A Woman Under the Influence


My younger son, The Peacemaker, is really into classic films. He is a budding filmmaker himself. He has subscribed to a website by which he can access old movies that aren’t readily available on other sources. We’ve watched numerous films from all over the world and of varying genres and spanning decades. We recently watched ‘A Woman Under the Influence,’ written and directed by the late John Cassavetes and starring his wife, one of my favorites, Gena Rowlands (she reminds me of my Swedish grandma). Peter Falk plays her blue collar husband. They have three small children. I’m not sure how to explain the movie. It’s from 1974, about a woman who seems to be suffering from some sort of anxiety disorder. At first she appears to potentially be an alcoholic, but that doesn’t pan out. In the first scenes of the movie, her mother (played by Gena Rowland’s actual mother Lady Rowlands) has arrived to take the children so Mabel (Gena Rowlands) and her husband Nick (Peter Falk) can enjoy an evening alone. Right off it’s obvious that Mabel has some anxiety and nervous energy. Later she receives a phone call from her husband (a city worker) saying there has been an emergency and he won’t be home for some time. Mabel proceeds to go off to a bar, drink, pick up a stranger and bring him back to her bed. I just super simplified an incredibly elaborate and frustrating portion of the movie because there is no way I could describe it here… and no, Mabel, that’s not okay. Nick ends up arriving home early the next morning and with him he brings about a dozen of his workers and Mabel is expected to make them a meal. Apparently spaghetti is her speciality. Mabel is often childlike, she wants to dance and flirt and have her kind of fun, which is embarrassing to her hot-headed husband. The movie can be intense and very uncomfortable. Nick slaps Mabel in the face a few times. He belittles her, he ignores her, he doesn’t like the way she acts in front of other people, but he seems okay with it when they are alone. Mixed messages. Mabel just wants to take care of her children (often by acting like a child herself) but if she has a mental disorder, it is difficult to put a name to it. The title of the film is, ‘A Woman Under the Influence.’ So under the influence of what?

It is obvious to me pretty quickly that Mabel is under the influence of her abusive husband. He doesn’t come home when he is supposed to and when he does come home (for their romantic night) it is the next morning and he brings with him a bunch of dirty, hungry men. He doesn’t like the way she behaves and he belittles her in front of the men. He slaps her across the face, he pushes her, he locks HER up in a mental institution. He is incredibly insensitive and the intensity of the film for me comes from understanding how desperately she just wants to be with him, the man she fell in love with, not the man he has become because he has surely become a violent man who cares more about what others think than what his wife needs. He disregards her, gas lights her, and is violent towards her. I read some of the online reviews and a lot of people seem to think she is mentally ill. It is clear that she desperately loves her children. Her mother in law (played by John Cassavetes actual mother–interesting) instigates having Mabel locked up. Nick is a coward and a bully and allows his mother to manipulate him and the situation. I don’t believe Mabel is mentally ill at all. I think she never learned how to live without a man. In a couple scenes Mabel desperately looks to her father for guidance and for understanding, but he is clueless to her needs.

Although the reviews for this film are overwhelmingly positive, some reviewers on IMDB criticize John Cassavetes for being self indulgent and re-living his own life in his films (ala Woody Allen) to the detriment of the audience and the view-ability of his works. I completely disagree. In Roger Ebert’s review of the movie he states, “Because his work felt so fresh, it was assumed that Cassavetes was an improvisational filmmaker. Not true. He was the writer of his films, but because he based their stories on his own emotional experience, and because his actors were family or friends, his world felt spontaneous. There was never the arc of a plot, but the terror of free-fall. He knew that in life you do not often improvise, but play a character who has been carefully rehearsed for a lifetime.” A character who has been carefully rehearsed for a lifetime. Thought provoking and perhaps scarily accurate.

