8 Ways ‘House of Cards’ Could Save Your Relationship

 In Relationships

The monks kneel, crouched over the table. They painstakingly pour the sand with measured movements and steady hands. Their focus and concentration is unwavering. What are they doing? And how could this save your relationship?


A picture starts to take shape. They are making something beautiful but it isn’t finished yet. It looks like it could take years!


Over a month, day after day, both of the main characters, Francis and Claire Underwood, walk past this work of art in progress. They give it no more than a cursory glance.


House of Cards Spoiler Alert

If you are not up to Season 3, Episode 7 of House of Cards then bookmark this page now and come back to it later. I hate any kind of spoilers and don’t want to be the one that ruins it for you.


If you are up-to-date or just don’t care about spoilers then please read on.


It’s all going down the toilet

Francis and Claire have reached that point where things aren’t going their way: in their relationship or outside of it.


Both are hurt and angry. Things have been said that were meant to hurt. Things said from a place of hurt. Things said when the house is falling down around you and you turn on the ones you love the most.


Francis & Claire: The Perfect Couple?

I think this is such a powerful episode in capturing the trials and tribulations of a relationship,


Up to now, Francis and Claire have (mostly) been a paragon of teamwork. The epitome of everything that is good about relationships.


They give each other space. They support each other in their respective areas. They look at each other with open admiration.


They gently mock each other in a fun way, and give the hard talk when needed if the other isn’t being true to themselves. They bring each other back to who they are.


They are two strong individuals on their own. Together they are formidable (we won’t get into the questionable ethics and morals of this particular couple, but I think you know what I mean).


But even this couple have ended up where most of us have been at some point in some relationship. To that scary point, where it looks as if there is no way back.


Is the relationship really gone?

Claire had already pointed out that every day they had been almost unaware of the monks’ existence.


She tells Francis how she spent over an hour watching the monks and regretted Francis wasn’t with her; because that was one of those special moments they should have shared together.


The scene where Francis comes home and realises the monks have gone is simple but brilliant.


He pauses and feels a momentary loss. So he clutches at the last thing he can. He ensures that a copy of the picture of the mandala is acquired. A picture that he leaves for Claire.


How do you know when a relationship is strong?

The acid test of a strong and meaningful relationship is not about how you get on or treat each other when things are going well, but what do you do when it hits rock bottom.


What does this episode tell us about how to pull it back from the ashes?

[And, yes, I am aware that all of this could change in following episodes – it is TV after all 🙂 But even if it does go to pot, the following still stands]


  1. Renew your vows

I think the renewing of the vows was very powerful. Claire & Francis actually did it, and I am not saying that is what you have to do. Instead, look at what renewing of vows means.


It is about remembering what is important. It is about going back to what was agreed in the beginning. It is about openly declaring to each other what is important to you both.


It is about saying to each other out loud and in person how you are going to treat each other, and solemnly committing to the journey ahead.


It is about facing the future together, in every way.


  1. Don’t miss the wonder and beauty in front of you

Don’t let the mundane, the routine and the sometimes trivial (in the grand scheme of things) block your view of the beauty unfolding in front of you.


The cursory glance at the mandala was for me so symbolic of how we can sometimes get with our relationships. Let’s stop the cursory glances and start to give what matters the full attention it deserves.


If we want it to be something beautiful, we need to give it the focus, dedication and concentration of a Buddhist monk building a mandala out of coloured sand.


The relationship between two people is a special thing. It’s so easy to get caught up in everything else that you start to pass it in the hallway and forget sometimes to stop and appreciate it


  1. Share the important moments

Look for the moments to share. And be gracious in the moments shared with you. Don’t miss them. Don’t belittle them.


Remember that sometimes it is the sharing of the others joy more so than what is being shared.


  1. See the brilliance in the creation, the process

save your relationship house of cards sand mandala


Watching the monks in the hallway gradually unfolding their creation held my attention.


