Where Do You Look for Positive Marriage Role Models?

Because real life isn't exactly serving them up on a silver platter

by Maddie Eisenhart, Chief Revenue Officer

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Recently I was exchanging emails with one of APW’s regular contributors, when the topic of fear and anxiety around major life changes came up. I don’t process transition well, and apparently, neither does she. She explained, “When I am faced with a situation where I either don’t have a clear vision, or have a vision that is negative, then I get very anxious and experience the stress of that imagined (or confused) future as if it is happening NOW.”

Oh hello, light bulb. I didn’t see you there.

That one small sentence suddenly explained all of my pre-marriage fears (and subsequently, my pre-baby fears). I grew up without a lot of positive married role models. My parents are divorced, both sets of grandparents are divorced, everybody in my immediate family (save for a rogue aunt or uncle here and there) are either very intentionally single or D-I-V-O-R-C-E-D. So while Michael and I knew that we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together, when it came time to picture our future as married partners, I panicked. All I had to look at was a blank screen. And any of the pictures I could fill in were bad.

So I started to look for relationship models that could fill the blank screen with pictures that didn’t make me break out in a cold sweat. And that’s when I rediscovered a love of television. I began analyzing the marriages of people on TV, looking for clues about what made them work. I dove deep into Shondaland (the Grey’s variety, not the Scandal variety, because woof to those relationships), fell in love with Paul Newman and Joann Woodward (see also: David Bowie and Iman), and I learned to see the beauty in my parent’s very amicable divorce. There, if nothing else, I could find comfort in the idea that even in the worst case scenario, two people can still fundamentally love and be kind to each other.

But it’s an ongoing process. My marriage is a constant exercise in delving into the unknown. So looking out for marriage role models isn’t a static process. It’s a constant sending and receiving of signals, trying to find someone just a few steps ahead of me, making it work in a similar dynamic. And I know I’m not alone in this. If there’s one conversation we have consistently behind the scenes at APW, it’s this: Where do you find marriage role models when you grew up without any? Can you fill that gap? I don’t have any concrete answers except that season ten of Grey’s Anatomy was a revelation for me. But maybe you do?

So let’s talk: for the folks who grew up with divorced parents, or unhappily married parents, or single parents, or simply without a marriage to look up to, where do you turn? How do you fill the blank screen?

Maddie Eisenhart

Maddie is APW’s Chief Revenue Officer. She’s been writing stories about boys, crushes, and relationships since she was old enough to form shapes into words, but received her formal training (and a BS) from NYU in Entertainment and Mass Media in 2008. She now spends a significant amount of time thinking about trends on the internet and whether flower crowns will be out next year. A Maine native, Maddie currently lives on a pony farm in the Bay Area with her husband, Michael and their mastiff puppy. Current hair color: Purple(ish).

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  • raccooncity

    I mean, I guess it might be cheating a little, but I looked to my spouse’s parents. Not for everything that our relationship would be, but they are together after 35/40 years now and are very sweet together. I hope to be like them when we’re their age. They’re a lovely couple who speak kindly about each other when the other’s not around.

  • Meg

    Marge and Homer D:

  • Sosuli

    Ugh so timely – last week it emerged that a solid 20+ years of marriage couple in FH’s family is separating. Just days before the ladies’ bridal weekend his family members planned for me. So I spent my “bridal pampering” time consoling his family members and being asked in gruesome detail about my parent’s divorce for comparison… So at the moment I am totally struggling to find good examples!

    • Lizzie

      Just writing to say OOF. I’m so sorry. That sounds like such a difficult and disappointing bridal pampering time!! I hope you have some other stretches of planning & celebration that feel full of joy (and NOT doing the terrible divorce comparison game!!)!

      • Sosuli

        Thanks! I know (from obvious experience) that it’s a really difficult thing to be going through, and I appreciate that they all still came along despite what was going on, but… I can’t help but feel sad that it overshadowed the whole weekend. Luckily I do have a bacholerotte coming up that my friends are organising!

  • Beenanon

    This might be a cop-out, but as someone with happily married parents married to someone with less-than-happily-married parents, I’m not sure that either of us ever considered any couple our marriage role models.

    His parents often regard each other with aromance at best, bitterness at worst that they don’t consider marriage a source of affection or as anything other than a means of raising highly educated children–which definitely does not ring true to us, in the least. But on the other hand, my happy relationship with my husband also varies SO much from my parents’ happy marriage that I can’t picture ourselves following a similar trajectory and a lot of their advice doesn’t really ring true for our particular partnership.

    Maybe we’re individualists to a fault, but we’ve never discussed other marriages in relation to ours. Not to say that we’re so great that we don’t need guidance, but we seem to mostly get it through communication guidance rather than looking to other relationships and trying to figure out what worked for them, because generally, it’s not applicable enough to us. I guess we’re not Universal Truths sort of people!

    • A.

      I can feel this. I love my parents and I love their relationship, but it’s SO different from mine that it’s hard to think of it as something to model. I will say that they taught me the basics through their relationship–respect, affection, partnership. But even what those look like in my marriage differs in subtle yet significant ways from theirs, *especially* with what partnership looks like. The older I get and the better I know my parents as human being, the more I can say, “Wow, I totally see how those choices would make you happy, but they would have the opposite effect on my marriage.” Which is trippy, especially when you grow up idealizing everything your incredibly happy and in love parents do! But I think it’s healthy, really, and an important step in personal growth (and, for the record, my husband had the same thing with his parents, where he realized that he wasn’t doom to repeat their anger cycle because he’s a fundamentally different person).

