Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus: The Classic Guide to Understanding the Opposite Sex - John Gray 1992
Mr. Fix-It and the Home-Improvement Committee
The most frequently expressed complaint women have about men is that men don’t listen. Either a man completely ignores her when she speaks to him, or he listens for a few beats, assesses what is bothering her, and then proudly puts on his Mr. Fix-It cap and offers her a solution to make her feel better. He is confused when she doesn’t appreciate this gesture of love. No matter how many times she tells him that he’s not listening, he doesn’t get it and keeps doing the same thing. She wants empathy, but he thinks she wants solutions.
The most frequently expressed complaint men have about women is that women are always trying to change them. When a woman loves a man she feels responsible to assist him in growing and tries to help him improve the way he does things. She forms a home-improvement committee, and he becomes her primary focus. No matter how much he resists her help, she persists—waiting for any opportunity to help him or tell him what to do. She thinks she’s nurturing him, while he feels he’s being controlled. Instead, he wants her acceptance.
These two problems can finally be solved by first understanding why men offer solutions and why women seek to improve. Let’s pretend to go back in time, where by observing life on Mars and Venus—before the planets discovered one another or came to Earth—we can gain some insights into men and women.
LIFE ON MARS
Martians value power, competency, efficiency, and achievement. They are always doing things to prove themselves and develop their power and skills. Their sense of self is defined through their ability to achieve results. They experience fulfillment primarily through success and accomplishment.
A man’s sense of self is defined through his ability to achieve results.
Everything on Mars is a reflection of these values. Even their dress is designed to reflect their skills and competence. Police officers, soldiers, businessmen, scientists, cab drivers, technicians, and chefs all wear uniforms or at least hats to reflect their competence and power.
They don’t read magazines like Psychology Today, Self, or People. They are more concerned with outdoor activities, like hunting, fishing, and racing cars. They are interested in the news, weather, and sports and couldn’t care less about romance novels and self-help books.
They are more interested in “objects” and “things” rather than people and feelings. Even today on Earth, while women fantasize about romance, men fantasize about powerful cars, faster computers, gadgets, gizmos, and new more powerful technology. Men are preoccupied with the “things” that can help them express power by creating results and achieving their goals.
Achieving goals is very important to a Martian because it is a way for him to prove his competence and thus feel good about himself. And for him to feel good about himself he must achieve these goals by himself. Someone else can’t achieve them for him. Martians pride themselves in doing things all by themselves. Autonomy is a symbol of efficiency, power, and competence.
Understanding this Martian characteristic can help women understand why men resist so much being corrected or being told what to do. To offer a man unsolicited advice is to presume that he doesn’t know what to do or that he can’t do it on his own. Men are very touchy about this, because the issue of competence is so very important to them.
To offer a man unsolicited advice is to presume that he doesn’t know what to do or that he can’t do it on his own.
Because he is handling his problems on his own, a Martian rarely talks about his problems unless he needs expert advice. He reasons: “Why involve someone else when I can do it by myself?” He keeps his problems to himself unless he requires help from another to find a solution. Asking for help when you can do it yourself is perceived as a sign of weakness.
However, if he truly does need help, then it is a sign of wisdom to get it. In this case, he will find someone he respects and then talk about his problem. Talking about a problem on Mars is an invitation for advice. Another Martian feels honored by the opportunity. Automatically he puts on his Mr. Fix-It hat, listens for a while, and then offers some jewels of advice.
This Martian custom is one of the reasons men instinctively offer solutions when women talk about problems. When a woman innocently shares upset feelings or explores out loud the problems of her day, a man mistakenly assumes she is looking for some expert advice. He puts on his Mr. Fix-It hat and begins giving advice; this is his way of showing love and of trying to help.
He wants to help her feel better by solving her problems. He wants to be useful to her. He feels he can be valued and thus worthy of her love when his abilities are used to solve her problems.
Once he has offered a solution, however, and she continues to be upset it becomes increasingly difficult for him to listen because his solution is being rejected and he feels increasingly useless.
He has no idea that by just listening with empathy and interest he can be supportive. He does not know that on Venus talking about problems is not an invitation to offer a solution.
LIFE ON VENUS
Venusians have different values. They value love, communication, beauty, and relationships. They spend a lot of time supporting, helping, and nurturing one another. Their sense of self is defined through their feelings and the quality of their relationships. They experience fulfillment through sharing and relating.
A woman’s sense of self is defined through her feelings and the quality of her relationships.
Everything on Venus reflects these values. Rather than building highways and tall buildings, the Venusians are more concerned with living together in harmony, community, and loving cooperation. Relationships are more important than work and technology. In most ways their world is the opposite of Mars.
They do not wear uniforms like the Martians (to reveal their competence). On the contrary, they enjoy wearing a different outfit every day, according to how they are feeling. Personal expression, especially of their feelings, is very important. They may even change outfits several times a day as their mood changes.
