My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus: The Classic Guide to Understanding the Opposite Sex (1992) by John Gray, PhD is a remarkable, eye-opening book that dispels any belief that men and women are in fact the same.
As it comes to my attention, women and men should not be classified as belonging to the same ‘human race’, per se, but a distinct and separate division of the species itself. Doctor Gray admits to calling men ‘Martians’ and women ‘Venusians’ and this, I find, sounds like a far better label.
Martians and Venusians, however, do not have to primarily include men as Martians and women as Venusians, but rather any man or woman who speaks as a typical man would be classified as a Martian and any man or woman who speaks as a typical woman would be classified as a Venusian. The main consideration to reflect upon is that Martians and Venusians, albeit speaking English or some other common human tongue, are in fact not speaking the same ‘inner language’ and this, as we shall see, leads to so many problems in relationships.
“Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus,” writes Dr. Gray, “is a manual for loving relationships. It reveals how men and women differ in all areas of their lives. Not only do men and women communicate differently but they think, feel, perceive, react, respond, love, need, and appreciate differently. They almost seem to be from different planets, speaking different languages and needing different nourishment…Problems are inevitable. But these problems either can be sources of resentment and rejection or can be opportunities for deepening intimacy and increasing love, caring, and trust…It is never too late to increase the love in your life. You only need to learn a new way” (p xxx-xxi-xxxiii).
The potential here for evolving one’s love life through troublesome times is tremendous when both parties understand what is actually going on within the other rather than staying stuck in their own inner language, interpreting actions and events in their own inner language and jumping to conclusions based on their own rejections, fears and pain rather than seeking to explore their partner’s intentions and actions based on their partner’s inner language, whether they are Martian or Venusian.
What happens during problematic times, as an illustration, is that a Venusian will watch the actions of her partner and interpret these signs as a Venusian rather than as a Martian. And this leads to confusion, fear and ultimately difficulties in the relationship, or in its most extreme case a childish and cruel insecurity rears its head to break a loving relationship off without further communication and commit to a ‘No Contact Rule’, often found as a source of incorrect healing on the internet. Healing comes through communication and discussing problems, not hiding them away and locking those pains, fears and rejections deep down for another day so that they can only return to do more harm than good. Nevertheless, emotions must be handled in some form or another.
For example, Martians and Venusians deal with emotions very differently. When Martians become too intimate and too emotional they feel an instinctual urge to draw back and rest inside their ‘cave’ so they can make sense of these emotions. Much of this has to do with the fact that Martians, while intimate, will have lower testosterone levels and higher oxytocin levels which leads to this momentary feeling of inner depletion. Martians must pull away so they can restore their testosterone levels in order to give their partners more intimacy.
“While Martians tend to pull away and silently think about what’s bothering them,” explains Dr. Gray, “Venusians feel an instinctive need to talk about what’s bothering them…Men are motivated when they feel needed while women are motivated when they feel cherished…A man gets close but then inevitably needs to pull away. Women will learn how to support this pulling-away process so he will spring back to her like a rubber band. Women also will learn the best times for having intimate conversations with a man…Men need a kind of love that is trusting, accepting, and appreciative. Women primarily need a kind of love that is caring, understanding, and respectful” (p 3-4).
What happens more times than not in a loving relationship, a man will pull away to get his testosterone back in order to give more intimacy with his partner, while the partner incorrectly interprets this as a sign of rejection, and when the man returns with high testosterone and ready for intimate moments with the one he loves, the woman rejects her partner over false assumptions and thoughts that will forever remain only in her head and not in the truth of a man’s heart.
To explain these ‘pulling away moments’ one might relate to a woman’s ‘time of the month’. Women go through a menstrual cycle each month and most men are aware of this and ignore crude outbursts from their female partners. Women, however, are often ignorant of men who become too intimate and have a similar experience to the menstrual cycle that may be referred to as a man’s ‘intimate cycle’, which Dr. Gray points out, happens roughly the same length of time as a woman’s cycle. When a man goes through this cycle he, like his partner, is unaware of it, and the woman may be unforgiving to his outbursts (as say a man would be more forgiving during her ‘period’) and the woman becomes less understanding. In earnest, both men and women need to better educate themselves to these masculine and feminine cycles that both partners experience as human beings and how both cycles can affect their mood swings, and possibly their relationship and future.
