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What ‘Big Love’ Can Teach Us About Marriage

“Big Love” is a crappy show about love. But it is a great show about marriage. In the way that “The Simpsons,” unexpectedly taught us a thing or two about family values, the Henricksons have shed some insight on being wed.

The polygamous premise aside, the show has some of the most honest portrayals of marriage I have ever seen. First of all, the women on the show are mostly portrayed as wives, not mothers — their children are mostly peripheral characters with the exception of the two eldest children, who serve more as provocateurs than kids that need nurturing. And it is the wives’ relationships with their husband that the gives the show real gravitas.

Most marriages on television or in the movies fall into one of two models: the argumentative roommates or the rapturous lovers. Most marriages in real life fall somewhere in between — sometimes just depending on the day.

The marriages on “Big Love” are also in between, all three of them, albeit with the shared bread-winning husband, and they accurately reflect the constant cycle of self-sacrifice and self-actualization that marks marriage.

Each wife rebels against the oppression of her polygamous marriage in her own way. Margene becomes needy and prickly; Nicki simmers and schemes; Barb gets a bit desperate and delusional. But they also accept that marriage is a compromise, and bring to it a sense of obligation and dedication, the kind of which is essential to making marriages last.

Clearly their faith in their marriage is somewhat bound up in their faith in religion. Their willingness to take one for their team — because they feel as if they are part of something bigger — doesn’t always seem like such a bad thing. Religion doesn’t play nearly as big a role in my life with my husband, as it does for the Henricksons on “Big Love.” But I do think we both came away from our recent Jewish wedding ceremony thinking that our union was part of something bigger. And while there is very little for a modern woman like myself to emulate on “Big Love,” I hope that our monogamous marriage has a bit of the sobriety and loyalty that marks the marital relationships on “Big Love.”

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