker with a Crush Yubel in Yu-Gi-Oh! GX, who sees this as the only true expression of love. After a decade of physical and mental torture, they genuinely cannot distinguish between pleasure/joy and pain/sorrow, and are thus convinced that every single bit of suffering they cause for their obsession Judai — and every bit reciprocated from him in kind — are simply their way of sharing love.
  • Yoh and Anna from Shaman King. Though at least Anna shows her love regularly by running at the heel to Yoh's help.
    • Eventually subverted. They become decidedly more openly relaxed with each other during the American half of the tournament, regularly spending time together, saving each other, and even hints of affection when no one but Amidamaru was around (who of course respectfully looked away, blushing). Yoh seems less frightened of Anna, implying that she was particularly strict before to prepare him for the tournament, which is probably a huge reason for his survival. The reveal that Yoh fell in love first and earned Anna's love by accepting her as she was, and the implication that they slept together before Yoh left Japan first probably helps. Either way, as their relationship is expanded upon, we see that this isn't really the case.
  • In Paradise Kiss, Yukari and George get together almost immediately, but their romance is unhinged from the get-go. He is sometimes genuinely sweet and gentlemanly with her, but it's hard to notice amidst all the icy contempt and plain insults he throws at her. To make things worse, it's heavily implied his conflicted emotions towards her stem for her similarity to his mother. Naturally, it just couldn't end well for them... yet still ended up better than other examples: they break up out of their own accord and in somewhat amiable terms, George leaves the country to pursue his goals and Yukari decides to live her own life and build her own career. In the Distant Finale, she actually marries her Victorious Childhood Friend Hiro.
  • Hiei and his boss, Mukuro from YuYu Hakusho. Here's a quote, "Perhaps that's why I feel you understood me...after all, we're both only capable of expressing ourselves through our violence." This isn't just Domestic Abuse played for laughs—he says this to her while they're in the middle of a DEATHMATCH. Against each other.
    • His birthday present to her? Her evil, sexually abusive dad, bonded to a tree that keeps him from ever moving and repairs any of his wounds instantly, so that she can torture him at her leisure. And she's genuinely touched by this.
  • Shinji and Asuka from Neon Genesis Evangelion. Both love each other, but they are not exactly mentally sound (both are afraid of getting hurt by other people, but Asuka pushes them away as Shinji runs from them), and their relationship is not healthy: Asuka is a fiercely competitive young woman who teases Shinji in what she considers flirting, while Shinji is a reclusive, socially inept introvert who doesn't respond well to her flirtations, either acting as an Extreme Doormat till she's placated or lashing back at her on occasion, leading Asuka to be even angrier, more insecure and more depressed. The two's Belligerent Sexual Tension paired with their inability to discuss their feelings for one another results in one of the most disturbing, squick-filled, and generally infamous cases of Dude, She's Like in a Coma in television history.
  • City Hunter: Kaori + 100 Ton Hammer = Poor, poor Ryo Saeba.
  • In the Hellsing TV series, although not a couple (but Studio Gonzo did hint they have feelings for each other), Alucard and Integra act like this until she almost dies because of his bad judgment in sneaking out to fight his Worthy Opponent. Afterwards, their dynamic softens considerably. In the manga, their relationship is completely different and more of a Bodyguard Crush dynamic.
  • Junko Enoshima and her sister Mukuro Ikusaba are shown to have this relationship in Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope's Peak High School. While their relationship is familial rather than romantic (for the most part), Ikusaba acts more like a battered spouse than a sibling as she's completely dependent on her due to her sisterly affection having been twisted into unquestioning loyalty by Enoshima's manipulation. Their very first interaction in the show is Ikusaba casually responding to Enoshima's verbal barbs and blushing while blocking her attempts to kill her with an ice pick and a grenade.
  • An interpretation of Chiaki and Hatori's relationship in Sekai Ichi Hatsukoi given that every single episode/chapter concerning them starts with them having a nasty fight due to either Chiaki being insensitive or Hatori being possessive. At the end of each episode, while they do end up reconciling, it doesn't change the fact there is a lot of yelling involved before they come to a compromise...and this relationship ends up hurting the third wheel Yanase given he's pulled into their fights every single time. It gets to the point where Yanase finally breaks down crying for Chiaki pulling on his heartstrings. And let's not mention the novel where the interpretation of their relationship crosses between this and Domestic Abuse.
  • Zagi and Karim of Jyu-Oh-Sei. They have both expressed pretty genuine feelings for each other, but you'd never guess from the way he treats her 90% of the time.
  • Kouji Nanjo and Takuto Izumi from Zetsuai1989 and Bronze. Their Masochism Tango is more like a full-length ballet, and it seems to run in Izumi's family, since his mother killed his father for cheating on him while she's in her Yandere phrase, then killed herself twelve years later.
  • Louise and Saito from The Familiar of Zero.
  • Jeremy and Ian from A Cruel God Reigns do this constantly. Sometimes it is really hard to tell if Jeremy actually consents to have sex with Ian, in addition to Ian sometimes striking Jeremy out of anger. And Jeremy, while eventually admits to liking Ian and realizing he loves him, is almost always cold and callous towards Ian, telling him often outright that he hates him.

    Comic Books 
  • Ant-Man and The Wasp or Hank Pym and Janet van Dyne, were this to a tee, long before the notorious issues where Hank slapped Janet, leading to the end of their marriage. Janet was far younger than Hank and was a Doppelgänger Replacement Love Interest who resembled his first wife, Dr. Maria Trovaya. Personality-wise, Janet was an extroverted socialite interested in fashion and invested in being a public superhero. She was often playful and flirty with her fellow male teammates and insensitive to Hank. Hank was introverted and insecure, preferred staying in the laboratory, and rarely communicated openly with her. This in part led to his breakdown as a "bad-boy" Yellowjacket. Janet consented to marry him in this state knowing that he was normally too shy to do it despite both of them wanting to. While Janet believed she was helping Hank, he would backbite and hurt her emotionally during their marriage until the incident when he slapped her led her to call it quits.
  • In comics, pretty much anyone. Gambit and Rogue in particular, due to the fact that Rogue's powers make having a relationship with ANYONE impossible combined with Gambit's very much flexible idea of right and wrong often causing Rogue to go into a tirade about how she can't trust Gambit, who refuses to give up on Rogue or even cross the line by bringing up Rogue's own dark history of Moral Event Horizon-crossing when it came to Ms. Marvel, whenever Rogue uses Gambit's past against him. It's invoked on Gambit's side, as he's said his actual motivation for dating Rogue was to punish himself for his (rather small and inconsequential and blameless) role in the Morlock Massacre.
  • The relationship between The Joker and his "girlfriend" and gun moll Harley Quinn. It's an interesting study on dependent and abusive relationships, whereby Dr. Harleen Quinzel, the Joker's psychiatrist at Arkham Asylum, finds herself falling for the psychopathic supervillain as he mentally manipulates her into taking his side. It's a variation of the Stockholm Syndrome; here the Joker didn't kidnap Harley, and Harley imagines that she came to love the Joker of her own accord (or if she acknowledges his manipulation playing a part, he clearly did it because he was in love with her).
  • Apparently quite standard for the titular protagonist's race on Buck Godot: Zap Gun for Hire, as seen here. Of course, being Heavyworlders, they do seem to be rather durable, too. And high explosives are very romantic.
  • Matt and Kayleigh from Dork Tower. They remain in an On-Again, Off-Again Relationship, even though she belittles all of his interests and friends, and he is torn between staying with her and dropping her for Gilly the Perky Goth. Screaming matches and Slap-Slap-Kiss often occur.
  • Goldie and Scrooge in The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck. Carl Barks wrote 'em that way, Don Rosa made 'em awesome at it.
  • Druid City: Hunter Hastings, with Misa Saito and Mannie Sue. Misa is too determined and independent to be tied down by the productive, but fragile, Hunter. Mannie Sue is too damaged and vulnerable to be with the wiser and far more unscrupulous Hunter.
  • Ball and Chain, everybody! This is a case where it isn't remotely intentional on either side. Edgar and Mallory have been married for three years, and every day is a struggle for both of them. "It's like some crazy dance that we can't learn... and we can't stop. Marriage. The Dance of a Thousand Cuts." They spend most of the series on the brink of divorce, going through several degrees of separation before ultimately realizing that they absolutely need each other.
  • The Drama Twins from Dark Horse's The Freshmen, a painfully dysfunctional, on-again-off-again couple whose telekinetic powers are inextricably linked.
  • The Morrigan and Baphomet dance around this relationship in The Wicked + The Divine. While they do truly love each other, they've been dysfunctional and furious with each other for one reason or another since their introductions, and as of issue 28, they've been veering into some other tropes.
  • The relationship seen between Mai and Zuko has become this as of Smoke and Shadow Their relationship is not just unhealthy, it's toxic. The two love each other but their conflicting morals and lack of communication lead to countless fights and their constant break-ups. She spends pages in Avatar: The Last Airbender – Smoke and Shadow describing what a horrible boyfriend Zuko is and how badly a relationship with him had hurt her. This leads to her making harsh jokes at his expense and she expresses the need for her to "move on" by dating Kei Lo.