    • Alison O

      Yes. Both my parents and my partner’s (until his mother died) have pretty strong and admirable marriages in various ways. However, we recognize that and still would want to do things fairly differently, in part because we are different people and live in a different era. I think the same would go for parenting.

  • My partner has 2 older brothers and I look to both of their relationships for guidance and advice.

  • savannnah

    We happily (and not without its own pressure) get to look at both sets of my grandparents and my own parents. Both sets of my grandparents were married for 50+ years and helped to inform my parents of what love and marriage could look like in both positive and negative ways, and more importantly how it could and would evolve. These perspectives I think are part of the reason that my parents have always and without pause always put their relationship at the center of our family. They absolutely love and support us, and all of my siblings have a close relationship with my parents, but they make it very clear that our family is shaped by the fact that their relationship is a priority and that we are only a part of their story. This is in deep contrast to my fiance’s family, who are all divorced and remarried and divorced again. So we talk a lot about differences between family role models and marriage role models. And Barack and Michelle, obvi.

  • toomanybooks

    I also don’t think I ever considered any couple a marriage role model. It just never really occurred to me to have one. Of course, my parents are not divorced, so maybe that’s why it’s something I haven’t had to think about much. Though I suppose I have things I decided I didn’t want in a partner based on my family dynamics (my dad and sister can be dramatic and fussy, while my mom and I are both kind of quiet, bookish, calm people. I decided didn’t want to live with someone who was high-strung or bossy because I didn’t like that dynamic).

    That being said, since being engaged I started listening to the Totally Married podcast (which isn’t about weddings or anything but is the offshoot of the former podcast Totally Laime that the host did with her husband) and Elizabeth and Andy seem like marriage role models if anyone does!

  • Tristan Salazar
    • Tristan Salazar

      Though if we’re looking to real people, both my and my wife’s parents are in stable marriages. In the case of her parents, however, that might not be the best thing. Sometimes divorced parents are a healthy example, because it reminds you that if things don’t turn out like you thought that you can actually walk away.

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    • #yasssss

  • I mean, I have legit turned to Eric when we’re arguing and said, “I don’t think we’re behaving in a way that would make Tami and Eric Taylor proud.”

    • Arie

      THIS. I legitimately learned so much from their relationship. This is so nerdy, but I rewatched the show when things started getting serious with my partner and I TOOK NOTES.

    • Teresa

      GOD. When Coach Taylor followed Tami’s dream career move, I wept uncontrollably. I love them.

    • Danielle

      YES. I love the scene early on when Coach hosts a team BBQ at their house, without really consulting Tami. She begrudgingly helps arrange everything but in the middle of the party she goes under the table ostensibly to “pick something up” and stays there a little while longer. Coach is like, “Why are you under here?” and Tami says, “I need a minute by myself. This is too much and I’m feeling overwhelmed.”

      I actually have been feeling a bit like that lately, and she’s my inspiration. That, plus her hair <3


    • Totch

      I honestly sometimes check myself by going “Are you treating your friend/spouse/coworker the way that Leslie Knope would treat Ann/Ben/Donna?”

    • Hannah

      Tami and Eric were the first fictional couple to come to my mind, as well. They understand each other as real, three-dimensional human beings. Each of them is elevated by the marriage – they work to be the best version of themselves, for their spouse’s and community’s sake. Truly admirable and inspirational.

  • Sara

    My parents are about to hit their 30 year anniversary in the next month, and still like each other. I’m always amazed at the bitterness that can sneak into a relationship, as I’ve seen in my own or my friends’ parents or family members. I’m thrilled my parents are bickering, snarky, sarcastic people but never mean. They don’t speak ill of each other when the other person isn’t around and seem to find their flaws comical and not a pressure point (though I’m sure they’d say differently in high stress situations)

    On TV – Chip and Joanna!, Leslie and Ben, Carla and Turk, Piper and Leo, Peter and Elizabeth (White Collar) …that’s it off the top of my head.

    • another lady

      yes to Peter and Elizabeth from While Collar – good show in general but actually shows a happy functioning marriage where the partners support each other’s ambitions and careers. And, they even show them turning down other people and making their marriage a priority!
      I assume Carla and Turk are from Scrubs…? I’m not sure about the other’s, though.

      • Sara

        Fixer Upper, Parks and Rec, Scrubs, Charmed and White Collar – I thought Peter and Elizabeth were the least recognizable names, but I see the flaw in that plan :)

        I also just have a small crush on Tiffani Amber Thiessen – her show Dinner at Tiffani’s is my guilty pleasure. Her and her husband are also adorable.

        • another lady

          I also love TAT (back in the day I swore I was going to make my children Tiffany and Amber!) – I just know White Collar because we recently binge watched it on Netflix! I didn’t know the Fixer Upper people’s name – but they drive me nuts! (just the premise of the show and cheesiness of it all)

          • another lady

            *name my girl children

          • Sara

            I’m a complete sucker for a feel good reno show. Plus adorable moppets and antiquing/flea market shopping in almost every episode? Right up my alley. Granted, I’m not running out and buying their branded stuff. But if for some reason I ended up in Waco, hell yeah I’m stopping by.

