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Dennis Hughes: For our readers who have not
read your books, I'd like to start by asking where your idea of Mars
and Venus came from in the first place?
John Gray: As a marriage counselor about
20 years ago, I found that one of the biggest problems couples were
having was the expectation that they should be the same. Back then it
was politically incorrect to say men and women were different. In the
process of seeking equality for the sexes, we made the mistake of
saying that to be equal we have to be the same. But around this time
there was a also lot of research proving that we were different, that
the differences between genders was very significant. In my counseling
practice, when I explained about the differences between men and women
in terms of Mars and Venus, immediate results would happen. We are
talking miracles! People that were on their way to getting a divorce
were now happily married again. After five or six sessions they didn't
need me anymore; they were done! Not everybody was that way, but this
information was literally saving marriages once people understood, once
they were educated. I started teaching it in workshops and many people
loved it. There was a minority of people who were getting very, very
agitated and angry at me because they were projecting onto me that I
was a sexist telling women that they should be barefoot and pregnant in
the home but that is not what I was saying. I never said that nor would
I imply it, nor would I even think it!
Dennis: I see the value in the
archetypes, definitely--the male image from Mars and the female image
from Venus in mythology.
John: You are looking at the deeper
value. For me it was simply that I needed to think of something funny
to say! I had just seen the movie ET around that time, back in the
early 80's. I remember using an example from the movie, saying, "Just
imagine your husband as an ET!" The women all just started laughing;
they thought that was the funniest thing. "He's from Mars!" Then they
laughed even more. The humor diffused the whole thing. That's how it
started. I started focusing on finding a playful, humorous way of
talking about our differences as opposed to a serious approach, which
is what I used to use. I shifted to being humorous because it was so
effective. My ideas have saved millions of marriages and have increased
the respect between men and women. I can still see I'm not for
everybody--there is never one way for everybody, and I wouldn't expect
everybody to agree with my ideas.
Dennis: Why focus on the differences
between the sexes?
John: I saw, on a very practical
level, that in our intimate relationships it is very important to
understand the differences between the sexes, because when there is
conflict between men and women, generally it is these differences
showing up. If you do not accept and understand the differences in a
positive way, then when a difference shows up we tend to think, "Oh,
something is wrong with you." Many women were thinking: "He doesn't
want to talk about his feelings. What's wrong with him?" They thought
he needed therapy to overcome that…as opposed to there is nothing wrong
with him--maybe he needs to play basketball to deal with his feelings.
What a woman may not understand is that's how a man might work out his
feelings. Traditionally, boys can get into a fight and then afterwards
they are good friends, whereas girls can have an argument and be
enemies forever. With boys, although I am not recommending violence,
that is the expression of feeling, and then they end up feeling closer
and as a result can be good friends. Men can go into battle, in the
board room, in sports or whatever, and afterwards go have a drink
together. Whereas, women often can't because they have different ways
of processing stress.
When we start understanding how we process stress differently, then we
can start to respect what the other person is really asking for and
what they need. For example, a woman might be saying, "I just need you
to listen to me." And a man doesn't know what she is talking about. He
thinks he is listening because he is responding; he is finishing her
sentences, and he's interrupting her with solutions, which is evidence
that he is listening. When she says, "You're not listening," he doesn't
get that what she really wants him to do is close his mouth and try to
understand her point of view until she is finished talking. She wants
him to empathise, not give a solution. Since a man isn't feeling that
need as much as a woman, he may not realize that's what she needs. If
men really understood, they would be giving women so much more, and if
women really understood men, they would be giving men so much more as
well. This is what I discovered as counselor over 20 years ago, which
is we need more understanding of our differences, and without that
understanding we are just creating bigger and bigger problems.
Dennis: That reminds me of the Yin
Yang symbol. There are two halves but they are not identical. They are
mirrors or polarities.
John: Yes. We compliment each
other. I'll use my wife for example. I am like Mr. Let's Do Something
About It, and she's Mrs. Let's Talk About It. If I do not have respect
for her different way of approaching solving problems, I will just
think she's wasting time. But if I respect this difference, I realize
that by taking time to listen to what she's said, talking with her,
exploring a win-win solution, we usually end up with something much
better than what I would have come up with on my own. At the same time,
my wife understands that sometimes she has a tendency to just talk and
talk about the problem and not act on it. So she has a greater tendency
to accept and support my wanting to do something about it. Not that
that's always the dynamic between men and women, but it's a common
dynamic that shows up. If you have respect for the place where the
other person is coming from, then you are able to resolve things
together instead of becoming enemies in the process.