    Fan Works 
  • Advice and Trust: Ritsuko has convinced herself that her relationship with Gendo is good and he actually cares about her even though Gendo ALWAYS treats her like a pawn and he constantly shows nothing is as important as Yui to him. Chapter 8 provides a good example of this: Ritsuko got hurt during a battle and was taken to med bay. Gendo never went to see her. He spent hours making sure Rei and Unit 01 were fine and he came to see one of the pilots, but he did not spend a second waiting for Ritsuko's side. Ritsuko was aware of this and suitably angry. Still, when he called her to see if she was ok she felt happier, thinking he cared... until he asked if she could start to work again.
  • Evangelion 303: Shinji went through this in chapters 11 and 12. After waking up from her several-month-long coma Asuka blamed herself for the failure of the mission, the destruction of the aircraft and her best friend's death, saw herself like a pathetic failure and was permanently angry at herself and everybody. For several months she treated Shinji with silence and utter disdain or hitting him and insulting him cruelly. Shinji did not know how to help her but he would not dump her either because he had become too co-dependent to live without her. Finally, Shinji managed to help her and she got better slowly, but she felt so guilty for her atrocious behaviour that she ran away. When he found her and proposed her Asuka could not believe it and she asked him: "You're in love with a woman who tried to kill herself — and take you with her? What's wrong with you?"
  • Scar Tissue: Shinji and Asuka's relationship became self-destructive between Third Impact and the beginning of the fic. Asuka had become so paranoid, angry, and unstable that she constantly abused Shinji physically and emotionally. Shinji never tried to stop her because he thought that he deserved it after his own awful behaviour (never being there for her, leaving her alone after her Mind Rape, masturbating over her naked breasts when she was in a coma, doing nothing as she was butchered and eaten alive, trying to kill her...). At the same time, Asuka felt guilty and repulsed with herself every time she mistreated him. As a result of it, their bodies were quickly deteriorating until the beginning of the fic, when Asuka determined never to hit him again and they started to rebuild their relationship.
  • In Hotspring Souls! and its sequel Slice of Souls!, the Bearer of the Curse and the Emerald Herald have this kind of relationship. The Bearer of the Curse is an Extreme Doormat and Henpecked Husband, always having to endure his wife's non-stop nagging and being blamed for everything that goes wrong. At one point he's made to sleep on the floor without any blankets or pillows, and in the sequel, he almost gets hit in the face by flying pots and pans in the kitchen when the Emerald Herald is having a tantrum over a broken dishwasher.note  Their relationship is so bad even that their pet cat has to intervene. Towards the end of the same chapter, though, the two finally address the root of their relationship problems and the Emerald Herald admits that she doesn't hate the Bearer of the Curse— she just has a lot of emotional baggage left over and she's thankful that he still stays with her despite everything. From that point on, the two actively make an effort to fix their marriage and in the later chapters, they start to act more like a couple again.

    Film — Animation 
  • Taken very literally in Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, where the squirrel couple fight over the acorn while a tango plays in the background.
  • In the The Land Before Time films, many fans have expressed a liking for a pairing between Littlefoot and Cera. You'd think the species difference would be enough of a put-off, but in addition, the two do argue a lot (in three films, resulting in all-out fights). However, Cera has been known to be jealous when Littlefoot makes new friends.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (and possibly in real life) are a superb example of this.
  • The Boys in the Band, which is inspired by Woolf, features Vitriolic Best Buds Michael and Harold.
  • Annie Get Your Gun has Annie and Frank switching from Sickeningly Sweethearts to a Masochism Tango-style song in the space of two minutes.
  • The Maids is entirely devoted to a couple of psycho lesbians competing in making the other one feel miserable. Oh, and they both succeed.
  • Very much on display in all adaptations of the Bengali novel Devdas. Main characters Dev and Paro both love each other but are not above lashing out at one another in pretty cruel ways. Subverted in the 2009 remake, Dev. D, where Dev realizes that he never truly loved Paro, but instead idealized and wished to control her. He then manages some Character Development. Dev. D is big on deconstruction, in general.
  • Antichrist takes this to the logical extreme.
  • Revolutionary Road: Frank and April Wheeler spend most of the film fighting. Yet when April dies from a botched abortion, Frank is devastated.
  • Mouth to Mouth: Sherry and Rose have a rare literal and filial version of this.
  • Happy Together: Ho and Lai's relationship is a cycle of abuse, break-up, and reconciliation. It's what ultimately causes them to leave Hong Kong for Argentina, in the hopes that a change of scene will help them break out of old patterns. It succeeds when Lai finally refuses to reconcile with Ho.

