This blog began in starts and fits. I wanted to lighten things up a bit by extracting some wisdom from couples on popular television shows—and, as it turns out, you can learn quite a bit from them. But it seems it’s a lot easier to learn what doesn’t work than what does, with contemporary television basically obsessed with dysfunction.
Nevertheless, here are five who stand out as those from whom we can glean a bit of relationship wisdom:
Lady Mary and Matthew Crawley (“Downton Abbey”)
Spoiler alert: He’s the late Matthew Crawley, having died in the Season 3 finale of the PBS hit. During their brief marriage, however, Lady Mary and Matthew were among the most intriguing couples on television.
The strong-headed Lady Mary took her time coming around to the idea of marrying Matthew, not least because they were being pushed together to secure the future of the estate. However, Matthew scored points with Mary—and for healthy relationships everywhere— with his willingness to show his cards from the start. Yet he was no pushover, with a sense of self-possession and comfort in his own skin that Mary found attractive. They constructed a partnership of equals in a time when women were hardly treated as such and in spite of Mary’s more aristocratic upbringing.
Mitchell Pritchett and Cameron Tucker (“Modern Family”)
As partners for almost a decade and the parents of an adopted Vietnamese girl, Lily, Mitchell and Cameron sometimes show outsized emotions and egos, but they’re both willing to be humble for the sake of the relationship. Each treats the other as an equal while knowing—and trying to respect—the other’s limitations. When one of them makes a mistake, he is able to swallow his pride and apologize.
It’s true that each tends to engage in underhanded activities once in a while, and mutual honesty isn’t always their strong point. They always come clean in the end…but one hopes that eventually they’ll learn to be up front from the start.
Ken and Cynthia Cosgrove (“Mad Men”)
Admittedly, Ken and Cynthia were chosen through process of elimination, as “Man Men” suffers from a severe dearth of functional relationships. Pete Campbell seems to have married Trudy purely for the sake of respectability (and her father’s coveted Vicks Chemical advertising account); they’re now separated. Joan Harris and Roger Sterling have had an on-again, off-again relationship for years, but only behind closed doors. As for Don and Megan Draper…well, Don and anyone seem doomed to fail given his failure to be faithful, not to mention his progressively worse abuse of alcohol.
As for Ken and Cynthia? We don’t see much of Cynthia, but unlike his colleagues, Ken always speaks of his wife respectfully—whether or not she’s in earshot. So far, so good for his marriage.
Drs. Derek Shepherd and Meredith Grey (“Grey’s Anatomy”)
They’re both skilled surgeons, even if Meredith will likely never compete with Derek’s rock star status. It works because he keeps his ego in check, while she has enough self-esteem never to see herself as “less than.” Most importantly, they support each other in every way—professionally, personally, and as the parents of two young children.
Meredith’s personal, shades-of-gray sense of right and wrong sometimes causes her to bend the rules in ways that make Derek uncomfortable—and then lie about it. It would serve them well if she’d show more respect for Derek’s concerns by talking things through with him before going rogue. Still, they’ve been through a lot together (Meredith nearly drowning, Derek being shot at gunpoint, a catastrophic plane crash), and it’s hard to imagine what could break them apart now.
Cliff and Clair Huxtable (“The Cosby Show”)
Sure, it’s been a full 22 years since the Huxtables went off the air, but will anyone ever really forget them? The show was often considered groundbreaking for its portrayal of a black family that transcended racial stereotypes, but for many, it also transcended the norm for healthy families of any color.
Clair and Cliff win points on many levels, including:
- Their mutual efforts to maintain a healthy balance of power, using both intelligence and humor to get their point across whenever one felt disrespected;
- Their ability to see the forest for the trees, always taking time to step back and see how much they’d survived together as both a couple and a family; and
- Their success in modeling a good relationship for their children.
Oh, Cliff and Clair, how we miss you on modern television!
Were these real relationships, some of these couples could have benefitted greatly from couples counseling – but would they have taken that step? In “real life”, it’s your call. You deserve to have a great love life. Let’s see if we can make yours better. If you’re considering couples counseling, let the counselors at the Relationship Center of Orange County help. Give us a call at 949-220-3211, or use our online scheduling tool to book your appointment today. We look forward to connecting with you.