Entertainment

More Shows Need to Pull a Black-ish and Show Us a Struggling Relationship

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Jeremy Osborn, a professor at Cornerstone University, once said that “the biggest factor contributing to divorce is going into marriage with unrealistic expectations.” That statement couldn’t be more accurate, but based on our own experiences, we'd say this is also a common factor when it comes to unsuccessful relationships in general. Often times, what we expect and what we experience are two completely different things, so when the sparks fade and the challenges start to come, we often feel blindsided and unprepared. But why is that? Why do so many of us go into relationships expecting it to be all sunshine and roses?

Well, according to a study published in Mass Communication and Society, it's partly because of the TV couples that we watch. Researchers surveyed over 392 married individuals and found that those who considered TV couples to be realistic were less committed to their own relationships and more likely to cheat. Plus, another study from the Journal of Communication found that college students who indulged in a lot of romantic shows had much higher expectations of their partners that those who didn't (the former believed that their partners should know all of their innermost thoughts and felt that their weddings would be the happiest days of their lives).

So you can see why inaccurate portrayals of romantic relationships can be quite problematic. They give us a twisted version of what happy relationships should look like because we rarely ever see the everyday messy, complicated and sometimes painful experiences that go into making relationships work. Black-ish creator Kenya Barris knows this all too well, which is why he and the show’s writers decided to put Bow and Dre’s marriage to the test at the end of season four.

In an interview, he explained: “When I was growing up, I never saw couples fight on the family sitcoms I loved to watch. Subsequently, when tough times arose in my own relationship, I wasn’t prepared and felt so isolated and alone. Marital issues weren’t a part of the narrative that television told me was a ‘working relationship.’ Fifty-three percent of American marriages fail, which is about the same odds as DeAndre Jordan making a free-throw. I wanted to explore Dre and Bow’s relationship going through a difficult time and how it impacts the whole family.”

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the storyline, Bow and Dre (who were like peas in a pod from day one) have reached a point in their marriage where they feel out of sync. Despite their best efforts to reconnect, everything gets worse and they can barely communicate without fighting. And even though they try to pretend that things are normal in front of the kids, all of them catch on and, understandably, they don’t take it very well.

By the end of the season, things begin to look up, but it’s clear that Bow and Dre still haven’t fully bounced back. They’re still walking on eggshells around each other and even their therapist suggests that they continue with therapy, cautioning that they shouldn’t get ahead of themselves so quickly.

To be honest, this felt like a powerful moment in TV history because for once, we saw a couple struggle to work through their marital issues in the most authentic way. Yes, most of it was painful to watch, but this is the kind of scenario that millions of viewers can relate to. They've been through this before – or at least they’ve witnessed it happen to their loved ones. They know how marital problems can affect the entire family. They’ve seen how parents struggle to hide their issues for the sake of their kids. And they understand that sometimes, couples just can’t seem to work things out. In short, the Black-ish writers have penned the perfect love letter to people who are dealing with painful marital issues. Or better yet, to people who have felt powerless to save their failing relationships. The show finally made these groups feel seen by letting them know that their experiences matter. And more importantly, it reminded them that they were not alone.

We need more of these storylines in our modern sitcoms and honestly, at this point, it's already pretty overdue. A lot of us can relate to Barris's comments about the sitcoms he watched growing up. While some of them instilled great values and helped shape who we are, they also gave us a pretty narrow view of romance. We rarely saw couples deal with serious relationship issues in such a raw and poignant way. Sure, we saw them bicker and argue occasionally, but it never got to the point where we truly feared for the future of their relationship. Iconic pairs like Martin Payne and Gina Waters or Cliff and Claire Huxtable go through their “rough patches,” but at the end of the day, they always maintained that spark and stuck together as a unit because they were so obviously soulmates.

Most of us understand that these pairs wouldn't reflect the relationships we observe in real life, but still, these TV couples (among others) became the definition of “relationship goals.” In fact, the more flawless and unrealistic their relationship was, the more they earned that title. It's still that way on a majority of sitcoms we watch today. They're essentially fairytales masquerading as the real human experience (with obviously some extra comedy), and we all escape to a world where couples have perfect chemistry and barely ever fought. Where divorcees could stay BFFs and maintain healthy relationships with their kids. Or where couples could have huge fights and happily makeup in the span of one or two episodes. Whether it was Uncle Jesse and Aunt Becky back in the '90s, or Phil and Claire Dunphy today, we're being totally duped.

There's a complete lack of representation when it came to the difficult, more complex side of real-life relationships. And even worse, this implied that such issues were either nonexistent or simply not important. Black-ish is hopefully the first of many to start showing this reality.

It seems like many TV writers still haven't gotten the memo, but seeing couples struggle to mend broken relationships would mean so much more than picture-perfect couples who can easily overcome their hurdles. Yes, idealized versions of romance are more likely to keep the viewers happy, and yes, shining a light on relationship issues can be a challenge when it comes to comedy. However, accurate depictions of real-life struggles can show viewers that even the strongest couples are not immune to relationship problems. It can also serve as a reminder that TV couples aren't perfect examples that we ought to emulate, but rather, relatable characters who are just like us.

If Black-ish can successfully communicate that message with a beloved couple that's been married for roughly two decades, then certainly other shows can follow suit by representing relationships that are far from perfect. That way, we can start important conversations and be better equipped to deal with our own relationship challenges when they come along.

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