The Simpsons’ Homer and Marge have been together for decades, yet on the surface, they usually seem like a terrible match. What is the reason behind this mismatched relationship’s long lifespan? Why do some many marriages like this seem to work out just as well? Watch this video for our deep dive into the dysfunctional TV marriage.
Homer and Marge Simpson’s TV marriage has survived over 30 years of onscreen ups and downs, disagreements, temptations, and disasters. Yet at first glance, this couple appears fundamentally mismatched. What does Marge see in Homer, anyway? He’s boorish, selfish, and dimwitted. He can’t take care of himself. He neglects his wife and children to spend his time drinking at the local bar and frequently makes decisions that endanger his family.
Marge Simpson: “You took a new job in a strange town without discussing it with your family??” - The Simpsons 08x02
Homer is less Marge’s equal partner than a fourth kid she has to take care of. So, on paper, Homer and Marge shouldn’t work. Yet film and TV is filled with these uneven couples, where an attractive, smart, competent woman stands by a husband who’s less good-looking, less impressive, and contributes far less to the relationship. Here’s our Take on why TV wives settle for mediocre men, why lopsided relationships can (counterintuitively) last, and what Homer and Marge teach us about the way real-life marriage — sometimes — works.
Marge Simpson: “In a good marriage, you never say I told you so.”
Homer Simpson: “Which is lucky for me, because you’re always right.” The Simpsons 22x19
How To Find A Mediocre Husband
Pop culture is crowded with examples of the lopsided couple. Maybe it’s the classic beauty paired up with someone who’s far less attractive. The go-getting career woman who’s hooked up with a slacker, or the prim, proper woman married to a man who’s morally suspect. We’re used to seeing this impeccable wife put up with the misbehavior of her mediocre husband, cleaning up his messes, and generally behaving more like his mother.
Marge Simpson: “All right, all right, now you’re over-stimulated. Let’s get some beer in you, then it’s right to bed.” - The Simpsons 09x18
While examples of the mediocre TV husband range in the degree of their shortcomings, we can see a common profile for this character type. He lacks ambition, working dead-end jobs with no hope—or no desire—of promotion. He might have trouble holding onto the job he has already. He also tends to be lazy in his home life, content to leave the day-to-day chores or parenting duties to his wife. When not at work, he can be seen lounging around the house, shirking responsibilities, and failing to play the supportive, mature partner. Others around him may marvel at how he landed such a desirable wife, and frequently her family was (or remains) firmly against the match.
Despite all these evident flaws, he has an inflated sense of self. Whether this misguided confidence stems from denial, ego, or an underactive brain that doesn’t bother thinking too deeply about things, he tends to have positive self-esteem and to feel pretty good about his life. He barely seems to notice or care that his bad behavior can be tough for his family to endure.
Sitcoms, especially, get mileage from the comedic tension created by pairing a subpar spouse with a competent one. In one of TV’s earliest examples, The Honeymooners, Jackie Gleason’s Ralph Kramden was loud, arrogant, and often wrong, leaving it to the wisecracking Alice to put him in his place. Ralph was the blueprint for mediocre TV husbands that followed him—a model for everyone from Fred Flinstone and Peter Griffin to Kevin James on The King of Queens—to, of course, Homer Simpson.
Roger Meyers Jr.: ”Animation is built on plagiarism! If it weren’t for someone plagiarizing The Honeymooners, we wouldn’t have The Flintstones” - The Simpsons 07x18
As the women’s movement revolutionized culture in the 1970s and 1980s, TV housewives yielded to ambitious career women. In response to this cultural shift, mediocre husbands on sitcoms became even more like cartoons. Many of these men seemed like relics of another time, with retrograde behaviors that symbolized a bygone era. Their inadequacies were no longer to be celebrated but mocked by the women who were forced to put up with them.
Marriage mismatches remain comedic gold to this day. Take Beth and Jerry on Rick & Morty: This intelligent horse surgeon is saddled to the quintessential underachieving, petulant spouse, and won’t quit him, much to the chagrin of her father. So given this portrait, why would any woman (let alone a real catch) fall for this guy?
Why Women Fall for the Mediocre Man
Marge Simpson: “You don’t have to join a freak show just because the opportunity came along!”
Homer Simpson: “You know, Marge, in some ways you and I are very different people.” - The Simpsons 07x24
In some ways, mediocre TV spouses are simply a reflection of what’s going on in the real world. A 2019 study found that there are “large deficits in the supply of potential male spouses” because available men have less-than-ideal income, education levels, and employment- so it follows that (if they want to marry a man) many women do have to settle for someone who’s less high-achieving than they are.
There’s also the long-observed phenomenon that “opposites attract”. According to Psychology Today, these “opposites” might more accurately be described as “complements,” calling their differences “the source of the most important aspect of any successful relationship: chemistry.”
When Homer and Marge first meet, she’s a model student and a sharp, politically minded star of their high school debate team. Homer is decidedly not such an academic star. These high school sweethearts find each other in detention, where they’ve landed for very different reasons.
Homer Simpson: “So, uh, what are you in for?”
Marge Simpson: “I’m a political prisoner.” - The Simpsons 02x12
They have that intangible chemistry that arises from tension, recognizing almost instinctively that their imbalances actually complement each other. Superficially, Homer and Marge reflect the classic “shotgun marriage”—two partners who are forced to commit by a pregnancy. But while the extenuating circumstances surely helped Homer make what is clearly the best decision of his life, they don’t fully explain why intelligent, independent Marge agrees to marry him—nor do they account for her obvious affection for Homer.
