Why My Marriage Is Just Like Elizabeth and Philip's on 'The Americans'

by Jennifer Li Shotz
Originally Published: 

The average married couple’s life is pretty dull. My husband and I have been married for almost 12 years, and so far the biggest subtextual issue in our house has been something along the lines of “I bought a birthday present for YOUR mother. Again.”

Not so for Elizabeth and Philip Jennings—KGB operatives living, loving, and leveraging in 1980s Washington, D.C., at the height of the Cold War. The Jenningses’ marriage is nonstop, nerve-fraying, barely contained (and often bloody) chaos. A single glance across their kitchen island communicates high-stakes messages with life-and-death consequences—every raised eyebrow could be an instructive to don a disguise, head to the Virginia suburbs, and execute someone with a close-range bullet to the forehead.

Some people might say they’re glad their life-partnership isn’t like Philip and Elizabeth’s. They might call The Americans “feel-good TV”—as in, I feel good that isn’t my life.

I beg to differ.

When we sit down to watch the show each week, my husband and I see a little bit of ourselves onscreen. Here’s how we’re just like them:

We forgive each other.

Small trespasses are par for the course over many years of espionage … er, marriage. Really, if Philip can look the other way when Elizabeth has to bang a recruit, and if Elizabeth can overlook some of those toupees, then what are a few dirty dishes around my house?

We may not always feel connected, but we commit to reconnecting.

Some days, it feels like my husband could be some guy named Clark, sporting nerd specs and living a whole other life, and I may as well be all the way across town in comically massive sunglasses and a wig. But we never let ourselves drift too far, and eventually, we always remember and return to our priorities—our family, our marriage, each other. But no wigs. Ever.

We want our children to believe in something.

And to fight for it. We’d probably choose something more along the lines of equality, tolerance, access to education, or universal health care, rather than an international arms race … but hey, we just want them to be happy.

We cover for each other.

If he’s clearly about to lose his shit with the kids, I step in and give him a chance to run away and recover. And if I’ve been shot by our FBI agent neighbor and don’t want the kids to know about it, he tells them I’m out of town caring for a sick relative they’ve never heard of for months on end.

I may not like everything he does, but I’ll always back him up.

Does this mean I’d crack a body at the joints and help him stuff it into a suitcase? Let’s just say I hope it never comes to that, but yeah, I would. I’d even kill for him.

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