This is really what's happening with the global war going on right
now--a lack of respect for cultural values and different religious
values. The East is not respecting Western capitalism and Western
capitalism is not respecting what goes on in the East. There is a
reason why people in the East hate Americans. What we have to do is
find out why they are hating us. Just as we project onto them that they
are the evil ones, they are projecting onto us that we are the evil
ones. We need to have a greater sense of tolerance and understanding of
where this projection comes from. The same thing happens in
relationships; after a period of time we project onto our partner
things that really aren't true. For example, when a man comes home from
work and doesn't want to talk about something, he wants to watch a
basketball game, work out or read a magazine, his wife can project onto
him, "Well, he doesn't love me, he doesn't want to talk to me," or she
might think he's dysfunctional in some way, and needs therapy to open
up to his feelings. What's wrong with him? Well, nothing basically is
wrong with him, he's just coping with his stress in a different way,
Conversely, if his wife is talking about what's bothering her, which
sounds to him like complaining, on her planet Venus this is really just
sharing. She is in the process of exploring, discovering, feeling
better and generating intimacy all at the same time, which is a
positive experience for her, but it becomes a negative experience for
him. He thinks she's just an obstacle to his peace of mind. He projects
onto her that something is wrong with her when nothing is wrong with
her. So what we have are these projections which are not based in
reality, and we have to learn to take back our projections, get rid of
the hate, get rid of the judgement, get rid of the blame and look
instead at how we contribute to problems in a relationship.
Dennis: I am happily married myself,
which requires a heck of a lot of listening. I do tend to filter what
Janice is saying through the way I view things, so it is helpful to
remember that as a women she sees things differently.
John: Absolutely. The similarities
between men and women are much, much greater than the differences. But
then people say, "Why focus on the differences?" Because conflict comes
from differences. Let's ignore the differences and we'll deny the
problem as well. My approach is let's look at those differences that do
exist for many people. They don't show up for everybody but they show
up for many people--and when they do, let's have a positive way of
interpreting them so we don't feel threatened by them. That's the real
meaning of my work. The people who are threatened by my work see me as
just pointing out differences because in the past other people used
differences as a way of minimizing, a way of keeping women out of the
workforce for example, or keeping a woman out of an executive position.
"Oh she's a woman; she's too emotional." That would be a negative
stereotype. That is not what I am saying at all. I don't think it's a
gender difference that women are more emotional or that men are more
emotional. I do see that we process and express our emotions
Dennis: Do you think that the
differences between genders are a matter of nature or of choice?
John: There is an inherent gender
difference that is born into us; it is a function of testosterone. You
can measure this in people's physiology. I must say that there is a
small percentage of women that look at my books and say, "What is this
guy talking about?" It is not their experience because they happen to
be among the small group of women who have higher levels of
testosterone. You can map this out in a research lab. About 90% of men
(or more) have significantly higher levels of testosterone than most
women do. Same thing with muscle mass. There are a few exceptions, but
the bottom line is that this is what we are born into--muscles and
testosterone go together and testosterone goes together with a whole
set of attitudes. It also goes together with a whole set of stress
reactions and how we cope with stress.
Dennis: So you're saying that one of
the main differences is that we cope with stress differently
John: Yes, this is the basic bottom
line of relationships, that we deal with conflict and stress
differently. Also, women have different hormones that affect their
experience of stress, their experience of intimacy, their experience of
sex, their experience of purpose in life. All of these things generate
hormones and are affected by our hormones. And our hormones are
affected by our DNA. Men and women are born with inherent differences
that create a predisposition towards certain behaviors. It doesn't mean
for sure that we are going to do those behaviors, but it creates a
disposition towards those behaviors. For example, men, due to
testosterone and dopamine levels, tend to be more goal oriented. They
think about those things that are going to make them more money, and
gain greater recognition for their power. In other words, men want to
prove their competence. Not that women don't have power, it's just that
women aren't as concerned or preoccupied with it. This is why women
will often say that men have such big egos, and it's true. Men have
sensitive egos and women have sensitive feelings. There is always a
counterbalance to these things. Nothing is wrong with either. It's just
different sensitivities. My work is constantly striving towards not
proving that one is superior to the other, but that we are different.
We all have our unique vulnerabilities and we have predispositions
towards certain behaviors. Women don't prioritize demonstrating their
competence. They are just saying let's do whatever needs to be done.
They are going to be more aware of everything that goes on around them.
This is another function of estrogen and oxytocin and other female
hormones that give women an awareness of the environment much more than
men have. Therefore, the environment affects women more. Dopamine gives
a man the ability to ignore his environment. For example, what allows
men to drop bombs right now and decide to start wars? Men have a
tendency to say that my goal is peace. How can I get peace? I'll
destroy the problem. He ignores the fact that he's destroying people
and innocent victims because he's thinking about the goal. People
wonder how terrorists can do what they did. It's that they ignore what
they do; it's very male-oriented thinking. It's the end justifies the
means. It's hard for females to do that, so you'll find fewer women
saying let's go to war.
Dennis: So by and large, the women
are more nurturing.
John: It's not just nurturing. It's
being aware of present time.
