For the millions of you who aren’t watching Trophy Wife, you may notice a sense of crippling dread taking hold at approximately 9:30 PM each Tuesday. You also might notice a lack of easily digestible, wonderful advice for a functional and complicated love life, because as most Trophy Wife viewers know, the ABC series has a disturbingly balanced take on what it means to love someone amid a sea of complications. (Oh, and there are jokes. Lots and lots of very funny jokes.)
And so – just this once, Trophy Wife abstainers – I’m going to help you out and fill you in on all the advice you’ve missed this far. But don’t expect me to be so generous as the season continues. Just watch the damn show yourself, already, okay?
Lesson 1: You Have to Share People and Things With Your Exes
If you’ve had any sort of meaningful relationship with someone – be it a marriage or some other degree of romantic entanglement – the end of that relationship does not mean the world around you stops turning. Often, you’ll find yourselves sharing children, friends, pets, and even preferred neighborhood bartenders. You could divide these people up if the sheer sight of your ex might incite World War III, but if you should be able to be a grown-up and share.
And lo and behold, Trophy Wife has endless advice about this exact situation because it’s the premise of the entire series: Pete (Bradley Whitford) and his new wife Kate (Malin Akerman) fall in love, at which point they learn to share their life with his three kids, his two ex-wives, and her irresponsible friends. Granted, the sharing part is a little more of a requisite choice when some of the people in question are financial dependents, but this is advice, not a map written by your own, personal life coach.
Lesson 2: Embrace The Bossiness
Pete’s first ex Diane (Marcia Gay Harden) is a domineering perfectionist who exerts control over every little thing in her orbit, which includes the lives of Pete and Kate. It can be a little much, especially when it interferes with the precious alone time our protagonist and her new husband rarely achieve. Instead of fighting, Pete has learned to embrace Diane as she is (Kate’s not quite there yet), allowing her to become an asset in parenting their children – like the time he found that she’d created a fake teenager in another town via “some light Catfishing” and that she’d used it to spy on their children and keep them out of trouble.
How does this apply to you? If your bossy ex (or your new partner’s bossy ex) is still a part of your friend group or social circle, you will feel the need to incite a power struggle. Pro-tip, courtesy of Trophy Wife: let their strength do all the work for you. That means less heavy lifting for you and you’ll have more energy to stand your ground when you need to. Of course, that doesn’t mean your ex is automatically going to like to you or the new romantic interest in your life, but I didn’t promise miracles, folks.
Lesson 3: An Attention Hog Is Never Going To Change
This is an even harder lesson to learn than the Bossy ex lesson. Pete’s second ex-wife Jackie (Michaela Watkins) plays very well with her former husband and his new wife, in fact, she almost plays too well. She’s so comfortable with the new couple that she’s constantly around and always finds an excuse to stop by or chat. For a new duo, this much contact with an ex, however friendly, can become a bit of an imposition.
So what’s Trophy Wife’s grand advice? Well, firstly: deal with it. It’s better than having a fire-breathing dragon blowing smoke rings down your neck every time you try to make a decision. Secondly: find coping mechanisms, some of which may include mild deceit and white lies. Whether you’re finding your friendly pest a distraction (like when Pete set Jackie up with his coworker) or you occasionally say you’re not home (like Pete and Kate do semi-regularly), this technique is all in the name of a pleasant environment for all, so what’s the harm as long as you don’t abuse it? (This is, of course, assuming your ex isn’t a serial killer. You’ll need a different advice manual for that. Dexter? The Following? I don’t know.
Lesson 4: Pat Benatar Was Wrong
I’m referring, of course, to “Love is a Battlefield.” Okay, so she was right about love leaving scars and standing strong throughout, but viewing any relationship – even one with an ex – as a battle is unhealthy and unproductive. Go ahead and say “Duh,” but you know you’re guilty of this. It always feels better to be the one who’s “right” or in charge, but ultimately, whether the gaggle you and your ex share is a family, a group of friends, a menagerie of house-trained pets, or a Cheers-esque swarm of bar flies, you still have to share.
Trophy Wife’s entire premise is an exercise in making that sort of coexistence work without resorting to hiring hit men or “accidentally” committing vehicular manslaughter. Your complicated life is possible, though infuriating, but it’s what you’ve got and on occasion, it’ll give you a few hilarious stories – that you’ll eventually find funny in a few years’ time.
Kelsea Stahler is a blogger and journalist living, writing, and dating in Brooklyn. Find her on Twitter @KelseaStahler.