In some cases, your marriage may lead to your death. In others, it may just feel like death. In part one, we explored some of dramalands’ popular cliches: how to get hitched, the popular “in sickness and in health” and “till death do us part” as a beautiful but sad ending to a happily married life. In this part, we dig into the not so happy marriages, the right out abusive marriages, some happy divorces, as well as life after marriage. All in our quest to understand the concept of marriage by how it is portrayed in dramaland, combining entertaining, interesting and important issues, and giving some viewers the feeling of not being alone.
A small warning before you proceed, this article may contain triggers as well as spoilers about domestic abuse, suicide and murder. Though we have tried to avoid spoilers, we cannot guarantee that the following article is completely spoiler-free.
The not so happy marriage
Just one look into our watchlist and we could find a whole range of dramas that portray the other side of marriage, ranging from infidelity to lies, hidden identities to right out abuse and murder.
The rough road often starts with infidelity and betrayals
“Love was the start of delusion, I thought no one else would be able to break it what I thought was wholly mine” – The World of Married
In My Unfamiliar Family, we meet a man who is utterly miserable with his life, partly due to a secret he has been keeping from his family for many years, a secret that has slowly, slowly ruined his relationship with his wife and children, which unravels as the drama progresses.
Flower of Evil is a drama literally built on lies. It is really hard to know where to start unraveling the lies. Baek Hee Sung (Lee Joon Gi) suffers from an antisocial personality disorder, alongside being in a bit of a pickle with his family and background. The drama revolves around the idea of him only being able to mimic emotions and not express feelings, leaving us to wonder if his relationship is all an elaborate act or if he is actually capable of feeling love. It gives viewers a great insight into issues such as trust and what are marriages there for, to begin with, and shows us an ideal marriage on the surface, but that once scratched, it shows a whole different story.
What’s some infidelity for a long time marriage? In My Mister, we see a couple who have been married for a long time and lost their spark, making the wife feel lonely and seek appreciation elsewhere. While many people may think that infidelity automatically leads to divorce, this drama shows us that it is just part of the picture, and though it may not lead to a divorce, it does complicate things. This drama also shows different kinds of bonds like finding comfort in other people with or without having an affair – one may wonder what counts as infidelity. Is it crossing the line physically or crossing an emotional line count as well?
We are married but who are you?
How honest should one be in a marriage? Do we have to tell our spouse every little detail of our background or are some things better left to ourselves? Is using fake families to hide our not so favorable family background acceptable when entering a marriage? How about secret identities? Can a secret agent have a happy marriage?
The plot of Flower of Evil thickens, of course, by the little detail that Hee Sung not only mimicking emotions but also has a hidden identity, one that matters a great deal for his wife and at its own can endanger them both and has us questioning how legal this marriage actually is.
Private Lives has probably one of the dramalands’ sweetest couples, whose foundation is a total mess of swindling lies with made-up dead parents, as well as actors hired to play the role of the family. However, the names and document itself are perfectly legit, making this a very swindled marriage perfectly legal by law, and love?
We can not help but wonder, after watching these dramas: if you have a spouse, are you really sure you know who your spouse is? How do you know you are not living with a wanted criminal or secret agent?
Trying to end the not so happy marriage
In some way or another, all bad things must come to an end, and so the not so happy marriages in dramaland, or do they?
Till death do us part (not so happy)
I bet most of us would agree that one of the saddest tragedies for the first half of 2021 goes to Youth of May. It wrenched all of our hearts to see so many loved ones be torn apart by death due to conflict. The love may be there, but can a marriage during a conflict with the constant threat of death be a happy marriage? How about the one where the spouse just disappeared without a trace? If you do not know if your spouse is dead or alive, are you still married then?
The Light in Your Eyes is a drama that shows us the hardship of having one’s husband disappear as well as shows a dark part of South Korea’s history where a husband and father of a family suddenly disappears, never to return after being taken in for interrogation. This drama shows the huge impact of the husband’s disappearance on his wife and family, who were left to struggle, showing viewers that “till death do us apart” may sound romantic but can be an absolute pain for the one left behind.
In Hymn of Death, no one was left behind (ok, the arranged wife was), but this short drama tells the story of two people who are so desperate for their impossible love (seeing he is already in an arranged marriage) that they jump off a boat hand in hand to face death together (literally the first scene of the drama).
In Love Alarm and The Uncanny Counter, we get an insight into the marriages where they take “death do us apart” to the next level trying to bring along the whole family in a family suicide caused by desperation, showing us some pretty serious consequences to living in or trying to get away from a not-so-happy married life.
We would here like to remind you that suicide is never the answer. If you are in or know anyone who is in an abusive relationship or is contemplating suicide, please seek help online, from your local authorities and local support system.
