“When a Man Loves a Woman” Movie
When a Man Loves a Woman is a 1994 romantic drama starring Andy Garcia and Meg Ryan. The film was taken from the song of the same name, which was recorded by Rhythm and Blues artist Percy Sledge in 1966. Garcia and Ryan portray a married couple raising two young children. The film takes place in a suburban neighborhood of San Francisco, California. Garcia plays Michael Green, an airplane pilot who is away from home a lot and Meg plays Alice, a middle school Counselor trying to find herself and being a mother to their two young daughters. The film director Luis Mandoki, depicts the Green family as living the “American Dream” until the crisis of substance abuse and unresolved family issues breaks apart the family unit and puts them in a crisis situation.
The film confronts the realities of substance abuse as it affects all members of one family with an alcoholic at its center. Because the movie honestly portrays both points of view as a husband and wife struggle to find their way together, it’s poignant and complex. Their children are profoundly affected. Disturbing scenes involve heavy drinking, out-of-control behavior, angry outbursts, and two life-threatening “”accidents”” that are caused by drunkenness. Playful sexuality is part of the fabric of the couple’s life together: They flirt, they kiss, and they’re sensual, although there’s no overt sexual activity. One character is briefly seen in a bra, later nude from the back. Occasional profanity is heard throughout the movie. This movie tugs at the heartstrings. It elicits strong emotions, encourages in-depth understanding of self-destructive behaviors, and delivers insightful messages about personal responsibility”. (Schonfeld, 1994)
In the movie, we see Alice slowly working her way into self-destruction of being a social drinker to a full-blown alcoholic. Many episodes of red flags are revealed throughout the movie such as, drinking too much on their anniversary date and then being overly irritated about a car alarm, which resulted in egging a neighbor’s car. Michael’s reaction and facial expression is concerning, however, he continues to enable Alice and joins in on the egg throwing of the car. On their getaway trip to Mexico, Alice was drinking way too much, dancing around in a “”childlike”” behavior and fell of the boat off and Michael to dive in the water to pull her out. At this point, Michael seems to be now more aware of Alice’s behavior is a cause for concern but Alice immediately stating she will stop drinking only to have Michael not chastise her unpredictable behavior. Alice coming home several times in the middle of the day from social drinking with friends, which causes her to forget about her family obligations. The movie doesn’t review what happen in her childhood, however, Alice tells Michael she thinks her drinking is genetic from her father alcohol abuse or maybe it’s from her mother always making degrading comments since she was a young child. According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (2011), one in five adult Americans have lived with an alcoholic relative while growing up. In general, these children are at greater risk for having emotional problems than children whose parents are not alcoholics. Alcoholism runs in families, and children of alcoholics are four times more likely than other children to become alcoholics themselves. Compounding the psychological impact of being raised by a parent who is suffering from alcohol abuse is the fact that most children of alcoholics have experienced some form of neglect or abuse.
Earlier in the film, Michael and Alice take a getaway to New Mexico and her parents come to care for the kids. The oldest Jessica daughter, a very mature and outspoken 8- year old, tells Alice that she doesn’t like the way the grandmother speaks to Alice. When the grandparents arrive, Alice’s mother makes belittling comments to her about how tired Alice appears and the condition of the Green house. The therapist treatment process would possibly need to evolve around what happen in Alice’s childhood that may caused these existing problems, her previous relationship to Jess’s father and was there any potential trauma and abandonment in those relationships. Michael feels he needs to be a huge protector of Alice, such as trying to fix everything without allowing her to be independent, self-sufficient and autonomous on her own. However, ignoring all the signs of the family in crisis mode. Michael taking Alice away to Mexico, and assuming that Alice would stop the erratic behavior after the trip only proved he continued to enable Alice. Jess and Casey are constantly having their fare share of sibling fighting, but Jess emotions and behavior has increased due to Alice drinking problems. Prior to Alice’s rehab stint, they are many issues that are alarming and cause for family treatment. Jessica and Casey having to observe on a few occasions their mother drinking in the home, wrapping up vodka bottles outside in the trashcan, how Alice slurs her words when she speaks and the girls are aware mommy is sick and Michael is constantly working so his understanding of Alice’s substance abuse is a bit fuzzy and unknown. Ultimately, you had the incident that leads Alice to seek intensive treatment for alcohol abuse. The scene is in the home, when Alice arrives home drunk and Amy, the babysitter offers to stay late to help due noticing Alice’s odd behavior. Shortly after, the scene cuts into Alice looking for aspirin and the oldest daughter, Jess is concern and repeatedly asks Alice is she alright and Alice turns around and hit Jess in the face. Alice then takes a shower and falls out the shower and appears to be dead. Jess is afraid and distraught after suffering physical abuse from her mother and now watches Alice lay still on the bathroom floor, thinking she is dead. Jess calls Michael and he phones for help and Alice is hospitalized and then transitions into an inpatient rehabilitation facility.
