“The West Wing” and the Disgruntled Spouse Trope

There is a TV show trope that I just absolutely detest: the person who marries another person, knowing they have a vocation or calling, who then gets all bent out of shape when their spouse puts that calling before them.

It came up again for me because the wife and I are re-watching “The West Wing” (and crying bit). In one of the first episodes of the first season, Leo McGarry (who is the Chief of Staff) comes home, and his wife is mad at him for missing their anniversary. The next day he tries to plan a romantic dinner to make up for it, but because of being Chief of Staff, he ends up having to squeeze the dinner in between work things. She then proceeds to ask “Is your job more important than your marriage?” and he says “Right now, yes!” She then decides to leave him and ask for a divorce.

This is a pretty common trope, not only in a series like this, but particularly in series that are about the types of careers that are also vocations: cops, federal agents, pastors, fire fighters, medical professionals (doctors, nurses, EMTs, etc.) and so on. It also happens in real life, especially when a spouse or family member can’t handle being second to something they deem as “just a job” or a “dangerous job.”

The thing is, it’s not “just a job,” it’s their life and their work. It’s a part of them that makes them who they are. I can’t understand why someone wouldn’t want to support their spouse being their full selves? Especially if they marry someone and know about the vocation going in. In the case of Leo on The West Wing, his wife married a politician who was helping someone run for the White House who would most likely have a job in said White House after the election if his candidate won. It’s not like she couldn’t figure out that that would eat up her spouse’s life until after Bartlett got out of office (one way or another).

Now, I won’t argue that Leo could have communicated better (much better). Or that there weren’t a bunch of cis-sexist marriage things involved in how the marriage turned out. But this trope happens a lot, even in marriages that have great communication. One partner just can’t understand that there might be something more important than them in the marriage.

My wife and I both have vocations, and we both understand that they are important to each of us. We also made an agreement that we wouldn’t give up our lives for each other. That means, that she can have her friends, I can have mine. I can take myself out for dinner alone if I want to, or just have alone time at home if I need it. It also means that I can do the work I am called to do and she will support me in doing it.

My wife is the most important person in my life, but she is not the ONLY person in my life. We make each other happy, but we’re not solely responsible for each other’s happiness. We have a lot of things in common with each other, and do a lot of things together, but we don’t do everything together.

The best advice, actually, comes from the reporter, Danny, a few episodes later when Charlie is bent out of shape because the Secret Service doesn’t allow him to go to a party with the president’s daughter. Danny basically says that she has enough to go through, and that the best thing Charlie can do for her is to be the one thing in her life that isn’t stressful. I try and do that with my wife, and she has done the same for me. Besides, I want to see my wife happy and fulfilled. I would never deny her that, nor would I tell her she is a bad person for wanting to pursue her dreams.

She is my wife, after all. I do not own her.