Stories about healthy, "normal" marriages?
January 11, 2008 12:29 AM   Subscribe

Stories about healthy, "normal" marriages?

I'm interested in reading, watching, or hearing stories about healthy, relatively "normal" marriages. Understandably, fiction and nonfiction often focus on unusual and/or unhealthy relationships. By (I'm not criticizing open/poly marriages or quirky people or whomever, but that's just not what I'm interested in.)

I remember being struck by the movie The Matador (otherwise unremarkable) which had a middle aged, long-married couple that was depicted as regularly having very satisfying, plain-old vanilla sex. That must happen all the time in real life, but in books and movies it's often about affairs or fights or kinks or what have you.

There are sitcoms like The Cosby Show and Mad About You which sort of fit the bill, but I know the hive mind can come up with more and better examples.
posted by callmejay to Human Relations (41 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
I thought On Golden Pond represented a very normal marriage, but that's probably a reflection of how abnormal mine really is.
posted by b33j at 12:42 AM on January 11, 2008

7th Heaven? Madame Bovary?
posted by oxford blue at 2:39 AM on January 11, 2008

Understand that normal, healthy marriages, callmejay, have their share of conflict.

Mrs. SC and I just finished watching the first season of "Friday Night Lights," and the relationship between Coach Taylor and his wife struck us as pretty realistic -- healthy, normal, and filled with the give and take that a two-career marriage comprises.
posted by shallowcenter at 2:42 AM on January 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Scenes from a Marriage
posted by fire&wings at 2:43 AM on January 11, 2008

I feel an urge to caution you against the use of "normal" as an adjective to describe a healthy marriage. Given that the divorce is so prevalent in the US, the normative model for marriage might in fact be an unhealthy one.

However, to answer your question, most of those awful old sitcoms on ABC that were shown in succession on Friday nights during my childhood (early 90s) seem to fit your criteria, but I can't recommend that you watch them. In fact, I advise you against watching them. Programs like Step-by-Step and the like should have never hit the screen (such drivel!). I wouldn't force them on my worst enemy.
posted by numinous at 2:49 AM on January 11, 2008

The NPR host Diane Rehm and her husband wrote a book called Toward Commitment, a dialogue about various topics and their life together. It's really honest and kind of inspiring. I checked it out from the library and ended up buying it because I think it really exemplifies the give-and-take of a healthy long-term relationship.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 3:15 AM on January 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Nicholson Baker's novel Room Temperature.
posted by Daily Alice at 3:21 AM on January 11, 2008

The story is not really about their marriage, but I nominate Norm and Marge Gunderson from Fargo as an example of a couple who are affectionate and supportive of each other.

I'll be interested to see what other people come up with. It seems to me there are very few portrayals of long term couples who genuinely seem to enjoy being around each other, outside of sitcoms.
posted by teleskiving at 3:45 AM on January 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

I lot of police or detective films feature this kind of marriage if the protagonist is married. The "normal" marriage serves as a contrast to the "mean streets". There is usually some event that upsets the main character's normal family life, and the film is spent trying restore order and bring things back to normal.

A good example would be Danny Glover's character and his family in Lethal Weapon. His normal American family is contrasted with both the drug dealers he tries to put in jail and his crazy partner.

Note that your Matador example exists for the same reason. Pierce Brosnan's character travels to distant countries, has sex with random women, and kills people. Greg Kinnear's boring marriage but fulfilling marriage is included as a contrast to Brosnan's exciting but ultimately empty life.
posted by burnmp3s at 4:21 AM on January 11, 2008

The movie Junebug is a very interesting and moving study of three marriages, all of which are male/female and presumed to be (not shown not to be) monogamous.

One couple is young and pregnant, definitely having some issues but working through them (the husband loves the wife but totally doesn't know how to express it); one couple is young-middle-age, newlywed and very happy & sexually active; one couple is somewhat older (maybe 50s) and in a phase where they quietly support each other (they seem strained at the beginning but we slowly see how good they are for each other).