Dennis: Do you think that men are
quicker to form opinions?
John: I think women will explore an
issue in greater detail before forming an opinion. Men form opinions
right away and therefore women assume men are narrow-minded or rigid,
when really they're not. They'll form an opinion very quickly but also
be able to quickly change that opinion if given new information. So
that's another way men and women process information differently. Men
tend to make snap judgements and they'll change them just as quickly,
whereas a woman will tend to take longer to form her opinion and once
it's formed it tends to be more rigid, more stable, based upon a lot
more information. So a guy might be thinking in his marriage, "I want a
divorce." And the next day he will change his mind. When a woman says
she wants a divorce, it's generally based on years of build-up and
usually she won't change her mind right away.
Dennis: My wife sometimes complains
that I can be too analytical in certain situations. If she is hurting,
I might analyze how the problem arose rather than just saying, "There,
there." Is that a common male/female thing?
John: Yes, it is a type of conflict
that occurs. The man wants to analyze the situation and pick it apart
to find a solution because that would make him feel better.
Dennis: And to avoid the problem
John: Right. You want to solve the
problem and avoid it in the future. Or you might want to understand the
situation differently so you can determine that there really is no
problem. This is often a phrase used to explain to a woman why she
doesn't need to react that way. But that's the worst thing we can do!
That is not what she is asking for. What she wants is someone who will
empathize with her point of view, trusting and respecting that she can
work it through on her own. She doesn't need your help. What she needs
is a sympathetic ear to talk to about a situation. This creates lots of
problems. I apply this same principle to women who want to change a
man's behavior. He's going to have to learn a lot of things on his own
and if you keep telling him, he'll just resist hearing that message.
This is where our conflicts often develop. Men tend to be overly
analytical in trying to solve problems and women will tend to offer
unsolicited advice to men. What we have to do is have a greater respect
for each other. Then we will want to hear each other.
Dennis: Now from another angle…no
matter how great a relationship is, certain freedoms may be missing
from your life that you might have had when you were single. How can
one maintain the best of both worlds without threatening the integrity
John: Even when you are in a happy,
committed relationship you have to have separate time from your
partner. Otherwise, you won't be healthy. Men need time to be with
other guys, shooting pool or going to the movies or doing what they do.
That is very healthy and if they don't do it, it will threaten their
romantic relationship. Women have to realize that. If you want him to
be passionately attracted to you, you need to give him time to pull
away. This will stimulate his testosterone and then he starts missing
you. Now another thing that stimulates his testosterone would be if he
goes away from her to have an affair. There are all these books and
magazine articles that say it will really help your marriage. It
doesn't. My message is go out and have a new stimulating experience
that doesn't involve another woman. Instead, do things that stimulate
your testosterone that don't threaten your marriage. Then you will
bring that good energy back to your partner.
Dennis: Sometimes I need to just go
for a hike with my buddies or do some project building with one of my
John: You have to have time away,
and then you miss your partner. It's the old phrase "distance makes the
heart grow fonder." That is also true for women in small doses, but
more true for men as a general theme. If a women says, "Why do you want
to do that" and pulls the man in and doesn't give him time away from
her, then he can lose his passion for his partner.
Dennis: Do you think at the core of
who we are we have more in common than we have differences?
John: Yes, of course. It's just
that we do have some differences, and when we create positive
understanding of them we can have better relationships.
Dennis: We all have qualities like
love and compassion, but with men it is a little harder to dig out, I
John: I don't think so. I think
it's just the way we communicate. Look at those men on United Flight 93
who gave their lives to stop the terrorists. That was out of loving
compassion. We just demonstrate our love differently. When men go to
war, even though it is destructive, it's out of compassion for their
wife and children and wanting to protect their family. And so would
women if men weren't around to do it.
Dennis: What is it that ultimately
stands between us and a life full of healthy relationships?
John: What stands between us is a
lack of understanding of what our partners need and that those needs
may be different from ours. We always start out in our relationships
with the best intentions. We give to our partners what we think is
best, but when that is not what is best for them, relationships start
to erode. We need to constantly educate ourselves about what our
partners might really be needing and what they are really saying when
they are speaking to us. If we don't speak their language then
misunderstandings develop. We think we are being loving, when really on
their planet we are not being supportive at all.
Dennis: It sounds like that could
apply to your neighbor, your wife, or to a country on the other side of
John: Absolutely, it certainly
does! All these same dynamics of understanding the differences in
relationships apply to the problems we have on a global level right
now. Nobody right now is applying any kind of healthy conflict
resolution techniques to the war in Afghanistan. All we are doing is
throwing out inflammatory comments that only make it worse--and
dropping bombs, which is only increasing terrorism rather than getting
to the root of it, which is unhealthy dependence and interdependence
and a lack of communication.
For more information about John Gray and his upcoming workshop
schedule, please visit his website at www.marsvenus.com
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