Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus: The Classic Guide to Understanding the Opposite Sex - John Gray 1992
Speaking Different Languages
When the Martians and Venusians first got together, they encountered many of the problems with relationships we have today. Because they recognized that they were different, they were able to solve these problems. One of the secrets of their success was good communication.
Ironically, they communicated well because they spoke different languages. When they had problems, they would just go to a translator for assistance. Everyone knew that people from Mars and people from Venus spoke different languages, so when there was a conflict they didn’t start judging or fighting but instead pulled out their phrase dictionaries to understand each other more fully. If that didn’t work they went to a translator for help.
The Martian and Venusian languages had the same words, but the way they were used gave different meanings.
You see, the Martian and Venusian languages had the same words, but the way they were used gave different meanings. Their expressions were similar, but they had different connotations or emotional emphasis. Misinterpreting each other was very easy. So when communication problems emerged, they assumed it was just one of those expected misunderstandings and that with a little assistance they would surely understand each other. They experienced a trust and acceptance that we rarely experience today.
EXPRESSING FEELINGS VERSUS EXPRESSING INFORMATION
Even today we still need translators. Men and women seldom mean the same things even when they use the same words. For example, when a woman says “I feel like you never listen,” she does not expect the word never to be taken literally. Using the word never is just a way of expressing the frustration she is feeling at the moment. It is not to be taken as if it were factual information.
To fully express their feelings, women assume poetic license to use various superlatives, metaphors, and generalizations.
To fully express their feelings, women assume poetic license and use various superlatives, metaphors, and generalizations. Men mistakenly take these expressions literally. Because they misunderstand the intended meaning, they commonly react in an unsupportive manner. In the following chart ten complaints easily misinterpreted are listed, as well as how a man might respond unsupportively.
TEN COMMON COMPLAINTS THAT ARE EASILY MISINTERPRETED
Women say things like this: “We never go out.”
Men respond like this: “That’s not true. We went out last week.”
Women say things like this: “Everyone ignores me.”
Men respond like this: “I’m sure some people notice you.”
Women say things like this: “I am so tired, I can’t do anything.”
Men respond like this: “That’s ridiculous. You are not helpless.”
Women say things like this: “I want to forget everything.”
Men respond like this: “If you don’t like your job, then quit.”
Women say things like this: “The house is always a mess.”
Men respond like this: “It’s not always a mess.”
Women say things like this: “No one listens to me anymore.”
Men respond like this: “But I am listening to you right now.”
Women say things like this: “Nothing is working.”
Men respond like this: “Are you saying it is my fault?”
Women say things like this: “You don’t love me anymore.”
Men respond like this: “Of course I do. That’s why I’m here.”
Women say things like this: “We are always in a hurry.”
Men respond like this: “We are not. Friday we were relaxed.”
Women say things like this: I want more romance.”
Men respond like this: “Are you saying I am not romantic?”
You can see how a “literal” translation of a woman’s words could easily mislead a man who is used to using speech as a means of conveying only facts and information. We can also see how a man’s responses might lead to an argument. Unclear and unloving communication is the biggest problem in relationships. The number one complaint women have in relationships is: “I don’t feel heard.” Even this complaint is misunderstood and misinterpreted!
The number one complaint women have in relationships is: “I don’t feel heard.” Even this complaint is misunderstood by men!
A man’s literal translation of “I don’t feel heard” leads him to invalidate and argue with her feelings. He thinks he has heard her if he can repeat what she has said. A translation of a woman saying “I don’t feel heard” so that a man could correctly interpret it is: “I feel as though you don’t fully understand what I really mean to say or care about how I feel. Would you show me that you are interested in what I have to say?”
If a man really understood her complaint then he would argue less and be able to respond more positively. When men and women are on the verge of arguing, they are generally misunderstanding each other. At such times, it is important to rethink or translate what they have heard.
Because many men don’t understand that women express feelings differently, they inappropriately judge or invalidate their partner’s feelings. This leads to arguments. The ancient Martians learned to avoid many arguments through correct understanding. Whenever listening stirred up some resistance, they consulted their Venusian/Martian Phrase Dictionary for a correct interpretation.
WHEN VENUSIANS TALK
The following section contains various excerpts from the lost Venusian/Martian Phrase Dictionary. Each of the ten complaints listed above is translated so that a man can understand their real and intended meaning. Each translation also contains a hint of how she wants him to respond.
You see, when a Venusian is upset she not only uses generalities, and so forth, but also is asking for a particular kind of support. She doesn’t directly ask for that support because on Venus everyone knew that dramatic language implied a particular request.
