Book review – Men are from Mars, women are from Venus
“ Men are from mars, women are from Venus” is a user’s guide for married couples to understand each other better, and transform their differences to complement each other to enjoy their long journey together as man and wife. John Gray, renowned relationship counselor and the author of the book, views men and women as having inherently dissimilar values and views about life. In marriage people often expect the opposite sex to be more like themselves. Each desires the other to want the same thing and feel the same way. For example, the husband takes for granted that the wife would behave in a particular way to express her love – the way he behaves when he loves someone. Both men and women, like their body features, have entirely different mental and emotional make up; both react, communicate and think distinctly. Gray sees men and women, with different values and perceptions, as human beings coming from two different planets and talking different languages (Gray 5). Thus, in marriage, as the author clarifies, the man from Mars and the woman from Venus need to set a proper timing to approach each other from the other’s perspective rather than his or her own to live a fulfilling married life.
The great misunderstanding
The essence of the book is that success in marriage relationships depends on open communication. Men and women use same words to speak different languages. For instance, when a woman intends to invite her husband’s care by sharing her problem, he wrongly interprets her by assuming that her unhappiness is a failure on his part to care her. Women tend to use different metaphors, generalizations and superlatives to express their feelings, and men, by mistake, take all their expressions literally. For example, when a woman says “ we never go out,” she really means “ I like to go out with you and have some fun together.” Her husband takes its literal meaning and may respond, “ This is not true; didn’t we go out last fortnight?” Even she misinterprets the behavior and action of her husband when he keeps silence in response to a problem, and in fact means, “ I do not know what to do yet and I am giving a thought about it.” But, what the wife understands is “ I do not care about your problem because I do not care about you.”
More often, men and women forget the differences that make them unique. Instead of understanding the basic differences and decipher meanings, they tend to become judgmental, intolerant, demanding and resentful (Gray 14). Say for instance, when a wife complains about a problem at work, the husband, instead of listening to her, offers her ‘ quick-fix solutions’, which do not fulfill her real expectation of ‘ empathy’ from her husband. Similarly, a wife tries to help her husband through advice, which the husband interprets as an action of control upon him. In married life, Dr Laura Schlessinger, eminent author and family counselor, in her scholarly book, “ The proper care and feeding of husbands’ says, mom’s role is to protect and nurture, whereas dad’s role is to venture into autonomous adventure (Laura 210). When the wife interferes in his autonomy and adventure, like she treats one of her children, she ends up being an unloving and hostile wife.
Men and women differ in addressing stress. Men prefer to focus on stress-inducing problems and try to solve them by withdrawing from their spouses, which Gray indicates as ‘ withdrawing into his cave’ (Gray 33). Alternatively, women cope with stress by openly talking about problems with others. Men feel solving problems on their own is strength, and seeking women’s advice to solve problems is weakness. Also, men interpret women’s talking about their problems as holding them responsible for their problems. In fact, a man’s hunger for love motivates him to achieve, which he feels is a pre-requisite to get a women’s love. For a woman, however, love is caring, listening and being cherished by her husband.
Men are rubber bands, women are waves
Even as two partners are happily married, periodically the man needs to pull away like a rubber band before he comes closer with renewed love and care for his wife. It is a cycle in their relationship. Gray says men pull away to honor their need for autonomy or independence, and when stretched away fully he will come springing back to fulfill his need for intimacy and love (Gray 99). When a woman runs after a man while he stretches, she unknowingly interferes in his privacy thus disturbing his intimacy cycle in relationship. Women, as Gray warns, should not mistake their men’s pulling away as a consequence of their behavior, and should not punish their men when they spring back by resisting their sexual moves. “ The bedroom is the foundation of marriage and family,” says Dr Laura (Laura 183). Also, St Josemaria Escriva of the Catholic Church puts it much clearly, “ The marriage bed is an altar.”
Women are like waves (Gray 119). Feelings of love and self-esteem in women rise and fall like waves. After they reach a peak of happiness their minds suddenly change and crash down like a sea wave. Men tend to react the same way women react to their stretching away, blaming themselves for their behavior. Couples should see that the rubber band and wave effects do not happen simultaneously.
