Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus: The Classic Guide to Understanding the Opposite Sex - John Gray 1992
Men Go to Their Caves and Women Talk
One of the biggest differences between men and women is how they cope with stress. Men become increasingly focused and withdrawn while women become increasingly overwhelmed and emotionally involved. At these times, a man’s needs for feeling good are different from a woman’s. He feels better by solving problems while she feels better by talking about problems. Not understanding and accepting these differences creates unnecessary friction in our relationships. Let’s look at a common example.
When Tom comes home, he wants to relax and unwind by quietly reading the news. He is stressed by the unsolved problems of his day and finds relief through forgetting them.
His wife, Mary, also wants to relax from her stressful day. She, however, wants to find relief by talking about the problems of her day. The tension slowly building between them gradually becomes resentment.
Tom secretly thinks Mary talks too much, while Mary feels ignored. Without understanding their differences they will grow further apart.
You probably can recognize this situation because it is just one of many examples where men and women are at odds. This problem is not just Tom and Mary’s but is present in almost every relationship.
Solving this problem for Tom and Mary depends not on how much they loved each other but on how much they understood the opposite sex.
Without knowing that women really do need to talk about problems to feel better, Tom would continue to think Mary talked too much and resist listening to her. Without knowing that Tom was reading the news to feel better, Mary would feel ignored and neglected. She would persist in trying to get him to talk when he didn’t want to.
These two differences can be resolved by first understanding in greater detail how men and women cope with stress. Let’s again observe life on Mars and Venus and glean some insights about men and women.
COPING WITH STRESS ON MARS AND VENUS
When a Martian gets upset he never talks about what is bothering him. He would never burden another Martian with his problem unless his friend’s assistance was necessary to solve the problem. Instead he becomes very quiet and goes to his private cave to think about his problem, mulling it over to find a solution. When he has found a solution, he feels much better and comes out of his cave.
If he can’t find a solution then he does something to forget his problems, like reading the news or playing a game. By disengaging his mind from the problems of his day, gradually he can relax. If his stress is really great it takes getting involved with something even more challenging, like racing his car, competing in a contest, or climbing a mountain.
To feel better Martians go to their caves to solve problems alone.
When a Venusian becomes upset or is stressed by her day, to find relief, she seeks out someone she trusts and then talks in great detail about the problems of her day. When Venusians share feelings of being overwhelmed, they suddenly feel better. This is the Venusian way.
To feel better Venusians get together and openly talk about their problems.
On Venus sharing your problems with another actually is considered a sign of love and trust and not a burden. Venusians are not ashamed of having problems. Their egos are dependent not on looking “competent” but rather on being in loving relationships. They openly share feelings of being overwhelmed, confused, hopeless, and exhausted.
A Venusian feels good about herself when she has loving friends with whom to share her feelings and problems. A Martian feels good when he can solve his problems on his own in his cave. These secrets of feeling good are still applicable today.
FINDING RELIEF IN THE CAVE
When a man is stressed he will withdraw into the cave of his mind and focus on solving a problem. He generally picks the most urgent problem or the most difficult. He becomes so focused on solving this one problem that he temporarily loses awareness of everything else. Other problems and responsibilities fade into the background.
At such times, he becomes increasingly distant, forgetful, unresponsive, and preoccupied in his relationships. For example, when having a conversation with him at home, it seems as if only 5 percent of his mind is available for the relationship while the other 95 percent is still at work.
His full awareness is not present because he is mulling over his problem, hoping to find a solution. The more stressed he is the more gripped by the problem he will be. At such times he is incapable of giving a woman the attention and feeling that she normally receives and certainly deserves. His mind is preoccupied, and he is powerless to release it. If, however, he can find a solution, instantly he will feel much better and come out of his cave; suddenly he is available for being in a relationship again.
However, if he cannot find a solution to his problem, then he remains stuck in the cave. To get unstuck he is drawn to solving little problems, like reading the news, watching TV, driving his car, doing physical exercise, watching a football game, playing basketball, and so forth. Any challenging activity that initially requires only 5 percent of his mind can assist him in forgetting his problems and becoming unstuck. Then the next day he can redirect his focus to his problem with greater success.