Communication is of primary importance. To share their personal feelings is much more important than achieving goals and success. Talking and relating to one another is a source of tremendous fulfillment.
This is hard for a man to comprehend. He can come close to understanding a woman’s experience of sharing and relating by comparing it to the satisfaction he feels when he wins a race, achieves a goal, or solves a problem.
Instead of being goal oriented, women are relationship oriented; they are more concerned with expressing their goodness, love, and caring. Two Martians go to lunch to discuss a project or business goal; they have a problem to solve. In addition, Martians view going to a restaurant as an efficient way to approach food: no shopping, no cooking, and no washing dishes. For Venusians, going to lunch is an opportunity to nurture a relationship, for both giving support to and receiving support from a friend. Women’s restaurant talk can be very open and intimate, almost like the dialogue that occurs between therapist and patient.
On Venus, everyone studies psychology and has at least a master’s degree in counseling. They are very involved in personal growth, spirituality, and everything that can nurture life, healing, and growth. Venus is covered with parks, organic gardens, shopping centers, and restaurants.
Venusians are very intuitive. They have developed this ability through centuries of anticipating the needs of others. They pride themselves in being considerate of the needs and feelings of others. A sign of great love is to offer help and assistance to another Venusian without being asked.
Because proving one’s competence is not as important to a Venusian, offering help is not offensive, and needing help is not a sign of weakness. A man, however, may feel offended because when a woman offers advice he doesn’t feel she trusts his ability to do it himself.
A woman has no conception of this male sensitivity because for her it is another feather in her hat if someone offers to help her. It makes her feel loved and cherished. But offering help to a man can make him feel incompetent, weak, and even unloved.
On Venus it is a sign of caring to give advice and suggestions. Venusians firmly believe that when something is working it can always work better. Their nature is to want to improve things. When they care about someone, they freely point out what can be improved and suggest how to do it. Offering advice and constructive criticism is an act of love.
Mars is very different. Martians are more solution oriented. If something is working, their motto is don’t change it. Their instinct is to leave it alone if it is working. “Don’t fix it unless it is broken” is a common expression.
When a woman tries to improve a man, he feels she is trying to fix him. He receives the message that he is broken. She doesn’t realize her caring attempts to help him may humiliate him. She mistakenly thinks she is just helping him to grow.
GIVE UP GIVING ADVICE
Without this insight into the nature of men, it’s very easy for a woman unknowingly and unintentionally to hurt and offend the man she loves most.
For example, Tom and Mary were going to a party. Tom was driving. After about twenty minutes and going around the same block a few times, it was clear to Mary that Tom was lost. She finally suggested that he call for help. Tom became very silent. They eventually arrived at the party, but the tension from that moment persisted the whole evening. Mary had no idea of why he was so upset.
From her side she was saying “I love and care about you, so I am offering you this help.”
From his side, he was offended. What he heard was “I don’t trust you to get us there. You are incompetent!”
Without knowing about life on Mars, Mary could not appreciate how important it was for Tom to accomplish his goal without help. Offering advice was the ultimate insult. As we have explored, Martians never offer advice unless asked. A way of honoring another Martian is always to assume he can solve his problem unless he is asking for help.
Mary had no idea that when Tom became lost and started circling the same block, it was a very special opportunity to love and support him. At that time he was particularly vulnerable and needed some extra love. To honor him by not offering advice would have been a gift equivalent to his buying her a beautiful bouquet of flowers or writing her a love note.
After learning about Martians and Venusians, Mary learned how to support Tom at such difficult times. The next time he was lost, instead of offering “help” she restrained herself from offering any advice, took a deep relaxing breath, and appreciated in her heart what Tom was trying to do for her. Tom greatly appreciated her warm acceptance and trust.
Generally speaking, when a woman offers unsolicited advice or tries to “help” a man, she has no idea of how critical and unloving she may sound to him. Even though her intent is loving, her suggestions do offend and hurt. His reaction may be strong, especially if he felt criticized as a child or he experienced his father being criticized by his mother.
Generally speaking, when a woman offers unsolicited advice or tries to “help” a man, she has no idea of how critical and unloving she may sound to him.
For many men, it is very important to prove that they can get to their goal, even if it is a small thing like driving to a restaurant or party. Ironically he may be more sensitive about the little things than the big. His feelings are like this: “If I can’t be trusted to do a small thing like get us to a party, how can she trust me to do the bigger things?” Like their Martian ancestors, men pride themselves on being experts, especially when it comes to fixing mechanical things, getting places, or solving problems. These are the times when he needs her loving acceptance the most and not her advice or criticism.
LEARNING TO LISTEN
Likewise, if a man does not understand how a woman is different, he can make things worse when he is trying to help. Men need to remember that women talk about problems to get close and not necessarily to get solutions.
