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The Most Toxic Couples In TV History

You'd think that in the 100-plus years of TV's existence, we'd have made some strides in depicting healthier relationships. Yet time and time again, many of the most popular TV couples are the ones who are downright terrible to each other. As viewers, we're often even aware of this, but we can't help rooting for our favorite toxic couples, no matter how many times they hurt each other. They're awful, but they're also entertaining.

That's not to say that toxic couples shouldn't be shown on-screen. Unhealthy relationships are important to address — but they need to be framed that way by other characters on the show. How many times have we seen a truly toxic on-screen relationship romanticized by the character's friends and family? Whether it's couples who are oozing outdated norms from the '50s, first loves gone very, very wrong, or miserable relationships that just won't die, hostile couples are everywhere on TV. We just can't get enough of them, and, well, we should probably evaluate just why that is. The first step? Taking a look at the most loathsome lovers in TV history.

Soulless Spike and Buffy on Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Spike and Buffy somehow manage to fill two boxes on Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The most toxic couple and the best couple, depending on the season. Long before they hook up, Spike develops a creepy infatuation with Buffy after his longtime girlfriend (and fellow vampire) Drusilla dumps him. When Buffy brutally rebuffs him, he gets Warren, evil nerd extraordinaire, to create a creepy robot with her likeness. Making a sexbot of someone definitely isn't a healthy way to deal with your feelings, Spike. Following her death (and subsequent resurrection), they hook up (a lot) while Buffy has an identity crisis. She uses Spike to escape her hollowness, but ends up hating herself even more.

To Spike's credit, he clearly cares about her, and loves her ... in his own twisted way. But without a soul, he's a toxic mess. The levee breaks when he tries assaulting her when she breaks things off. As penance, the vamp goes through hell to get a soul. Spike, arguably, shows the most humanity of any vampire on the show. While their time together during his soulless days is toxic and horrible, he eventually becomes the man (or vamp) that Buffy deserves, proving that he loves her more than any other character.

Miss Piggy and Kermit on The Muppet Show

Miss Piggy and Kermit's 2015 breakup was a long time coming. When they first graced the screen as a couple in the '70s on The Muppet Show, their toxic back-and-forth was played for laughs — but boy, does it get brutal. While many Muppet one-liners subtly target adults, the messaging in the relationship between Miss Piggy and Kermit isn't subtle at all. Watching that kind of vitriolic relationship romanticized on TV every week undermines every lesson most kiddie shows preach about being kind and avoiding violence. Also troubling is the fact that Miss Piggy continuously punches her beau, who's also her boss. Talk about an uncomfortable workplace dynamic.

When ABC revived the series in 2015, domestic abuse didn't play so funny anymore. In what was both a brilliant marketing campaign and the right plot choice, the duo aired their messy split as part of the new series. And who better to provide what was essentially couple's counseling than Jimmy Kimmel? But his segment featuring the former unhappy couple did not result in a happy reunion. Although their romance remains dead, Miss Piggy and Kermit have worked together professionally since their split on projects like The Muppets and 2020's Muppets Now.

Sam and Ruby on Supernatural

Nothing says, "I love you" quite like your girlfriend manipulating you into drinking demon blood so she can free Satan. Demon Ruby shows up on Supernatural in season three, quickly convincing Sam that she's on their side while Dean remains skeptical. When has trusting a demon ever gone well for the Winchesters (or anyone)? 

After Ruby takes a fiery trip downstairs, she magically finds her way back to Sam in season four. With her original meat suit rotting somewhere, Sam makes the demon possess the comatose body of a woman who just died. From there, they develop romantic feelings, partaking in typical couple stuff like hooking up and telekinetically exorcising demons. When your girlfriend is force-feeding you demon blood to supercharge said telekinesis, that should probably raise some red flags. Yet Sam refuses to see what's right in front of him until the demon successfully coerces him into releasing Lucifer from Hell. Ruby's response to manipulating her boyfriend for over a year? "I'm awesome!"

Somehow, she thinks she and Sam will move past freeing Satan from lockup, but no dice. Sam holds her steady while he offers Ruby to Dean for dispatching while Lucifer's cage opens. However, it isn't all bad. Actress Genevieve Cortese and Jared Padalecki fell in love during the steamy throes of on-screen demon passion, and have since married and had multiple children.

Lucy and Ricky on I Love Lucy

It's not surprising that a show filmed in the '50s would have a romanticized toxic marriage as the centerpiece. At first glance, it seen like Ricky and Lucy from I Love Lucy have the perfect marriage. But when you watch certain scenes and exchanges, something more insidious unfurls: The toxicity of the roles both women and men were expected to play in the '50s.