  • Nineteen Eighty-Four.
    Under the spreading chestnut tree
    I sold you
    You sold me
  • This is the nature of the relationship of Iason and Riki in Ai no Kusabi due to Opposites Attract and the fact Iason has forcibly made Riki his slave. Although Iason occasionally shows Riki affection despite how much he oppresses Riki in order to control him.
  • In the The Chronicles of Narnia book The Horse and His Boy, Shasta aka Prince Cor and Aravis spend most of the book arguing and making up. At the end of the story, it's mentioned that they get married so they can argue and make up more efficiently. "Efficiently" should in this case be read as "by having lots of sex". Of note here: at no point does one character abuse the other physically or emotionally. However, the relationship still feels forced because they also didn't do anything resembling flirting. Also, Aravis is the only (human) woman in the story.
  • Dangerous Liaisons: Valmont and Merteuil live to one-up each other with tales of sexual deviance and mindfuckery, yet every time one of them talks about having any sort of genuine emotional connection with somebody else, the other one seems to explode with jealousy. This is very definitely a Destructive Romance (if indeed "romance" is even vaguely the right word), and it ends up with her getting Valmont killed (which leaves her heartbroken), and Merteuil publicly destroyed thanks to Valmont setting her up to be exposed with his dying breath.
  • In The Great Divorce, a husband and wife who leave the line for Heaven because they're too busy quarreling. It is clear that they will go on trashing each other forever.
  • Kushiel's Legacy: Phèdre nó Delaunay and Joscelin Verreuil embody this trope for the first two books of the series. The former is a masochistic prostitute who frequently sleeps with people as a method of solving problems, and the latter is her celibate combat butler-bodyguard. Phèdre nó admits—to her shame—that she actually really enjoys the agony of it. They iron it out in the first few years, though, and are eventually Happily Married.
  • Subverted in Franz Kafka's short story "A Little Woman"; the narrator worries about people suspecting him and the titular character of having an affair solely due to her irrational dislike of him—obviously, this isn't the case.
  • In the original novel The Princess Bride, Buttercup's parents were described as having this type of relationship, to the point that when her father died and her mother almost immediately followed, it was believed to be the sudden lack of opposition that killed her.
  • The Queen's Thief: Gen has a rather unbelievable but somehow endearing version of this with the Queen of Attolia, who imprisoned him and cut his hand off, and whom he must blackmail into marrying him.
  • Redeeming Love: Michael and Angel's marriage suffers through a period of this. She's a Broken Bird former prostitute who doesn't realize how Love Hungry she actually is; he's a Love Martyr with no relationship experience and a divine mandate to love his wife unconditionally. It's a very weird relationship since all Angel has enough self-confidence to do is try to seduce Michael, which he keeps refusing because he knows she won't make an emotional connection with sex. They don't even fight that much; she runs away, he goes after her, she cheats on him, he refuses to rise to the bait and fumes in silence, she goes to ridiculous lengths to try to make up for her failures. It all works out eventually since, as the title implies, it is ultimately a story about how Unconditional Love Redeems.
  • The Star of the Guardians is all built around the Masochism Tango between two of the three main characters.
  • The Wheel of Time:
    • It's actually the societal norm for romance to be The Masochism Tango in Saldaea, much to the bafflement of Perrin when he marries Faile. As The Parody puts it:
      Bashere: Perrin, I must train you in Saldaean ways. You must yell at your wife like this: DEIRA!!! PUNCH!!! NOW!!!
      Deira: Yes, dear.
      Bashere: But only when she wants you to. Sometimes she wants you to be soft and gentle, like this: I love you, my cuddly little honey-bunny.
      Deira: Yes, dear.
      Bashere: And sometimes she wants to yell at you, like this:
      Deira: DAVRAM!!! MASSAGE MY BACK!!! NOW!!
      Bashere: Yes, dear. And sometimes she wants to be soft and gentle with you, like this:
      Deira: I will perch on your shoulder, my big, strong rock of a husband.
      Bashere: So you see, it's not that hard. Do you know anything about babbling women who don't know what they want?
      Perrin: Well, I grew up in the Two Rivers.
      Bashere: Oh, you'll be fine. But if you do get anything wrong, I will kill you.
    • A story Thom Merrilin tells Mat: When Thom was young, he encountered a blacksmith's wife whose husband would control who she talked to and beat her up if she so much as looked at other men. Thom gallantly offers to rescue her — and is forced to hastily leave the village when she immediately runs and tells her husband! Thom later finds out that she would control the money, and beat her husband up if he as much as had a single beer at the inn. The moral of the story is to not judge before you have heard both sides.
  • Wuthering Heights: Played with, in that most of the characters think Heathcliff and Cathy are a terrible match, even though most readers will agree that their trademark brand of selfishness, vindictiveness, contempt for others, and mutual obsession means they really are perfect for each other. While their relationship may well have turned out to be a Destructive Romance even if they had been together from the start, it would probably not have gotten to quite the level of vengeful spite it did when they tried to live apart.
  • The Twits by Roald Dahlis all about a couple who are this trope ad absurdum. They are also highly abusive people in general: towards the neighborhood children, and towards their pet monkeys. The pet monkeys end up orchestrating their demise.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Almighty Johnsons: Ty and Eva's marriage is characterized by violent sex and sexualized violence. According to Agnetha and Olaf, this is standard for a relationship between deities.
  • The Amazing Race: Happens Once a Season
    • And Tara & Wil from Season 2 were the series' Ur-Example, with their behavior towards each other making fans wonder how they EVER agreed to marry each other. As TWOP recapper Miss Alli commented during a rare moment of Tara laughing at one of Wil's jokes and Wil visibly beaming at his success: "This is so weird. If he likes her this much, then why is he so mean to her?"
    • In The Amazing Race 6'' had almost every couple fighting in the second half of the season. The most notable was Jonathan & Victoria, which is worse than Tara & Wil as Jonathan comes off as abusive.
    • In season 9 Lake & Michelle (mostly Lake) swap insults, rants, and epithets for nearly the entirety of every episode after the first. When finally eliminated from the Race, they declare their love for each other in such a way that you begin to wonder what chunk of their lives was left on the cutting room floor.
    • In the first All-Stars season, Eric & Danielle were forced together by Executive Meddling and argue often. Said arguing intensified in the second half of the season. Unlike others, they were an overall weaker team but they were able to make it to the final leg and actually won.
    • In Season 12, Nathan & Jennifer fought the entire race rather than mend their broken relationship, which is why they came on the show in the first place.
    • Season 16 gave us Brent & Caite, who's fighting and yelling gotten them deemed The Scrappies of the season, upon other things.
  • A contestant on America's Got Talent performed an act to the song of the same name in which he danced a Tango in between having her smash cinder blocks on his stomach while on a bed of nails among other things.
  • Battlestar Galactica (2003)
    • Lee Adama and Kara Thrace had their epic "I hate you, I love you, I hate you" outlasted three seasons, several space battles, two drunken sex accidents, two whirlwind marriages (to other people), one inexplicable weight gain (and more inexplicable loss), one case of Stockholm Syndrome, one apparent death, and many fans' patience, and was only resolved when Starbuck was revealed to have been Dead for Real and up and vanished. It's been suggested recently that these two actually work well as a deconstruction of this trope and that RDM was trying to show just how dysfunctional this type of pairing would be if portrayed realistically.
    • Saul and Ellen have been dancing theirs for a long time. Several thousands of years, in fact. Although it's hard to tell how much of it is really them and how much of it is the fact that they've had their heads seriously messed with by someone with a seriously messed up head.
  • The Boys (2019), the relationship between Homelander and Stormfront starts with them having very violent sex, exacerbated by them both being superpowered. They hit and throw each other, and Homelander, to paraphrase Stormfront, lasers her tits. The next episode has them making out and having sex in an alley while coated in the blood of a robber after Homelander crushed the robber's skull.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • Xander and Cordelia. Later, Xander began dating Anya, an ex-demon whose idea of a romantic evening (at first) was to brag about all the men she'd tortured and killed over the centuries, though they actually developed a nice rapport later on.
    • In contrast, Buffy and Spike were straight Destructive Romance, not Played for Laughs at all towards the end.
  • A literal version in Burn Notice, with Michael and Fiona, as at one point they come to blows about it. They eventually resolve things and are back to a semi-dysfunctional couple, with the occasional outburst by Fiona, such as her slapping him when he was planning a trip to Cuba, "to remind [him] to be careful," just after giving him a kiss for luck.
  • Cheers
    • Proudly coarse Carla Tortelli and snooty John Allen Hill. Hurling insults was their favorite foreplay.
    • Sam and Diane on many occasions. They do genuinely love one another, but Diane is extremely put off by Sam's less sophisticated tastes and has a tendency to overreact to anything, while Sam is often hurt by Diane's jabs at his intelligence. Toward the end of season 2, he notes he's started being nasty to Diane just to hurt her, even though he doesn't like doing it. Their break-up drives him back to alcohol, and Diane to a mental institution. Several times from then on, they're told the relationship is unhealthy and will bring them misery, but they (mostly Diane) refuse to hear it and keep on trying to make it work. It doesn't.