Asked if he did any research into mental illness or nervous breakdowns when he wrote the film in an interview included on the Criterion Blu-ray, Cassavetes said, “No, because I don’t think it’s about that. I’m half crazy myself, and I think almost everyone is verging on some kind of insanity. I believe very strongly that all women who are married for any length of time—and if they love their husbands—they don’t have any place to put their emotions, and that can drive them crazy … This particular woman, I don’t think she’s crazy … I think she’s just frustrated beyond belief. More than being crazy, I think she’s just socially inept.”  (mentalfloss.com)

I think Mabel’s issues were a little deeper than merely being socially inept (realizing I am critiquing the actual writer and filmmaker here, ha). Her behavior was caused by the behavior of those around her and she merely did not have the coping skills to manage. I think she has a severe case of social anxiety brought on by abuse from her husband and others around her. She relates to and on the level of her children. There is a heartbreaking scene, after returning from the mental institution, between Mabel and her young daughter. It is a brilliant scene. You can see the brokenness and fear in them both.

I’m not sure I could have fully absorbed this film before discovery. After discovery I suffered tremendously with fear and anxiety, amongst other things. I didn’t want to leave the house. I was frightened, I felt like I was going insane. My husband did that to me. Yeah, sure, we are all responsible for our own behavior, however, trauma, stress and anxiety caused by a sudden and catastrophic event, or abuse over time, can leave us with an inability to control our emotions and our thoughts. The brain is a powerful organ, sometimes it shuts down for our own protection. Sometimes we don’t have the ability or desire to act like an adult anymore. I had to experience this for myself to know how real it is. Nearly four years ago, there was talk of sending me away. Even typing that makes be go, what? I self harmed so therefore I was a danger to myself and others? What the actual fuck? Oh yeah, and blog followers stopped following me… that was weird. Anyway, my husband was a danger to himself and everyone around him. Years of lies and betrayal led me to that place where I couldn’t function as an adult. Perhaps if my children had been small, like Mabel’s, I would have climbed back into a childlike state and I would have thrown parties where we all dressed up in costumes and no one had to be the parent, the adult, because being an adult is heartbreaking some days. But not wanting to live in a world full of hurtful people does not make me (or Mabel) mentally ill, it makes us sane!

21 thoughts on “A Woman Under the Influence

  1. I’ll take any hug, virtual or otherwise these days. 🙂 Handsome’s therapist is experienced in treating sex addiction, so I think/ hope he’ll be diagnosed appropriately – whatever that diagnosis may be – if he’s completely honest with the therapist. But that’s the rub, right? Will he be honest with the therapist? I do not think that Handsome will waste his time and money overtly lying to the therapist; however, I do think he is prone to omitting facts and details, especially if he is embarrassed.

    The therapist had a lot of paperwork that had to be completed prior to Handsome’s first visit. I’m not sure how I had the foresight to put my foot down, but I insisted that we review the paperwork together when he completed it, and then I drafted a concise but detailed letter to the therapist regarding the issues that I knew of as of that time (two or three months of emailing an old girlfriend which was not wholly inappropriate but heading in that direction at the end, followed by a year of secret porn viewing, and then followed by the affair which was initially physical and then the physical contact ceased and turned to 18 months of rampant sexting and voyeurism). Then, because I didn’t trust that he’d actually take it or mail it, I mailed it myself from my office. The therapist has a good, broad picture of at least the last 5 years. Hopefully he is skilled at working with Handsome to fill in the blanks and arrive at the correct diagnosis and plan for corrective measures. I have seen some significant changes for the better already. I just hope he continues the hard work to make them permanent.

    I also see Handsome’s shame and pain in his eyes. I know that he feels remorse and that it is sincere. On my more charitable days, I give him credit for that and try to appreciate his struggles. On a lot of days though, I just think it serves him right. I’m not proud of myself when I get some sense of satisfaction from his pain, but I do think he brought it on himself. Choices have consequences.