The well renowned therapist, Virginia Satir, created The Human Validation Process Model to help families in treatment. According to Goldberg, (2017) the model emphasizes the collaborative efforts of therapist and family members to achieve family “wellness” by releasing the potential viewed as inherent in every family. Clear, congruent communication is critical to maintain a balanced and nurturing family system, and building self-esteem is considering essential if all members are to thrive as individuals and as party of a functional system.
Satir also developed the STST model (Satir Transformational Systemic Therapy). The STST approach has four main goals: helping those in therapy raise their self-esteem; become decision-makers; become responsible, especially for internal experiences; and become congruent, say what they mean and do what they say they will do. Proponents of this therapy believe people can increase their awareness and grow, through accessing and connecting to Life Energy, and therapists who practice this approach work to support individuals through this process. The therapist guides the person in therapy through the process of setting therapeutic goals, which then become the focus of the individual’s work toward transformational change. Transformational change is believed to be possible through the use of these elements of the therapeutic process. (Good Therapy, 2016).
The impact of gender and cultural roles in the family we see Michael not only taking on the leading role of running the house with the help of the babysitter, he feels that as a man he needs to take on more responsibility than Alice. Several times in many of the scenes when Alice has a breakdown, and we see Michael taking the necessary steps in talking with Alice, always asking, “what is wrong?” “How can I fix it?” “Let me worry about our issues”. Michael sees his role as man that he carries that burden for the family. This kind of thinking and behavior can lead us to assume Michael may have grown up in a home where the man took on the more dominant role of decision making. While the couples are both working parents, Alice feels like Michael never listens to her and she is not able to make decisions on her own especially when it comes to raising the girls. After coming from the rehab, they have a fight about how Alice is still not happy and tells Michael; “you make me feel like a stupid, worthless, week animal” (When a Man Loves a Women, 1994). Alice also mentions to Michael, that she just wants him to say, “I don’t know” for once due to Michael always trying to fix her problem and not allowing Alice to be independent. Michael doesn’t seem interesting in attending Alice’s Alcohol Anonymous meetings until the issues between the two of them is not resolved and they attend counseling. According Goldberg (2017) “the fear of femininity in socialization and norms that program men toward curtailed emotional expressiveness, conflicts between work and family relations, restricted affection behavior between men, and concern with success, power, and completion. Whether warranted or not, men have a reputation for evildoing and demeaning therapy”.
In the movie, we see Alice and Michael have the big fight and she tells Michael how her mother would comments to her and the father. Alice has a lot of issues with her mother that was never resolved to due to her father alcohol abuse. Michael is angry because he didn’t see Alice’s drinking but did see the craziness and very odd behavior he ignored it several times. The scene where Alice went outside to drink after the getaway trip and it shows Alice crying while drinking. Mental illness plays a role in substance abuse and clearly we see her dealing with many issues within the family. Even after seeking treatment, Alice is still in distress and even tells Michael she has an urge to drink again. Goldberg (2017) states, “Interpersonal conflicts can trigger negative emotions and relapse, so it is important for therapy to improve relationship and coping skills. Systemic models of couples therapy are also very effective in treating substance abuse; they engage the addict’s partner in treatment”.
While the Green family would benefit from a variety of modalities that would not allow Alice to have a voice, ownership of her dysfunctions, and play a huge role in her treatment but the whole family as well. The Strategic Family Therapy (Haley and Madanes) would help the family with better communicating, seeking what is behind the mental health illness of Alice’s family background, Michael’s urges to “just fix his wife” syndrome. How Michael can find a way to balance work and family without leaving Alice alone with the children all the time and she doesn’t feel alone and isolated.
“The Haley-Madanes approach defines a presenting problem is such away that it can be solved. Goals eliminating the specific problem are clearly set, and therapy is clearly planned in stages to achieve these goals. Problems are defined as involved at least two and mostly likely three people, allowing for an examination of problematic family structures and dysfunctional behavior.” There are four stages, brief social stage (creating a relaxed atmosphere); problem stage (getting down the what is the issue); the interactional stage (family discusses the issue); the goal-setting stage (homework and starting to work on the goals) and the final stage (task-setting stage (directives and process of changing the sequence). (Goldberg, 2017). For Michael and Alice, creating goals where they are both communicating their needs without one feeling dominant over the other and attempting to take control. Putting in place goals for Alice to feel and be more autonomous with the girls and decision-making. Alice always felt demeaned by her own mother and revealing how Michael makes her feels the same way. The daughters need to feel safe as well and Jess already understanding the crisis in family need to be able to have help to discuss their feelings in the positive manner. Alice self-esteem is low and allowing her to flourish so she can feel mentally feel healthy again. Apart of the Strategic Family Therapy is that the changes happen through directives by the therapist not by insight and understanding. This part of the therapy may not work well with the family considering Alice already feels Michael doesn’t allow her make decisions with the girls and the home. The therapist may need to seek out an alternative due the directives would possibly be a failure with the Green family.