  • Coronation Street: Steve and Karen McDonald. Despite marrying for a bet, the two quickly realized that they really did love one another after all. However, much to the amusement of fans of the show, their subsequent storylines focused on how Karen completely browbeat her husband. Eventually, the couple split after both had affairs (including one scene where Karen had sex with her lover despite knowing that Steve could hear everything), but got back together and then divorced (Karen forced Steve to do this so she could have a proper wedding). Unfortunately, their second wedding was ruined by Tracy Barlow, who had slept with Steve (when he was separated from Karen) and had his baby. Despite the fact that Karen chose to re-marry Steve many more arguments followed, but the final straw came when Karen suffered a nervous breakdown following a miscarriage and abducted Steve's daughter by Tracy. Steve decided to put an end to The Masochism Tango for good.
  • Dallas: JR and Sue Ellen Ewing to the nth. He cheats, she drinks and cheats, he cheats and has her committed... and on the dance goes. Most of the horrible things Sue Ellen does are fairly reasonable reactions to JR's misdeeds, but many argue that he was only slightly overreacting to her being a right old bitch in the first place. The more heinous infractions include: JR using Sue Ellen's alcoholism as his go-to blackmail or attempting to push her off the wagon for the same reason, Sue Ellen's use of their son as a pawn knowing it's JR's only weak spot, JR cheating on and conspiring against Sue Ellen with her own sister, believing Sue Ellen shot him and allowing her to rot in jail when her crazy sister was the actual culprit, and Sue Ellen actually shooting him a few years later. Somewhere in there, they get a divorce, RE-MARRY (because of all the love), then re-divorce. The two are so massively screwed up that they make a certain sense together, but even at the best of times, he makes it clear that she will always be second to Ewing Oil.
  • A list of all the times the various Degrassi series did this would be a Wiki in itself. Some of the more notable cases:
    • Joey and Caitlin on Degrassi High were supposed to be Star-Crossed Lovers — even though Joey was a classic Small Name, Big Ego with self-esteem problems and Caitlin was a stern, moralistic social activist. They broke up and got together again too many times to count.
    • The same thing happened in the fourth season of Degrassi: The Next Generation, which paired J.T. who is goofy, irresponsible, and tactless with Liberty who is humorless, workaholic, and a world-class Control Freak. They insist that they're in love, but all we see is them arguing. At one point, J.T. brags about their sex life in public, and Liberty pours cold soda down his pants.
    • Emma, the resident idealistic goody-two-shoes on Degrassi: The Next Generation, has had several boyfriends — all of them extremely bad boys. First, she dated a Troubled, but Cute boy whom she broke up with twice. Then she dated an amateur DJ whom she felt eternally awkward around. Then she began performing oral sex on the same boy whom she had tried to get expelled one season earlier. She wound up catching gonorrhea from him. Then Emma began dating Peter, whom she first met when he was blackmailing her best friend. And when she broke up with him, she went back to the very same Troubled, but Cute boy she started with (for a while, anyway).
  • Devious Maids: Evelyn and Adrian Powel often berate, insult, and scheme against one another. They despise each other deeply, but they also love each other. It is a very complicated relationship. The trope is referenced almost directly:
    Evelyn: Wouldn't it be easier to attempt to waltz?
    Adrian: We could, but let's face it — you and I were meant to tango.
  • Doctor Who: The Doctor and River Song. In between constantly snarking at each other, constantly lying to each other in order to prevent paradox, and her punching/slapping him in the face a few times over, she also repeatedly tries to kill him because she was raised to be his assassin. And then, when she has to kill him because it's a fixed point in time and not doing so would rip the universe apart, she adamantly refuses because she thinks she loves him too much. Their relationship only gets more complicated from that point on.
  • ER has a familial version with Abby and her bipolar mother Maggie. Abby outright describes their relationship as "the dance we do"—-her mother shows up all cheerful and enthusiastically swearing that things are going to be different than the hundred other times this has happened. Abby however, recognizes this as the beginning of a manic phase and knows that it's only a matter of time before she goes off the wall and causes chaos—she outright says this to Carter just after this has indeed happened. Her mother then disappears for months before turning up again, this time in a depressed phase, possibly to the point of being suicidal. Despite how miserable the whole thing makes Abby, it's obvious that she can't bring herself to get out of it, even telling her mother after her latest suicide attempt, "I will always show up because you have that power over me."
  • Farscape: John and Aeryn. From their very first meeting, they're beating on each other (usually Aeryn is smacking John around but not always) and it becomes a common theme in the series. Which made the following musical tribute inevitable.
  • Father Ted: A Running Gag was that the couple who run the local shop is always having a screaming row or in the process of attempting to kill each other until the moment the priest walks in, at which point they immediately become a pair of outwardly-cheerful Stepford Smilers. There's an element of real-world social commentary under the humour; at the time Father Ted started airing (1995), divorce was still illegal in Ireland.
  • Fawlty Towers: Basil and Sybil Fawlty are a classic — if rather more complex — example of this trope switching between this and No Accounting for Taste. Casually insulting one another, both face to face and behind their backs, Sybil does seem to appreciate even these acerbic exchanges. And Basil does occasionally try to do something vaguely nice, such as remembering their wedding anniversary (but of course, gets a dangerous kick out of making her believe he has forgotten until the last moment):
    Basil: I'm pretending I've forgotten. I forgot last year and got flayed alive for it... but told I've remembered yet. Let's have her have a bit of a fume.
    Polly: Wouldn't it be simpler to boil her in oil ?
    Basil: Yes, but not as economical.
  • Frasier:
    • A one-sided example came with Niles and Maris (starting about late S2 and finishing in S6). She manipulated him, dominated him, you could very well say that she was emotionally abusive and she put him through torment during their divorce. What's interesting is that Niles seems to go for or even cause these types (due to his submissiveness when it comes to women); His emaciated pet was Maris in dog form, Mel might have treated him better but was still dominating and even Daphne became shriller and bitchier after they got together.
    • In the episode "The Focus Group", Niles actually intentionally attempts to instigate one of these between him and Daphne after they got into their first argument and he...enjoyed it so much. This, mind you, is before they got together, so it fails pretty miserably. Daphne's just too polite to take the bait and only argued with him in the first place because she was already at her wit's end.
  • Friends: Ross and Rachel often fell into this trope in their worst moments, crossing over with Slap-Slap-Kiss.
  • Game of Thrones: The incestuous, decades-long affair-slash-defacto-marriage between Queen Cersei and Ser Jaime Lannister. They're both prideful, volatile people, and when paired with the stress caused by secrecy, you end up with a mild version of the Masochism Tango from the beginning, which then gets dialed up. Like in the books, Jaime does slowly begin to drift apart from his sister, but—unlike in the books—he still remains committed to her for far longer, despite recognizing her flaws. Eventually, at the end of Season 7, upon seeing that Cersei has no intention of helping out in Final Battle when Gondor Calls for Aid, Jaime finally has enough and leaves Cersei to go help. During that time he tries to rebound with his friend Brienne, but that serves as the catalyst for him realizing that he wants to be with Cersei anyway. He goes back to convince her to surrender, thus saving her life. He fails to get to her in time, and they die in each other's arms.
  • Gossip Girl: Blair and Chuck. Blair actually explicitly says "Only a masochist could love such a narcissist." Frequently leans more towards Love Martyr with Blair, because although she's manipulated and insulted him too, Chuck's actions are generally more damaging.
  • Hannah Montana: One wonders if Lilly and Oliver's (previously Platonic Life-Partners) Relationship Upgrade was, in fact, an upgrade. They seem to alternate between being Sickeningly Sweethearts and being at each other's throats.
  • How I Met Your Mother
    • Ted and Zoey in season 6. Ted insists that they actually have a very healthy relationship and merely "challenge" each other instead of agreeing about everything like Marshall and Lily. However, Future Ted admits that in hindsight, Lily and Marshall's relationship was much more functional and his own relationship with Zoey was a disaster.
    • Also, Robin and Barney have some of this. During the episode "Slapsgiving 2: Revenge of the Slap," when arguing she should get Marshall's transferred slap (instead of Ted), she claims, "I've never hit Barney... in the face."note  (Though it's possible she was referring to something dirty.)
  • House: While Word of God says that House and Stacy were meant to be deeply in love, onscreen it was more like this. She's deeply self-righteous about the whole "cutting up his leg without his consent" thing and hasn't seemed to learn her lesson when it comes to her ill husband either, doesn't believe that he has any human feelings whatsoever (even when he shows her and us his adorable, romantic/cheesy side by giving her a prescription for her "heart problem") and seems to act like she wants to kill him in his sleep. For his part, he can't decide whether he wants her to be with him or if he wants her to suffer and at one point, breaks into her therapy file so he can act like the nice guy. He ended it in "Need To Know" but it really, really doesn't make him any happier.
  • iCarly: The Sam/Freddie pairing. Once they get together, the next episode is about them constantly fighting, to the point where Carly tells them they need to sort out their problems or they should break up. The next episode says they only fought three times that day, and that Sam still hits Freddie, just not in the face. They then get into a massive almost break-up moment when Sam is revealed to have sabotaged an admission paper that could have helped him get into any college he wanted. They still stay together through both episodes.
  • One of the earliest television examples, Fred and Ethel Mertz from I Love Lucy. If divorce had been as common in the first half of the 20th century as it is now, they probably would have split up twenty years before the series began.
    Ricky: What do you know about rice?
