This is a phenomenal drama. I think most married people have moments (or years) when it is a struggle to see past the flaws of their partner. As this show portrays so well, so realistically, the struggle is hardest when there is no energy to be positive -- when your energy is spent fighting the indignities suffered at work, worrying about money, taking care of babies and older dependents, surviving.
How can you be positive or nurture someone else when you are so depleted? It feels like you can't. It's much easier to hate and blame the other person, and to imagine escape -- whether it's divorce or what it might have been like if you had gotten together with some other person. A friend who constantly fought with her husband once told me that she would never divorce him because there was no guarantee that any other man would be better.
The show makes me feel so much empathy for both WJ and JH. WJ rushes from work to daycare to home. Once she gets the kids down, she has to raise her exhausted carcass up to tidy up the house. She has zero "me time." She has no time to even shower or pretty herself up. Most working moms of young kids have gone through this and it's like coming back from the dead when your kids finally sleep through the night and become more independent. But WJ isn't just the main caregiver to her two young children. She is responsible for a mother succumbing to dementia. And she doesn't have money to help her with all of her responsibilities. Her husband doesn't make much, and she herself never got to reach her professional potential. Instead, she makes low wages as a masseuse catering to self-centered, condescending socialites. WJ doesn't get enough sleep, exercise, respect. She is like a pile of dry tinder; any additional stress makes her combust. And who else do you explode at but the person closest to you?
JH has also had to shelve his own dreams. He wanted to be a ballet dancer, not a middle-manager at a bank, wedged between the higher-ups and subordinates. He feels a lot of pressure as the main breadwinner. He doesn't make enough to allow his wife not to work or to look pampered and pretty, or to live in a nice home, or to drive a fancy car. He doesn't make enough which is why they all have to share a single bed. He doesn't even make enough money that his wife can't help but freak out at him spending money on a lavish floral bouquet for their anniversary instead of food, because money is so tight that she can't bear to waste expired products. He can feel his wife's unhappiness, and probably feels responsibility as well as resentment for this. As JH so heartbreakingly said to WJ when he found her drowning his new Playstation, it's been years since he's bought anything for himself and he wants to have a little release, particularly when he only sees her sour face at home every day after work. And, as JH discussed with Jong-Hoo while eating breakfasts not cooked by their wives, they grew up with expectations of gender roles -- where his wife would take care of the home front while he only had to do battle at work -- that are now obsolete. He is afraid of his wife's temper, and he doesn't have much "me time" either. He has to hide his old videogame console in the back of his closet, to hide his new console in a garbage bag picked from the actual garbage bin and tucked behind diapers, and steal from sleep time to recreate. A man needs his pride, and in his life with WJ, he has almost none.
Who has it worse? WJ or JH? I want to say that it's easier to be JH (whose attachment to his kids is pretty freakin' thin). But then, that's the root of their marital problems, isn't it? WJ would be explosively angry at JH for playing videogames because why should he have any time to play when she doesn't, and why should he spend money on toys when she can't afford to put her mother in a care facility? JH would be resentful of WJ for yelling at him in public about making her go to the back of the grocery line so that he can buy shaving cream because he needs to shave for work and he ran and he even picked the brand that is on discount.
No marriage will work if you keep score. No matter how hard things are, you can choose to shift your energy to think about the other person and their struggles instead of your own, to make him or her a priority, to see those things about him or her that made you first fall in love. When you do, you add to their energy and to your own, and you usually come out of the downward spiral.
For JH, this perspective comes through the device of time travel to an alternate universe in which he is married to Hye-Won. At first, it seems that all of his old grievances are gone. He's got a big gaming set-up, a big house, a fancy car, a pretty wife, status. But things aren't really any better because these are matters of the exterior. He is still the same. His outlook is still self-centered. He spends almost no time with his wife, or thinking about whether she might be unhappy being a musical dilettante instead of someone pursuing music seriously. She asks him to come home early and he almost never does. He criticizes her for buying clothes and expensive groceries and using a housekeeper without considering that given her chaebol background, keeping house to the extent that she does is probably impressive as it is. I think that's why she is susceptible to that awful gold-digging valet. She's not a bad person. She suffers from loneliness just as WJ did -- but because she has too much time on her hands, it expresses itself in a wandering eye instead of in angry outbursts. And so, the core problems for JH are still there. He doesn't have much pride because everything comes from his in-laws, and he is basically their dog.
What's really interesting is that when fate throws JH back with WJ, he starts to think (finally) more about her. Maybe it's the luxury of no children, or the prompt of jealousy, but he starts to remember what she was like before the pressures of life took over and to pay attention to who she is beyond those circumstances. He starts to take responsibility (which is the root of real pride) for making her into the monster that he wanted to flee. I think that's the explanation for the time travel man's exhortation to let WJ be happy.
I want to see WJ go through the same journey, because there really isn't an excuse for hurling a sharp crab-leg at your husband's face, or ruining his Playstation (which cost a lot more than a bouquet of flowers, and it would have been much more rational to just ask him to consider selling it on the secondary market, as did the seller). I don't think this has to happen just through memories. The same planetary blackhole/gravitational/moon time travel thing could apply to her. But I guess it's not necessary. JH's words to her about how she never considers how he feels seemed to hit her pretty hard. So, if JH can get back to the first timeline, particularly with a new outlook on supporting her, it strikes me that she may be in a place to do that work too. The thing that troubles me most is how the writer is going to resolve the problem of WJ's mom if they go back to the main timeline. Her dementia could go away as a result of the cosmic forces. Or JH could get a promotion and be able to (a) pay for care, or (b) allow WJ to stop working and care for mom and the kids.
One thought is that if WJ were to go through the toll, I think she'd want to go back to save her father from the car accident. If he had lived, she could have gone to school and had a well-paying job. She might not have been in such a hurry to marry JH, but their romance could still have blossomed. They could still marry, have kids, and either the mom would not develop dementia or the father would be there to care for her, and there would be financial resources to support them. That would be a nice material resolution of matters, to match the inner change of heart in our married couple.