“A rubber band is the perfect metaphor to understand the male intimacy cycle,” writes Dr. Gray. “This cycle involves getting close, pulling away, and then getting close again. Most women are surprised to realize that even when a man loves a woman, periodically he needs to pull away before he can get closer. Men instinctively feel this urge to pull away. It is not a decision or choice. It just happens. It is neither his fault nor her fault. It is a natural cycle” (p 99).
I am a Martian in every molecule of my being and I am also thirty-five years-old, and I have never known of this intimacy cycle until I read this book, and I am so relieved to finally have discovered a new part of my manhood. Unfortunately, I experienced these unexplained shifts in mood as part of my intimacy cycle, while being madly in love, and have at times been rejected by female partners who were also uneducated and unaware of these natural cycles, and it only creates a black hole where love once glowed bright. I never knew why this happened until now.
“Very few people, indeed,” reflects Dr. Gray, “are able to grow in love. Yet, it does happen. When men and women are able to respect and accept their differences then love has a chance to blossom” (p 7).
Other differences between Venusians and Martians abound. Martians may value competency, achievement, power while Venusians value beauty, relationships, communication and love (p 9, 11). A Martian is taught to handle his problems on his own and rarely seeks out advice, whereas Venusians are “more concerned with living together in harmony, community, and loving cooperation” so they seek to explore their problems with other Venusians in order to “share their personal feelings,” and this is seen as being far more important “than achieving goals and success” (p 10,12).
Martians and Venusians are not the same and do not communicate in the same way or for the same reasons. These two styles of communication, however, can be learned by both Martians and Venusians, which can lead into greater awareness, greater understanding, and greater love in a relationship.
“Men need to remember that women talk about problems to get close,” writes Dr. Gray, “and not necessarily to get solutions…You see, Venusians never offer solutions when someone is talking. A way of honoring another Venusian is to listen patiently with empathy, seeking truly to understand the other’s feelings” (p 16-17).
As practice, I have been ease-dropping onto couples in cafes and have also practiced listening to my female colleagues and I can now see exactly what Dr. Gray is referring to. In the past, when a woman spoke, I often waited to hear the problem (as a good little Martian) and to offer my solutions. Now, however, I don’t really listen as a Martian but as a Venusian, and when my inner thoughts suggest a solution, I ignore saying anything and instead seek to explore the woman’s feelings. When I did this, I found that the woman explored her own feelings related to the problem, moved to the next set of problems, and eventually came to her own solutions as she spoke. After a time, I began to notice that she noticed that we had made a connection, that this Venusian recognized that a Martian had actually spoken her language.
As a Martian to another Martian I do not call this really “listening” as when a Venusian asks you (as both of you are seated on the sofa), “Are you listening to me?” And you repeat verbatim to what she said from the recorder locked away in your Martian brain.
Rather “listening” is instead, for a Martian, helping the Venusian to explore her emotions, explore her problems, explore her situation so that she can become relaxed and find her own answers, and this is one of the greatest kinds of attention a Martian can pay to a Venusian. So when a Venusian asks, “Are you listening to me?” you can interpret this as, “Why aren’t you helping me to explore my problems, my fears, my insecurities, my emotions so that I can feel better when I am around you?” When a Martian asks, “Are you listening to me?” he simply means: “Did you hear what I just said?”
“He thinks he has heard her if he can repeat what she has said,” Dr. Gray explains. “A translation of a woman saying ‘I don’t feel heard’ so that a man could correctly interpret it is: ‘I feel as though you don’t fully understand what I really mean to say or care about how I feel. Would you show me that you are interested in what I have to say?’” (p 63)
These are just some of the communication differences shared between Martians and Venusians. Likewise, they also handle stress very very differently.
“One of the biggest differences between men and women is how they cope with stress,” explains Dr. Gray. “Men become increasingly focused and withdrawn while women become increasingly overwhelmed and emotionally involved…He feels better by solving problems while she feels better by talking about problems” (p 25). And if a Martian and Venusian are unaware of how they each need to communicate, problems in the relationship are sure to rise.
In addition, if a man is stressful and trying to solve a problem at work or at home, “he becomes so focused on solving this one problem that he temporarily loses awareness of everything else [while] other problems and responsibilities fade into the background [and] at such times, he becomes increasingly distant, forgetful, unresponsive, and preoccupied in his relationships…At such times he is incapable of giving a woman the attention and feeling she normally receives and certainly deserves. His mind is preoccupied, and he is powerless to release it” (p 28).