    Fred: Well, I had it thrown at me on one of the darkest days in my life.
    • Reality Subtext: actors William Frawley and Vivian Vance openly despised each other, and flatly turned down a spin-off series starring the two of them.
  • Kamen Rider Ex-Aid: One of the reasons why Taiga lets Nico stay is because she pushes him, punches him around and they yell at and insult each other. He is just so messed up he can only accept that sort of bad attention that she gives him. It doesn't look like that, but they really do care about each other. They have, on occasion, expressed their affection with threats of bodily harm if the other one gets hurt doing something stupid or with a screaming match because it already happened. One way or another, they are still worse off without each other.
  • The Kids in the Hall: There's a sketch where a couple is being very loud in a restaurant with their arguing. Mark's character complains to them and he gets punched in the face by the guy, only to get up and see that the couple has forgotten about him and begun making out passionately.
  • Life with Derek: Sam and Casey suffered through an extremely fragile on-again, off-again relationship for several episodes before finally calling it quits for real.
  • Living Single: In very stark contrast to the loving couple of Overton and Synclaire, there is Kyle and Maxine. The first season initially had them sniping at each other until a drunken one-night stand eventually awakens feelings in one another (hell, the following episode actually had them engage in an actual tango where they routinely insulted each other and Kyle literally left Max on the floor in The Stinger!) Soon, while he did develop feelings of love for her, her usual "take no prisoners/hates being vulnerable/all men are pigs" attitude sabotaged any real growth in their relationship until they bitterly broke up in season four and he moved to London. At least until a Surprise Pregnancy (using his sperm for a donor bank) eventually brought them back together, seemingly for good in happily remaining a couple and raising their resulting daughter.
  • Married... with Children: Al and Peg pretty much treat each other as mortal enemies, and even take glee in ruining things that the other would enjoy, however, each becomes insanely depressed/violent/jealous on those occasions where it looks as though the other has found someone else.
  • Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy have been the Official Couple of The Muppets for a quarter-century, however, in that time, there have been a fair bit more instances of them bickering than getting along. Piggy's affections towards Kermit usually go unreturned, and they can both be quite abusive towards each other (Kermit verbally, Piggy physically).
  • The Nanny: Niles and C.C Babcock. Throughout the first five seasons, they'd shoot insults back and forth out of the wind. Then, Niles realized he was in love with her, and proceeded to get rejected. 3 times. (It didn't help that the first time he said anything of this to her it was a marriage proposal. And then another. And another.) Eventually, they got married and were expecting when the show went off.
  • Nip/Tuck: Sean and Julia McNamera are so ungodly ill-suited for each other from the moment they appear onscreen than any other two people in the universe would have come to their senses and cut ties years ago: they tend to split up and recombine a minimum of once per season, swearing every time they do either one that this time, it's going to stick. It never does, and one wonders if even the writers can put up with their whining for much longer.
  • The Office (US) plays this for laughs with Ryan and Kelly. They are absolutely terrible for each other and share nothing in common, except for the fact that they are both narcissistic, vain, shallow, manipulative, immature, self-obsessed, and selfish drama addicts. They make each other miserable whenever they're actually in a relationship, but whenever they break up and one seems to be taking an interest in another person, the other will pull out all the stops to sabotage any other relationship and ensure that they get back together.
  • The Orville: Bortus and Klyden's marriage shows them constantly at odds, to the point where it seems like they actually hate each other. There's a massive disagreement when their child is born female, with Klyden revealed to be a Boomerang Bigot, over giving the child "corrective surgery" to make her male. Then Bortus gets addicted to holographic pornography and starts ignoring his marriage, so Klyden tries to divorce him by stabbing Bortus through the heart per Moclan customs. Then Klyden exposes Bortus' former partner for being heterosexual and starts to indoctrinate their son with his Homonormative Crusader beliefs, earning Bortus' ire. Bortus then gives Klyden a "The Reason You Suck" Speech in front of his own commanding officer. This comes to a head when Topa finds out that she was born female, with Bortus supporting Topa's choice to have the surgery reversed over Klyden's objections. Their marriage dissolves as Klyden disowns his family and returns to Moclus.
  • Saturday Night Live had a pair of recurring characters circa 2005 called The Needlers: The Couple That Should Be Divorced that basically epitomized this trope:
    Sally Needler: Well, that's because someone got mad at the grill and pushed it into the swimming pool.
    Dan Needler: That was probably because someone kept complaining that their steak tasted too steak-y.
    Sally Needler: You know, you ruin every Fourth of July.
    • Sometimes, an Only Sane Man in the sketch will tactfully suggest they seek couples counseling. The Needlers will act like this suggestion has come out of nowhere and declare that their marriage is just fine, before going right back to bitching at each other. Worse yet, at least one skit had them mentioning that they were going to counseling and that it was helping a great deal, making you wonder just how bad things were before.
    • This trope is driven home by the fact that every skit ended with them storming off somewhere, presumably to continue the argument in private, but in reality to have sex. After which, of course, they would go right back to screaming at each other.
  • Scrubs: Dr. Cox and Jordan. These two are stunning, simply because even when they are openly together and obviously planning on spending the rest of their lives together, they continue to insult, demean and torment each other, even when they're happy. Both also undergo significant Character Development and gradually show softer sides to their characters and let their defenses down, but this part of their relationship never changes. It also seems like their relationship actually thrives on the fighting, and that their shared hatred actually brings them together. This was showcased best in one episode where Jordan no longer wants to fight because of Jack. So Dr. Cox tries to initiate fights with other people, to which Carla says that she won't fight with him. They eventually patch things up after Cox tells Jordan she's just like her mother, and they agree not to fight in front of Jack... but can do it all they want when he's not around. By the final season, Cox tells Jordan that he's tired of pretending like they don't like each other because "newsflash: we do!" To which Jordan responds by gasping and saying, "Take that back!"
  • The Secret Life of the American Teenager: Friends with Benefits Ricky and Adrian. They mostly either just argued and/or had sex. They never went on dates and Ricky never wanted to be seen in public with her. Their relationship consisted mostly of them cheating on each other and claiming each sexual conquest as retaliation. When her father asked her what she liked about Ricky besides looks, Adrian couldn't answer. They mostly seemed to show genuine affection through jealousy towards those they viewed as threats to their relationship. Their relationship later ended when Adrian had sex with their mutual friend, Ben.
  • There's definitely a few in Six Feet Under, but none are more obvious than Nate and Lisa. Nate clearly doesn't care for Lisa at all when they're together ("I am so proud of us for making this thing work," he says, then cringes a few seconds later when Lisa says "Oh Nate, I love you so much sometimes it terrifies me.") Lisa, on the other hand, holds ridiculously high standards for Nate and snipes away at him when he can't meet them. Both of them spend a season being ridiculously passive-aggressive towards each other, but when Lisa dies, the guilt of his awful behavior starts to devour Nate.
  • Smallville: Lana and Clark. All the time they were together he was more emo than Batman. They even lampshaded this in a season 8 episode, when Lana returns to the show. And literally when she has kryptonite inside her, causing him ACTUAL pain.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
    • Played this for laughs in a Story Arc about Klingon romances — the Klingon concept of foreplay involves wrestling bitchslapping and broken bones, and the cowardly Ferengi Quark winds up having to participate (and insisting while getting patched up in sickbay that it was Worth It.)
    • You can see Worf's dating advice here. Dax manages to hold her own with Worf in that episode (both come in to sickbay, supporting each other, with various bruises and fractures at the end); apparently, she was used to it enough as Curzon to manage.
    "Men do not roar. Women roar. And hurl heavy objects. And claw at you."
    "What does the man do?"
    "He reads love poems. (Beat) He ducks a lot."
    • Cardassians have a similar custom of snapping at each other during their courtship period. A female Cardassian engineer argued the toss extensively with O'Brien, only to reveal later that she found him attractive, bluntly declaring, "I assure you that I am quite fertile." She took the news that O'Brien was already married surprisingly well, saying at the end that Keiko was a lucky woman.
  • The Suite Life on Deck: Cody and Bailey started out as a sweet, endearing couple who were well-matched intellectually and tolerant and forgiving of one another's faults. As the second season progressed, they constantly fought for dominance in the relationship, and everything became a competition between them. By the time they broke up at the end of season two, they weren't so much ending their relationship as putting it out of its misery.
  • That '70s Show: Hyde and Jackie. Before they got together, their interactions consisted entirely of slinging barbs and insults at each other. And after, their relationship was... pretty much the same, only now they had sex. Jackie refused to notice this. Hyde knew it but tried not to care.
  • The White Lotus: Daphne and Cameron initially seem to have an idyllic and affectionate marriage, but the season reveals that their relationship is more dysfunctional than they let on. Cameron is unapologetically unfaithful and irresponsible, while Daphne copes by enjoying the privileges their marriage gives her and retaliates by being unfaithful in turn and acting spontaneous in ways she knows irritate him.