      • I love Peter and Elizabeth because they were one of the few long standing married couples with no kids and the lack thereof was not the focal point of their relationship. Just nope, no kids. That scenario is few and far between.

    • Bsquillo

      Gah, love Chip and Joanna from Fixer Upper, even though their communication style is noticeably more “cute” than how my husband and I interact. But they do seem super genuine, and I love that they are constantly trying to make each other laugh.

  • Rhie

    There’s a couple I know through work that I secretly thinkof as being my marriage spirit animal—the wife is in my section. They’ve been
    married for I guess 15 or so years, still meet each other for lunch most days
    even though they work in different locations, share a lot of interests but also
    have things they do independently of each other, and maybe most importantly,
    are happily without kids. It means a lot to me to see a happily married couple
    sans children, mostly because I’m still on the fence about that whole question and
    it’s nice to be reminded that you can live a long and happy married life
    without reproducing if that’s what you want.

    • JenC

      There’s a woman that I used to work with whose marriage I really admired. They got married when they were 24/25 and had 20+ years of marriage. They were my inspiration because their life now looked nothing like it did when they started their marriage or how they planned on it going. It changed dramatically and they were able to roll with it. When they first got married they had above average salaries, the husband progressed and earned an obsence salary and she became a SAHM. 10 years in they realised that his job was negatively effecting his health and their marriage. He quit working, she had to go back to work after 10 years out and her salary reflected that. Even after 10 years of working she was earning 20-25% of what her husband used to earn. They just got on with it and accepted their new roles. When I got engaged with the various unhealthy marriages, I asked if she still loves her husband or was with for convenience. She gave me a very honest yes she did still love him, that gave me hope.

  • Hannah

    Love, love Grey’s but I think every main character has called off a wedding/engagement, been divorced, cheated, been cheated on, been prematurely widowed, or a combination of these! Not the best for relationahip goals!

    • Sara

      I have a love hate relationship with Grey’s. I usually read recaps and then either watch the whole ep or just watch youtube clips of the characters I want to see, lol. Otherwise I just get annoyed with all the misunderstandings and lack of communication hijinks.

      • AP

        Oh dear lord, the lack of communication!! My husband and I still watch (mostly out of nostalgia) and pretty much once an episode, one of us will yell “SAY something! Why won’t you JUUUUST SAAAAAY what you’re thinking?!” at the TV.

        I’m in the midst of training to teach comprehensive sex ed for teens, and an exercise I had to do recently was watch a popular teen TV show and analyze the health/communication styles/mutual respect of the romantic relationships. It was super fun and interesting. But it has totally made me re-examine every relationship on Grey’s.

        • Eenie

          I spend most of grey’s screaming at the TV. My fiance does not understand. I personally enjoy the show for it’s non romantic relationships and the fact that not everyone has to end up together happily ever after.

  • Katie

    I’m the same as you: parents divorced (my dad twice, both times sucked pretty badly), grandparents are divorced. My boyfriend’s parents have been married for 32 years, but they don’t like each other very much; they probably would have gotten divorced in their younger years, but kids are hard to raise on your own, and at this point they are too stuck in their routine to ever get out of it.

    My one real life marriage role model are my great grandparents. They were alive until I was 13 and they were the epitome f everything a marriage should be: loving, respectful, partners on the big stuff but also individuals who had their own thing going on, and most importantly (to me at least) they were friends. They were also a pretty progressive duo for being married in the 30’s. My great grandpa often said my grandma was the show runner and he just sat in the audience.

    My entertainment ideals: Jim and Pam Halpert, Leslie Knope and Ben Wyatt

    • another lady

      Jim and Pam from the office were pretty great marriage role models for sitcom TV. They supported each other’s career moves (mostly) and shared parenting duties.

    • Eenie

      Yeah, I agree with you. My parents are still married, but I’m definitely not modeling my marriage on theirs!

      I think most of my models are internet strangers. Reading this site for the post wedding essays has really helped me mold what I want out of marriage, but so far it’s more of an experiment to figure out how to actually achieve it.

    • MC

      Ben and Leslie are my FAVORITE. One of the only relationships I’ve seen in TV/movies where the woman’s career and ambitions are given priority multiple times AND there is no resentment from the man in the relationship. Love them!

  • Anon

    Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe, hands down.

  • R

    I can’t find that many people who watch the show, but is there anyone else out there that finds the marriage between Philip and Elizabeth on The Americans fascinating?

    • another lady

      my husband has mentioned that show and their marriage before (he watches it, I don’t)… but, aren’t they spies with a set-up marriage?

      • Leah

        yes, but that’s what makes it so fascinating! if you were told: pretend to be married to this person, share a home, raise 2 kids, act married – at what point would it be substantively no different from a “real” marriage? You have mutual obligations, shared responsibilities, differences you have to work through. The ‘pretend’ marriage part of it I think creates some real space to talk about what a marriage actually is, and what it isn’t…

        • R

          Yes, this! I was struggling to respond because I couldn’t articulate what Leah said here. It’s functionally a very real marriage, and it’s definitely a show about marriage (among other things).

    • AP

      This is one of my favorite shows on TV right now. Not exactly a role model marriage, but definitely fascinating.

      • R

        Mine too. It’s so so good, and it seems like no one is watching it. But no, not a role model marriage, although they have their moments.