The sad thing about this is if the Venusian partner doesn’t understand that her favorite Martian is going through something stressful and interprets (in her own inner language) this behavior as being rejecting and cold, when in fact her Martian loves her very very much. At these times, both partners need to understand that they are not the same, they do not feel in the same ways, they do not handle stress in the same ways, and they do not—I repeat, do not—communicate in the same ways.
“When a man is stuck in his cave,” Dr. Gray explains, “he is powerless to give his partner the quality attention she deserves. It is hard for her to be accepting of him at these times because she doesn’t know how stressed he is. If he were to come home and talk about all his problems, then she could be more compassionate. Instead he doesn’t talk about his problems, and she feels he is ignoring her. She can tell he is upset but mistakenly assumes he doesn’t care about her because he isn’t talking” (p 29).
What happens next is only heartbreak for both partners because the Venusian interprets her favorite Martian’s actions in the wrong manner because “ever since she was a little girl this type of intimacy was her dream [and] his pulling away was a tremendous shock to her. To the vulnerable little girl within her it was an experience of giving candy to a baby and then taking it away. She became very upset” (p 132).
Now most women, Martians might argue, should be mature, secure, and trusting in a loving relationship. Sadly, Martians would be wrong. Venusians need communication and without that they become overly insecure and mistrustful and hurt.
Venusians find peace and understanding and true love when they “finally understood that a Martian going into his cave was not a sign that he didn’t love her as much [and] they learned to be more accepting of him at these times because he was experiencing a lot of stress” (p 38-39).
I recently experienced this with the woman I love. I was very stressed at work, my testosterone running on empty (because of the overly intimate moments I felt for her), and would come to her unable to speak about my problems because I was raised to keep silent and handle my own problems myself. In other words, my mind retreated into its cave. I was taught we had problems; why burden others with yours? So I felt it strange (until after reading this book) to listen to a woman’s problems. I thought if she talked about her problems then she needed help resolving her issues. Now I know it is her way of getting close to her man. And a man, like me, should not feel ashamed to discuss openly issues that are bothering me with the woman I love. This form of open communication deepens bonds and makes the hearts grow fonder. But how many men actually know to do this?
A Venusian, on the other hand, deals with stress very differently. Women need to discuss openly about their problems in order to deal with their issues. I think most Martians would agree that Venusians need a “mind dump” in order to feel better.
“By talking about all possible problems without focusing on problem solving she feels better,” explains Dr. Gray. “Through exploring her feelings in this process she gains a greater awareness of what is really bothering her, and then suddenly she is no longer so overwhelmed…The more talk and exploration, the better they feel. This is the way women operate. To expect otherwise is to deny a woman her sense of self…Gradually, if she feels she is being heard, her stress disappears” (p 33).
Whether you are in a relationship, getting over one, or trying to start a new one, there is much more Dr. Gray can teach you about yourself, about relationships and about your partner, so I strongly recommend, if you haven’t already, to read this book as soon as possible. And if you have read it, I recommend to go back and reread it again in order to continually remind yourself that men and women do not communicate or behave in the same manner and fashion.
And, as Dr. Gray will close us out, remember: “Next time you are frustrated with the opposite sex, remember men are from Mars and women are from Venus. Even if you don’t remember anything else from this book, remembering that we are supposed to be different will help you to be more loving. By gradually releasing your judgments and blame and persistently asking for what you want, you can create the loving relationships you want, need, and deserve” (p 323).
And with that I leave you until next time.
I wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays and pray that you find and cherish love and remember to be a bit more forgiving this New Year.
Keep reading and smiling…
CG FEWSTON has been a Visiting Scholar at the American Academy in Rome (Italy), and a Visiting Fellow at Hong Kong’s CityU. He has a B.A. in English, an M.Ed. in Higher Education Leadership (honors), an M.A. in Literature (honors), and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing & Fiction. He was born in Texas in 1979.
He’s the author of several short stories and novels. His works include A Father’s Son (2005), The New America: A Collection (2007), Vanity of Vanities (2011), A Time to Love in Tehran (2015), and forthcoming: Conquergood & the Center of the Intelligible Mystery of Being; Little Hometown, America: A Look Back; A Time to Forget in East Berlin; and, The Endless Endeavor of Excellence.
You can also follow the author on Facebook @ cg.fewston – where he has 390,000+ followers