    Thanks for your thoughtful words and encouragement.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Don’t be hard on yourself. Sometimes when we question our motives, especially while in trauma, we think we are seeking revenge or retribution or some sort of legit consequence in our minds, but in fact, I think a lot of those feelings actually stem from fear. The fear that this person we love so much and the person that has hurt us so much, will not be who we need him to be. Whether diagnosed as an addict, or not, this is a rough road and he will NEED to be painfully honest. That painful honesty for BE was found in 12 step, not in therapy. BE lied by omission for years to his then therapist before acknowledging SOME of the details of his acting out with the phone call from the other woman. He also was very good at manipulating therapists to garner sympathy. In 12 step, these guys know all the tricks because they have tried them themselves. And, the guys in 12 step are not making money by dragging the therapy out as long as possible. This whole let him come clean on his own time and he has a huge mountain to climb, yada yada yada translated to me as… this may take 10 years, at $150/hour. I know therapy is absolutely necessary, but in my mind, it is merely part of a larger package.

      I’m off to meetings, but I plan to read your blog tonight. xo

      Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, also, BE did those questionnaires for three separate therapists. I never saw the questions but he said they were all a little different and one was something like 800 questions, but I assume he answered them mostly honestly since the diagnosis was the same each time. To me, the big one is feeling bad about doing what they are doing and wanting to stop but not being able to. In the case of BE, I know his brain was altered from an early age to receive those sexual hits… as an adult, the hit could come from smiling at a woman on the street, or holding eye contact, viewing porn, sexting, etc… I know he felt like he couldn’t do life without those hits. Now he knows he can, but it is still difficult.


  2. Hi Kat. I’m new here (and new to the Betrayed Spouses club), but I wanted to let you know helpful your blog has been. I’m not exactly sure whether my husband is a sex addict. I do know that he has no appreciation for appropriate boundaries and that he has engaged in various types of compulsive behavior with women outside our marriage (emailing, texting, sexting, porn, masturbation, etc.) for the last 5 years of our 13 year marriage. Whether its an addiction or he’s just a serial cheater, it still hurts. Your words have given me support on some really incredibly rough days.

    I have decided not to leave my husband… at least not right now. I think we have a long road ahead of us, but I remain cautiously optimistic most days. (I have to actively work on that mindset, or else I fall into a chasm of sadness.) I also blog about it. Whether or not anyone ever reads it, it’s therapeutic. I’m trying to look ahead. I’m trying to remain engaged with my children and with life in general, but it’s hard when I’d prefer to not get out of bed most days. My husband is in individual counseling, and we are working with Brian and Anne from Beyond Affairs together. (We’re planning on attending one of their couples weekends in June. I hope we make it that long.)

    My DDay was two months ago today. Until 3 or 4 weeks ago I had no idea that blogs like yours existed or what a DDay was or what hysterical bonding is (I thought I was nuts until I stumbled onto that little bit of info). Thank you for being open and honest and for sharing your journey. It has been a tremendous help to me and I’m sure to many others.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Welcome, and thanks for commenting. I can only imagine how you are feeling right now. Those first few months are heartbreaking. Like you, I had no idea this world existed. I’m so glad I found it, but when I came here, there were little to no blogs written by wives of sex addicts. There were, however, dozens of blogs written by betrayed wives and by mistresses. I plugged along anyway. At one point in time I did receive quite a few comments questioning sex addiction and basically insinuating I was being naive and was merely married to a serial cheat and refused to open my eyes. The thing is though, they weren’t living my life. They weren’t looking my husband in the eyes every day and seeing his shame and pain and dysfunction, and his desire to change. Recovery doesn’t happen overnight. It is a long process with many ups and downs (lots of downs), but for him, it was the only way. I agreed to stay only if he was in recovery.

