Gray’s observation of men is that men value themselves through achievement. They want to solve problems and build great things. They think that problems are opportunities for a solution. If the problems are too big to solve, they go off by themselves and do something to forget about it. But, deep down, men fear that they are not good enough or not competent, and consequently desire to be needed and trusted. Women, on the other hand, value themselves through the depth of their relationships. They intuit others needs and automatically give of themselves to help. Their deep fear is they are not worthy of love. They give freely, too much even, but are afraid to receive, because to need someone and be rejected by them would validate that they are no worthy of love. Consequently, women want to be cherished and have their feelings understood.
The application of these principles is that our natural reactions tend to be the opposite of what the other needs. When a woman tries to change a man, he perceives that she thinks he is broken and in need of fixing and resists her. She perceives him as unwilling to change because he does not love her. To change a man, the best way is to do nothing and accept him for who he is. Likewise, when she gets upset with him for being late, he feels that he has failed, or if she is trying to help out by suggesting, often obvious, things he feels that she does not trust him to accomplish the task himself. Similarly, when men offer advice to women instead of just listening and understanding them, women think that men do not care about their feelings. Men are also apt to try to fix the women’s problems by explaining why they are not important, not realizing that the problem is not the problems but the not knowing which is the problem. Or they will half-listen or not say anything, because, to them, these are little, easily solved problems. But it does not reassure the woman that her feelings are valid so she perceives a message that her feelings are not important.
Emotional stress also highlights the differences between the sexes. Somewhat naturally solitary, men will retreat to their “cave” to forget about their problems during times of emotional stress. Women, on the other hand tend to be overwhelmed by a million things but do not know what is really bothering them, so they want to talk about it because by talking to someone else it clarifies to themselves what the problem really is. Unfortunately men think women are looking for answers (because that is the only time men tell other men their problems) instead of just understanding and empathy. Likewise, women feel ignored when men retreat (because a woman would not retreat from another except if they did not care) and try coax him back instead of going off and doing something else while he gets over his problems.
Just as men and women have different emotion needs, so they have different emotional cycles. Gray describes men as “rubber-bands” because men realize their need for another and come close but have a sort of intimacy threshold which, when reached, will cause them to retreat before they lose themselves. After being autonomous for a while, they will realize their desire for intimacy and come back with a higher threshold. A man needs to retreat before he can be more intimate (and if he does not or is not allowed to retreat, he will become less intimate) Women are scared by this because usually something they say or do triggers the threshold and the man starts pulling away. Their efforts to get him back fail (in fact, push him away) and they fear they have lost him somehow. Their challenge is to not assume that he needs to talk (like a woman would) but just wait and trust that he will be back. When he starts coming back he will be ready for intimacy again.
Women are described as “waves” since their self-esteem rises and falls in a periodic motion. When they are rising, women will be very loving and giving, but unexpectedly they crash and begin feeling hopeless or unloved. Afterwards they rise again and start that cycle anew. Men assume that a woman’s mood is based on his behavior. So when she rises he thinks he is doing the right thing, but then she falls and he was not doing anything different. He may feel that she should be more steady (which would make her less loving), or try to pull her up when she is down. Instead she needs to be supported (which may make her feel worse initially). Men need to realize that women’s moods are not dependent on them and that she is not broken when she is down, does not need to be fixed, and will come back up by herself.
Gray also raises a number of less fundamental points. One well-known one is that women appreciate all acts of love about equally (something as small as holding the door for her might weigh as much as a vacation) while men tend to award points in large chunks (including for not doing things, like not pointing out too loudly that he forgot something). However, he also includes a section on motivating the opposite sex, which mainly suggests that men do not automatically understand what a woman needs, so she needs to ask them to do things, appreciating him when he does them, and gradually they will learn to see them for himself. Finally, he notes that relationships have a spring-summer-autumn-winter-like cycle, where love cycles between easy and hard.
Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus contains all the basic principles needed for healthy relationships, conveniently packaged with a very conversational style and peppered with many suggestions and illustrations. While the book is quite informative and eminently practical, Gray seems to ignore our fundamentally selfish nature. It seems a bit to simplistic to expect that merely giving each other what they want will undo years of misunderstanding, as his illustrations seem to imply. Similarly, however healing writing love letters (often not delivered) which describe your fears, pains, and reaffirm your love can be, it would be simplistic to assert that they will solve current or childhood hurts. The topic of a solution is not discussed; the release of the emotional energy appears to be solution enough for Gray. However, there is so much worth remembering in the book, especially some of the practical applications, that simply cannot be absorbed on one reading. Singles who are not dating will probably want to re-read this book at some point in the middle of their next relationship, and educators teaching sex-education would likely find Gray’s material to be more needed than the current curriculum.