So many times a woman just wants to share her feelings about her day, and her husband, thinking he is helping, interrupts her by offering a steady flow of solutions to her problems. He has no idea why she isn’t pleased.
Many times a woman just wants to share her feelings about her day, and her husband, thinking he is helping, interrupts her by offering a steady flow of solutions to her problems.
For example, Mary comes home from an exhausting day. She wants and needs to share her feelings about the day.
She says, “There is so much to do; I don’t have any time for myself.”
Tom says, “You should quit that job. You don’t have to work so hard. Find something you like to do.”
Mary says, “But I like my job. They just expect me to change everything at a moment’s notice.”
Tom says, “Don’t listen to them. Just do what you can do.”
Mary says, “I am! I can’t believe I completely forgot to call my aunt today.”
Tom says, “Don’t worry about it, she’ll understand.”
Mary says, “Do you know what she is going through? She needs me.”
Tom says, “You worry too much, that’s why you’re so unhappy.”
Mary angrily says, “I am not always unhappy. Can’t you just listen to me?”
Tom says, “I am listening.”
Mary says, “Why do I even bother?”
After this conversation, Mary was more frustrated than when she arrived home seeking intimacy and companionship. Tom was also frustrated and had no idea what went wrong. He wanted to help, but his problem-solving tactics didn’t work.
Without knowing about life on Venus, Tom didn’t understand how important it was just to listen without offering solutions. His solutions only made things worse. You see, Venusians never offer solutions when someone is talking. A way of honoring another Venusian is to listen patiently with empathy, seeking truly to understand the other’s feelings.
Tom had no idea that just listening with empathy to Mary express her feelings would bring her tremendous relief and fulfillment. When Tom heard about the Venusians and how much they needed to talk, he gradually learned how to listen.
When Mary now comes home tired and exhausted their conversations are quite different. They sound like this:
Mary says, “There is so much to do. I have no time for me.”
Tom takes a deep breath, relaxes on the exhale, and says, “Humph, sounds like you had a hard day.”
Mary says, “They expect me to change everything at a moment’s notice. I don’t know what to do.”
Tom pauses and then says, “Hmmm.”
Mary says, “I even forgot to call my aunt.”
Tom says with a slightly wrinkled brow, “Oh, no.”
Mary says, “She needs me so much right now. I feel so bad.”
Tom says, “You are such a loving person. Come here, let me give you a hug.”
Tom gives Mary a hug and she relaxes in his arms with a big sigh of relief. She then says, “I love talking with you. You make me really happy. Thanks for listening. I feel much better.”
Not only Mary but also Tom felt better. He was amazed at how much happier his wife was when he finally learned to listen. With this new awareness of their differences, Tom learned the wisdom of listening without offering solutions while Mary learned the wisdom of letting go and accepting without offering unsolicited advice or criticism.
To summarize the two most common mistakes we make in relationships:
1. A man tries to change a woman’s feelings when she is upset by becoming Mr. Fix-It and offering solutions to her problems that invalidate her feelings.
2. A woman tries to change a man’s behavior when he makes mistakes by becoming the home-improvement committee and offering unsolicited advice or criticism.
IN DEFENSE OF MR. FIX-IT AND THE HOME-IMPROVEMENT COMMITTEE
In pointing out these two major mistakes I do not mean that everything is wrong with Mr. Fix-It or the home-improvement committee. These are very positive Martian and Venusian attributes. The mistakes are only in timing and approach.
A woman greatly appreciates Mr. Fix-It, as long as he doesn’t come out when she is upset. Men need to remember that when women seem upset and talk about problems is not the time to offer solutions; instead she needs to be heard, and gradually she will feel better on her own. She does not need to be fixed.
A man greatly appreciates the home-improvement committee, as long as it is requested. Women need to remember that unsolicited advice or criticism—especially if he has made a mistake—makes him feel unloved and controlled. He needs her acceptance more than her advice, in order to learn from his mistakes. When a man feels that a woman is not trying to improve him, he is much more likely to ask for her feedback and advice.
When our partner resists us it is probably because we have made a mistake in our timing or approach.
Understanding these differences makes it easier to respect our partner’s sensitivities and be more supportive. In addition we recognize that when our partner resists us it is probably because we have made a mistake in our timing or approach. Let’s explore this in greater detail.
WHEN A WOMAN RESISTS A MAN’S SOLUTIONS
When a woman resists a man’s solutions he feels his competence is being questioned. As a result he feels mistrusted, unappreciated, and stops caring. His willingness to listen understandably lessens.
By remembering that women are from Venus, a man at such times can instead understand why she is resisting him. He can reflect and discover how he was probably offering solutions at a time when she was needing empathy and nurturing.
Here are some brief examples of ways a man might mistakenly invalidate feelings and perceptions or offer unwanted solutions. See if you can recognize why she would resist.