Very highly recommended both as a movie and as an examination of traditional marriages.
posted by sparrows at 4:44 AM on January 11, 2008 [5 favorites]

The Good Life (Good Neighbors in the US) is a 70s britcom. The two main characters have an (intentionally) abnormal life but an astonishingly healthy marriage/relationship.
posted by Skorgu at 4:51 AM on January 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

I agree with sparrows regarding the movie Junebug. That film is terrific and underrated (and spot-on in its dissection of outsider art).

I also recommend Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner. It is lovely.
posted by umbĂș at 5:40 AM on January 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Thought of another one: Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli in The Namesake. The movie is well worth seeing in its own right, but it's particularly good in its portrayal of a loving couple as they go through different stages of life.

Another Mira Nair film, Monsoon Wedding, has a loving middle aged couple at its core, but there's not so much examination of their relationship.

Also, because I can't resist, you can see the sweetly touching scene between Marge and Norm at the end of Fargo from 4:26 in this YouTube clip.
posted by teleskiving at 6:00 AM on January 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

Parenthood, a little dated, a little cheesy, but certainly depicts many types of "normal" familial interactions (including the conflicts).
posted by Pollomacho at 6:08 AM on January 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

The British sitcom 'As Time Goes By' is a wonderful show about a couple who reunite many years after they lost touch during the Korean War, starring Dame Judi Dench and Geoffrey Palmer. It's quietly charming with brilliant acting and great scripts that manage to make a story of the day-to-day lives of an ordinary couple in their sixties really entertaining.
posted by Kirjava at 6:21 AM on January 11, 2008 [3 favorites]

I don't know about "normal", but I always thought the portrayal of the relationship between Miranda and Steve on Sex in the City felt more compellingly "real" than any other I ever saw in TV shows or movies. The format of a one-hour show running for years allowed for an almost real-time evolution of their relationship, and the dynamic between them felt pitch perfect. Miranda's the dominant partner, and Steve is okay with that, but he also won't allow her to treat him badly. Miranda, a lawyer, always responds to reasonable arguments from Steve, which is exactly what most lawyers do (I work in legal publishing and have worked with and dated many a lawyer). They fight over both big and little things, and there are ongoing issues that never get resolved. I LOATHE Carrie from SATC, but the sheer pleasure of watching the Miranda and Steve situation made me willing to put up with her trite, narcissistic ass, and that's saying a lot.
posted by orange swan at 6:36 AM on January 11, 2008 [3 favorites]

In Juno (In Theaters Now!), I found the relationship between the title character's father and stepmother to be surprisingly realistic and 'normal.'
posted by uaudio at 6:54 AM on January 11, 2008

The movie "Friendly Persuasion" shows a great relationship between the dad, Jess (Gary Cooper) and the mom Eliza (Dorothy McGuire). And the scene when he flirts with her in the barn in the hay (I hope I'm remembering this correctly) is very sexy and feels like a happy marriage relationship would feel like.
posted by squarefrink at 6:56 AM on January 11, 2008

I would suggest the movie "Playing By Heart." It's one of those multiple story lines that merge in the end, however, the patriarch and matriarch of the story line has a wonderful story. I am a romantic sap and also found "The Notebook" to be a wonderful story about the trials of early coupledom. I think every relationship has its rock and a hard place moments. It is how you overcome those TOGETHER that define who the two of you are. I think the aforementioned movies do that.

Hope the suggestions help.
posted by dnthomps at 6:56 AM on January 11, 2008

Love is a Mix Tape includes a rather healthy marriage through most of the beginning*, and actually offers an interesting discussion about how there aren't that many songs about marriage.

posted by drezdn at 6:58 AM on January 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

I found the relationship between the parents on Joan of Arcadia to be fairly realistic.
posted by mmascolino at 7:33 AM on January 11, 2008

The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry.
posted by kidbritish at 7:44 AM on January 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Betsy and Joe's in Maud Hart Lovelace's Betsy's Wedding---the last Betsy-Tacy book (which MHL based on her own life); it has NOTHING to do with the Molly Ringwald movie.

