Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus: The Classic Guide to Understanding the Opposite Sex - John Gray 1992
Keeping the Magic of Love Alive
One of the paradoxes of loving relationships is that when things are going well and we are feeling loved, we may suddenly find ourselves emotionally distancing our partners or reacting to them in unloving ways. Maybe you can relate to some of these examples:
1. You may be feeling a lot of love for your partner, and then, the next morning, you wake up and are annoyed and resentful of him or her.
2. You are loving, patient, and accepting, and then, the next day, you become demanding or dissatisfied.
3. You can’t imagine not loving your partner, and then, the next day, you have an argument and suddenly begin thinking about divorce.
4. Your partner does something loving for you, and you feel resentful for the times in the past when he or she ignored you.
5. You are attracted to your partner, and then suddenly you feel numb in his or her presence.
6. You are happy with your partner and then suddenly feel insecure about the relationship or powerless to get what you need.
7. You feel confident and assured that your partner loves you and suddenly you feel desperate and needy.
8. You are generous with your love, and then suddenly you become withholding, judgmental, critical, angry, or controlling.
9. You are attracted to your partner, and then when he or she makes a commitment you lose your attraction or you find others more attractive.
10. You want to have sex with your partner, but when he or she wants it, you don’t want it.
11. You feel good about yourself and your life and then, suddenly, you begin feeling unworthy, abandoned, and inadequate.
12. You have a wonderful day and look forward to seeing your partner, but when you see him or her, something that your partner says makes you feel disappointed, depressed, repelled, tired, or emotionally distant.
Maybe you have noticed your partner going through some of these changes as well. Take a moment to reread the above list, thinking about how your partner may suddenly lose his or her ability to give you the love you deserve. Probably you have experienced his or her sudden shifts at times. It is very common for two people who are madly in love one day to hate each other or fight the very next day.
These sudden shifts are confusing. Yet they are common. If we don’t understand why they happen we may think we are going crazy, or we may mistakenly conclude that our love has died. Fortunately there is an explanation.
Love brings up our unresolved feelings. One day we are feeling loved, and the next day we are suddenly afraid to trust love. The painful memories of being rejected begin to surface when we are faced with trusting and accepting our partner’s love.
Whenever we are loving ourselves more or being loved by others, repressed feelings tend to come up and temporarily overshadow our loving awareness. They come up to be healed and released. We may suddenly become irritable, defensive, critical, resentful, demanding, numb, or angry.
Feelings that we could not express in our past suddenly flood our consciousness when we are safe to feel. Love thaws out our repressed feelings, and gradually these unresolved feelings begin to surface into our relationship.
It is as though your unresolved feelings wait until you are feeling loved, and then they come up to be healed. We are all walking around with a bundle of unresolved feelings, the wounds from our past, that lie dormant within us until the time comes when we feel loved. Then, when we feel safe to be ourselves, our hurt feelings come up.
If we can successfully deal with those feelings, then we feel much better and enliven more of our creative, loving potential. If, however, we get into a fight and blame our partner instead of healing our past, we just get upset and then suppress the feelings again.
How Repressed Feelings Come Up
The problem is that repressed feelings don’t come up saying “Hi, I am your unresolved feelings from the past.” If your feelings of abandonment or rejection from childhood start coming up, then you will feel you are being abandoned or rejected by your partner. The pain of the past is projected onto the present. Things that normally would not be a big deal hurt a lot.
For years we have suppressed our painful feelings. Then one day we fall in love, and love makes us feel safe enough to open up and become aware of our feelings. Love opens us up and we start to feel our pain.
Why Couples May Fight During Good Times
Our past feelings suddenly come up not just when we fall in love but at other times when we are feeling really good, happy, or loving. At these positive times, couples may unexplainably fight when it seems as though they should be happy.
For example, couples may fight when they move into a new home, redecorate, attend a graduation, a religious celebration, or a wedding, receive presents, go on a vacation or car ride, finish a project, celebrate Christmas or Thanksgiving, decide to change a negative habit, buy a new car, make a positive career change, win a lottery, make a lot of money, decide to spend a lot of money, or have great love making.