Marge Simpson: “You don’t know Homer like I do. He’s sensitive and sweet.”
Homer Simpson: “Marge, get your butt out here!” - The Simpsons 03x12
So what does Marge see in him? While it might not make sense to anyone outside their marriage, Marge is obviously very physically attracted to Homer. Through thick and thin, with hair and without, Marge has always found Homer undeniably intriguing—even sexy.
Marge Simpson: “Homer, maybe it’s the champale talking, but I think you’re pretty sexy.” - The Simpsons 08x10
As Psychology Today observed, “We are drawn to others out of needs and desires that are unfulfilled in our lives”. Despite her prudish exterior, Marge has a wild side that longs to cut loose. In Homer’s impulsivity and self-indulgence, perhaps she gets a vicarious thrill—a small taste of the freedom and excitement she denies herself. Studies have found that women are often attracted to men who display qualities like arrogance, stubbornness, and risk-taking—“bad boys” who seem like good candidates for sexual mating.
Complementing all his wild and stupid antics, though, crucially, Marge loves that, at his core, Homer is a sweet, loving man. She recognizes that his thoughtlessness isn’t out of malice, and deep down he has a good heart. In fact, she first chose him over her prom date, Artie, because she realized Artie was a jerk and Homer was decent.
And most fundamentally, their dynamic speaks to Marge’s deepest desire: to feel needed. Marge is a nurturing figure who derives most of her fulfillment from her family. And although it can be stressful, Marge not-so-secretly enjoys being a caretaker to her family—which includes Homer.
In the real world, marriage usually changes men: A 2018 University of Georgia study found that most men become more conscientious and responsible after becoming husbands. This might explain why the idea that women can “fix” men through commitment remains a common trope. And perhaps this is another reason why the competent woman is drawn to that mediocre man — he’s clearly got room for improvement. With encouragement and tough love, her thinking goes, she can mold her husband into a better version of himself, thus yielding her a sense of achievement in her marriage.
Marge Simpson: “He was loud, crude, and piggish. But I worked hard on him, and now he’s a whole new person.”
Lisa Simpson: “Mom…?”
Marge Simpson: “He’s a whole! New! Person! Lisa!” - The Simpsons 08x7
Mediocre husbands on TV are a different story, though. They have to stay who they are, to keep things entertaining. Homer Simpson hasn’t really changed at all—which is, of course, a hallmark of the show. Fans have wondered for years why Marge hasn’t just wised up and divorced Homer already. And although the pair has come close, something always brings them back together.
Ultimately, it’s the continuing, fixed opposition that fuels their solid partnership — as Psychology Today puts it, the tension between opposites “produces the passion that sustains, deepens and enlivens relationships.” After more than 30 seasons of not improving and still challenging each other, they remain the most resilient fictional relationship on television.
The Secrets of a Successful(ly Mismatched) Marriage
So what lessons can the rest of us learn from this perfectly imperfect, balanced-by-imbalance marriage? First of all, choosing a subpar partner may not be the worst thing. A 2008 study published in Journal of Family Psychology found that “both spouses behaved more positively in relationships in which wives were more attractive than their husbands”.
The Simpsons’ union has survived in large part due to managed expectations: Marge knows that Homer will screw up, and she sets the bar accordingly. But she also knows that Homer means well and wants to make her happy. So she’s able to share her feelings when he disappoints her. In return, Homer’s willingness to listen and admit when he’s wrong, and their ability to have this kind of open communication, makes the difference between a marriage that’s difficult, but loving, and one that is doomed.
Homer Simpson: “Even when you yell at me, I can see love in your eyes.”
Marge Simpson: “Stick to the subject!”
Homer Simpson: “Ha ha, you love me.” - The Simpsons 03x8
On a deeper human level, couples like the Simpsons also expose that we all have our flaws—even someone as outwardly perfect as Marge Simpson. Seeing only the binary cliché of the mediocre husband and the long-suffering wife is reductive—and doesn’t reflect the nuances of most real-world relationships.
Ultimately, Homer and Marge have stayed together for so many years because they get each other. They’re complementary opposites who accept each other’s differences and enjoy the passion sparked by the tension that creates. Perhaps most importantly, Homer knows just how fortunate he is, and Marge feels gratitude, too. So, after three decades and counting, Homer and Marge give us all hope that even the most mismatched couple can find their own imperfect harmony.
Lisa Simpson: “There’s a reason two people come together and stay together. There’s something they give each other that nobody else can give them.” - The Simpsons 05x22
Lichter, Daniel T., Joseph P. Price, and Jeffrey M. Swigert. “Mismatches in the Marriage Market.” Journal of Marriage and Family 82.2 (2020): 796-809.
McNulty, James K., Lisa A. Neff, and Benjamin R. Karney. “Beyond Initial Attraction: Physical Attractiveness in Newlywed Marriage.” Journal of Family Psychology 22.1 (2008): 135.
Lavner, Justin A., et al. “Personality Change among Newlyweds: Patterns, Predictors, and Associations with Marital Satisfaction Over Time.” Developmental Psychology 54.6 (2018): 1172.