How much power does Lucy really have? Is she even happy? Could she leave if she wanted to? Ricky often scolds Lucy for wanting to spend time with him, and at one point, she thinks he's trying to kill her. His response is to "give her a Mickey." Imagine how messed up a relationship has to be for you to think your spouse is trying to kill you. Imagine how much worse it is when his solution to that "hysteria" is to drug you. Small scenes like this add up throughout the show's run, creating a much different picture of the supposedly happy couple for modern viewers to cringe at.

Dean and Rory on Gilmore Girls

While Gilmore Girls' Dean Forester starts out as the super sweet boy next door, things quickly take a turn after he and Rory begin dating. Everything Dean starts out loving about Rory turns into an issue, including her academic studies, her relationship with her mom, and her compassion. Plus, any time Rory dares to interact with another guy, even in an educational capacity, Dean flies into a possessive rage.

Dean tries to control every facet of Rory's life and blows up at her when she doesn't return his "I love you" during their anniversary. Sorry, Dean, but you don't really love Rory if you're going to freak out at her for being honest about her feelings and not wanting to say it for the sake of saying it. After screaming at her and using his thoughtful gift against her, he breaks up with her on the spot. Still, despite the way he treats her, Rory still pines after him.

To make things more uncomfortable, Dean mutters Rory's name the night before his rushed wedding to another woman. Even worse? Rory and Dean hook up during the marriage, which ends with his belongings scattered on the lawn. The divorce leads to one last (mildly forced) attempt to rekindle their toxic relationship, which met its expiration date years earlier.

Derek and Kate on Teen Wolf

Teen Wolf's Derek Hale has arguably the worst romantic (and general) luck of any character on TV. Most toxic relationships don't end with the death of someone's entire family and enough self-blame to last a lifetime — but then, most people aren't Derek Hale. His worst girlfriend, Kate Argent, enters the picture after Derek's first love, Paige, dies from the werewolf bite he orchestrated. Paige's death sets off Derek's first bout of what becomes his lifelong guilt and self-deprecation, which makes seducing him all too easy for Kate. The 20-something werewolf hunter inserts herself into teenage Derek's life, convincing him she loves him. Why? So she can burn his entire family alive, obviously.

Coming from a family of hunters, Kate decides to go rogue, refusing to wait for werewolves to hurt someone before murdering them in cold blood. Later, when Derek is magically turned back into his 15-year-old self, Kate is still trying to manipulate him. But instead of murdering his family (because no one but his awful uncle is left), Kate decides to use him to gain access to his family's vault. Kate and Derek certainly weren't destined for wedding bells, and hopefully the former hunter is ringing Hell's bells somewhere fiery in the afterlife.

Harley and the Joker on Batman: the Animated Series

Harley Quinn needs to stop calling the Joker Puddin' and throw a pudding pie in his face instead. In her very first appearance in Batman: the Animated Series, Mistah J roughly shoves Harley to the other side of his desk without a second thought — and his abuse towards her only gets worse from there. The Joker moves from shoving her on his desk to throwing her right off it, to say nothing of the way he continually erodes her confidence. The Clown Prince of Crime's constant need to toss his girlfriend around is played for laughs, but there are none to be had. When the Joker tires of throwing Harley off of household items, he decides to toss her out of a window, showing more respect to his arch-nemesis in the scene than his girlfriend.

Harley has zero self-esteem in the relationship and can't bring herself to leave, even when Joker makes it clear time and time again that he's merely using her devotion to get what he wants. It's baffling that people still call the couple "relationship goals" because they're anything but. Luckily, there's always Birds of Prey, which follows a version of Harley who's finally cut the Joker out of her life, and the Harley Quinn series, which sees her enter into a far more healthy relationship with Poison Ivy.

Ross and Rachel on Friends

How do you doom a marriage before it even begins? Say your ex's name during the wedding ceremony — it works out great for Ross on Friends. Though they're often considered the TV darlings of the '90s, Ross and Rachel bring out the nastiest sides of each other in their decade of will-they-or-won't-they drama. 

So, what exactly is their deal, anyway? When you fixate on a woman for two decades, you start viewing her as an object instead of an actual person. Ross' long-time obsession with Rachel leads to his insecurity in their relationship, causing him to question almost everything Rachel does when they're dating (or even broken up). Since he doesn't deem himself worthy of her, he becomes unworthy of her through the behavior his insecurity spurs on.

Rachel isn't without blame either: Their couple is fraught with jealousy and manipulation on both ends. Ross' attempts to control her and his refusal to support her career certainly don't help, either. And to Ross' dismay, "being on a break" does not warrant hooking up with someone just hours after pausing the relationship with your so-called dream girl. Ross and Rachel had a window of time where they could have worked, but the drama that kept fans strung along for so many years made them into one of the most unsatisfying endgame pairs on TV.