Let’s explore in greater detail a few examples. Jim commonly uses reading the newspaper to forget his problems. When he reads the paper he is no longer being confronted with the problems of his day. With the 5 percent of his mind that is not focused on his work problems, he begins forming opinions and finding solutions for the world’s problems. Gradually his mind becomes increasingly involved with the problems in the news and he forgets his own. In this way he makes the transition from being focused on his problems at work to focusing on the many problems of the world (for which he is not directly responsible). This process releases his mind from the gripping problems of work so he can focus on his wife and family again.
Tom watches a football game to release his stress and unwind. He releases his mind from trying to solve his own problems by solving the problems of his favorite team. Through watching sports he can vicariously feel he has solved a problem with each play. When his team scores points or wins, he enjoys the feeling of success. If his team loses, he suffers their loss as his own. In either case, however, his mind is released from the grip of his real problems.
For Tom and many men the inevitable release of tension that occurs at the completion of any sporting event, news event, or movie provides a release from the tension he feels in his life.
How Women React to the Cave
When a man is stuck in his cave, he is powerless to give his partner the quality attention she deserves. It is hard for her to be accepting of him at these times because she doesn’t know how stressed he is. If he were to come home and talk about all his problems, then she could be more compassionate. Instead he doesn’t talk about his problems, and she feels he is ignoring her. She can tell he is upset but mistakenly assumes he doesn’t care about her because he isn’t talking to her.
Women generally do not understand how Martians cope with stress. They expect men to open up and talk about all their problems the way Venusians do. When a man is stuck in his cave, a woman resents his not being more open. She feels hurt when he turns on the news or goes outside to play some basketball and ignores her.
To expect a man who is in his cave instantly to become open, responsive, and loving is as unrealistic as expecting a woman who is upset immediately to calm down and make complete sense. It is a mistake to expect a man to always be in touch with his loving feelings just as it is a mistake to expect a woman’s feelings to always be rational and logical.
When Martians go to their caves they tend to forget that their friends may be having problems too. An instinct takes over that says before you can take care of anybody else, you must first take care of yourself. When a woman sees a man react in this way, she generally resists it and resents the man.
She may ask for his support in a demanding tone, as if she has to fight for her rights with this uncaring man. By remembering that men are from Mars, a woman can correctly interpret his reaction to stress as his coping mechanism rather than as an expression of how he feels about her. She can begin to cooperate with him to get what she needs instead of resisting him.
On the other side, men generally have little awareness of how distant they become when they are in the cave. As a man recognizes how withdrawing into his cave may affect women, he can be compassionate when she feels neglected and unimportant. Remembering that women are from Venus helps him to be more understanding and respectful of her reactions and feelings. Without understanding the validity of her reactions, a man commonly defends himself, and they argue. These are five common misunderstandings:
1. When she says “You don’t listen,” he says “What do you mean I don’t listen. I can tell you everything you said.”
When a man is in the cave he can record what she is saying with the 5 percent of his mind that is listening. A man reasons that if he is listening with 5 percent, then he is listening. However, what she is asking for is his full undivided attention.
2. When she says “I feel like you are not even here,” he says “What do you mean I’m not here? Of course I am here. Don’t you see my body?”
He reasons that if his body is present then she shouldn’t say he is not there. However, though his body is present, she doesn’t feel his full presence, and that is what she means.
3. When she says “You don’t care about me,” he says “Of course I care about you. Why do you think I am trying to solve this problem?”
He reasons that because he is preoccupied with solving a problem that will in some way benefit her, she should know he cares for her. However, she needs to feel his direct attention and caring, and that is what she is really asking for.
4. When she says “I feel like I am not important to you,” he says “That’s ridiculous. Of course you are important.”
He reasons that her feelings are invalid because he is solving problems to benefit her. He doesn’t realize that when he focuses on one problem and ignores the problems she is bothered by that almost any woman would have the same reaction and take it personally and feel unimportant.
5. When she says “You have no feelings. You are in your head,” he says “What’s wrong with that? How else do you expect me to solve this problem?”
He reasons that she is being too critical and demanding because he is doing something that is essential for him to solve problems. He feels unappreciated. In addition he doesn’t recognize the validity of her feelings. Men generally don’t realize how extremely and quickly they may shift from being warm and feeling to being unresponsive and distant. In his cave a man is preoccupied with solving his problem and is unaware of how his indifferent attitude might feel to others.