    • Her Lindsayship

      I LOVE The Americans!! And yeah, their marriage is super fascinating – at times very disturbing, but interesting still. It’s twisted, but there are things there to admire, they really support each other *sometimes*.

  • SL

    My father can be unkind to my mother, and for a while I was always afraid in relationships that my partners would treat me the way my dad treats my mom. But at some point I realized that I am the one more likely to replicate that dynamic by taking out my disappointments and frustrations on my partner. That was a really freeing realization for me, because it immediately dispelled the nebulous fear that my relationship will turn out like my parents’, and it also helped me take responsibility for actively cultivating kindness and avoiding petty resentments. In a way, I am using my parents as a model for what not to do, and taking that lesson to heart for myself, now, rather than projecting it onto fears about how my partner might behave in the future.

    • Danielle

      This is really well said.

  • Jessica

    Has anyone been watching Catastrophe on Amazon? It’s really funny, and I think a very realistic and good look at a marriage that starts under less-than-ideal circumstances and what that means for the people involved.

    • another lady

      We watched the first season – but haven’t started the second. it’s pretty funny in a dry English way, but not sure if they have a ‘great’ marriage yet…

      • Jessica

        The second season gets into it more–they pick up a couple years after the finale of the first and show the good, bad and ugly side of deciding to stay together.

    • AP

      Yes! Love them! I thought this article about their relationship was really interesting: http://www.npr.org/sections/monkeysee/2016/04/11/473801446/a-good-fit-why-the-best-thing-about-catastrophe-is-people-laughing

      • Jessica

        I love that! My friend and I have talked about Bob’s Burgers being a great show because the characters laugh at each other’s jokes, and aren’t always trying to one-up each other (unless it’s a joke off, in which case both the characters are having fun and it feels real, even if it’s a cartoon). I suggest looking at the AV Club reviews of Catastrophe for season 2, they get into the nitty gritty details of each episode and point out why the relationship is so successful on screen.

        Speaking of, Bob and Linda are a great comedic role model couple. They support each other even while calling each other crazy for whatever crazy thing they are doing.

    • ktmarie

      I love that show! And it is surprisingly ‘real’ to me… It feels like an organic relationship and people just dealing with life the way it actually happens and not in a traditional sit-com

    • rg223

      Also want to upvote Catastrophe for the realistic depiction of pregnancy, for those interested. I basically lived the episode where Sharon has to get genetic testing on the baby and the emotions were spot-on. It made me feel less alone at a time when I really needed that.

  • Anonymouse

    Or conversely: What do you do when your models are *too good*? A privileged problem perhaps, but a very real one in my life. My parents have a film-worthy love story–love at first sight across a crowded bar (literally), thirty years of peaceful and joyful marriage and child-raising. No doubt, no anxiety, no fear–at least not that they are willing to admit, and we’ve talked about this.

    And my and my partner’s story doesn’t look like that, and it’s freaking me out. Especially at the beginning–I *wanted* and somehow *expected* love-at-first-sight, I-just-knew moments and all the rest. And instead meeting the man of my dreams has managed to activate more anxiety and self-doubt than I knew I was capable of.

    I feel like I am constantly comparing us to my parents’ marriage and finding it lacking. The number-one marriage role model in my life, even though it is positive and rock-solid, is actually making my own relationship worse, or at least bringing all sorts of nasty angst to the forefront. And I feel like I don’t know where to turn.

    • Jess

      Even though you’re their kiddo and have an up-close view on their marriage, there are probably a lot of things they haven’t shared. It took me years to figure out that my parents separated for about 6 months while I was in college. I have a friend whose happily married parents just revealed that they have another together child that they gave up for adoption in high school. I’d tell your parents about the angst and I’d be surprised if they don’t let you in on some of the issues that they have or have had over the years. No marriage is perfect.

      • Eenie

        I personally don’t want to know the issues that my parents have. I need to keep it separate. I plan to do the same for my children. I’d recognize that we’re not perfect, but I really wouldn’t give them many details.

        • Ashley Meredith

          I think there’s an important difference between not involving children in your issues, and not telling offspring about challenges as it affects them/they’re old enough to handle it. I think A. illustrates this pretty well – no need to stress out the kids at the time or involve them in the drama directly, just pass on the lesson. But some of the things my mom finally told me AFTER I was married, I was like, “But I needed this information before!! I didn’t know this was a thing I needed to be considering before I got married!!! You could have helped me!!!!”

          If you don’t want to know, of course you have the right to say, “Hey, I don’t want to hear about it,” and keep it separate. But it might turn out that your kids want to know a little more, and it might help them, and it would be a shame if by not telling them something you ended up hurting them. And to bring it back to this thread, it sounds like a little more insight would help Anonymouse.

          • Eenie

            I suppose I am talking about current issues – more recently my mom has been communicating issues currently going on in their marriage. I flat out told her it made me really uncomfortable. That I don’t want to hear. It’s definitely important to pass on lessons and learnings to your kids, but I still stand by my opinion that they will be vague and mostly shiny nuggets of wisdom instead of the actual truth – very similar to what A’s parents did.

            More insight may help Anonymouse, or it could completely change how she views her parents relationship – for better or for worse. That’s always the risk.

      • A.

        I found out about my parents’ former massive credit card debt only a few years ago. They were barely making ends meet throughout most of my childhood (until high school, really), where I thought we were ALWAYS well-off and secure. They had taught me from a young age that CC debt is awful and crushing, but I always assumed it was their infinite wisdom and knowledge, rather than personal experience. It was mind boggling, but also humanizing.