It was wonderful to see how they focused so hard on what was in front of them.



And that’s the thing. You need to see what’s right in front of you and appreciate it for where it is at.



The wonder resides in what you are building together. Don’t go rushing to what you think is a finished product.


  1. Realize that everything ends, so treasure it while it is there

The sand mandala represents all that is transitory in this life, the impermanence of reality. It’s a reminder to enjoy each moment. The broad brush strokes that so easily wiped away that incredible creation showed how easy it is to destroy a relationship that at one point was a thing of beauty.


When Francis had his moment in the hallway, this is what he realised. This snapped him back to what really mattered. He is the President of the United States, but he knows that it doesn’t mean anything without what he has built with Claire.


We take so much for granted. The Joni Mitchell song, Big Yellow Taxi, has the line ‘You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone’, which is so true. Unfortunately that one sentence has become a cliché, so much so that we have lost sight of the meaning.


  1. Build each other up, don’t tear each other down

When Francis and Claire were building themselves up over the years they became stronger. And as each got stronger they were better able to help the other. They had each others’ backs.


When the rift appeared a number of episodes previously, they started to slip. Their focus was off. Their aim wasn’t true.


Claire stumbled over her words and lost her composure. Francis showed his anger and criticised her harshly and openly (and the manner in which he did it betrayed him).


I know I feel stronger with someone I love in my corner. As corny as it sounds, when someone is building me up I do want to ‘be’ that better person.


They are my muse. My inspiration to be all I can be. For all of us I feel, that is a lot to lose when it’s taken away.


  1. Remember the good times. Remember why you loved this person in the first place, and find it again

It’s important to relive the good moments. Doing it together means you get to reinforce the memory of the accomplishments you have made together so far, and to remind each other of the foundation your relationship is built on.


In a previous relationship of mine we did this for the first few years. It wasn’t a conscious decision but writing this reminds me of it. Sadly, after a number of years, we stopped.


I will be honest and say that I actually started to get a bit frustrated with it. I thought it was dull and repetitive. I was only looking for new and exciting.


I didn’t then realise the importance of this, as I do now. This was a mistake I don’t intend making again.


This is important because it is all too easy to see everything through the lens of what is bad (see #14).


Francis accuses Claire of flinching when he touched her and of shouting at him for disturbing her sleep. This is what happens when we are in this space. We start to see things under a cloud. Everything has a bad taste, and often, it isn’t there. As Claire said to Francis, “I think you’re reading too much into something that I don’t think actually happened

How many times have you done this?


  1. Recognise where you have built walls save your relationship house of cards walls


Francis goes to the FDR memorial and sees the wall separating Franklin and Eleanour.



He recognises the walls he has built between him and Claire, and how these walls have weakened them. Of the loneliness that can be created.


Look to see what walls you have been building and the reasons why. Most of our walls are to protect us from further hurt. Unfortunately those very walls that serve to protect can actually become the obstacle to what we really need. To save your relationship you need to ensure these walls come down.


Relationship Chemistry

I love the chemistry between Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in this show. When they are together, working as a team and in utter respect, love and almost adoration of the other, it is there in their eyes.


Most people I speak to want that, to live to the end with that one person who knows them (as Francis said),

… better than I know myself”.


I think the brilliance of this episode is in how it illustrates how life gets in the way. How quickly things can slip and degenerate into contempt and almost hatred.


That’s the thing you see. When we are hurt, we lash out at the ones we love. It sucks, but it happens when we don’t pay attention.


But you don’t need to save your relationship!

We all believe early on that we are different. That it won’t happen to us. That what we have is more special than everyone else. “I can’t believe we’ve become this … like everyone else” Claire said. She didn’t think it could happen to them either.


Never lose sight of this. Your relationship is your mandala. You are creating it every day, and no matter how perfect you think it gets, without the necessary care and attention, the required focus and dedication, and the continuous reminders to you both of you of what is important and most importantly why, it can be brushed away with a few strokes. Leaving only pictures and memories.