1. “You shouldn’t worry so much.”
2. “But that is not what I said.”
3. “It’s not such a big deal.”
4. “OK, I’m sorry. Now can we just forget it.”
5. “Why don’t you just do it?”
6. “But we do talk.”
7. “You shouldn’t feel hurt, that’s not what I meant.”
8. “So what are you trying to say?”
9. “But you shouldn’t feel that way.”
10. “How can you say that? Last week I spent the whole day with you. We had a great time.”
11. “OK, then just forget it.”
12. “All right, I’ll clean up the backyard. Does that make you happy?”
13. “I got it. This is what you should do.”
14. “Look, there’s nothing we can do about it.”
15. “If you are going to complain about doing it, then don’t do it.”
16. “Why do you let people treat you that way? Forget them.”
17. “If you’re not happy then we should just get a divorce.”
18. “All right, then you can do it from now on.”
19. “From now on, I will handle it.”
20. “Of course I care about you. That’s ridiculous.”
21. “Would you get to the point?”
22. “All we have to do is …”
23. “That’s not at all what happened.”
Each of these statements either invalidates or attempts to explain upset feelings or offers a solution designed suddenly to change her negative feelings to positive feelings. The first step a man can take to change this pattern is simply to stop making the above comments (we explore this topic more fully in chapter 5). To practice listening without offering any invalidating comments or solutions is, however, a big step.
By clearly understanding that his timing and delivery are being rejected and not his solutions, a man can handle a woman’s resistance much better. He doesn’t take it so personally. By learning to listen, gradually he will experience that she will appreciate him more even when at first she is upset with him.
WHEN A MAN RESISTS THE HOME-IMPROVEMENT COMMITTEE
When a man resists a woman’s suggestions she feels as though he doesn’t care; she feels her needs are not being respected. As a result she understandably feels unsupported and stops trusting him.
At such times, by remembering that men are from Mars, she can instead correctly understand why he is resisting her. She can reflect and discover how she was probably giving him unsolicited advice or criticism rather than simply sharing her needs, providing information, or making a request.
Here are some brief examples of ways a woman might unknowingly annoy a man by offering advice or seemingly harmless criticism. As you explore this list, remember that these little things can add up to create big walls of resistance and resentment. In some of the statements the advice or criticism is hidden. See if you can recognize why he might feel controlled.
1. “How can you think of buying that? You already have one.”
2. “Those dishes are still wet. They’ll dry with spots”
3. “Your hair is getting kind of long, isn’t it?”
4. “There’s a parking spot over there, turn [the car] around.”
5. “You want to spend time with your friends, what about me?”
6. “You shouldn’t work so hard. Take a day off.”
7. “Don’t put that there. It will get lost.”
8. “You should call a plumber. He’ll know what to do.”
9. “Why are we waiting for a table? Didn’t you make reservations?”
10. “You should spend more time with the kids. They miss you.”
11. “Your office is still a mess. How can you think in here? When are you going to clean it up?”
12. “You forgot to bring it home again. Maybe you could put it in a special place where you can remember it.”
13. “You’re driving too fast. Slow down or you’ll get a ticket.”
14. “Next time we should read the movie reviews.”
15. “I didn’t know where you were.” (You should have called.)
16. “Somebody drank from the juice bottle.”
17. “Don’t eat with your fingers. You’re setting a bad example.”
18. “Those potato chips are too greasy. They’re not good for your heart.”
19. “You are not leaving yourself enough time.”
20. “You should give me more [advance] notice. I can’t just drop everything and go to lunch with you.”
21. “Your shirt doesn’t match your pants.”
22. “Bill called for the third time. When are you going to call him back?”
23. “Your toolbox is such a mess. I can’t find anything. You should organize it.”
When a woman does not know how to directly ask a man for support (chapter 12) or constructively share a difference of opinion (chapter 9), she may feel powerless to get what she needs without giving unsolicited advice or criticism (again, we explore this topic more fully later on). To practice giving acceptance and not giving advice and criticism is, however, a big step.
By clearly understanding he is rejecting not her needs but the way she is approaching him, she can take his rejection less personally and explore more supportive ways of communicating her needs. Gradually she will realize that a man wants to make improvements when he feels he is being approached as the solution to a problem rather than as the problem itself.
A man wants to make improvements when he feels he is being approached as the solution to a problem rather than as the problem itself.
If you are a woman, I suggest that for the next week practice restraining from giving any unsolicited advice or criticism. The men in your life not only will appreciate it but also will be more attentive and responsive to you.
If you are a man, I suggest that for the next week you practice listening whenever a woman speaks, with the sole intention of respectfully understanding what she is going through. Practice biting your tongue whenever you get the urge to offer a solution or change how she is feeling. You will be surprised when you experience how much she appreciates you.