Warning: This article contains spoilers for the HBO show Succession.
After five years of keeping viewers on their toes, the season finale of Succession wrapped up a drama-filled journey with a bang.
The show detailed the Roy children’s struggle to succeed their father as CEO of the fictional media giant Waystar Royco.
Turns out, the successor isn’t a Roy child at all.
For me, what’s most interesting about Tom’s rise to power as the CEO of Waystar Royco is the continuous shift in power dynamics with his wife, Siobhan “Shiv” Roy.
Shiv and Tom have a complex relationship arc which the show follows diligently, with Shiv consistently in the driver’s seat.
That is, until she’s not.
What the show accomplishes so effortlessly is showcasing how power and expectations create conflict in marriage. While it’s true that most of us haven’t been in line to inherit our family’s multi-billion dollar company, we can perhaps relate to how work, family, and life create complex, challenging dynamics.
Shiv & Tom’s relationship is highly dysfunctional, but there are some valuable lessons to extract for all of us.
Power Struggles in Marriage
Tom and Shiv don’t have what can be considered a healthy relationship.
From our first introduction to them as a couple, it’s apparent that Tom is the loyal puppy dog while Shiv remains cool and manipulative.
In her plight for power (and her father’s approval), Shiv’s primary focus is positioning herself with someone that is a non-threat to her standing. Bumbling Tom, with his humble, Midwest beginnings, fits the bill.
As the show progresses, we see a constant push-pull between the couple. Tom eagerly bows to Shiv’s manipulations (including being talked into an open marriage shortly after their wedding).
The more emotional distance Shiv maintains, the more willing Tom is to acquiesce to her demands. It’s not surprising, then, when he eventually realizes that their relationship isn’t built on love or respect but rather is transactional.
This is when the drama kicks up. With the emotional ties to Shiv severed, Tom, even as a non-blood-relative, can solidify his allegiance with Logan Roy, the show’s larger-than-life patriarch. And Tom can do this guilt-free, giving him an advantage over the Roy siblings for CEO. Romantic, right?
Our own power struggles may not manifest so dramatically, but work and family can certainly stir up unease, especially when they’re insidiously blended together.
For many of us, power struggles crop up in a few ways. One concerns childrearing and bread-winning. Resentment can become an issue when one person feels they must put their career on hold while the other continues their professional development, creating a potential dependency.
Power struggles may creep up when one partner consistently pushes their agenda in the relationship or manipulates situations to get their way.
Whatever it is, these imbalances are guaranteed to leave one person feeling dissatisfied and disrespected. Left unchecked, it can lead to a Tom-level display of apathy and betrayal.
The takeaway? An imbalanced relationship is an unhealthy relationship. If you feel like you constantly struggle for control with your partner, it’s crucial to analyze why you feel that way and speak up.
Expectations in Marriage
The difference between Shiv and Tom’s upbringings guides their approach to the relationship.
We have Shiv, with emotionally-stilted parents whose primary motivators are money and influence, contrasted to Tom, who comes from a wholesome family and perhaps a more “traditional” view of marriage.
In earlier seasons, Tom is eager to solidify his place in the Roy family with gestures and favors, often overextending himself or coming on too strong to prove his allegiance.
It’s obvious that Tom is in it for the long haul, and while he’s far from morally sound, he seems to have genuine love for Shiv.
On the other hand, Shiv is only concerned with how her relationship will further her status as next-in-line to the Waystar throne.
So what happens when two people with very different expectations of their relationship come together? Almost always: disappointment and conflict.
This is where we see Shiv and Tom’s relationship unravel. Not only are Tom’s expectations turned on their head, but when he practices vulnerability with Shiv, he is shut down or ridiculed.
From there, it’s a slow march to the deterioration of their marriage.
Succession may be fiction, but the fallout of this type of miscommunication is very real. It’s paramount to discuss life, intimacy, family, and financial goals as a couple before tying the knot.
This unveils intentions and expectations that you may not have otherwise considered and illuminates how receptive your partner may be to your desires. Sharing how marriage and partnership were modeled in your own family and how that may differ from your partner’s will help you each understand how your initial expectations were formed.
Do you both want children? Is one of you willing to consider it if not? Are you more comfortable in a 9-5 job, or do you hope to travel the country in an RV and make it up as you go?
We attach significance to these life choices, and it’s better to clear the air than find yourself in a situation where you’re in constant conflict because you shied away from important conversations.
To Stay Married Or Not?
There’s a moment for many separated or divorced couples where they weigh the pros and cons of staying together. For Shiv and Tom, there were some obvious reasons to end the season with a “rekindling” of the marriage, even if it is blatantly loveless.
The first and most apparent is the anticipated birth of their child. The second and probably more significant is Shiv’s realization that with Tom as CEO of Waystar Royco, it’s her only shot at influence within the company, even if it means pulling strings in the background while her husband acts as the talking head. It’s not the outcome she preferred but the only way to satisfy her desire for power.
Of course, these are not entirely relatable or recommended reasons to stay married, but the internal debate of whether to remain married is not uncommon.
While I’d never be so bold as to tell you when or why to stay in a marriage, I know this: uninhibited and vulnerable conversations with your partner are an essential step in the right direction. Only through these conversations will you be able to deduce the pain points in your relationship and how willing you both are to work toward repairing the damage.
As for Shiv & Tom? The communication is sorely lacking, but considering their moral ambiguity, taking on Waystar Royco as allies could be enough motivation to keep them together.
Final Thoughts on Marriage & Power
I think it goes without saying that you shouldn’t use Shiv & Tom’s relationship as a model for problem-solving your marital issues. Still, the back and forth of their marriage exemplifies how a relationship may quickly disintegrate without empathy and communication.
So, if there’s an imbalance in your relationship: talk about it. If your partner constantly undercuts your emotions, consider the long-term impact on your well-being. And if you’re caught up in a dumpster fire of heated family succession drama, maybe hit pause on life and take a vacation as a couple.
I help couples achieve long-term marital success with prenups and postnups. Feel free to reach out if you’re in need of an experienced, confident, and caring family law attorney who will provide compassionate legal support through emotional times.