At all of these special occasions one or both partners may suddenly experience unexplained moods and reactions; the upset tends to be either before, during, or right after the occasion. It may be very insightful to review the above list of special occasions and reflect on how your parents might have experienced these occasions as well as reflect on how you have experienced these occasions in your relationships.
THE 90/10 PRINCIPLE
By understanding how past unresolved feelings periodically surface, it is easy to understand why we can become so easily hurt by our partners. When we are upset, about 90 percent of the upset is related to our past and has nothing to do with what we think is upsetting us. Generally only about 10 percent of our upset is appropriate to the present experience.
Let’s look at an example. If our partner seems a little critical of us, it may hurt our feelings a little. But because we are adults we are capable of understanding that they don’t mean to be critical or maybe we see that they had a bad day. This understanding prevents their criticism from being too hurtful. We don’t take it personally.
But on another day their criticism is very painful. On this other day our wounded feelings from the past are on their way up. As a result we are more vulnerable to our partner’s criticism. It hurts a lot because as a child we were criticized severely. Our partner’s criticism hurts more because it triggers our past hurt as well.
As a child we were not able to understand that we were innocent and that our parents’ negativity was their problem. In childhood we take all criticism, rejection, and blame personally.
When these unresolved feelings from childhood are coming up, we easily interpret our partner’s comments as criticism, rejection, and blame. Having adult discussions at these times is hard. Everything is misunderstood. When our partner seems critical, 10 percent of our reaction relates to their effect on us and 90 percent relates to our past.
Imagine someone poking your arm a little or gently bumping into you. It doesn’t hurt a lot. Now imagine you have an open wound or sore and someone starts poking at it or bumps into you. It hurts much more. In the same way, if unresolved feelings are coming up, we will be overly sensitive to the normal pokes and bumps of relating.
In the beginning of a relationship we may not be as sensitive. It takes time for our past feelings to come up. But when they do come up, we react differently to our partners. In most relationships, 90 percent of what is upsetting to us would not be upsetting if our past unresolved feelings were not coming up.
How We Can Support Each Other
When a man’s past comes up, he generally heads for his cave. He is overly sensitive at those times and needs a lot of acceptance. When a woman’s past comes up is when her self-esteem crashes. She descends into the well of her feelings and needs tender loving care.
This insight helps you to control your feelings when they come up. If you are upset with your partner, before confronting him or her first write out your feelings on paper. Through the process of writing Love Letters your negativity will be automatically released and your past hurt will be healed. Love Letters help center you in present time so that you can respond to your partner in a more trusting, accepting, understanding, and forgiving way.
Understanding the 90/10 principle also helps when your partner is reacting strongly to you. Knowing that he or she is being influenced by the past can help you to be more understanding and supportive.
Never tell your partner, when it appears as though their “stuff” is coming up, that they are overreacting. That just hurts them more. If you poked someone right in the middle of a wound you wouldn’t tell them they were overreacting.
Understanding how the feelings of the past come up gives us a greater understanding of why our partners react the way they do. It is part of their healing process. Give them some time to cool off and become centered again. If it is too difficult to listen to their feelings, encourage them to write you a Love Letter before you talk about what was so upsetting.
A Healing Letter
Understanding how your past affects your present reactions helps you heal your feelings. If your partner has upset you in some way, write them a Love Letter, and while you are writing ask yourself how this relates to your past. As you write you may find memories coming up from your past and discover that you are really upset with your own mother or father. At this point continue writing but now address your letter to your parent. Then write a loving Response Letter. Share this letter with your partner.
They will like hearing your letter. It feels great when your partner takes responsibility for the 90 percent of their hurt that comes from the past. Without this understanding of our past we tend to blame our partners, or at least they feel blamed.
If you want your partner to be more sensitive to your feelings, let them experience the painful feelings of your past. Then they can understand your sensitivities. Love Letters are an excellent opportunity to do this.