      I hope Brian and Anne’s retreat helps, and I do hope you make it! BE and I never did the couple’s retreat, mainly because at the time I found Anne and Brian, Brian was very negative about the diagnosis of sex addiction, and BE had recently been to an intensive for sex addicts and it was really important for him to focus on himself and acknowledging what he was, what he was doing, and why and get the proper help. It wasn’t an issue of our partnership or him having one affair, but in fact he needed to be treated for sex addiction. Anne’s Take Your Life Back Seminar, however, was amazing for me.

      I am not equipped to diagnose anyone with anything, but… it does sound like your husband falls in the spectrum of addict. I hope he is seeing a therapist familiar at least with discussing sex addiction, and that your husband is open minded to it. As I have said so many times and I truly believe it, being diagnosed as a sex addict is not bad, it’s not a blight, it is a gift, a pathway to some really important healing. Although BE readily accepted the diagnosis (after being diagnosed three separate times), I really think when he first started attending 12 step meetings, he very much fell into the “I’m not like them” mentality. It was scary and difficult. It takes a while for them to really absorb that they are sex addicts. Actually getting a sponsor and doing the steps helps with that. For BE, the therapy component helped him understand how the addiction grew and how it escalated and why he was doing so many things he was ashamed of and how it was affecting his life, his health, etc… The 12 step component gave him an outlet to not feel alone, to be with other men who had done similar things, who were similarly confused about their own behavior and who didn’t blame others for the behavior… or at least that was the goal. BE is truly grateful for the friendships he has made in 12 step. I’m pretty proud of him for sticking it out.

      Big virtual hugs. I know you need real hugs right now, but this is what I’ve got. xoxo


  3. Yes, to the emotional abuse experienced by being the partner or spouse of a sex addict. The trauma is real. I don’t believe partners of SAs are codependent or God forbid, “coaddicts.” Unless the spouse is driving the SA to meet the prostitute or participating in a three-some that she does not want to be a part of but is doing it for the partner, or something similar, then no. Every story I have heard, the partner didn’t know, was lied to, gaslighted and up until D-day, considered themselves to be in a stable relationship and most considered it as happy. I feel fortunate that I found a therapist who used the trauma model. Looking back, I now see that my behavior in these past 2yrs since discovery was completely normal. All the snooping, anger, raging, attempts to control my SA spouse, focusing to the point of obsession on his behavior, crying, etc. were normal, even healthy responses to a very abnormal situation . My therapist said to me at one point that if I wasn’t doing those things, he would have been worried about me. That said, staying in that place is not healthy and I’m happy that I’ve moved on. But I now understand how truly traumatic this is and how it can threaten one’s mental health and physical health, too. I take it very seriously. I wish there were more help for partners. Blogs like this are so helpful.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, Maggie. I agree, I wish there were more healthy options for partners to turn to. I’m hoping things are changing for the better. It seems more partners are receiving trauma based therapy and some therapists are finally moving through their co-dependent fog when it comes to SAs, and they are receiving CSAT training, and it is sticking. I understand with other addictions it is obvious that the person is an addict, HOWEVER, I still despise the negative energy attached with that term co-addict. People are merely trying to do the best they can with what they have. Being there for your alcoholic or drug abuser in a time of crisis can be kind and loving, not necessarily just broken and weak. We are not all equipped to handle abusive people in our lives.

      I was devastated at discovery. Pretty much non-functioning for quite some time. My children were grown, otherwise as I say above, I may have just gone into a childlike state. As it was I went into a dissociative state and was self harming. I didn’t recognize myself. I never felt shame, but I sure felt emotionally exhausted and broken and I needed to go away. Since I wasn’t strong enough to do that physically, I did it emotionally. I think we are on a path to healing partly because our husbands are recovering (and healing themselves). If my husband wasn’t in recovery, I wouldn’t be here. It has to be that way for me. xo

      Liked by 2 people

      • Kat, I agree. If my husband wasn’t in recovery, I would not be here. For awhile, it looked as though I was going to have to leave and that may still happen if he chooses his addiction again. I believe that staying with him while he practices his addiction is harmful to both of us. If he chooses his addiction, the most loving thing I could do for him at this point is to leave.

