Are the shows we watch really conditioning us to hook up and break up? Here are 6 shows and movies about staying together.
I had a Facebook reel pop up the other day talking about Star Wars. I had really enjoyed the new Ahsoka series (cause I love a lot of Star Wars) and naturally it led to my algorithm spiral into the territory of movies and shows in general.
A young lady came up in a reel talking about how it’s the fault of our “programming” that we’re conditioned to fall in love and break up over and over again, because all our TV shows and movies have conditioned us that way. It can be hard for people to enter healthy and stable because what we watch all the time is pursuit and dysfunction without staying power.
And you know, she has a fair point. A whole lot of our shows are about people getting together and breaking up. I think of how NBC told the writers of Seinfeld they had to break Jerry and Elaine back up after they got together. Even a lot of the shows and movies I really like on the topic of love such as 10 Realistic Movies About Love (Well, Realistic-Ish) are mainly centred around the couple getting together such as Love, Rosie, Single By 30 or You’ve Got Mail, and not what happens after.
The whole idea of TV rotting your ability to make good relationship decisions is the premise of the classic song Inside of Love by Nada Surf about watching terrible TV and knowing the last page of love so well that you can’t read the first.
However, there is one problem with the argument, although it does have merit – you can control what you watch. You and I have the power to change the channel or especially now to change the stream, hit that Back button, and deliberately seek out something to watch instead.
And fortunately, while there are a lot of shows that are only about the couple trying to get together, or breaking up because of the inability to survive a dysfunction or problem, there are plenty of good ones about going the distance. Here are 6 shows and movies about staying together.
#6: Almost every prime-time show up to and including Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
It’s probably worth calling out that the refrain from showing longer term couples as the main story elements in sitcoms, shows and movies is relatively new in terms of the percentage of time that Hollywood has existed. I think the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air is probably the last of the “family values” type shows in primetime, where you had Uncle Phil and Aunt Vivian trying to teach Will how to be better at love and life, and regularly citing what it took for them to overcome challenges and come out stronger for it, and to stay in love when “better options” may have come up.
You know – back when every episode of a show ended up in some sort of moral lesson, or observation on what it takes to stay together or stay out of trouble.
We have decades of shows where this was actually the norm, from Dick Van Dyke, I Love Lucy, Family Matters, Growing Pains, Married with Children, Everybody Loves Raymond (maybe that’s a later entry), Home Improvement – heck, even cartoons like The Jetsons and The Flintstones regularly portrayed marital quandaries and how to work through them.
If you dial back the programming a few decades you’ll find that there were actually a huge number of shows and movies about staying together and managing long term contention.
#5: Marry Me
Here’s a newer-ish entry and definitely on the lighter end of the scale. This is an Owen Wilson and Jennifer Lopez romance about a single father who is a teacher who is proposed to by a singer mega-star at a concert. He goes along with it so she doesn’t feel embarrassed, but she and her team become decently serious about it being the real deal.
It’s here because it’s a movie about getting married first and adding love later. I guess you could call it a spin on arranged marriage, where it isn’t “I love you therefore become my wife”, but rather “you’re my wife therefore I love you”.
It’s not going to be your super preachy super heavy watch about dynamics of couples and what they can do to stay together, but it does charmingly cover a lot of the ground of kids, exes, and what people want to do with their lives as they come together. Really good.
#4: Marriage Story
What’s a movie about a divorce doing on this list? Because the producers correctly labelled the film “Marriage Story” in that it is mainly about the marriage of two people, what went wrong, and the haunting series of scenes towards the end that highlight the things that very clearly could have prevented them from splitting up.
Adam Driver and Scarlett Johannsson are absolutely stellar in this movie about a couple with a son and how their treatment for each other changes over time, as well as their own interests in life.
This movie doesn’t really pick a side on a lot of things that happen and leave the viewer a lot of opportunity to interpret the events however they want.
What is clear though is that both characters had reasons that would have driven them together and ultimately several things that drove them apart, and perhaps a small letter discovered by their son at the end of the movie may have changed the course of events for the better. Hard but worthwhile watching.
#3: The Office Season 9
I love The Office. It’s a great show. It is still my favourite TV show. Where I’m going I may have already talked about in my The Top Ten Best Moments from The Office but there’s a good reason why I think this show is utterly brilliant, especially on the topic of shows and movies about staying together.
Jim and Pam are considered by many to be one of the best TV show couples ever. But most people are only talking about their “will they won’t they” stage or at least until they get together. After about season 5 or 6 people seem to lose a bit of interest.
But if you lost interest too early or you stopped watching once Steve Carrell left, you missed one of the most powerful swerves in TV – Jim and Pam, the fairytale couple, a few kids in, and not happy.
They really go there with a lot of true to life issues, about feeling fulfilled, about working hard for your family, about balancing parenting and love, and about finding the same page.
Some of the fights are brutal and real, and this makes the wholeness of them working through it all even more wonderful.
1 Corinthians 13 in Paper Airplanes is my favourite moment in The Office, which in turn makes it my favourite scene in TV history. The turnaround and forward movement of them as a couple into their new life is truly inspiring, relatable, and accessible to everyone to learn something from.
#2: Splitting Up Together
Hey look it’s Jenna Fischer again! This is a show I completely missed (as I think everyone did) when it came out originally that I learned about by listening to Jenna and Angela’s excellent Office Ladies podcast, which referenced his show a lot.
This one edges out a bunch of the others because the whole premise is about this very issue – staying together.
“If you don’t keep me in your gaze, I might get lost” – in its very first episode, this show is going for the jugular on attitudes, thoughts and actions that tear people apart, and conversely the ones that help keep them together.
Lena and Martin have three kids of various ages and split up in the first episode. And almost every episode from there on is a post-mortem into what killed their marriage and what they could have done differently.
Unfortunately cancelled after two seasons ending on an unresolved cliffhanger, the show really drills into what exactly two people want from each other and themselves, with the pressures of work, kids, friends, pleasure, wider family and money all there for the ride. Bonus round is it’s pretty funny and the kids especially are fantastic.
#1: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
I always liked this movie. When I got married, I loved this movie. And now many years later, this is a sheer masterpiece of a look at what happens to love over the longterm.
Joel and Clementine break up and Clementine decides to have a surgery to have Joel deleted from her memory. When Joel decides to have the same surgery, his brain fights back as the procedure visits every happy and unhappy memory they had together, and he finds that there was much more he loved than hated.
Brutal, weird, wonderful, and well thought out, this movie hits every person in the heart of why you would want to break up with someone you loved for a long time, of how affection turns to contempt, and how appreciation must be the language of love in every day.
The movie’s final “Okay” exchange is unforgettable and a solemn reminder that love isn’t always in the extravagant and romantic. It’s accepting the reality of long term life with another person and being willing to live that out every day.
Staying together can be really hard. As difficult as it is sometimes, getting together is often a more straightforward process. But loving someone for a long time requires patience, commitment, concern, self-awareness, a sense of purpose of your own life, and a whole lot of help. Fortunately there’s a lot of shows and movies about staying together than can also help.
The pursuit of the heart of the other can never be lost.
What’s really great about shows and movies is that they allow you to explore complicated topics through fiction and help process some of your larger concerns. I’m a big fan of movies and shows like the above and all the other great resources out there to make love for life great.
How about you? What shows and movies about staying together do you really like?