These 5 Iconic TV Couples Are Actually Very Problematic (Sorry, Ross & Rachel)
I’ll be the first to admit that I get overly attached to a lot of TV couples. From A Different World’s Dwayne and Whitley to Gilmore Girls's Luke and Lorelai, these on-screen romances helped shape my own understanding of what a successful relationship should look like. But after rewatching a few classic shows during quarantine, I had to deal with a pretty disturbing realization: That some of my favorite couples are actually very problematic. And I get the feeling I’m not the only one who’s been there.
To be honest, a part of me can understand why it’s so easy for us to gloss over serious issues and brand popular couples as “relationship goals.” After all, much of the content that’s out there tends to normalize (or even glamorize) toxic behaviors in romantic relationships, making it easier for viewers to dismiss unhealthy practices. But thankfully, with the help of a few experts, we can cut through the glamour and see these beloved couples for how flawed and harmful they really are. Here, five iconic TV couples that are actually problematic, according to experts.
1. Martin & Gina from ‘Martin’
Throughout most of my childhood, I idolized Martin and Gina. Their romance was the kind that I daydreamed about having someday, complete with funny roasting sessions and water gun battles. But when I re-watched this show as an adult, I came to realize that Martin is an arrogant misogynist who is nowhere near Gina’s league. It was his narcissism, insecurity and blatant disrespect that constantly tested their relationship (see "Boyz 'R Us," when Martin's massive ego suffers a hit after learning that Gina earns more money than him). But of course, like clockwork, Gina always forgave him.
To make matters worse, Martin fails to take accountability for his behavior. He doesn’t really change his ways throughout the series and, sadly, Gina continues to enable many of his toxic traits (see literally any episode where he kicks people out of their apartment). It’s no wonder why I saw a lot of the same mistakes repeated in all four seasons.
According to therapist John Kim, LMFT, this kind of behavior is a big red flag. In his article about signs of a toxic relationship for Psychology Today, he wrote, “Ownership is what makes relationships grow. If people don't own, they are not learning, expanding, and evolving. They are repeating patterns. They are living in the past. They are defensive.”
He continued, “When people don't take ownership, they flip their relationship magnet, and this can make a relationship toxic, because if a relationship is not always growing and evolving and deepening, it is stagnant. And a stagnant relationship, one that only goes in circles, is a toxic relationship.”
2. Ross and Rachel from ‘Friends’
After getting sucked into the drama of their on-again, off-again relationship, it seems only natural that fans would root for the famous couple—especially since Ross had feelings for Rachel since high school. But as cute as they do look together, it doesn’t hide the plethora of red flags that popped up during their relationship.
For starters, both are incredibly selfish and inconsiderate, causing them to go as far as manipulating and hurting other people to destroy each other’s chances of moving on (see "The One at the Beach," where Rachel convinces Ross’s new girlfriend to shave her hair off). But as it turns out, their sinister behavior has a lot to do their failure to be open and honest with one another.
Take, for instance, the infamous “We should take a break” moment. After Rachel ditches her anniversary celebration with Ross, they get into a major fight, which prompts Rachel to suggest that they take a break from “us.” They don’t even get the chance to talk about what this means for them going forward (and for some odd reason, Rachel proceeds to spend time with the one guy that Ross is jealous of).
While chatting about the couple’s relationship with Cosmo, Sam Talone, LCSW, psychotherapist and couples therapist, said, “Healthy communication seems to be lacking in their relationship. Our respective subjectivities are our reality. Rachel thought they were on a break, and she was right. Ross thought they had broken up, and he was right. It’s only when these subjectivities can engage in a dialogue that we’re able to maintain healthy communication and therefore healthy relationships.”
Although Ross and Rachel’s poor decisions definitely played a factor in their complicated romance, Talone pointed out that they were only symptoms of their inability to communicate. Talone continued, “Sleeping with Chloe, while understandably hurtful to Rachel, is really incidental here and symptomatic of their poor communication. I see this in couples all the time: They end up fighting about some transgression that’s actually beside the point.”
3. Chuck and Blair from ‘Gossip Girl’
No iconic TV couple romanticizes dysfunction quite like Chuck and Blair. They scheme together, make sacrifices for each other and manage to give fans one of the most romantic proposals in TV history. However, both characters have a number of toxic traits, and it’s clear that neither was prepared to handle them in a healthy way.
For example, during the first few seasons of the show, Chuck and Blair resort to playing childish games in order to get what they want. On one occasion, Blair tries to pressure
Chuck into telling her that he loves her before he’s ready, going as far as to try and make him jealous. And then there’s Chuck, who once took revenge against Blair by sleeping with her enemy, Jenny Humphrey. The list of harmful actions goes on, and while it appears that they always bounce back, we can’t ignore the negative impact of such behavior on relationships.
Kelly Scott, LMHC, a couples therapist at Tribeca Therapy in New York, told Insider: "Manipulation and coercion are the enemies of true intimacy. Again, this is often rooted in fear of loss or distrust in the other person's reactions."
4. Callie and Arizona from ‘Grey’s Anatomy’
Fans everywhere were heartbroken to learn that one of the show’s most prized couples didn’t last, especially considering how their long-term relationship survived so much, from infidelity to a devastating plane crash. Callie and Arizona even went to therapy to try and make things work, but if those sessions revealed anything, it’s the fact that their relationship grew toxic over time.
To be fair, it was constantly stretched and tested by things that are beyond their control. But in trying so hard to maintain that spark and fix what went wrong, Callie wound up losing herself in the relationship—and even Sara Ramirez, who plays Callie, agrees.
While chatting with The Hollywood Reporter about why the relationship ended, she commented: “[Callie is] pretty much resistant the whole time, while at the same time having a glimpse into her professional life at work without the drama of trying to fix her relationship. As the therapy sessions move on, Callie starts to see that her life outside of the relationship is so full and that the drama is trying to fix what’s wrong with this relationship. Unbeknownst to her, Callie ends up realizing that when she’s not trying to fix this relationship, she’s finding herself more connected to who she is.”
According to Puja T. Parikh, a board-certified behavior analyst and a licensed clinical social worker who practices psychotherapy, Callie and Arizona could no longer support each other in the way they needed—which definitely helps explain Callie’s decision. Parikh told Insider: "They both want to be the best and often do not offer the emotional support the other may need. Furthermore, due to their strong and proud personalities, they refuse to let their partner know they need help.”
5. Luke and Lorelai from ‘Gilmore Girls’
Yes, we all adore the romantic dates, the witty banter and the grand gestures (remember how he built Lorelai an ice rink in her front yard?!). But like other TV couples on this list, they definitely struggled with transparency and the big C-word: Communication.
For example, let’s take a look at how their relationship progressed in season six. All seems well when the couple get engaged and Lorelai sets a date, but then comes the surprise visit from Luke’s daughter, whom Lorelai doesn’t even know about. But rather than being open with his fiancé about having a daughter, he goes out of his way to keep it a secret.
And then of course, there’s Lorelai, who was just as secretive when she went to her ex, Chris, on multiple occasions without telling Luke a thing.
Although it's acceptable to keep certain things private in a relationship (your partner doesn't have to know every tiny detail about your life), hiding something that could affect the other person or the relationship isn’t the best idea. Certified sex therapist Tammy Nelson, Ph.D., advises in an interview with MarthaStewart.com that “If you find that you're withholding important information, micro-cheating behaviors, or things that could lead to emotional affairs, then you could be putting your relationship at risk.”