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The TV Show That Saved My Marriage

It's a kind of porn that makes us feel like it's the first time.

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couple sitting on couch watching tv
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Call it the 10-year glitch.

My husband and I have been married for a decade. We have two young kids, two careers, large sleep deficits, and on most days, a joint preference for passive entertainment over wild nights out. So when the kids go to bed, the lights go down and the festivities begin. One of us makes the first move ... for the remote.

That’s right. Television has become a constant third party in our relationship. And because television can be a tricky mistress, we’ve made sure that there’s mine, his and ours.

“Mine” involves the over-the-top political soap opera that is Scandal and the take-me-back-to-high-school guilty pleasures that are abundantly available on the CW. After a few too many snarky comments and unapologetic snort-laughs, my husband has been banished from the room while I have some alone time with the TV.

“His,” on the other hand, has always been guided by a somewhat undiscriminating thirst for cheap thrills. He’ll cozy up to any old floozy of a show or movie, the pulpier the better. ( Ash vs. Evil Dead, anyone? Look it up: It’s real.) He blames it on a loveless — sorry, cable TV-less — childhood. To make up for those years of deprivation, he’s bingeing big time.

And even when his eye is caught by a flashy new show with seemingly good pedigree — it’s on HBO! — he will stick with it through its strung-out, past-its-prime seasons, down to the bitter end. (I’m talking about you, The Leftovers.) He calls it commitment. I call it an inability to let go.

There are the occasional “ours” moments, of course: the must-see shows like Game of Thrones or Mad Men or Breaking Bad, which brought us together one night a week for achingly brief seasons. Then just as quickly, we would be back on our opposite ends of the couch.

And that’s when HGTV saved our marriage.

My husband and I found our TV common ground with that most domestic of the reality genre. We got sucked into every iteration of the house-hunting, house-flipping, house-renovating show on those networks on your cable box whose numbers you can never remember. These shows transcend gender, age and taste. Real estate porn is universal.

Because in truth, it’s more fantasy than reality. When we sit down to watch shows like House Hunters, we’re like newlyweds, dreaming about putting down roots and creating a home together. Through our TV, we’ve crisscrossed the United States, dabbled in European real estate, taken a detour into apartments in Asian megacities, and contemplated “the island life” off the coast of Belize — without ever having to commit to a mortgage or a contractor.

For a few hours, the third party in our marriage takes us back to where we started as a couple. And you know what? It still feels like the first time.