The abusive marriage that ends once someone dies
Then there are those that are so desperate to get away from their spouse that they actively contribute to the death of their spouse, such as one of the husbands in Chocolate who tries to come off as a loving husband while speeding his wife’s illness just so he can move on with his mistress. What a great guy! Gotta love him. But then there are those abusive men who get killed while beating their wives and children. Rare in real life but seen in great dramas such as Mother and When the Weather Is Fine. Though we do not condone murder, we would honestly rather see the abuser killed than the abused.
Other ways of getting out of an abusive marriage
While some women kill their husbands in self-defence, others choose different tactics to get away. In one drama, I Hear Your Voice, a woman is so desperate to get away from her husband that she actually chops off her hand, faking her own death, hoping not to have death do her part.
In One Spring Night, we meet a man who beats and rapes his wife repeatedly, refusing to consent to divorce. This drama shows a woman who ends her long time struggle against her abusive husband to protect her unborn child. It does a great job showing us the difficulty of leaving an abusive marriage as well as the courage it takes to break loose. This woman would probably have continued to struggle in silence if not for the fear for the life of her unborn child. Tipping over the scale towards breaking loose. This woman not only asks for a divorce but has gathered evidence of the abuse to use against him in court if he does not comply with her demand for a divorce.
In My Love, part of the background story is the one of a mother and daughter who is forced to move around and hide from an abusive father and husband who becomes extremely violent every time he gets drunk and smashes their home and workplace to pieces. An abusive husband and father are also found in At a Distance, Spring Is Green, where we can see how a family has torn apart and distant towards each other as a result of the husband’s abuse. This drama shows a very cold family with a man who uses his family as an outlet for his anger and uses violence as a way to keep them in line for the sake of the family image and wealth. Once the line has been crossed too many times, the wife reports her husband for domestic abuse risking her status and wealth. Once broken, the family wealth and image will inevitably crumble, telling viewers that a person who reports domestic abuse suffers thrice: first from the abuse itself, then by the loss of income the head of the family otherwise provides, and lastly by prejudice from others. All things that are used by the assailant to keep the family silent. Yet again, reminding viewers of the difficulties in breaking loose from an abusive marriage.
Should we get a divorce?
“My choice will be you, even if i travel back in time hundred times” – Familiar Wife
18 Again, Familiar Wife, Go Back Couple, all start off with the same story: an unhappy family life about to take that big step towards divorce when something completely unnatural happens, reminding them of their love for each other. At the beginning of these, we can’t help but root for the couple to get a divorce and find happiness elsewhere, seeing how they portray life after marriage as miserable, bordering on abusive, messy and the addition of children takes all the romance away from the relationship. But as the story progresses, both the viewers and the couples seem to find their way back to each other, although through some supernatural and extreme measures, the content is pretty much the same. Once people have gotten married, they basically love each other, and if they just communicate and remember the love they had, they will surely love once again. They just have to experience it to be enlightened.
To be honest, this trope always leaves me (Shiro) with a knot in the stomach, seeing it seems to convey the idea that couples who get divorced just don’t try enough. As a big fan of the choice “to get a divorce”, I actually think it is a lot more common for people to stay in unhappy marriages than take the step to leave them.
As mentioned, the husband in My Unfamiliar Family is utterly miserable, and so is the wife. This drama portrays the pain of living in an unhappy marriage for the sake of others in the most touching and sometimes humorous way. The children have all grown up, they are not married yet, and though the mother of the family has long thought about divorce, she tried to stick it out, but now she has had enough and is in search of her own life. Though the grown-up children may oppose the divorce, this drama shows us that it is never too late to leave an unhappy marriage, teaching us yet again the importance of communication as well as not losing yourself in your family.
Could this be what a happily divorced woman looks like?
We got a divorce/broke up but can we really stay divorced?
Some dramas start after the divorce has already taken place, giving viewers a time skip, and they send a similar message to the one in 18 Again, Familiar Wife, Go Back Couple in the absence of supernatural interference time may just have a similar effect.
Cunning Single Lady tells the story of people who are so affected by deep debt that the relationship is completely torn to pieces. The woman has been struggling, working several low paid jobs so that he can pursue his dream, leaving her alone to deal with plenty of hardships as well as being unreachable at crucial moments. Several years later, the man has become successful while the woman is not as successful, to put it in mild terms. The woman has spent those years paying off debt the man had accumulated, but he doesn’t know that because he is extremely self-centered, making her think of drowning him in the ocean. While we do not condone violence, we can understand where she is coming from.
In Was It Love?, the main couple never really got to the marriage part, but she did get pregnant and decide to raise the child on her own without him knowing about it. Both dramas tell the story of this divorced/broken up couple’s journey to untangle the big web of misunderstanding, teaching viewers that breaking up/divorce is not the end, and for the love of whatever you believe in, communicate with your spouse and if you suddenly find yourself without a spouse, do try to find out why the person wants to break up with you before you deem them evil.
