The “Unequal” Marriage of Tom and Shiv

This is a marriage not based on love. It’s one based on power, on self interest, on manipulation. 


Ever since that first episode of HBO’s new crown jewel show “Succession,” a socio-political satire revolving around the wealthy and miserable Roy family, I’ve been obsessed with every moment shared between Shiv Roy and her husband Tom Wambsgans. 

But not because they love or even respect one another, but because they are just so awful and cruel to each other to the point where it’s cringy to see them try to put on the act of a happy husband and wife. 

They’ve cheated, manipulated, lied, and humiliated each other time and time again. This consistent struggle between loving and hating each other finally erupted when Tom went behind Shiv and her brothers’ back to team up with their father, Logan, destroying the Roy children’s chances of seizing power for themselves. 

This toxic fictional relationship has become the centerpiece for plenty of online discourse and think pieces where people attempt to point their fingers at who is to be blamed for how awful it has gotten for them. 

This is a marriage not based on love. It’s one based on power, on self-interest, and on manipulation. 

But the people who are solely on Team Shiv or Team Tom forget that picking sides in such a complex domestic war only simplifies the important message that is being conveyed. 

The directors and writers’ room of Succession take on the classic soap opera trope of a loveless marriage that was done only for convenience and enhances this overused idea to such creative and emotional extremes. 

The point of all this heartbreak is to show that it is neither Shiv nor Tom’s fault. The fault soley goes to greed itself. 

The whole point of a show about out-of-touch, unhappy elites struggling to win their abusive father’s attention, is to examine the idea that the lust for power is a corruptible flaw that is a plague on their souls and the very few relationships they have in their lives. 

The fans who are Team Shiv fail to recognize just how much she’s responsible for pushing Tom into Logan’s corner. 

She never saw Tom as an equal, she only saw him as a path leading her to the top position. And she never even attempted to hide this. 

She openly cheated on Tom with her ex-boyfriend, was willing to throw Tom under the bus to save the family business, and arguably forced Tom into agreeing to an open marriage on their wedding night. 

In the midst of an intimate moment, Shiv says probably the cruelest thing a wife could say to her husband. “You’re not good enough for me. I’m way out of your league, but that’s why you want me. That’s why you love me…even though I don’t love you.”

This single quote sends Tom into a spiral that eventually leads him to risk it all and choose Logan over Shiv at the end of season three.  

But was Shiv really responsible for all this? Or was Tom always ready and willing to join Logan Roy in his battle against his children? 

Tom is not a saint, and many fans easily ignore his more manipulative traits to paint him as the wronged party in the marriage. 

After a failed session of family therapy in season one, Logan yells at Shiv in front of everyone calling her a frightened coward because she married a man below her status only because she didn’t “want to risk being betrayed.” 

Tom obviously takes this as an insult. But not because Shiv sees herself as better than him. No, it’s hinted that Tom is more concerned at the fact that his father-in-law does not see him as a threat in any way, shape, or form. 

Tom spends the entirety of season three proving his worth to Logan because he doesn’t want Shiv. He wants to be a Roy. 

Before the wedding, Tom asks Shiv if she’d be taking his last name. But also brings up the idea that he’d be open to taking her last name, becoming Tom Roy. 

This joke could be seen as Tom admitting to himself and Shiv about who “wears the pants” in the relationship, but I think this is much deeper. 

This is not some half thought joke, this is Tom’s mask slipping to reveal what he really wants. He wants power and influence. He wants to join Roy’s inner circle and control the political and media landscape. 

And the only way to do this is to marry into the most powerfully wealthy family in America. 

So, Tom tolerates Shiv’s disrespect of him not because he loves her, but I do believe there’s some love there, but because he doesn’t care about her. He only cares about her father. 

To the point where he bends over backward for him and is willing to become a sacrificial lamb all in the name of Logan Roy. 

I am here to argue that the marriage of Shiv and Tom is not an unequal one. They are both equally terrible to one another. They willingly ignore each other’s emotional needs and gleefully backstab one they supposedly love for power. 

The seemingly limitless power of Waystar Royco that is just out of reach for the Roy children has corrupted their souls and ruined any chance of happiness. 

I think it’s a mistake to claim only one of them is at fault for the failure of their marriage. 

The war between Shiv and Tom is the creation of both Shiv and Tom. Neither of them is a saint. They are terrible people trapped in a terrible marriage.

The only question left is which one will win in the end.