Cinema Therapy: Why Did I Get Married?
“Everyone’s relationship appears to be a mess” is a statement that may be one of the messages in the 2007 movie, Why Did I Get Married? However, the film’s main message seems a bit more optimistic: No matter how difficult things get, nearly everyone’s relationship is salvageable, if a couple is motivated to take the time necessary to repair it, beginning with self-reflection, followed by understanding how things got off track, then working on how to grow from it. Running away from issues isn’t the answer. The rewards for staying put and mending what’s broken may become a healthier relationship.
‘Why Did I Get Married?’ is a 2007 American comedy-drama written, produced, and directed by Tyler Perry, who also stars in the movie. Perry knows how to cleverly tell a story that resonates with a big audience, including issues that cross ethnic and cultural lines. Adapted from Perry’s book, the characters are based on real-life members of his own family, and they demonstrate that some couples can make positive changes, no matter how difficult.
Relationships as shown in the movie
The story is about four best-friend couples who meet together in a cabin once a year to catch up on things. One of the main characters is a psychologist, Dr. Patricia Agnew (Janet Jackson), who has written a book titled, Why Did I Get Married? She and her architect spouse, Gavin (Malik Yoba), appear to be the perfect couple but are aching on the inside after the auto-accident death of their young son. They are clearly not dealing well with their grief. Another couple, hair-care guru Angela (Tasha Smith) and Marcus (Michael Jai White), an ex-pro football player who now works for her, can’t stop bickering. They bicker on the drive up to the cabin and they bicker after they get there. Then there’s Terry (Tyler Perry), a pediatrician, and Diane (Sharon Leal), a work-obsessed attorney. Finally, there’s Sheila, a beaten down housewife who is 80 pounds overweight, and her husband, Mike, who is having an affair with the ninth character who shows up, a “hot chick” single.
As the week progresses, the couples begin to open-up about problems within their marriages: They grapple with issues of commitment, love, betrayal, and forgiveness. Mike admits to his affair, stating that Sheila’s weight makes her no longer attractive to him. However, Mike, her not-so-better-half, spends his days either needling her about her weight or cheating on her. Sheila, devastated by Mike’s infidelity, announces that her life is “nothing” without him. Their conflict forces the other couples to discuss the issue of: Can you get everything you need from your spouse?
How many wives in the film, such as Sheila, feel that they have no “weight” in the marriage? How many women believe they “should” take a back seat to their man, even a cheating, deceiving one? The movie seems to reference the story of singer Tina Turner’s rise to stardom and how she gained the courage to break free from her own abusive husband, Ike Turner.
To complicate matters, the woman that Mike has been having an affair with is also present at the weekend — the “hot chick” single — and it was Sheila who invited her! Instead of working on their marriage together, Mike runs ― and Sheila passively, lets him walk away with the house, the cars, and his new, money-hungry girlfriend, who found a “sugar daddy” to meet her material needs. He begins to lose his business and his bank account. Later, Mike “wakes up” and realizes that he already had a good wife who cared for the kids, kept his business afloat, and made him look good and that it’s too late. But it gives Sheila a chance to find “herself,” so for her, it turns out well. The other couples manage to resolve their own marriage issues in various other ways.
In real life, many couples go through the kinds of stressful periods illustrated by this movie. Betrayal, affairs, co-dependent relationships, emotional abuse, and divorce ― which often carry with them shame and stigma, accompanied by blame, resentment, grief, self-doubt, and hopelessness, leaving one feeling “squeezed like a lemon,” as psychoanalyst Otto Kernberg described it. And when kids are involved, it leaves them without a solid sense of self, and without a moral foundation. Where do you go when you have no roots to hold you?
Through the characters in the film, as we get into the details of each couple’s relationship, we are witness to the dysfunctional relationship dynamics of dominance and submission; of the slippery balance between the “I” and the “we,” and how partners can both build each other up or put each other down. We are privy to the erosion of a sense of self, the whittling down of one’s self-esteem ― as in the case of Sheila and her weight problem.
These issues are all real challenges in couples’ therapy, especially since couples can view marriage from such totally different perspectives, running the gamut from love and respect to seeing marriage as a game of “what’s in it for me.” It’s no surprise that unhappy marriages usually grow out of unfortunate backgrounds where the dynamics of dominance and submission overshadow healthier themes of reciprocity, mutual respect, and respect for the partner’s need for the emotional space to develop their own best potential as an individual.
‘Why Did I Get Married?’ is a film about the difficulty of maintaining a solid relationship in modern times. It shows us what can go wrong in a dysfunctional, often overly demanding, too busy marriage. It also explores the basic, normal needs in a healthy relationship — belonging, attachment, sexual and emotional intimacy, and emotional safety. When trust has been breached, can a couple heal? This is challenging in couples therapy. It also explores the psychological defenses used when that cherished dream is threatened with failure. It is easy to get hooked by a smooth line, a skilled seducer, and not know it, especially if the woman feels invisible and emotionally fragile. This kind of manipulation happens even to women who are intelligent and mentally sophisticated. Does acting out on unmet needs lead to death by divorce, or rebirth, reciprocity, and the possibility of long-term fulfillment?
This film leaves us questioning, if not open for discussion, where do God and spirituality fit into the marital scene? When you love God, when you have respect for yourself, you will have respect for your partner. Now that’s a basis for a firm foundation.