    • Jessica

      My parents’ marriage is pretty awesome too, and yes, supposedly my mom said “I’m gonna marry that guy” the first time she saw my dad. But she also considered calling off the engagement at one point, so…
      I think there are a couple of things that could be happening:
      – Your parents might not be telling you all the negative parts of their marriage, either because they still want to protect their kids (and their relationship — maybe part of the strength of their relationship is based in never “complaining” to outside parties), or because they honestly just don’t remember the hard parts. I’ve tried to talk to my parents about how they disagreed/argued in the early years of their marriage, and they say they’ve never really fought. Well, my husband and I have different communication styles than my parents, and we do fight…but we fight a LOT less after 5 years of being together than we did at the start. As relationships age, I think you figure out each others’ triggers and learn better timing for talks, etc., and you forget how much the dishes in the sink bothered you in your first month of marriage.
      – Your parents also got married in a different era, and probably didn’t have as many choices as you did. Social circles were smaller (no match.com!) and I think there were more widespread “default” life options (finish school –> work in town until you meet someone –> get married to person of opposite gender –> man works, wife stays home). Maybe that was more like 50-60 years ago in some places, but at least in my mom’s rural midwestern hometown, that was still pretty much the expectation. Having more viable life paths can be liberating, but also anxiety-provoking.

      Maybe it would help to talk things out with a therapist, to figure out if your self-doubt is actually a gut reaction that you want to listen to, or if it’s coming from a negative place and you want to move forward from it.

    • Totch

      I posted something similar on Najva’s post from last week about getting over fear of commitment. My parents met when they were 18 and have a super cute story and a working marriage, and all of their kids are serial monogamists. I called it a champagne problem, but it’s true that measuring everything against our parents (and expecting that a successful relationship should look like theirs) has had some negative repercussions on us siblings.

  • Kirsten

    Okay, if we’re gonna go with David Bowie and Iman, you’ve got to see The Onion’s version of their marriage.


    Also, can I just say how much I resent this super early video of David Bowie? His makeup turned out better than mine!


  • macrain

    I have to admit that when a single friend expressed this sentiment to me recently, my first thought was- “but, what about MY marriage?” But then I realized I probably don’t consider any friends my age to be my marriage role models, either.
    I wonder why this is, tho? Does anyone have friends that they consider marriage role models?

    • Michela

      Yes! Perhaps I don’t look to them as marriage role models so much as female role models, if that makes sense. A lot of my fear towards marriage is wrapped up in loss of identity. My mom only ever wanted to be a mom. While this is totally great for those who want this, I’ve been at a loss for what womanhood means when you want more than motherhood. I look at my friends who are recently married or married for 5+ years and remind myself that they’re the same friends I had 10 years ago. We still get drinks and have girls nights or getaway weekends. They’re still interested in wtf Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” announcement will be and whether Trump will become president and we’ll have to move to Europe, etc. So while I don’t necessarily look at their marriages, I admire the individuals they are within their marriages, and that is immensely reassuring to me.

    • One of my best friends is my marriage role model. They’ve been together 15 years and she and I have been friends for nearly 20. So I’ve seen their relationship go from strangers to dating to marriage and now marriage with kids. They have been rock solid since the start.

      But. Since we are so close, I was privy to the times when things were not awesome. Unemployment, surprise pregnancy, more unemployment, aging parents, cancer, fighting to keep a partnership feminist. Because I saw that it wasn’t all sunshine and roses but they were both committed to making it work, I am able to believe in the same thing for myself.

    • G.

      Yes, one of my best friend’s marriage is my role model marriage. He and his wife met when we were roommates, so I witnessed the start of their relationship (which had its assortment of lust and challenges) and have watched it grow. What’s impressive to me is a) their communication; b) their dedication to one another’s careers (they’ve each moved/subordinated their career for one another and he made the more drastic moves earlier on to support her); c) their openness to one another’s faults and strengths (e.g., about a year in, my best friend told me had made the choice that his then-gf, now wife’s drama queen tendencies when stressed out were just part of the package and worth it to him to figure out how to best deal with); d) their support for one another’s independent friendships and activities (i.e., they each still have their own and joint sets of friends; he’s still one of my best friends and the opposite-gender pairing isn’t a threat); e) and their embrace of individual and couples counseling as part and parcel of developing and maintaining good communication and finding ways to deal with life’s stressors (such that they’re prepared ahead of time, not attacking after the fact). It’s definitely the relationship to which I aspire.

    • Sara

      Yes I do. I have five couple friends that were all married in the same year about five years ago. All very different couples who work through their issues differently, but I kinda hold all of them up as goals. One couple I’ve known the wife for since junior high, and she and her husband are just complete opposites who fascinate me. They’re so great together (and great people) but its like Ron Swanson and Charlotte from SATC got married. They’re the most solid couple I know, and I love hearing her insights into marriage.

    • AP

      I do. My best friend ended an engagement when we were just out of college, and I learned so much watching/helping her go through that. She’s married now to a wonderful person, and their marriage is one I admire. They have a few rules I love, like they never bash each other to friends/family and they always present a unified front to the world. Of course they have disagreements and fights, but they stay respectful of each other. Plus they have a ton of fun wherever they go and are pretty silly/goofy, even now that they have a baby.