YOU ARE NEVER UPSET FOR THE REASON YOU THINK
As you practice writing Love Letters and exploring your feelings you will begin to discover that generally you are upset for different reasons than you first think. By experiencing and feeling the deeper reasons, negativity tends to disappear. Just as we suddenly can be gripped by negative emotions we can also suddenly release them. These are a few examples:
1. One morning Jim woke up feeling annoyed with his partner. Whatever she did disturbed him. As he wrote her a Love Letter he discovered that he was really upset with his mother for being so controlling. These feelings were just coming up, so he wrote a short Love Letter to his mother. To write this letter he imagined he was back when he was feeling controlled. After he wrote the letter suddenly he was no longer upset with his partner.
2. After months of falling in love, Lisa suddenly became critical of her partner. As she wrote a Love Letter she discovered that she was really feeling afraid that she was not good enough for him and afraid he was no longer interested in her. By becoming aware of her deeper fears she started to feel her loving feelings again.
3. After spending a romantic evening together, Bill and Jean got in a terrible fight the next day. It started when Jean became a little angry with him for forgetting to do something. Instead of being his usual understanding self, suddenly Bill felt like he wanted a divorce. Later as he wrote a Love Letter he realized he was really afraid of being left or abandoned. He remembered how he felt as a child when his parents fought. He wrote a letter to his parents, and suddenly he felt loving toward his wife again.
4. Susan’s husband, Tom, was busy meeting a deadline at work. When he came home Susan felt extremely resentful and angry. One part of her understood the stress he was under, but emotionally she was still angry. While writing him a Love Letter she discovered that she was angry with her father for leaving her alone with her abusive mother. As a child she had felt powerless and abandoned, and these feelings were again coming up to be healed. She wrote a Love Letter to her father and suddenly she was no longer angry with Tom.
5. Rachel was attracted to Phil until he said he loved her and wanted to make a commitment. The next day her mood suddenly changed. She began to have a lot of doubts and her passion disappeared. As she wrote him a Love Letter she discovered that she was angry with her father for being so passive and hurting her mother. After she wrote a Love Letter to her father and released her negative feelings, she suddenly felt attracted again to Phil.
As you begin practicing Love Letters, you may not always experience past memories and feelings. But as you open up and go deeper into your feelings, it will become clearer that when you are really upset it is about something in your past as well.
THE DELAYED-REACTION RESPONSE
Just as love may bring up our past unresolved feelings, so does getting what you want. I remember when I first learned about this. Many years ago I had wanted sex from my partner, but she wasn’t in the mood. In my mind I accepted that. The next day I hinted around, and she still was not interested. This pattern continued every day.
By the end of two weeks I was beginning to feel resentful. But at that time in my life I didn’t know how to communicate feelings. Instead of talking about my feelings and my frustration I just kept pretending as if everything were OK. I was stuffing my negative feelings and trying to be loving. For two weeks my resentment continued to build.
I did everything I knew to please her and make her happy, while inside I was resenting her rejection of me. At the end of two weeks I went out and bought her a pretty nightgown. I brought it home and that evening I gave it to her. She opened the box and was happily surprised. I asked her to try it on. She said she wasn’t in the mood.
At this point I gave up. I just forgot about sex. I buried myself in work and gave up my desire for sex. In my mind I made it OK by suppressing my feelings of resentment. About two weeks later, however, when I came home from work, she had prepared a romantic meal and was wearing the nightgown I had bought her two weeks before. The lights were low and soft music was on in the background.
You can imagine my reaction. All of a sudden I felt a surge of resentment. Inside I felt “Now you suffer for four weeks.” All of the resentment that I had suppressed for the last four weeks suddenly was coming up. After talking about these feelings I realized that her willingness to give me what I wanted released my old resentments.
When Couples Suddenly Feel Their Resentment
I began to see this pattern in many other situations. In my counseling practice, I also observed this phenomenon. When one partner was finally willing to make a change for the better, the other would become suddenly indifferent and unappreciative.
As soon as Bill was willing to give Mary what she had been asking for, she would have a resentful reaction like “Well, it is too late” or “So what.”