  • the Mountain Goats: Recurring characters the "Alpha couple" are locked in a mutually self-destructive spiral of alcoholism and substance abuse, veering between declarations of love, expressions of total hopelessness, and outright Kung-Shui.
  • Baths "Lovely Bloodflow" is about a guy singing to his girlfriend about how they deliberately upset each other in order to make themselves feel more alive, hence the "Lovely Bloodflow."
  • Florence + the Machine's "Kiss With A Fist".
    I hit you once, you hit me back
    You gave a kick, I gave a slap
    You smashed a plate over my head
    Then I set fire to our bed
  • The Bill Withers song "Use Me" is about a man in this sort of relationship, and how people keep trying to warn him about how he's being used, not realizing that he likes it.
  • Voltaire feat. Amanda Palmer's "Stuck With You" is about two horrible people married to each other and constantly war against each other reaching the heights of bodily harm and murder. However, at the end, when they are both dead and say that if they had to be stuck with someone, at least it was the other.
  • The Ballad Of Tom Jones, Space's duet with Cerys Matthews, veers between an extreme version of this trope and Slap-Slap-Kiss. The couple in the song are constantly at each other's throats, to the point where the woman tries to kill the man by driving him off a cliff. The only thing that stops the couple from killing each other is — you've guessed it — the sound of the music of Tom Jones.
    Tommy: Why're we still together?
    Cerys: Oh, I can't leave until you're dead.
    Tommy: You mean "'til death do us part"?
    Cerys: I mean like cyanide, strangulation, or an axe to your head!
  • A recurring theme in P!nk's music, reflecting her real-life relationship with her husband, especially "True Love":
    I know life would suck without you
    At the same time, I wanna hug you
    I wanna wrap my hands around your neck
    You're an asshole but I love you
    And you make me so mad
  • Passion Pit's video for single "Carried Away" depicts a couple that seems to be this, constantly fighting then forgiving each other.
  • There are hints to this relationship in Pink Floyd's Rock Opera The Wall between Pink and his wife, at least until she cheats on him and leaves him.
    Pink: How could you go? / You know I need you / to beat to a pulp on a Saturday night.
  • The Bravery song "Hatefuck".
    There will be no tenderness, no tenderness
    I will show no mercy for you,
    you had no mercy for me
    The only thing that I ask, love me mercilessly
  • Savage Garden's "Break Me, Shake Me".
    So won't you break me shake me hate me take me over
    When the madness stops then you will be alone.
  • Nearly every song by Maroon Five is about this. Particular stand-outs are "One More Night" and "This Love," songs told from the point of view of men in abusive or parasitic relationships who know they're unhealthy but just can't get out of them.
  • David Byrne's "They Are in Love" opens with a description of a couple in the throes of this. Oddly enough, the narrator goes on to speak of all the positive effects love has had in his own life.
    She put the scar on the side of his face.
    He disappeared for three days.
    They say they are in love.
    He took her cocaine when she was asleep.
    Friends say he gave half away.
    They say they are in love.
  • Tom Waits' The Heart of Saturday Night: "Semi Suite" and "Please Call Me Baby" are both about relationships where the couples argue a lot, but just keep coming back to each other.
  • "Paradise" by Eyedea & Abilities describes a boy and a girl trapped in this kind of relationship. The final verse, however, takes the perspective of the man, who finally finds the courage to break the cycle for both their sakes.
  • Daughtry's "Battleships".
    And I don't wanna fight this war
    Bullets coming off our lips
    But we stick to our guns and we love like battleships
  • "Battlefield" by Jordin Sparks.
    One minute, it's love
    And, suddenly, it's like a battlefield
    One word turns into a war
    Why is it the smallest things that tear us down
    My world's nothing when you're gone
    I'm out here without a shield, can't go back, now
  • "Suffocate Me" by Angelfish. Apparently, the lines "I feel like your roman candle / Do your stuff while the empire falls" mean that she's volatile, like a firework known for injuring its users, and her partner is unfeeling and sadistic, like the Emperor Nero who is said to have played his fiddle as his city burned. And they revel in it.
  • "I Hate Everything About You" by Three Days Grace.
    I hate everything about you / Why do I love you?
  • Taylor Swift's "The Way I Loved You."
    But I miss screaming and fighting and kissing in the rain
    And it's 2am and I'm cursing your name
    You're so in love that you act insane
    And that's the way I loved you
    Breakin' down and coming undone
    It's a roller coaster kinda rush
    And I never knew I could feel that much
    And that's the way I loved you
    • According to the narrating character in her song "You Belong With Me", the character she's pining for is in this kind of relationship.
    You're on the phone with your girlfriend, she's upset
    She's going off about something that you said
    'Cause she doesn't get your humor like I do
  • Jhené Aiko "The Worst" has her singing about falling in love with a toxic partner, which she can't bring herself to leave despite knowing he's bad for her.
  • "All I Want is You" by Carly Simon is about a woman wondering what the neighbours make of the blazing rows they hear through the walls, and how they have no way of knowing this is exactly the relationship she wants.
  • Joan Armatrading limns this kind of relationship in the bright and poppy "(I Love It When You) Call Me Names".
    Big woman and a short, short man
    And he loves it when she beats his brains out
    He's pecked to death but he loves the pain
    And he loves it when she calls him names
  • "Laid" by the band James is a cheerful little song about two obsessive nutjobs physically and mentally abusing each other. The singer's therapist has advised him multiple times to stay away from his girlfriend, but he can't do it.
    Moved out of the house, so you moved next door
    I locked you out, you cut a hole in the wall
    I find you sleeping next to me, I thought I was alone
    You're driving me crazy, when are you coming home??