Francis said, “We have to do something, Claire


What do you have to do?


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Main image courtesy Sean Nel Image 2 courtesy of Wonderlane Image 3 courtesy of Mike Kniec

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Showing 8 comments
  • Sandra

    Hi Keith

    I’ve never watched the programme, as my husband and I live on a narrowboat and have made a conscious choice not to have a TV. But I love the way you use the story in your post, and I can identify with it. Also love how you have recognised where you could’ve made different choices in relationships.
    My husband is my ‘third time lucky’ one, the previous two I was naive and maybe too young to understand the points you make about building and nurturing a relationship. Older and wiser, I chose after knowing my self so much more, but there’s still ups and downs, and I am conscious most days of being thankful and loving towards myself and my husband. I know when I don’t, I feel something slipping. Oh, and most importantly, I no longer put ‘work’ above all else. My self and my relationship with my husband are my priorities. I’m certain this is what transforms and strengthens it 😉

    • Keith Clarke

      Good choice on the TV, Sandra. I have to admit, my viewing hours have come down significantly over the last 6 months. I even got rid of the cable package. I simply don’t have time these days 🙂 I do make some time for the odd great show here and there though, such as House of Cards.

      I think most of us have been through the young and naive relationships, and it really is about learning as we go, and as you said, becoming older and wiser. The ups and downs will always be there, and that’s something we don’t appreciate when we are younger so much.

      Thank you very much for dropping by and commenting and I do hope to see you again 🙂

  • Meredith Hooke

    Great post! I love HOC and weaving the last season into a teaching moment was brilliant.

    • Keith Clarke

      Hey, Meredith!

      Nice to see you here.

      It is brilliant isn’t it. I remember watching this episode and I could feel the synapses firing all over the place. I literally had to keep stopping to write stuff down it was so powerful.

      I just really hope that people don’t skim the start of the post too much and miss the spoiler alert

      Thanks for the kind feedback 🙂

  • Vishnu

    Awesome post. I thought all I could learn from Frank Underwood was how to be a ruthless politician but you’ve proven us wrong – there is a whole relationship lesson about his marriage to the first lady. Themost memorable scenes for me were definitely the Buddhist art work and how concentrated the monks were to their art that they never acknowledged the Pres. that scene aside, you raise a lot of great observations here. No matter how brutal they are politically, their love for each other is as strong as ever. Clare leaving is just a reason to have another season of HOC lol

    What do I have to do? Review the lessons from my past relationships and make sure to avoid them in future ones. If I do this kind of review of my past relationship, I think I’ll be in good shape. Thanks Keith for a fun and informative post !

    • Keith Clarke

      Thanks, Vishnu!

      Definitely lots to learn from the Underwood’s, good and bad, and that will always depend on one’s perspective and moral compass 😉

      I think you’re right about the reason to extend to another season 🙂

      Glad you got something from the post and it sounds like you have some pretty solid steps on your own journey.

  • Steve

    Such an interesting way to look at that show. I never thought about it that way – I just thought of it as the political side, but there is all this in it too. You make a great point about building each other up. My wife and I are always looking for ways to support each other and make compliments for things we like in each other. On the flip side, when there is a fight, we both try hard to focus on the behavior we don’t like rather than the person. We’ll acknowledge when we don’t like something, but also make sure to be clear that it isn’t the person we don’t like but rather the action. That keeps arguments from becoming personal – and it helps us come to mutual understandings.

    • Keith Clarke

      Hey Steve!

      I think focusing on the behaviour rather than the person is a great strategy. Much easier to talk rationally about a behaviour than feeling like you have to defend yourself because you are being attacked. It’s great that you and your wife consciously look for ways to support each other. It’s easy to forget. Sounds like you are living your relationship consciously – it’s when it becomes unconscious that the cracks appear.

      Thanks for commenting, Steve

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