    • Amy March

      As a single lady no way do I view any of my friends marriages as role models. I’m sure many of them are great and very happy, but hard no on viewing people my age as role models. That’s just going to turn into a negative why not me spiral real fast.

      • A single sarah


        Though I am admiring friends as parents and am totally on board using them as role models for parenting. But I can see different aspects of parenting without feeling why not me more easily than I can any sort of romantic relationship.

  • Michela

    I find a similar pattern in my own behavior: when I’m anxious or nervous about something, I research the hell out of it. My fears about long-term commitment were assuaged reading Rob Bell, Elizabeth Gilbert, Esther Perel, and Aziz Ansari’s books. Even though I might not find the “answers”, I at least feel encouraged to know I’m not the only person with doubts. If other (smarter, older, wiser, more experienced) people can grapple with the same concerns and still have loving, successful partnerships in the midst of it, surely I can, too.

    Ben and Leslie are my all-time favorite marriage role models. They are unique in that they swap gender roles frequently; I find the fluidity reassuring (aka- you won’t be boxed into one role your whole marriage). They’re also crazy hot for each other, even after kids (another big concern of mine).

    I also look to my own friends for marriage role models. While most have only been married a few years, it helps to remind myself that they didn’t become different people just because they’re married- they still go out on dates and have drinks with the girls and have weekends away. I am reassured knowing their identities haven’t changed entirely.

    While my parents have been married 30+ years, their relationship is one I hope to avoid replicating. I am a fairly even split between my parents’ personalities. In our self-mandated premarital counseling, our therapist pointed out that perhaps my tendency to never back down from a fight is a direct response to my mother’s passivity in borderline-abusive arguments with my dad. This rocked my world and totally changed the way I approach arguments. Letting things slide does not mean I’m being my mom or risking a relationship like theirs; my fiancé and I are different people, so our relationship is different. Now, when small things bother me, I repeat in my head “we are not my parents” and it helps me calmly decide whether or not the small thing is worth mentioning. More often than not, it isn’t. And- surprise surprise- we are still madly in love and my fiancé doesn’t verbally abuse me! The shock and awe!

    It should come as no surprise that I highly, highly recommend couples therapy, even for those of you who don’t think you’d have anything to discuss (we thought the same, but ended up discussing quite a bit of our familial history and feel much stronger for it).

    Thanks to everyone for all the new marriage role models!! Looks like I have some new research to do.

    • Colleen

      Ben and Leslie! YES!

  • reller

    Have you guys watched Madame Secretary? I love how Tea Leoni and Tim Daly’s marriage is written as a strong partnership, despite all the madness in their lives. It’s probably why I watch the show!

    • addiez

      This! Their relationship is my favorite part of the already very good show.

    • Ms. Yes

      I’m with you. Perhaps their lovey dovey ness isn’t a realistic goal for everyone’s styles but there is this sense of permanence their relationship exudes. The idea that bad things will happen, and I may really not like you right now but I’m not going anywhere. And the accuracy of sheer exhaustion taking over the marital bed.

      • reller

        Yes! Your comment about the lovey-dovey-ness is fair, but – honestly – I think there’s something pretty amazing about showing a middle aged couple with teen-agers who have an active sex life.

        • Ms. Yes

          Totally agree on that part. I think that is a really good example to be set. I especially liked the recent dryer issue resolution. The lovey dovey ness comment was more about their non-sexual displays of affection. What I’ve learned in my own relationship is that each person and couple displays affection differently. It took me a long time to recognize some of my FH and my behaviors as equivalent – though they take different form. For example, my FH isn’t as verbally expressive but he seeks out and sends me funny and touching memes in text.

  • My grandpa is one of my marriage role models. He’s been divorced, widowed, and is now married again to a woman he met online about 10 years ago. When we went to visit him on our cross-country honeymoon drive, he reminded me of something he said to me years ago after my divorce.

    To paraphrase: “Some people fall in love once in their lives and that is a blessing. Some people have the capacity and opportunity to fall in love many times and that is a blessing too. Don’t be afraid to be in the second group because you didn’t fit in the first.” That’s always stuck with me as I work on my second marriage.

    • AP

      <3 Love this comment so much.

      • My grandpa is pretty boss. He’s the one who told me you can’t measure the success of a marriage on time spent but on time well-spent. 80 years old and a nuclear arsenal of truth bombs.

    • Elinor

      My favourite ever APW comment

  • Sandy

    Roseanne and Dan Connor. So much of the show reminds me of my childhood. There are episodes that feel as though they come directly from my memories of growing up, and Dan and Roseanne are right there. My parents were similarly devoted to each other but unafraid of conflict and sarcasm. And everything was rooted in the poverty we were living in, just as it was for them. Things have not been good between then for the last few years, thanks to losing their home during the recession, and my dad is largely lost to me. Watching the show now makes me sad for the father that I miss so much, but when my husband and I are struggling, Dan and Roseanne remind me that the central part of making it all work is the bond between partners. I remember that, and I remind my husband and myself that we love each other and that means we will work it out.

    • Adriana_Paula

      Dan and Roseanne 4eva.

  • Shawna

    Marshall and Lily from HIMYM. We love the high fives, the joking, the “pause” in fights. They’re not perfect, but the joy they have in each other and the fact that they have issues to work out is a great reminder.