     Music Videos 
  • Miserable: The song is about a man who is with a woman who is abusive and uses him, but he can't get away from her because of the way he lusts for her. The video visualizes this by portraying the singer's girlfriend as a giantess who uses her sex appeal to toy with him and his band mates via dressing in a bikini and high heels and letting them walk on provocative parts of her body. By the time any of them realize how dangerous she is for them it's too late and one-by-one she happily eats each of the singer's friends alive, before she finally grabs him, tosses him into her mouth, and swallows him. As much as the singer insisted he enjoyed or didn't mind her abuse, the way he and the guys react with utter fear right before she devours them shows that they actually didn't want to be used like this but were helpless to stop her.

  • Blanche and Harry Morton in The Burns and Allen Show: constantly fighting, yelling, and insulting each other. They only team up when something happens that they both want to condemn more than each other, usually involving a mistaken impression that George has done something terrible. Starting in 1949, they are probably the Sitcom Ur-Example.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The main premise and the backstory of the Japanese card game "Gachinko" concerns the battle between a married couple who are also martial artists. Mariko (the wife) and Mario (the husband) aren't in a good mood and fight each other physically over trivial matters.

  • Apparent in The Comedy of Errors.
  • As far as Shakespearan examples of this trope go, the most polarizing has to be The Taming of the Shrew. Interpretations range from "historically accurate portrayal of spousal cruelty with Petruchio as heartless abuser and Kate as brainwashed victim" to "unconventional comedic love story with Kate as pre-feminist spitfire and Petruchio as her intellectual equal." No one seems to agree on what exactly the main couple's relationship entails.
  • RENT: The song "The Tango: Maureen" tells you all about how Maureen torments the people she dates with compulsive flirting.
    When you're dancing her dance
    You don't stand a chance
    Her grip of romance makes you fall
    So you think might as well
    Dance a tango to hell
    At least I'll have tangoed at all
  • The entire point of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?.
  • Thrill Me: Nathan and Richard have this sort of relationship — at first glance, it looks one-sided, with Richard stringing Nathan along and dropping him on a whim, but we have a few moments where Richard's mask slips and we can see he feels basically the same way about Nathan. Not that that's actually any healthier.

    Video Games 

    Visual Novels 
  • May I Take Your Order: Depending on your choices, eldritch Talaiporia can really go to town on regenerative masochist boyfriend Hendrik. And getting the best ending involves dealing some serious damage in creative ways.
  • Umineko: When They Cry contains a very creepy and villainous example of this: Lambdadelta and Bernkastel fight each other in a game whenever they come across each other in the ocean of the kakera. The penalties for the loser are very severe cases of a Fate Worse than Death. And yet they always assure themselves how much they "love" each other. However, as we learn later in the story, this may be justified as it's all meant to escape the boredom that can literally kill them. By fighting each other, they relieve that boredom in order to survive and spend time with each other. And in the very end, they get their Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other-moment.