To increase cooperation both men and women need to understand each other better. When a man begins to ignore his wife, she often takes it personally. Knowing that he is coping with stress in his own way is extremely helpful but does not always help her alleviate the pain.
At such times she may feel the need to talk about these feelings. This is when it is important for the man to validate her feelings. He needs to understand that she has a right to talk about her feelings of being ignored and unsupported just as he has a right to withdraw into his cave and not talk. If she does not feel understood then it is difficult for her to release her hurt.
FINDING RELIEF THROUGH TALKING
When a woman is stressed she instinctively feels a need to talk about her feelings and all the possible problems that are associated with her feelings. When she begins talking she does not prioritize the significance of any problem. If she is upset, then she is upset about it all, big and small. She is not immediately concerned with finding solutions to her problems but rather seeks relief by expressing herself and being understood. By randomly talking about her problems, she becomes less upset.
A woman under stress is not immediately concerned with finding solutions to her problems but rather seeks relief by expressing herself and being understood.
As a man under stress tends to focus on one problem and forget others, a woman under stress tends to expand and become overwhelmed by all problems. By talking about all possible problems without focusing on problem solving she feels better. Through exploring her feelings in this process she gains a greater awareness of what is really bothering her, and then suddenly she is no longer so overwhelmed.
To feel better, women talk about past problems, future problems, potential problems, even problems that have no solutions. The more talk and exploration, the better they feel. This is the way women operate. To expect otherwise is to deny a woman her sense of self.
When a woman is overwhelmed she finds relief through talking in great detail about her various problems. Gradually, if she feels she is being heard, her stress disappears. After talking about one topic she will pause and then move on to the next. In this way she continues to expand talking about problems, worries, disappointments, and frustrations. These topics need not be in any order and tend to be logically unrelated. If she feels she is not being understood, her awareness may expand even further, and she may become upset about more problems.
Just as a man who is stuck in the cave needs little problems to distract him, a woman who doesn’t feel heard will need to talk about other problems that are less immediate to feel relief. To forget her own painful feelings she may become emotionally involved in the problems of others. In addition she may find relief through discussing the problems of her friends, relatives, and associates. Whether she is talking about her problems or others’ problems, talking is a natural and healthy Venusian reaction to stress.
To forget her own painful feelings a woman may become emotionally involved in the problems of others.
How Men React When Women Need to Talk
When women talk about problems, men usually resist. A man assumes she is talking with him about her problems because she is holding him responsible. The more problems, the more he feels blamed. He does not realize that she is talking to feel better. A man doesn’t know that she will appreciate it if he just listens.
Martians talk about problems for only two reasons: they are blaming someone or they are seeking advice. If a woman is really upset a man assumes she is blaming him. If she seems less upset, then he assumes she is asking for advice.
If he assumes she is asking for advice, then he puts on his Mr. Fix-It hat to solve her problems. If he assumes she is blaming him, then he draws his sword to protect himself from attack. In both cases, he soon finds it difficult to listen.
If he offers solutions to her problems, she just continues talking about more problems. After offering two or three solutions, he expects her to feel better. This is because Martians themselves feel better with solutions, as long as they have asked for a solution to be offered. When she doesn’t feel better, he feels his solutions have been rejected, and he feels unappreciated.
On the other hand, if he feels attacked, then he begins to defend himself. He thinks if he explains himself that she will stop blaming him. The more he defends himself, however, the more upset she becomes. He doesn’t realize that explanations are not what she needs. She needs him to understand her feelings and let her move on to talk about more problems. If he is wise and just listens, then a few moments after she is complaining about him, she will change the subject and talk about other problems as well.
Men also become particularly frustrated when a woman talks about problems that he can do nothing about. For example, when a woman is stressed she could complain:
· “I’m not getting paid enough at work.”
· “My Aunt Louise is getting sicker and sicker, each year she gets sicker.”
· “Our house just isn’t big enough.”
· “This is such a dry season. When is it going to rain?”
· “We are almost overdrawn in our bank account.”
A woman might make any of the above comments as a way of expressing her worries, disappointments, and frustrations. She may know that nothing more can be done to solve these problems, but to find relief she still needs to talk about them. She feels supported if the listener relates to her frustration and disappointment. She may, however, frustrate her male partner—unless he understands that she just needs to talk about it and then she will feel better.