    Barack and Michelle for reals. And there were two guys I worked with at a design agency in the past who were great men with kickass smart wives. I was ending a relationship at the time and realizing that theirs was the model I was searching for. They are both dads now so that’s advancing the model along. More than models, though, I’m looking to my married friends for advice and listening to what they say is hard or particularly worthwhile/awesome.

    But ultimately I agree with what people are saying in terms of our relationship being very different from any model I could search for. I like seeing successful partnerships, but I’ve always balked at identifying a hero (for those essay prompts). I guess it’s just not in my nature to say “I want to grow up to be like XYZ couple.” Because EVERYONE has problems and if we think someone’s perfect we’re just not privy to the inside story.

    • Bsquillo

      One million heart emojis for the Obamas <3 I'm going to be very sad to see them go…

      • Shawna

        Yup, in complete and utter denial over here. They seem like the most awesome couple and super parents. The theme both for them and for the guys I worked with was being genuinely proud and regularly in awe of their other half without putting them on a pedestal. Attainable support.

      • Danielle

        Also, I don’t actually know anything about the Trudeaus, but they’re such babes, and they + the Obamas = total babe-o-rama!!! Was anyone else dying of their combined babeness when they all met last month? http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/11/world/americas/justin-trudeaus-white-house-dinner-has-the-air-of-a-family-reunion.html?_r=0

        • Totch

          Yup. I’m obsessed, and that trip was everything. At one point Michelle called Sophie her new best friend and I want it to be true soooo bad.

        • Aubry

          I so love my new gushy adorable PM and his family. So love.

          • Danielle

            They are such smart, feminist babes! It almost makes moving to Canada seem like the best idea (if a horrible person wins our next Presidential election).

          • Aubry

            I’m crossing my fingers for your election (slash watching in horror) but you’re welcome up here any time! Canadian immigration is a bit of a mess, but I’ll help you find an apartment in Vancouver ;)

          • Danielle

            Thank you! We spent our honeymoon in Vancouver and absolutely LOVED it. Also, I’m with you on the crossed fingers/horror bit.

        • Lexipedia

          Being a Canadian living in DC this made me soooooooo happy.

    • Though I have marriage models, I don’t necessarily want the marriages of my models. I think I’d like to model their “approach” to marriage rather than the result. I love my best friend’s marriage but I don’t want the one she has. I do admire the way they approach partnership and working through issues. I love Lily and Marshall, not because I want to move to Paris and paint too, but because they seemed to approach every problem with a “we will solve this, we just need to figure out how” mentality. That is what i want to bring in to my marriage.

  • Morgan D

    To be honest, for a long while, “filling in the blanks” meant escaping into realities I didn’t really understand, but nevertheless held up as things to be hoped for and aspired to. But for a long time – to borrow from a recent APW conversation on fear of commitment – believing these “magical unicorns” could really be real, without ever being a part of my reality, just hurt too much. So, at least for me, the process of filling in the blanks on the screen eventually/necessarily also included filling in the spaces of doubt and disbelief in my own capacity to live those new images and realities. It was a really powerful shift, realizing that it was up to my partner and I to fill in the blanks and create the story of our relationship for oursevles, because noone and nothing else would (or could) do it for us.

    Sources of inspiration along the way:

    Spending a lot of middle and high school reading all the advice columns ever (thank you, Carolyn Hax, Ask Amy, etc. for being a defining part of my childhood). Spending a lot of college trying to learn by observing and copying the best of what I saw in “normal people” (defined loosely as “people more obviously capable of lasting happiness/health”). Spending a lot of early adulthood streaming: Friday Night Lights, Parenthood, Transparent, Gilmore Girls, Friends, Downton Abbey, Catastrophe, Obvious Child, Deadpool…

    Also: I noticed while I was writing this list that so much of what’s helped me “fill in the blanks” are things that have helped me understand myself and the world better in general. Eg. films and TV shows that helped me define my own core values, which in turn inspire my contributions to our relationship. Eg. Planet Earth and other nature shows inspiring us to spend as much time as possible outdoors; The Barkley Marathons inspring a conversation about personal limitations and courage and how we hope to teach and model in those areas for our children; indentifying Inside Out, the Lego Movie, Zootopia, etc. as films we hope will someday inspire our children as they fill in the blanks for themselves…

    Ultimately, I think this is a really interesting topic that also opens lots of other doors to discussing what sources of inspiration we’ve found not just for understanding our partnerships, but also for making sense of the world around us, ourselves as individuals, and ourselves in any roles we choose to play, including those of parents, career, etc.

  • CMT

    My two best friends, who are married, started dating our sophomore year of high school (but had mutual crushes on each other since 1st grade). Both sets of their parents were also high school sweethearts. My own parents have been married forever, maybe not happily 100% of the time, but very committed in their own way. My boyfriend’s parents are the same, and I know that my boyfriend and I have much more similar views toward marriage than I did with an ex whose parents divorced when he was young. So, at least in my limited experience, it seems like parents’ marriages can be a big influence, even if it’s more subliminal than deliberate.

  • Elinor

    Been thinking about this all day.. and I don’t have one :-( I haven’t seen Friday Night Lights so maybe I should get watching!

    But on the upside, I was once told that my partner and I are my friend’s role models for a relationship. Oh the pressure. But lovely compliment.

    I think that I am my own biggest health check on my relationship.. tv couples are just too dysfunctional. I know when something is off and I’m super proactive in addressing it.