Research shows that the Strategic Family therapy helps to avoid dominance and control within the family. “Strategic therapy closely examines patterns of interaction and conflict between family members and seeks to increase awareness and mindfulness of these patterns. A more direct approach than some other family therapy techniques, each individual family member is assigned work in order to improve how they interact with their other family members, particularly those who may be facing unique challenges or struggling with mental or neurological illnesses or disorders. This therapy technique also subverts the authority of the most dominant family member, allowing communication changes to evolve positively between family members and the symptom sufferer”. (5 Family Therapy Counseling Techniques, n.d.)
The goals of the family would be to help Alice and Michael sit down without screaming and yelling at each other and removing the “I’m in control” syndrome. Alice and Jess having a better relationship with each other as well. Jess adores and loves her mother, however, she knows Alice is not well and she also is very aware Michael and Alice are having problems, which are causing her self-regulation concerns. The therapist could have Alice work on her own individual goals with her parents and the communication with Michael too. Alice, Michael and Jess and Casey need to be able work on rules, and hierarchy in the home. Jess has taken on the “parent like” with Casey (doing her hair and cooking), which is common in older siblings dealing with parent addiction. The therapist could direct Jess to understand being a parent to Casey is Alice’s role and work on things she can do to be a normal 8-year old again.
It would be a challenge for me as a therapist to work with the Green family, if Alice relapses and starts to drink again due the continued unresolved issues with her Mother. Also the concern with Jess having episodes of emotional breakdowns since she somewhat understands the turmoil and dysfunctions that is going in the home. I would work on having Alice confront her mother’s behavior and discuss the childhood trauma that happen in the family in the past and start to pull the layers to get to a good place where is a better communication. For Jess and Casey, I would recommend play therapy that would allow them to express themselves in a developmental appropriate way. Using the strategic Family therapy as well play for the children would place the family in a unique position to where each individual can work on their goals step by step and be autonomous in their own way without fear or rejection. “Children often experience self-judgment and self-criticism due to their unstable home life. They may assume the responsibility of helping the parent, have an overly serious attitude, or see the world in a negative light. They may feel afraid, angry, confused, or mistrustful. Sadly, they may witness more difficult outcomes of alcoholism in in the home if one or more parents argue or fight due to alcohol abuse. Perhaps the most serious consequence is them repeating an unhealthy dynamic into adulthood. It is well known that children of alcoholics are considerably more likely to become alcoholics, or abusers of other substances, themselves. (Murray, 2018).
“Satir believed that all humans strive toward growth and development and that each of us possess all the resources we need to fulfilling our potential, if only we can gain access to these resources and learn to nourish them. (Goldberg, 2017). Michael and Alice would be able to strive for a healthy dialogue with conversing with each other; Alice feeling more empowered on her own, chooses a different coping mechanics than alcohol and to make decisions for the daughters. Michael giving Alice the space to nourish and plant her own flower, do the work required and watch it grow into something amazing, so therefore, the marriage can only get better in time. The job of a strategic therapist is to focus blocking the symptoms of unconventional interactional repetitions of behavior that are causing the problems in the family. Also, to restructure the family hierarchy, facilitate the process of a more useful and pliable infrastructure within family.
Five Family Counseling Techniques. (n.d.) Retrieved from, https://www.topcounselingschools.org/lists/5-family-therapy-counseling-techniques/
Goldenberg, H., Goldenberg, I., Stanton, M. (2017). Family therapy: An overview. (9th ed.). Boston, MA: Cengage Learning
Good Therapy (2016). Satir Transformational Systemic Therapy
Retrieved from https://www.goodtherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/types/satir-transformational-systemic-therapy
Murray, K. (2018). Alcohol and Family Problems. Retrieved from https://www.rehabspot.com/alcohol/effects-of-alcohol-abuse/family-problems/
Schonfeld, R. (1994). When a Man Loves a Woman Movie Review. Retrieved from https://www.commonsensemedia.org/movie-reviews/when-a-man-loves-a-woman
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Alcohol Use in Families. (2011). Retrieved from https://www.aacap.org/AACAP/families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/FFF-Guide/Children-Of-Alcoholics-017.aspx