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Interview with John Gray, Ph.D.
Relationship expert and bestselling author of
Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus

By Dennis Hughes, Share Guide Publisher

Dr. John Gray i
s an internationally recognized expert in the field of interpersonal communication and relationships. He is a Certified Family Therapist, a member of the American Counseling Association and author of 11 bestselling books. Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus has sold over 11 million copies. Dr. Gray has been conducting seminars in major cities for 26 years. He lives in Northern California.

John Gray photo

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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 differently.

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 occurring again.

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 or stability?

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 friends.

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 guess.

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 the world.

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


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