Men also become impatient when women talk about problems in great detail. A man mistakenly assumes that when a woman talks in great detail that all the details are necessary for him to find a solution to her problem. He struggles to find their relevance and becomes impatient. Again he doesn’t realize that she is looking not for a solution from him but for his caring and understanding.
In addition, listening is difficult for a man because he mistakenly assumes there is a logical order when she randomly changes from one problem to another. After she has shared three or four problems he becomes extremely frustrated and confused trying logically to relate these problems.
Another reason a man may resist listening is that he is looking for the bottom line. He cannot begin formulating his solution until he knows the outcome. The more details she gives the more he is frustrated while listening. His frustration is lessened if he can remember that she is greatly benefiting by talking about the details. If he can remember that talking in detail is helping her to feel good, then he can relax. Just as a man is fulfilled through working out the intricate details of solving a problem, a woman is fulfilled through talking about the details of her problems.
Just as a man is fulfilled through working out the intricate details of solving a problem, a woman is fulfilled through talking about the details of her problems.
Something a woman can do to make it a little easier for a man is to let him know in advance the outcome of the story and then go back and give the details. Avoid keeping him in suspense. Women commonly enjoy letting the suspense build because it brings more feeling into the story. Another woman appreciates this buildup, but a man can be easily frustrated.
The degree to which a man does not understand a woman is the degree to which he will resist her when she is talking about problems. As a man learns more how to fulfill a woman and provide her emotional support he discovers that listening is not so difficult. More important, if a woman can remind a man that she just wants to talk about her problems and that he doesn’t have to solve any of them, it can help him to relax and listen.
HOW THE MARTIANS AND VENUSIANS FOUND PEACE
The Martians and Venusians lived together in peace because they were able to respect their differences. The Martians learned to respect that Venusians needed to talk to feel better. Even if he didn’t have much to say, he learned that by listening he could be very supportive. The Venusians learned to respect that Martians needed to withdraw to cope with stress. The cave was no longer a great mystery or cause for alarm.
What the Martians Learned
The Martians realized that even when they felt they were being attacked, blamed, or criticized by the Venusians it was only temporary; soon the Venusians would suddenly feel better and be very appreciative and accepting. By learning to listen, the Martians discovered how much the Venusians really thrived on talking about problems.
Each Martian found peace of mind when he finally understood that a Venusian’s need to talk about her problems was not because he was failing her in some way. In addition he learned that once a Venusian feels heard she stops dwelling on her problems and becomes very positive. With this awareness, a Martian was able to listen without feeling responsible for solving all her problems.
Many men and even women are very judgmental of the need to talk about problems because they have never experienced how healing it can be. They have not seen how a woman who feels heard suddenly can change, feel better, and sustain a positive attitude. Generally they have seen how a woman (probably their mother) who did not feel heard continued to dwell on her problems. This happens to women when they do not feel loved or heard over an extended period of time. The real problem, however, is that she feels unloved, not that she is talking about problems.
After the Martians learned how to listen they made a most amazing discovery. They began to realize that listening to a Venusian talk about problems could actually help them come out of their caves in the same way as watching the news on TV or reading a newspaper.
Similarly, as men learn to listen without feeling blamed or responsible, listening becomes much easier. As a man gets good at listening, he realizes that listening can be an excellent way to forget the problems of his day as well as bring a lot of fulfillment to his partner. But on days when he is really stressed he may need to be in his cave and slowly come out by some other distraction, like the news or a competitive sport.
What the Venusians Learned
The Venusians also found peace of mind when they finally understood that a Martian going into his cave was not a sign that he didn’t love her as much. They learned to be more accepting of him at these times because he was experiencing a lot of stress.
The Venusians were not offended when Martians were easily distracted. When a Venusian talked and a Martian became distracted, she would very politely stop talking, stand there, and wait for him to notice. Then she would begin talking again. She understood that sometimes it was hard for him to give his full attention. The Venusians discovered that by asking for the Martians’ attention in a relaxed and accepting manner the Martians were happy to redirect their attention.
When the Martians were completely preoccupied and in their caves, the Venusians also did not take it personally. They learned that this was not the time to have intimate conversations but a time to talk about problems with their friends or have fun and go shopping. When the Martians thereby felt loved and accepted, the Venusians discovered that the Martians would more quickly come out of their caves.