Ryan and Kelly on The Office

What happens when you take a wannabe playboy and pair him with a clingy romantic on and off for seven years? Nothing good. Whereas most toxic TV relationships have at least some redeeming aspects, The Office's Ryan and Kelly are a hot mess from the jump.

Ryan only wants Kelly when she starts dating someone else, yet he completely disregards the fact that Kelly wants a real, romantic relationship that ends in wedding bells. Meanwhile, Kelly uses unknowing men to make Ryan jealous. A vicious cycle ensues, in which Ryan sabotages those relationships, only to bail on her right after they hook up. 

They're both also incredibly manipulative, whether we're talking about Kelly faking a pregnancy or Ryan proposing to her when she finally moves on, fully admitting he'll probably change his mind later. Finally, we see some character development when Kelly turns down Ryan's proposal. She gets happily married to a sweet and loving doctor and leaves Scranton to start her life with him. But because Kelly and Ryan can't seem to live apart, Ryan ditches his infant son and runs away with Kelly in the series finale. Goodbye, character development. Hello, life of misery. 

Chuck and Blair on Gossip Girl

Let's face it: No one on Gossip Girl is winning any humanitarian awards, despite there being a charity event in almost every episode. But Chuck and Blair take the cake for torment and betrayal: The couple just can't quit each other, or their vicious games. To Chuck and Blair's credit, though, at least they acknowledge that they're toxic together. They just don't care enough to throw in the towel.

Hooking up with your best friend's (sort of) girlfriend is probably not the best way to start a relationship. But it only gets worse when their struggle for power and dominance makes them play manipulative mind games that hurt each other and everyone around them. Chuck and Blair end up risking their own lives and those of their friends during various schemes, trading huge betrayals for grand gestures for years on end. 

This pattern persists right to the very end of the show, when they have a quickie wedding so Blair doesn't have to testify against Chuck. There's nothing more romantic than a rushed wedding ceremony with sirens blaring in the background, shortly after killing your own father. Manhattan's elite needs a lot of therapy. 

Piper and Alex on Orange Is the New Black

All the best romances begin with someone turning their ex in to the cops, right? Orange Is the New Black's Alex and Piper are so afraid of being without each other that they throw each other into incarceration, just so they don't have to be alone. Underneath the possessive behavior, jealousy, and frequent cheating, the couple does love each other — but boy, do they make each other prove it.

So, how can a relationship survive after both partners have narc-ed on each other repeatedly? Revenge sex, obviously! Because that's healthy, right? When Piper is released from prison and Alex is still inside, Alex tries to set Piper free when she's transferred to a prison further away. But apparently, this doesn't take. The series' final moments see Piper visiting Alex in her new digs, determined to make their prison marriage work. However, the ending would be a lot more satisfactory if fans hadn't spent seven years watching the couple make each other absolutely miserable in prison. None of the issues that plague the couple until the very end seem all that resolved, giving fans a "happy ending" that just feels rushed.

Lana and Lex on Smallville

At first, it's easy to sympathize with Lex Luthor's bad luck in the love department on Smallville. His first wife uses him for his riches, after all. But nothing excuses what he does to Lana Lang. 

Lex's laundry list of shady activity includes putting cameras in Lana's bedroom when she moves into the Luthor mansion, cutting her off from friends and family, and making sure she doesn't find out that Clark still loves her. If that weren't bad enough, Lex drugs her into thinking she's pregnant. Given that he becomes a mad scientist, it's not a complete stretch that he would pull something like this. But he always did have a soft spot for Lana, and this is gross even by his supervillain standards. 

After playing doctor with her hormone levels, Lex tricks Lana into marrying him, using the fake pregnancy to squash her hesitation. It's pretty clear that without the faked pregnancy, she'd run for the hills. As his first wife tricked Lex into marriage with pheromones, you'd think Lex would be a little less gung-ho about doing the same thing to someone he supposedly cares about. Apparently not. It's hard to watch Lex go from the caring, empathetic guy we see in season one to this monster. Really, Lex should probably just stop dating. 

Al and Peg Bundy on Married With Children

They say you should marry your best friend, but no one says you should marry your frenemy. Yet Al and Peg Bundy act like they hate each other in almost every Married with Children episode. Their toxic dynamic is played for laughs that probably seemed funnier in the '80s than they do now. Between Peg's savage barbs about Al's hygiene and Al's continued mockery of Peg's unemployment, one wonders: Do they even like each other?

Sure, they're possessive of each other, but that comes across more like ownership than love. When Peg suspects Al of cheating on her, she disguises herself as an exotic dancer at the club he frequents, making him fall in love with her in that guise. The guy can't even recognize his own wife at a dance club. But even worse than that? He's cheating on his wife with ... his wife. Where does that even fall on the scale of indiscretion? This marriage is a mess and a half.