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.