In More Than Friends, we meet the parents of the male lead who have gotten a divorce but decide to become friends. Here, the child actually gets upset about the prospect of his parents becoming friends or even worse than they would even think about the idea of getting back together. This is pure gold showing a child’s perspective rarely seen on screen that I (Shiro) definitely can relate to – having begged my own parents to please get a divorce (they did and lived not so happily but happily ever after that). We do however get to follow this couple over the years and see how they also start to communicate better and better as time passes by. Go, communication, go!
Life after Marriage
While it may be hard to imagine for many, but once you make it out alive from a marriage (happy or not)… Life goes on…
After death did us part… I met someone new
Even though one loved their deceased partner with all their heart, life still goes on and sometimes, the necessity calls for someone new. This is seen in Hi Bye, Mama!, where Jo Gang Hwa (Lee Kyu Hyung) has to remarry in order to find someone to fulfill the missing role of the mother in his daughter’s life.
In Reply 1988, childhood friends (both widowed) have taken care of their children alone for many years when they slowly become more and more involved in each other lives until they eventually take the step from friendship to love. This love story is beautifully portrayed while both showing longing and respect for the deceased, as well as the different considerations and fears that come to mind when taking the step to move forward with one’s life.
Another person who met someone new was of course Kang Hye Soo (Uee) in Marriage Contract, who entered a marriage contract, but neither being a single mother or on the verge of death, could stop the power of the marriage contract. This drama did however show the judgment and prejudice a widow may face for starting a new relationship, showing viewers that the road towards love after marriage is not always easy but definitely possible.
We were not so happy while we were married, you died and I met someone new
Having death do us apart from a not so happy marriage does not always entail murder or wishing for the others’ death. Some not so happy marriages end with the spouse dying in one way or another. Leaving the person behind to deal with the aftermath and having to find a way to live on.
Few dramas show the process of moving on as beautifully as A Piece of Your Mind. Though the husband moving on from the loss of his wife is not the main attraction in this drama, the emotions and struggles of moving on are conveyed beautifully by both Moon Ha Won (Jung Hae In), who has had trouble moving on from his first love and her widower Kang In Wook (Kim Sung Gyu), who finds help to move on and keep on living as well as a new love after his (not so happy) marriage that ended with the death of his wife, showing viewers that new love is possible after the loss of one’s love.
Another not so happy marriage that ended with death is the one of the widowed Go Ah Rin (Jung In Sun), in Terius Behind Me, whose husband was at the wrong place, at the wrong time. Though she did not wish her husband dead, it is nice to see a drama that does not romanticize the relationship just because the spouse died. The drama shows that even in not so happy marriages, the death-end is painful. Leaving the spouse behind to deal with a lot of aftermaths. However, this does not stop her from falling for the sweet and badass babysitter, showing viewers that life does move on and that happiness still can be found for the widowed.
Divorce for the better
“First love is useless, what counts is your last love” – Go Back Couple
Though one may think that you will learn that first love is the only love and once you have tied the knot of destiny you will never feel the same way again, there are those dramas that show people struggling to find their place in life, but ultimately moving on with their life to find happiness again after a divorce.
We love Romance is a Bonus Book, a sweet rom-com that tells the story of a woman who was left with nothing after her divorce, clearing the struggles of the stay-at-home moms who are at risk of being left with nothing when their marriage falls apart, shedding a light on the lack of a safety net, a reality keeping many women trapped in loveless marriages. This woman is lucky to have someone who has the resources to care enough to help her back on her feet, showing viewers that if you muster up the courage to accept help and open yourself up for new possibilities, you might just be able to get a much better life and start over with a person you can trust. We may not all get a guy like Cha Eun Ho (Lee Jong Suk) but just the thought of it could be encouraging enough to break free.
In Encounter, we encounter 😉 Cha Soo Hyun (Song Hye Kyo) has left a loveless marriage, the type we mentioned in the previous article under the headline: as a result of parental intervention. And is now finding happiness with herself and with a man who can actually make her smile.
Some last thoughts
While marriage may be a common happy ending, most marriages are just the next level of a relationship be it by law, love or commitment and “happily ever after”-s don’t often follow. We love the diversity in dramaland that makes us see different ways to live as married and cautionary tales. These portrayals are found in dramas of all genres, in both main and side characters, and even the smallest portrayal can offer people many views. The will to fight may maybe just maybe give someone hope to move on from a not so happy marriage or the courage to fight for a marriage worth saving. We hope you have enjoyed reading this article and would love to read your opinion as well as a portrayal of a marriage that meant something to you. Next, we plan on digging into how friendship is portrayed in dramaland.
We do not own any of the images used. Credits go to the respective owners. Images are from the official stills and posters, drama screenshots, and Google searches. Pictures are taken from the drama scenes or have a direct link to their source in them.
Edited by: Nymphadora (1st editor) & Cookie (2nd editor)