  • Just coming here to say I’m all in for these two until the end of time. (and I haven’t watched the most recent episode SO DON’T TELL ME ANYTHING Y’ALL)

  • Totch

    My number one (fictional) role model in all things is Leslie Knope. Her and Ben’s marriage, especially the attitude of “I like you and I love you” is soooooo goooooooood.

    I feel like, in particular, they have such respect and love for each other’s idiosyncrasies. Obvs it’s a sitcom but when Ben tells Leslie to leave something alone, then knows she won’t and supports her through her shenanigans… Ugh. I love it. I’m more used to a model of shrugging or sighing or white knuckling through the things your spouse does that aren’t natural to you, rather than finding joy in them.

    Also, Beyonce and Jay Z. Duh.

    • Rebekah Jane

      I’ve incorporated the “I like you and I love you” into our relationship because honestly? Sometimes, after you’ve folded the fifth load of laundry and he’s laughing at something on Reddit, you DON’T like him and you throw socks at him. But you do love him (which is why you’re just throwing socks) and having both as an option allows you to be angry and love that giant idiot at the same time.

      • Eenie

        The reddit laugh. We spend five to ten minutes in bed every night telling each other funny/good things we read on the internet that day. We now have a rule (he got into reddit in the past couple months) that if he makes an audible noise he HAS to explain what he’s reading if we’re in the same room.

  • Kate Adams

    Ben Wyatt and Leslie Knope, Andy Dwyer and April Ludgate, Marshall and Lily from HIMYM.

  • Dri

    Growing up, I only saw that men resent marriage, ball and chain, etc. and that women ended up being crushed in by the double burden of being workers and taking on all the housework. It was one of the reasons I (for a long time) stated that I would never ever get married. Strangely enough, my guy coworkers were the best proof that marriage could be a happy and equitable institution, although it started in a very awkward way a few years ago. I teased one of my male coworkers about whether his wife would let him come out for drinks after work– a joke I’d made a million times to other men, who’d chortle and have some manly/douchy comeback. Instead, he GLARED at me and I was so taken aback by it. It took me a while to understood that because he was legitimately in love with his wife and loved spending time with her and thought of her as a best friend, that was such a huge insult to her and their relationship. So while the guys I work with aren’t all progressive angels, almost all of them love their wives and love being married, being fathers, etc. They admit how much their wives mean to them and talk about how they are trying to be better for them. For a long time, I just didn’t think that was reality. I’m glad they showed me otherwise.

  • Not a parent. MockMyInsights.

    This might sound a bit cheesy, but for me it was my church community. I mean, everyone had their issues, and the churches themselves had issues. But the place where I saw examples of good, strong marriages where people both loved and liked each other? Church. It really gave me hope.

    • Adriana_Paula

      Not cheesy at all.

  • EHenderson

    “Enchanted April” is a classic movie with some great marriage relationships in it – or at least fodder for thought. Beautiful, funny, surprising…

    And I’m sure someone’s already mentioned this, but ERIC AND TAMI TAYLOR from Friday Night Lights! I learned so much about marriage from them!

  • Suffie

    Wash and Zoe from Firefly! They’re coworkers (Zoe ranks Wash on the ship, actually), they respect each other, and they aren’t petty or mean to each other. I’ve heard that the network wanted Joss Whedon to have them have Relationship Drama, and he gave them a flat no, because that was not what their characters were.

    • Alexa

      Zoe and Wash are high on my list of favorites, both individually and as a couple. Their conversation about going ahead and trying for a kid is especially reassuring/motivational for me. I’ll admit I recently noticed that my husband and I are now getting close to the age the actors were during the show (and are now going to have a kid) and part of me’s nervous about passing them up & not really having many fictional older couples I identify with/relate to the same way.

    • Oh yes- Wash and Zoe are kind of the best for role models- they get prickly and cranky at each other (just like we do) and it doesn’t have to be a big deal or a big drama, they have sexy times, and an incredible amount of unwavering trust for each other, which I love. I also love that Zoe outranks him and its nbd, although hadn’t thought about it until now. Ugh. I’m still getting over Wash.

  • Emily

    John Gottman books, articles, research. Tangible things to do and not do in relationships.

  • Amie Melnychuk

    They may have already been said:

    Leslie and Ben from Parks and Rec
    Lily and Marshal from HIMYM
    Jane and Brad from Happy Endings
    Claire and Phil from Modern Family

  • Leslie and Ben from parks and rec are so great- the amount of weirdness and their support/acceptance for each others weirdness is so great. This is probably more of a parenting one and an odd one, but both myself and my husband find ourselves really reassured by the Belcher family (Bob’s burgers)- it’s one of the few things that I’ve watched and found myself saying, huh, this show actually makes me feel like we could have kids and it could ok and weird and wonderful.

  • Megan O’ Lanen

    Highly recommend Little House on the Prairie, Ma and Pa Ingalls, are solid gold. Ma is such a bad ass, empowered female role model, outspoken, graceful and strong. There’s very few moments of misogyny in the show, which for 10 seasons starting in the early 70’s is pretty good even for today and in those moments, Ma always puts Charles, pioneer dad hottie, in his place. :) They work the fields togehter and raise their kids side by side. The tenderness and honesty they demonstrate towards one another, the on screen chemistry, it was refreshing to watch a show where being a smart ass to your partner wasn’t the punchline to every joke.