Discovering each other’s emotional needs
Gray points out that men and women in relationships give each other what they mistakenly think is the other’s need. He lists out husbands and wives as having six different love needs, though ultimately both of them need the twelve kinds of love. If a man is satisfied with his primary needs of recognition of partner, her approval, admiration, respect, authorization and back-up, he will be open to the other six primary needs of his woman, which are being considerate, thoughtful, highly regarding, committed, rational and encouraging. Similarly, when her basic needs are satisfied, the woman will be in a position to be open to her man’s primary needs (Gray 141-142).
Understanding and valuing each other’s emotion is essential to avoid arguments. One should understand the hidden reason for the argument and understand the other to stop arguments. For example, when the wife argues that the husband is not responding to her questions, the real need behind the argument is her need to feel reassured that he is in fact listening to her.
For communicating difficult feelings with the partner, Gray suggests a love letter technique, which consists of writing a love letter expressing feelings of sadness, fear, anger, regret and love, writing a response letter expressing what one wants to hear from the partner, and sharing the love letter with the partner (Gray 224). The author also attributes 90 percent of a partner’s disappointment to past experiences and only 10 percent to the present circumstance (Gray 295). Hence, understanding the past of both partners would help prevent misunderstanding and misinterpretation of behaviors of partners in marriage.
Stereotypes associated with men and women, and their relationships
Sexual scripts for women and men
Sexual scripts associated with women are love and relationship-oriented. Women intrude into their men’s life out of love and care. Their nature of loving their men and family motivates them to adopt a typical controlling strategy, which is more often misunderstood than honored. Dr Laura Schlessinger says that wives have enormous power over their husbands. It is the manner in which they use the power controls their relationships. Also, woman has been stereotyped intuitive and giver of unconditional love. When her solution-orientated husband is motivated to find solutions to her problems, she interferes in her usual way; she talks trying to get his attention and empathy. Her openness in sharing thoughts with fellow women motivates her to share family matters with friends when her husband is not available to listen. This is her alternate strategy to seek solace and reduce mental stress. Thus women always need someone to listen to her. Women express stress by keeping on talking where as men express stress by withdrawing.
For men the popular scripts are embedded with self-rule and goal-orientation. Their message when women lose them as they run after their goal is “ I am not ignoring you by concentrating much on my goals; in fact I am trying to provide you the best by achieving my goal.” A man always loves to present himself as a successful professional rather than a successful married man. Thus, men do not adventure deep into the minds of their spouses as they do adventure alone in their own territories. Dr Laura records in her book, “ most husbands are poor mind-readers, and are not as intuitive as their wives, which the wives wrongly interpret as lack of love for them,” Gray also charges men for their lack of interest in bringing romance into their marriage since they show much inclination toward workplace than family.
Influencing the audience
This book on marriage relationships advices couples on the verge of ending their marriages to pause and understand the real emotional needs of each other and renew their relationships. To those who are in an intimate relationship, often wondering at the strange or annoying behavior of the partners, Gray’s book explains the reasons behind such behaviors of partners. For men and women wishing to enter into marriage relationships, it is a guide explaining the dos’ and don’ts in marriage. To put it in a nutshell, Gray, through this wonderful book, advises all his target audience to follow little things to make a huge difference in their married lives. He reminds that every woman has a love tank in her heart like a gas tank of a car, which needs to be filled again and again by doing little things. He suggests husbands to follow 101 different ways to fill the wives’ love tank (Gray 195-200). He also promptly advises women to appreciate and acknowledge the little things men do to them.
“ Even though the society more often sees both men and women as “ unisex,” men are happy being men and women are happy being women,” says Dr Laura Schlessinger. The partners in marriage need to remember that misunderstandings are common between them because of their inherent nature. Hence, it is the responsibility of both the husband and wife to interpret what the other partner means, before responding. This comes by practicing listening and knowing each other’s emotional needs. Gray’s suggestion to men is ‘ listening is doing everything’ to make women happy against their popular belief that listening is ‘ doing nothing’ for them. To women Gray suggests ‘ trust him’ rather than ‘ micro manage him.’
Gray, J. (2002). Men are from Mars, women are from Venus: The definite guide to relationships. London: Element.
Schlessinger, L. (2004). The proper care and feeding of husbands. New York: HarperCollins.