Anne Bernays and Justin Kaplan appear to happily married in their Back Then.
posted by brujita at 8:30 AM on January 11, 2008

Mod note: few comments removed - if you want to pick nits with the meaning of normal you can do it in Meta, it's already in quotes.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:52 AM on January 11, 2008

The Addams Family. No really!

I can't tell you how nice it is being married to a woman who went as Morticia five times for Halloween.
posted by Scoo at 9:02 AM on January 11, 2008

I'm not sure that could be a working definition of "normal" marriage. I agree with docpops that two highly passive-aggressive juvenile adults is more apt to be behavior exhibited by a normal (but certainly not healthy) marriage then some depiction of a 1960's Ozzie and Harriet kind of marriage. And I can't begin to figure out how "healthy" fits into the conversation. It would seem to me that most marriages can be defined as periods of happiness or comfort mixed with periods of conflict or quiet desperation. The ones that are successful or "healthy"(?) are the ones where the happy or serene times outweigh the conflicted or desperate; there is a continuum, and how you define the marriage you are looking for depends on where you place the line on that range. It seems to me that normal marriages are ones where imperfect people try to minimize their imperfections while accepting, compromising, overlooking or complementing the imperfections in the other. So I always reject any depiction of marriage where there is no conflict and or no negative personality attributes of either individual.

So, to answer the question as to what depicts a normal marriage, I think one of the better depictions I saw recently was in the comedy Knocked up between Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann. Except for the obviously screwball parts, I thought it was pretty accurate as to how neither party really knows what they are doing or is doing exactly what they want all the time, but each earnestly tries to be good at their part despite failing or being frustrated at times. I thought the relationship between to the two of them--abstracted from the intentionally humorous tone and occurences--was pretty normal.
posted by dios at 9:16 AM on January 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

Calvin and Alice Trillin?
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:18 AM on January 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

The show Medium has a fantastic relationship between the lead character and her husband. Bonus points because she isn't a ultra-svelte model and her kids are realistic as well. Apparently there is even an episode (I missed it but the folks saw it) where she sees how miserable her life would be without her husband in it.

Seconding As Time Goes By (on BBC America if you are in the States).
posted by misha at 9:25 AM on January 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

The book Saul and Patsy by Charles Baxter fits the bill. Not his best work and rather a quiet, long book, but the portrait of the marriage is detailed and realistic.
posted by xo at 9:31 AM on January 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Rod and Marcie Tidwell in the movie Jerry Maguire seem to represent a good example of a "normal" happy marriage to me.
posted by Lynsey at 10:48 AM on January 11, 2008

As Time Goes By comes on our local PBS station, and it is well worth looking at, so don't give up if you don't get BBC America and you are in the states.

Also, though it is a comedy and certainly not always realistic, "Keeping Up Appearances" does an admirable job of showing any number of different couples in their relationships with each other. Not just Richard's unfailing support of Hyacinth through her unusual escapades, but also Daisy's adoration of the poor slob Onslow. Also, it never fails to make me laugh out loud, so that has to be a good thing.

I'd also suggest that you skip out on seeing "The Namesake" at least until you've read the book. Ashoke and Ashima's relationship in the book is beautifully written, and too deep and complex to capture in a movie (in my opinion). Lahiri's other book, "Interpreter of Maladies," is a collection of short stories that tends to center around couples. It is NOT a laugh-a-minute kind of book, and often ends in sadness and heartbreak, but it isn't the kind of sensational drama that makes headlines and hollywood blockbusters popular. It is the kind of heartache that everyday "normal" couples have to deal with on a daily basis. And for that, I think it is commendable.
posted by greekphilosophy at 10:52 AM on January 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

The relationship between Wash and Zoe in Firefly always struck me as being very beautiful, and very real.
posted by kalimac at 11:59 AM on January 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Wow - I'm surprised how difficult it is to think of novels about happy marriages. Anne Tyler's fiction fits the bill pretty well.
posted by painquale at 12:21 PM on January 11, 2008

This seems like a hard question. Happy families are all the same, but miserable families are miserable, each in their own way (kiel diris Tolstoy).