Repeatedly I have counseled couples who have been married for over twenty years. Their children have grown up and left home. Suddenly the woman wants a divorce. The man wakes up and realizes that he wants to change and get help. As he starts to make changes and give her the love she has been wanting for twenty years, she reacts with cold resentment.
It is as though she wants him to suffer for twenty years just as she did. Fortunately that is not the case. As they continue to share feelings and he hears and understands how she has been neglected, she gradually becomes more receptive to his changes. This can also go the other way; a man wants to leave and the woman becomes willing to change, but he resists.
The Crisis of Rising Expectations
Another example of the delayed reaction occurs on a social level. In sociology it is called the crisis of rising expectations. It occurred in the sixties during the Johnson administration. For the first time minorities were given more rights than ever before. As a result there were explosions of anger, rioting, and violence. All of the pent-up racial feelings were suddenly released.
This is another example of repressed feelings surfacing. When the minorities felt more supported they felt an upsurge of resentful and angry feelings. The unresolved feelings of the past started coming up. A similar reaction is occurring now in countries where people are finally gaining their freedom from abusive government leaders.
WHY HEALTHY PEOPLE MAY NEED COUNSELING
As you grow more intimate in your relationships, love increases. As a result, deeper, more painful feelings will come up that need to be healed—deep feelings like shame and fear. Because we generally do not know how to deal with these painful feelings, we become stuck.
To heal them we need to share them, but we are too afraid or ashamed to reveal what we are feeling. At such times we may become depressed, anxious, bored, resentful, or simply exhausted for no apparent reason at all. These are all symptoms of our “stuff” coming up and being blocked.
Instinctively you will want to either run away from love or increase your addictions. This is the time to work on your feelings and not run away. When deep feelings come up you would be very wise to get the help of a therapist.
When deep feelings come up, we project our feelings onto our partner. If we did not feel safe to express our feelings to our parents or a past partner, all of a sudden we cannot get in touch with our feelings in the presence of our present partner. At this point, no matter how supportive your partner is, when you are with your partner you will not feel safe. Feelings will be blocked.
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. Your fear may even make you numb. When this happens the feelings that are coming up get stuck.
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.
This is when having a counselor or therapist is tremendously helpful. When you are with someone you are not projecting your fears on, you can process the feelings that are coming up. But if you are only with your partner, you may feel numb.
This is why people with even very loving relationships may inevitably need the help of a therapist. Sharing in support groups also has this liberating effect. Being with others whom we don’t know intimately but who are supportive creates an opening for our wounded feelings to be shared.
When our unresolved feelings are being projected on our intimate partner, he or she is powerless to help us. All our partner can do is encourage us to get support. Understanding how our past continues to affect our relationships frees us to accept the ebb and flow of love. We begin to trust love and its healing process. To keep the magic of love alive we must be flexible and adapt to the ongoing changing seasons of love.
THE SEASONS OF LOVE
A relationship is like a garden. If it is to thrive it must be watered regularly. Special care must be given, taking into account the seasons as well as any unpredictable weather. New seeds must be sown and weeds must be pulled. Similarly, to keep the magic of love alive we must understand its seasons and nurture love’s special needs.
The Springtime of Love
Falling in love is like springtime. We feel as though we will be happy forever. We cannot imagine not loving our partner. It is a time of innocence. Love seems eternal. It is a magical time when everything seems perfect and works effortlessly. Our partner seems to be the perfect fit. We effortlessly dance together in harmony and rejoice in our good fortune.
The Summer of Love
Throughout the summer of our love we realize our partner is not as perfect as we thought, and we have to work on our relationship. Not only is our partner from another planet, but he or she is also a human who makes mistakes and is flawed in certain ways.
Frustration and disappointment arise; weeds need to be uprooted and plants need extra watering under the hot sun. It is no longer easy to give love and get the love we need. We discover that we are not always happy, and we do not always feel loving. It is not our picture of love.
