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Marriage

Are Shiv and Tom Destined for Divorce on "Succession"?

Predictions about what will happen to this couple in Season 4.

Key points

  • Relationships with narcissists are difficult to change or improve.
  • Power struggles will be a main focus in Tom and Shiv's relationship.
  • Shiv will leave Tom if she can't reestablish dominance in their dynamic.
Nokuro/Shutterstock
Source: Nokuro/Shutterstock

Succession is a complicated story of narcissists battling for power. It is exciting and often painful watching Kendall (Jeremy Strong), Shiv (Sarah Snook), and Roman (Kieran Culkin), the bruised children of Logan Roy (Brian Cox), vie for the wealthy media mogul to leave them his business, Waystar Royco. The siblings snipe at each other and are ruthless in their attempts to come out on top. Logan is a ruthless patriarch, playing his children off each other to test their abilities and weed out any weaknesses. Unsurprisingly, his brutal upbringing has damaged his children, with all of them compensating for low self-esteem with a shield of grandiosity. His children also carry on his legacy of abuse by treating others around them just as poorly as their father has treated them.

Tom and Shiv's Toxic Dynamic

There is perhaps no better example of what a toxic relationship with a narcissist looks like than the marriage of Shiv and Tom (Matthew Macfadyen). Like the rest of her family, Shiv has a fragile ego protected by grandiosity. She's desperate to prove her self-worth through professional achievement and by earning her father's love and respect, although neither seems possible. She cannot see past her opportunities or reputation. Then there's Tom, who is equally as focused on career advancements, but also in love with Shiv and desperate to build a marriage on something more than seeking power.

With each attempt to connect and be heard, Tom is repeatedly dismissed and shut down. Shiv is preoccupied with her needs and status, and has no space to care about someone else's, not even her husband's. When Tom was worried about going to prison, Shiv refused to engage in conversations with him on the topic, quickly saying that they'd already discussed it and she has nothing left to say. When Tom wants to discuss having children, she makes his request sound like a selfish burden to put on her. Like any true narcissist, Shiv has an uncanny ability to always be the self-righteous victim and to paint her partner as the one being manipulative or otherwise problematic when really she is the one cutting off healthy communication.

The Power Shift in Season 3

Shiv has always been the one in control. She has been the one to instate an open marriage, to dictate with whom Tom can pursue extramarital relations, to use Tom's inside knowledge for her own benefit without giving him much in return—and the list goes on. Shiv was in a position of power as the only daughter of billionaire Logan Roy, which is perhaps why she picked Tom as a partner in the first place; she did not have to worry about being challenged, undercut, or hurt since she felt completely secure that she was better than her husband and that he didn't have the leverage to hurt or leave her.

Although for most of the show we've witnessed Tom being put down and put out by his harsh partner, at the end of Season 3 we see a shift. Tom undercuts Shiv and her siblings' attempt to dethrone Logan by warning him of the impending coup, giving him enough time to remove their leverage and secure his win. Shiv realizes the betrayal in real-time and looks stunned. The shocking twist and unexpected move from Tom left viewers wondering: What will happen to Tom and Shiv?

The Prediction

Shiv has felt in control and secure in her marriage. Tom has been a doting sycophant, caring for Shiv's needs, trying to make her happy, acquiescing even when he disagrees, and supporting her career moves since they will also boost his chances for success. Shiv has been one-up, and Tom has been one-down, and this toxic dynamic has been stable for them until now. Tom's actions have irrevocably shifted their relationship, and I'm not sure how they can recover from it.

There's a world in which she stays in this marriage because this dynamic makes sense to her; she's used to people pushing her down so they can get to the top: Recall her relationship with her brothers. Shiv is familiar with being hurt, undermined, and cast aside in close relationships: Recall her relationship with her father, and also her mother. She's also used to swallowing her vulnerable feelings of hurt, sadness, or insecurity, and attempting to present as being emotionally untouched. There's a small chance she stays with Tom, and tries harder to assert dominance by bringing him down a peg through any means necessary.

However, Shiv has inherited enough narcissistic traits that if she's going to be in a toxic relationship, she's going to be the one to hurt instead of the one being hurt. She's in too many other relationships in which she's devalued. So if she can't find a way to get back in the driver's seat of this marriage and make Tom subservient again, she'll leave him. She felt safe with Tom, more than with anyone else in her life, and Tom becoming another adversary in her world full of enemies is probably too much for her to take.

I see Shiv staying with Tom only if she sees an opportunity to advance her career through him. If Tom has earned Logan's favor and secured himself a spot post-acquisition of Waystar, Shiv has a chance to grab some status and possibly a job. She'll use Tom for all she can, and certainly without remorse after how he hurt her—not that she had any before. But if this is the path their marriage takes, don't think Tom will get away with what he's done. Shiv might act cool and fine, she may even pretend to be yielding to Tom, but she lives in a world in which weakness and failure are unacceptable. She will find a way to strike back and regain some power. It's only a matter of when.

The Assessment: Leave Them

This couple is embedded in an abusive cycle and an unfixable power differential. There isn't a foundation of true empathy, affection, or care. Their marriage was transactional at best. However, Tom's apparent genuine love for Shiv put him at a disadvantage, and Shiv's unwillingness to focus on anything but her own self-interest made it impossible for even a transactional marriage to work. Unless they renegotiate their union as purely transactional with more equal opportunities for advancement, similar to how Logan's marriages seem to be, they will do further emotional damage to each other as they compete for power and prestige.

References

Armstrong, J. (Creator). (2018-2021). Succession [TV series]. HBO.

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