There's a book named "The Good Marriage: How and Why Love Lasts" which you can find on Amazon right here. It has a bunch of accounts of successful marriages.
posted by vilcxjo_BLANKA at 1:02 PM on January 11, 2008

The Thin Man movies! Well, their marriage is a tad more alcoholic than the norm.
posted by Wavelet at 3:24 PM on January 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Seconding shallowcenter from way upthread: the TV series Friday Night Lights jumped to mind immediately for me. It's a pretty damn good show all around. If you do the Netflix thing and have a PC, you can do the watch-for-free thing here.
posted by 2or3whiskeysodas at 5:56 AM on January 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Mike Leigh has a made some amazing movies about family life. Many of his movies feature long-married couples and how they deal with problems as a couple. The movies seem like very realistic portrayals of regular married life. I recommend Vera Drake, All or Nothing, Secrets & Lies, Life Is Sweet, and High Hopes.
posted by Jasper Friendly Bear at 10:36 AM on January 12, 2008 [3 favorites]

While admittedly the Mitford Series are actually considered "Christian" books, they really are wonderful to read, whether you're a Chrisitian or not. The series follows this couple from their first meeting and it's very delightful.
posted by magnoliasouth at 11:13 PM on January 13, 2008

Huff has fights with his wife about dumb normal mundane day-to-day crap, but they get along pretty well and have a good sex life. (Disclaimer: I've only seen the first season.)
posted by herbaliser at 3:23 PM on January 14, 2008

You mentioned "nonfiction" in your post, so I'm going to hope this is okay.

Will & Ariel Durant: A Dual Autobiography

I read this years ago, and was moved by the example of their long and happy marriage.

They were a very sweet and loving couple who also managed to lead fascinating lives. They died within just a few months of each other after 69 years together. They had some rocky times in the beginning. They married when Will was 28 and Ariel was just 15 (yikes!!!).

From the sole customer review that I think describes it well:

This is a very enjoyable book by Will & Ariel Durant who gave us a wonderful account of their fascinating lives together. In many respects, Will Durant was not only a great historian and philosopher, but also a great and gentle man who was fortunate to have the love and support of his outstanding wife, family, and a huge supporting cast of friends and colleagues.
You'll learn about meetings with Einstein, debates with Clarence Darrow and Bertrand Russell, dinners with Charlie Chaplin and Will Rogers. From turn of the century New York and Greenwich Village, through both world wars, the Depression, you name it. These people lived through it and participated fully. The book is worth it just for the oppurtunity to see the world unfold through the eyes of a man who lived from 1885 to 1981.

One thing that also impressed me throughout this book was the Durant's unwavering honesty about their evolving lifestyles, viewpoints, and beliefs over the course of their lives. They were among those rare people who fully understood where they were they were headed and never forgot where they'd been. They had the courage to face their own inconsistencies and doubts, and did it with style and grace as the decades, with all their incredible changes, flowed by. These were tireless people who loved life and humanity, and watched as humanity went from wagons to the moon.

This book overflows with stellar intellect, endearing humility, and a couple's incredible love for each other during a marriage that lasted for 69 years. An awesome dual autobiography!

posted by marsha56 at 3:48 PM on January 16, 2008

Joining this thread a bit late, but I've found the relationship between Angela's parents in the 90's television drama My So Called Life to be refreshingly normal and realistic. It's not the main focus of the show, but the relationship between the parents is a well covered side story and the show documents how the characters struggle through many normal problems that couples in long term relationships face without any of the big ones (e.g., infidelity) ever entering the picture. It's also a great show on it's own merits, so I highly recommend that you check it out.
posted by dyslexictraveler at 3:30 PM on March 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

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