        Liked by 2 people

  4. In dysfunctional families someone is always given the role of “the trash can”. That is where all the crazy goes. That is why therapists try to treat a whole family if they can. If the crazy one is “cured” but the family is not then another is chosen for the role. Everyone in in a dysfunctional family has an assigned role. Breaking out of it is like trying to break up concrete with a plastic fork. It takes determination and time.
    That movie shows how simple it is to drive someone crazy. A psychologist told a friend of mine that it takes a week for a parent to make a child crazy. The more we love someone the more we depend on someone, the more vulnerable.
    None of us know in our early 20s one single thing about anything. Nothing. Yet we enter into a marriage with such hopes and dreams never for a minute thinking our spouse has in them to cheat and lie. How could we know that? Even if we come from that kind of family we still hold on to “happily ever after”. When the reality of our lives blindsides us we are NEVER prepared for it. The more subtle the devious behavior of our loved one the more damage because it takes YEARS to recognize what is happening. Sometimes the truth is never recognized. Gena Rowland’s character was helpless against his manipulation because she trusted his judgment of her.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Yes, moi, she trusted his judgment of her and there were bits in there where you could see her dependence on her father’s attention and opinion. Her father was a doofus. She learned that behavior, probably by example from her mother, and maybe something to do with the generation, hers and her mother’s. John Cassavetes was pretty genius, I think. Also, I guess he knew dysfunction and could write about it. Great psychological review! I know mental illness when I see it. My sister has borderline personality disorder with bipolar tendencies (as I know I have said before), not diagnosed until she was 30. It was a hell of a ride. No one was treated except my sister, and pretty late in the game. My place in the family and with my sister was delved into pretty intensively as part of my trauma therapy at 50!!! The therapist wanted me to know that I was also abused, by the situation. I don’t look at it that way… we all have shit to deal with, but I do feel like I may have taken a greater fall than some at the point of discovery of my husband’s secret life, because… I trusted him. The first person other than my mother that I had truly ever trusted, and look where that got me. xo


    • I thought it was really good, but I was definitely seeing it through my own experiences, and experiences of those I know. 🙂 BE and Sam thought it was also intense (they watched it in pieces while I watched it all at once separately) and they could see correlations between the abusive husband and the anxious and childish personality of the wife. I wanted to give her a hug and I wanted to punch the MIL, and slap her father, and beat the hell out of Peter Falk, LOL. Of course no one really tried to understand her, just punish her. Typical. Just be the way we want you to be, or don’t be. xoxo

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This is a fantastic post, Kat. Would you mind if I shared the content (not the post itself, to maintain anonymity) with my OH? He is a film buff as well as a cheater, and I think he would enjoy your critique. I won’t be offended if you say no.

    For me, the way I now view films is very much altered by my experience a a betrayed woman. X

    Liked by 2 people

    • Of course you can share whatever and however you like. In this film, as far as we know, the husband isn’t a cheater, but he is an abuser. In this case I see a correlation in how people want to focus on what is wrong with the woman and not necessarily what she has gone through and how that shapes her. I definitely see the husband in this film as the one with the problem, and she is suffering the consequences of his actions. It is an intense film. xo

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you. I really appreciate that.

        I am very much of the view that cheating, with all its lying, hiding and gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse. OH agrees and this is what really gets to him about what he did. He hates seeing himself as an abuser. I honestly think seeing that in himself was the catalyst to change everything about his boundaries and the way he behaves towards women. He used to be a charmer, but not any more.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Yes, cheating is abuse. The film is intense and, it’s the 70’s. I found it quite compelling in some ways and exacerbating in others. It seems a lot of cheaters have that in common, their charm and charisma. With my husband it was definitely part of his predatory nature. He still is charming, but hopefully with less devious motives now. xo

          Liked by 1 person

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