    Web Animation 
  • Duke and Missi, from The Vampair, whose increasingly elaborate games of cat-and-mouse alternate between seductive and destructive behavior. It's especially pronounced on Missi's end, since she can discard the cane and go home any time, but stays so she can keep getting back at The Duke. "The Showdown" is almost a literal case, as the two actually do swing dance while trying to mess with and one-up the other. The creator even did some 2021 Valentine's Day Speed Sketches of Duke and Missi to the trope-naming song!
  • The flash animation Eres Veneno ++ by Vinnie Veritas is a serious contender for the greatest example of The Masochism Tango. As was once commented, "there's love, and then there's bitchy love."
  • Church and Tex in Red vs. Blue are this.
    Church: Alright O'Malley, this is it. From now on, if anybody makes my girlfriend cranky and psychotic; it's gonna be me.
    Tex: Aww, that's sweet.
    Church: Shut up, bitch!
    Tex: Asshole!

  • Parodied in the webcomic Girl Genius: the Jagermonster Andre is convinced that the construct Von Pinn loves him. His "proof"? She mauls him on a regular basis without ever quite killing him. Considering she apparently has an already horrific reputation for violence, the fact that she simply takes so long mutilating and dismembering Andre is seen as validation by everyone else on the dirigible. It's reached the point where everyone dismisses the sounds of screaming and roars with "That would be Andre".
    • On top of that, Jagers are kind of like that to begin with.
    • You could say all the Sparks are this way, too. Gil and Tarvek are never more attracted to Agatha than when she's being crazy, beating them/other people up, and wanting to experiment on people. Agatha's the same for them.
  • In The Order of the Stick, they rescue an old man at his wife's request. Then the couple meets again, and they wonder how much of a good deed it was.[1]
  • Dominic Deegan and Luna have turned bitter fighting over each other's habits into foreplay. They like each other's ability to stand up for themselves.
  • xkcd has Black Hat Guy and his love interest. Subverts the "blatantly unsuited for each other" part though: They're both horrible people. Demonstrated here.
    • In this case, it's the Sadism Tango.
  • One of the perks of the Exterminatus Now forum is watching Lothar, one of the comic writers, and his girlfriend Raye get into their regular multi-post arguments and insult exchanges.
  • Something*Positive: Jason and Aubrey are proof that this trope is what happens when Vitriolic Best Buds get married.
  • This is apparently a regular part of Troll relationships in Homestuck, and even has its own name, "kismesissitude" — a relationship based on mutual, eroticnote  hatred between two parties. It's just as important to troll society and reproduction as "matespritship," which is based on mutual pity and is more like a traditional romance. Many individuals will sometimes flip back and forth between the two sorts of relationships, which makes it even more complicated.
    • A good — and exceptionally twisted — example of this would be Vriska's feelings for Tavros. Vriska torments Tavros every chance she gets, even going so far as to mind-control him into jumping off a cliff and then constantly insults him afterwards for being a pathetic cripple. And yet she promptly starts making out with him as soon as they meet up in the Medium. For the most part, Tavros doesn't seem to share her romantic feelings of either stripe and is generally afraid of her. He does still spend time with her, though, sometimes mediated by one of their friends, although he does run away in tears when Vriska is nearly beaten to death by another person she's hurt, and asks Tavros to kill her. Then, when she comes back, he decides he needs to stop her from doing something dangerous, and she kills him when he tries.
      • The main interpretation of Vriska killing Tavros is that she did it not because he was trying to fight her, but because she was angry that it took him so damn long to try. He's one of the few people she actually feels guilty about killing. Kismeses are not supposed to murder each other, because that would end the relationship — and the entire point of kismesssitude is that it's a relationship between two evenly matched enemies.
    • Boy, Troll romance sure is confusing!
    • In terms of reciprocated examples, Jack Noir and Snowman illustrate it best, Vriska and Eridan used to be in one but broke up before the start of the series, Eridan seemed to briefly feel this way for Sollux but was rejected, and Karkat likewise felt this way for John but ran afoul of the fact that humans don't have these types of relationships and that John isn't into guys anyway.
    • Kismesissitude is also the only quadrant that cherubs experience, as all evil cherubs are destructive, evil tyrants that attempt to rip universes apart, while good cherubs are kind, shy protectors who naturally hunt them in order to stop their destruction by mating with them. These attitudes begin development in childhood when each cherub body consists of a "good" half and a "bad" half that each vie for "predomination" of the body; predomination is supposed to be completed at the beginning of adulthood, and the good half usually spend a long time in isolation in order to come to understand the need to procreate, while the bad halves, fueled by the earlier conflict with their sibling, begin destroying planets and life. When they are ready, each cherub couple usually mates around a black hole, and though the ritual itself is of such extreme violence that one or both mates die, the "victor" gains territory, however briefly, while the "loser" is forced to bear the offspring. So if the loser is male...

    Web Original 
  • In the Angry Office sketch from Brandon Rogers, each and every office worker is clearly shown to hate their coworkers' guts and even bully them on a regular basis. And yet, they all continue to work together and even, upon being interviewed, go on full Unreliable Narrator mode as they proceed to refer to their coworkers as their beloved and productive team despite the footage of their utterly dysfunctional workspace being clearly visible while they do so.
  • Riley and Zaboo's relationship in The Guild is more of a sadomasochism tango with Riley as the top and Zaboo as the bottom. He later grows a spine and breaks up with her.
  • Like Dr. Cox and Jordan, The Nostalgia Critic and The Nostalgia Chick have much more fun this way. They've chloroformed each other, both got a bit "BAD TOUCH!" when the other is unconscious, she's tried to kill him and he's locked her in his basement, but he's in love and is one of the very few people she cares about.

    Western Animation 
  • BoJack Horseman: BoJack's parents, Butterscotch and Beatrice. They stayed together for decades despite utterly despising each other and most of the relationship being a continuous string of insult-slinging. They simply hated the other so much they wouldn't let each other be happy, even if it meant being trapped in toxic co-dependence for the rest of their lives.
  • The Spectacular Spider-Man has Sally Avril dating Randy Robertson, and even Randy seems unable to understand why he sticks around with such an obnoxious harpy.
  • Terkel In Trouble contains the sappy love song "Piss off and die!"
  • Duncan and Courtney in the Total Drama series.
    • Heather and Alejandro in World Tour. They even perform a literal masochism tango in the penultimate song, intentionally injuring each other while dancing together.
    • Enforced in Total Drama Presents: The Ridonculous Race with the Daters/Haters: despite a very bad break up, they have to keep working together to stay in the race.
  • Family Guy: This might be part of the reason why Lois stayed with Peter for more than a few months, let alone the two decades of marriage. The time travel episode has Peter ditch her repeatedly thanks to a Reset Button, and every time she seems annoyed but unsurprised.
  • Hey Arnold! gives us the April Fool's tango between Arnold and Helga... solely fueled BY REVENGE. She might love the guy, and he might think she's more than what she appears, but that moment is nothing but rage and spite (despite what most fans think). Of course, the whole thing is a setup for Helga to fool Arnold, but Arnold finds out about it and decides to out-wit her.
  • Kevin Spencer's parents love tormenting each other (especially Percy).
    • Kevin and Shawna are occasionally this.
  • Musa and Riven in Winx Club. They constantly get on each other's nerves and nearly break up for good once, but they really do love each other.
  • Harley Quinn sings an old song about her love for The Joker in Batman: The Animated Series.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Masochism Tango


Woe, Is Me - "Hot n Cold"

When the cover of the original song takes the meaning of the lyrics an extra mile.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (4 votes)

Example of:

Main / Tsundere

Media sources: