John Gray, Ph.D.
Consulting Editor, The Family Journal
Author, Men Are from Mars, Women Are from VenusDr. Gray has disclosed that he has no significant relationships with or financial interests in any commercial companies pertaining to this educational activity.
TCR: Greetings Dr. Gray. Your book, Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, has become a classic self-help book for couples seeking to improve their relationships. I understand that you had published another similar book before this one? Dr. Gray: Yes – Men, Women and Relationships, which was a much more in-depth exploration of gender differences, but not as entertaining!
TCR: And how did that end up getting transformed to the current version? Dr. Gray: Well, it was published by a small publishing house, and it was doing very well. What typically happens in these cases is a big publishing house comes and says, “Hey, this book has wings so let’s purchase it.” But I didn’t want to take the book away from my distributor, because they had worked really hard for me and this was their chance at a big-selling book. So I looked for a solution, and the solution was, “Okay, you guys keep the Men, Women and Relationships book and keep working and try to distribute that and I will just write another one,” and that was the birth of Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus.
TCR: And how did you come up with the Mars and Venus terminology? Dr. Gray: Well, that came up back in 1984 when I started teaching about gender differences and I was looking for a unique and fun way of looking at these differences. I had just seen the Stephen Spielberg movie “ET” and I said to the women in the seminar I was teaching, “Imagine your husband was ET,” and everybody laughed. And then I started to ask, “Where is your husband from?” And my students would say “My husband does this where he is from.” So I figured this would be an engaging metaphor.
TCR: That metaphor certainly captured the public’s imagination. Dr. Gray: In Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus I focused primarily on certain metaphors that were very simple for people to hold on to. That is why that book has been popular, because it tends to validate people so they don’t blame themselves so harshly for their mistakes or blame their partners.
TCR: It’s interesting, because a lot of people criticize “pop psychology” and yet the fact is that if you can come up with a fun way of framing a topic, people are going to be able to learn about it in a way that they just won’t with a dry textbook. Dr. Gray: Right, and in my own experience this was a direct example, since in one year we sold 50,000 of the original book and a million of the new.
TCR: Psychiatrists often recommend self-help books to their patients. It is nice to be able to have something to say as you are handing somebody a book to read, something like, “Here is why you should read it. Here are some of the important take-home concepts.” If we were to recommend Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus to a patient, what are the nuggets of information that we would hope they would learn? Dr. Gray: The first nugget is in the introduction, and it is that so often men and women feel that we are just too different to get along and make our relationships work, but the fact is that men and women are supposed to be different. So you would say to your patient, “You are not necessarily with the wrong person, but you need to understand those differences and then you can be more effective in your relationship.” This is a shift for the patient from, “You’re just too different; I’ll never get what I want,” to the perspective of, “We’re so different; let’s figure out how to get what we want.”
TCR: How would we briefly describe what you consider to be the major differences between men and women in relationships? Dr. Gray: There are three important differences. One is that we cope with stress differently. One of the chapter headings summarizes these different approaches in metaphoric form: “Men Go to Their Caves and Women Talk.” Typically, women will say “He doesn’t want to talk with me. He will come home and he will want to watch TV or do some project. He is uncommunicative. He doesn’t open up.” Men often pull away in order to cope with stress effectively. Women, on the other hand, process stress by wanting to talk about the things that happen during the day and men don’t understand that.
TCR: I hear you use the word “often,” meaning you encounter exceptions to these gender differences? Dr. Gray: Absolutely. There will always be cases where couples don’t fit that picture. Many people will relate to some parts of the book and not relate to other parts. But of course, you can’t write a book with every chapter saying, “This is sometimes true, but sometimes it is the opposite.” This is one of the limitations of a pop psychology book.
TCR: And what’s the next difference? Dr. Gray: When women do start to talk, men continue to interrupt and give solutions. So that is called “Mr. Fix-it,” which is what men typically do. They try to solve the problem that a woman is talking about so that she won’t be upset, so that she won’t be stressed. We think that if you can just solve the problem, you are going to feel better. Men will often say, “You shouldn’t be upset.” That is the big mistake men make, and many men will relate to that: “Oh, there I was. I was trying to fix her. I was trying to solve the problem and really what she wanted was for me to listen.”
TCR: And what do women do instead of being “Mr. Fix-it?” Dr. Gray: What women tend to do is called the “Home-Improvement Committee.” While men try to solve the problem, women typically try to improve the man. So he is relaxed in his life and she comes over and starts telling him how he could be better, which is perceived by the man as unsolicited advice.
TCR: But how is women giving advice different from the man’s “Mr. Fix-it”? Dr. Gray: The difference is that men are giving advice when she is upset about something, whereas women give advice to men when men are not upset; a man might be quite happy with what he is doing and then she comes along and wants to give him more advice. And to a man that can be an annoyance. So let’s say that he is driving his car and she is telling him, “Park here, don’t go here, I think you can go here.” Gradually men just sort of tune their wives out. And then, of course, women say, “Men don’t listen.”
TCR: And the third difference? Dr. Gray: Men and women score points differently. With women, it is not so much what you give them; it is how. It is not how big the gift is; it is the intent behind it. And what women need are lots of little things that say “I love you,” as opposed to occasionally getting one big thing. Meanwhile, the man is over here thinking, “I will do one big thing; that ought to satisfy her for quite a while.” He needs to learn that it is not the one big thing that satisfies her for a while; it is lots of little things on a continuous basis that assure a woman that she is loved.
TCR: And how do women score points? Dr. Gray: The way women score big points on Mars is not so much in what you do for a man, but in how you respond to what he does. Things like, are you forgiving? Are you accepting? Are you appreciative? Do you delight in his presence? She is happy to see him; she just scored points with him and she didn’t do anything. So, it is less about what women do and more about their attitude and how responsive they are to their partners. That is what draws a man into a relationship. Now this can be easily misunderstood to mean that a woman should be happy all the time and always be this “Stepford wife.” And I am not saying that at all. I am just telling women how you score points with men. It is just being happy to see him and affectionate, responsive, and appreciative.