Many couples at this point become disillusioned. They do not want to work on a relationship. They unrealistically expect it to be spring all the time. They blame their partners and give up. They do not realize that love is not always easy; sometimes it requires hard work under a hot sun. In the summer season of love, we need to nurture our partner’s needs as well as ask for and get the love we need. It doesn’t happen automatically.
The Autumn of Love
As a result of tending the garden during the summer, we get to harvest the results of our hard work. Fall has come. It is a golden time—rich and fulfilling. We experience a more mature love that accepts and understands our partner’s imperfections as well as our own. It is a time of thanksgiving and sharing. Having worked hard during summer we can relax and enjoy the love we have created.
The Winter of Love
Then the weather changes again, and winter comes. During the cold, barren months of winter, all of nature pulls back within itself. It is a time of rest, reflection, and renewal. This is a time in relationships when we experience our own unresolved pain or our shadow self. It is when our lid comes off and our painful feelings emerge. It is a time of solitary growth when we need to look more to ourselves than to our partners for love and fulfillment. It is a time of healing. This is the time when men hibernate in their caves and women sink to the bottom of their wells.
After loving and healing ourselves through the dark winter of love, then spring inevitably returns. Once again we are blessed with the feelings of hope, love, and an abundance of possibilities. Based on the inner healing and soul searching of our wintery journey, we are then able to open our hearts and feel the springtime of love.
After studying this guide for improving communication and getting what you want in your relationships, you are well prepared for having successful relationships. You have good reason to feel hopeful for yourself. You will weather well through the seasons of love.
I have witnessed thousands of couples transform their relationships—some literally overnight. They come on Saturday of my weekend relationship seminar and by dinnertime on Sunday they are in love again. By applying the insights you have gained through reading this book and by remembering that men are from Mars and women are from Venus you will experience the same success.
But I caution you to remember that love is seasonal. In spring it is easy, but in summer it is hard work. In autumn you may feel very generous and fulfilled, but in winter you will feel empty. The information you need to get through summer and work on your relationship is easily forgotten. The love you feel in fall is easily lost in winter.
In the summer of love, when things get difficult and you are not getting the love you need, quite suddenly you may forget everything you have learned in this book. In an instant it is all gone. You may begin to blame your partner and forget how to nurture their needs.
When the emptiness of winter sets in, you may feel hopeless. You may blame yourself and forget how to love and nurture yourself. You may doubt yourself and your partner. You may become cynical and feel like giving up. This is all a part of the cycle. It is always darkest before the dawn.
To be successful in our relationships we must accept and understand the different seasons of love. Sometimes love flows easily and automatically; at other times it requires effort. Sometimes our hearts are full and at other times we are empty. We must not expect our partners to always be loving or even to remember how to be loving. We must also give ourselves this gift of understanding and not expect to remember everything we have learned about being loving.
The process of learning requires not only hearing and applying but also forgetting and then remembering again. Throughout this book you have learned things that your parents could not teach you. They did not know. But now that you know, please be realistic. Give yourself permission to keep making mistakes. Many of the new insights you have gained will be forgotten for a time.
Education theory states that to learn something new we need to hear it two hundred times. We cannot expect ourselves (or our partners) to remember all of the new insights in this book. We must be patient and appreciative of their every little step. It takes time to work with these ideas and integrate them into your life.
Not only do we need to hear it two hundred times but we also need to unlearn what we have learned in the past. We are not innocent children learning how to have successful relationships. We have been programmed by our parents, by the culture we have grown up in, and by our own painful past experiences. Integrating this new wisdom of having loving relationships is a new challenge. You are a pioneer. You are traveling in new territory. Expect to be lost sometimes. Expect your partner to be lost. Use this guide as a map to lead you through uncharted lands again and again.
Next time you are frustrated with the opposite sex, remember men are from Mars and women are from Venus. Even if you don’t remember anything else from this book, remembering that we are supposed to be different will help you to be more loving. By gradually releasing your judgments and blame and persistently asking for what you want, you can create the loving relationships you want, need, and deserve.
You have a lot to look forward to. May you continue to grow in love and light. Thank you for letting me make a difference in your life.