A bit too chatty and coloquial in style, but as I found myself at a loss to absorb all the useful information and the style does make the book easy to read, it falls only a little short of the highest marks.
My edition had a number of magazine-like quotations in the middle of the page. They were annoying when reading the book, but they make a good summary of Gray’s points.
- We mistakenly assume that if our partners love us they will react and behave in certain ways—the ways we react and behave when we love someone.
- A man’s sense of self is defined through his ability to achieve results.
- To offer a man unsolicited advice is to presume that he doesn’t know what to do or that he can’t do it on his own.
- A woman’s sense of self is defined through her feelings and the quality of her relationships.
- When our partner resists us it is probably because we have made a mistake in our timing or approach.
- A man wants to make improvements when he feels he is being approached as the solution to a problem rather than as the problem itself.
- To feel better Martians go to their caves to solve problems alone. ... To feel better Venusians get together and openly talk about their problems.
- Men are motivated and empowered when they feel needed... Women are motivated and empowered when they feel cherished.
- Given the opportunity to prove his potential, a man expresses his best self. Only when he feels he cannot succeed does he regress back to his old selfish ways.
- Not to be needed is slow death for a man.
- A woman’s tendency to be compulsive [in giving of herself] relaxes as she remembers that she is worthy of love—she doesn’t have to earn it; she can relax, give less, and receive more. She deserves it.
- When she wakes up and remembers her needs, he also wakes up and wants to give her more. [i.e. women need to not give too much, otherwise they will become emotionally tired.]
- A man’s deepest fear is that he is not good enough of that he is incompetent.
- Just as women are afraid of receiving, men are afraid of giving.
- It is difficult for a man to listen to a woman when she is unhappy or disappointed because he feels like a failure.
- To fully express their feelings, women assume poetic license to use various superlatives, metaphors, and generalizations [i.e. don’t take them literally]
- The number one complain women have in relationships is “I don’t feel heard.” Even this complaint is misunderstood by men!
- The biggest challenge for women is to correctly interpret and support a man when he isn’t talking. ... When a man is silent it is easy for a woman to imagine the worst.
- Never go into a man’s cave or you will be burned by the dragon!
- It is very difficult for a man to differentiate between empathy and sympathy. He hates to be pitied.
- A woman should not be judged for needing [reassurance that she is loved] just as a man should not be judged for needing to withdraw.
- When a man loves a woman, periodically he needs to pull away before he can get closer. ... A man automatically alternates between needing intimacy and autonomy. ... To a certain extent a man loses himself through connecting with his partner. ... The man grows to understand his own cycles and reassures her when he pulls away that he will be back.
- A woman’s self-esteem rises and falls like a wave. When she hits bottom it is a time for emotional housecleaning. ... When negative feelings are surpressed positive feelings become surpressed as well, and love dies.
- Men argue for the right to be free while women argue for the right to be upset. Men want space while women want understanding. ... By supporting her need to be heard she could support his need to be free.
- Men primarily need trust, acceptance, appreciation, admiration,
approval, and encouragement. Women primarily need caring,
understanding, respect, devotion, validation, and reassurance.
- A man commonly makes the mistake of thinking that once he has met all of a woman’s primary love needs, and she feels happy and secure, that she should know from then on that she is loved.
- The secret of empowering a man is never to try to change him or improve him.
- Men rarely say “I’m sorry” because on Mars it means you have done something wrong and are apologizing [while women use it to mean] “I care about what you are feeling”.
- Most arguments escalate when a man begins to invalidate a woman’s feelings and she responds to him disapprovingly.
- The most common way women unknowingly start arguments is by not being direct when they share their feelings.
- On Venus their motto is “Love is never having to ask!”
- If a woman is not asking for support a man assumes he is giving enough.
- When a man hears a demanding tone, no matter how politely you phrase your request, all he hears is that he is not giving enough. His tendency is then to give less until you appreciate what he is already giving. ... When asking a man for support [e.g. doing something for you], assume that he doesn’t have to be convinced. ... Men are much more willing to say yes if they have the freedom to say no.
- When you ask a man for support and you do not reject him for saying no, he will remember that, and next time he will be much more willing to give.
- When a man grumbles it is a good sign—he is trying to consider your request versus his needs.
- One of the key elements of assertive asking is to remain silent after you have asked for support.
- It is a paradox: because you feel safe with your partner,
your deepest fears have a chance to surface. When they surface
you become afraid and are unable to share what you feel.