I remember watching When A Man Loves A Woman when I was about 10 years old. My parents were channel surfing and voilà. I mean Meg Ryan and Andy Garcia in a movie together deserves to be watched in some capacity. As a young impressionable child, I was so in awe at Ryan and Garcia’s sparkling good looks. “This is love,” I thought to myself as they clung to each other in the swimming pool, spinning around with amazing buoyancy. Somehow, I had overlooked the screaming and the fighting, as well as the alcoholism. This movie is definitely not all sunshine and roses.
It is disconcerting to watch it again all these years later and not recall any of the bleak moments. Perhaps my 10 year old self wasn’t ready to come to terms with the reality of wedded life. Or maybe I had seen too much of it in my own parent’s relationship. At times I found myself wondering why they didn’t just walk away. I didn’t think they could survive the ever present inevitable conflicts. Because there’s always going to be something isn’t it, an obstacle to overcome, a moment where you think, “This is it. This might be the end of us.”
For Michael and Cathy, it’s dealing with Cathy’s alcoholism. He has spent most of their lives together patching things up for her and enabling her behaviour. This is the status quo both of them are used to. They ignore the signs until it becomes clear they can no longer do so, the pivotal moment being Ryan’s crash through the shower glass panels after she mixes aspirin with alcohol.
Ironically, it is not the alcoholism that gets in the way of their relationship, rather, it is her recovery. As she takes greater control of her life, she’s not quite the mess she was. The people in the rehabilitation programme seek her out for advice and help with their problems, and she returns to being the mom she needs to be for her two girls.
Michael doesn’t know where he fits in with this new dynamic. When she says she had a shitty day, instinctively he asks what he can do to help make it better, and this in turn sets her off. She doesn’t need or want him to fix anything, but that’s who he is in the relationship – he fixes and mends.
Initially I couldn’t understand her anger or her instinct to isolate herself from him. Can’t she see how ardently this man loves? He is a good father, a kind man, not to mention they share such delicious sexiness together. Why would she want to give any of that up? Watching it again as a woman about to embark on my own married life, I feel ashamed that I dismissed her need for autonomy and agency.
I had fallen into the same trap as others before me, allowing a dashingly handsome man charm me into thinking he can do no wrong. He is a good guy, and he loves her, but married life needs more than just these two things. He needs to listen to his wife and she needs to communicate with him and not leap to confrontation.
Sigh, married life sounds tough. But hey, nothing worthwhile is ever easy – or so they say. I’ll keep you posted from the other side.