In each of the translations this hidden request for support is revealed. If a man listening to a woman can recognize the implied request and respond accordingly, she will feel truly heard and loved.
The Venusian/Martian Phrase Dictionary
“We never go out” translated into Martian means “I feel like going out and doing something together. We always have such a fun time, and I love being with you. What do you think? Would you take me out to dinner? It has been a few days since we went out.”
Without this translation, when a woman says “We never go out” a man may hear “You are not doing your job. What a disappointment you have turned out to be. We never do anything together anymore because you are lazy, unromantic, and just boring.”
“Everyone ignores me” translated into Martian means “Today, I am feeling ignored and unacknowledged. I feel as though nobody sees me. Of course I’m sure some people see me, but they don’t seem to care about me. I suppose I am also disappointed that you have been so busy lately. I really do appreciate how hard you are working and sometimes I start to feel like I am not important to you. I am afraid your work is more important than me. Would you give me a hug and tell me how special I am to you?”
Without this translation, when a woman says “Everyone ignores me” a man may hear “I am so unhappy. I just can’t get the attention I need. Everything is completely hopeless. Even you don’t notice me, and you are the person who is supposed to love me. You should be ashamed. You are so unloving. I would never ignore you this way.”
“I am so tired, I can’t do anything” translated into Martian means “I have been doing so much today. I really need a rest before I can do anything more. I am so lucky to have your support. Would you give me a hug and reassure me that I am doing a good job and that I deserve a rest?”
Without this translation, when a woman says “I am so tired, I can’t do anything” a man may hear “I do everything and you do nothing. You should do more. I can’t do it all. I feel so hopeless. I want a ’real man’ to live with. Picking you was a big mistake.”
“I want to forget everything” translated into Martian means “I want you to know that I love my work and my life but today I am so overwhelmed. I would love to do something really nurturing for myself before I have to be responsible again. Would you ask me ’What’s the matter?’ and then listen with empathy without offering any solutions? I just want to feel you understanding the pressures I feel. It would make me feel so much better. It helps me to relax. Tomorrow I will get back to being responsible and handling things.”
Without this translation, when a woman says “I want to forget everything” a man may hear “I have to do so much that I don’t want to do. I am so unhappy with you and our relationship. I want a better partner who can make my life more fulfilling. You are doing a terrible job.”
“This house is always a mess” translated into Martian means “Today I feel like relaxing, but the house is so messy. I am frustrated and I need a rest. I hope you don’t expect me to clean it all up. Would you agree with me that it is a mess and then offer to help clean up part of it?”
Without this translation, when a woman says “This house is always a mess” a man may hear “This house is a mess because of you. I do everything possible to clean it up, and before I have finished, you have messed it up again. You are a lazy slob and I don’t want to live with you unless you change. Clean up or clear out!”
“No one listens to me anymore” translated into Martian means “I am afraid I am boring to you. I am afraid you are no longer interested in me. I seem to be very sensitive today. Would you give me some special attention? I would love it. I’ve had a hard day and feel as though no one wants to hear what I have to say.
“Would you listen to me and continue to ask me supportive questions such as: ’What happened today? What else happened? How did you feel? What did you want? How else do you feel?’ Also support me by saying caring, acknowledging, and reassuring statements such as: ’Tell me more’ or ’That’s right’ or ’I know what you mean’ or ’I understand.’ Or just listen, and occasionally when I pause make one of these reassuring sounds: ’oh,’ ’humph,’ ’uh-huh,’ and ’hmmm.’ ” (Note: Martians had never heard of these sounds before arriving on Venus.)
Without this translation, when a woman says “No one listens to me anymore” he may hear “I give you my attention but you don’t listen to me. You used to. You have become a very boring person to be with. I want someone exciting and interesting and you are definitely not that person. You have disappointed me. You are selfish, uncaring, and bad.”
“Nothing is working” translated into Martian means “Today I am so overwhelmed and I am so grateful that I can share my feelings with you. It helps me so much to feel better. Today it seems like nothing I do works. I know that this is not true, but I sure feel that way when I get so overwhelmed by all the things I still have to do. Would you give me a hug and tell me that I am doing a great job. It would sure feel good.”
Without this translation, when a woman says “Nothing is working” a man may hear “You never do anything right. I can’t trust you. If I hadn’t listened to you I wouldn’t be in this mess. Another man would have fixed things, but you made them worse.”
“You don’t love me anymore” translated into Martian means “Today I am feeling as though you don’t love me. I am afraid I have pushed you away. I know you really do love me, you do so much for me. Today I am just feeling a little insecure. Would you reassure me of your love and tell me those three magic words, I love you. When you do that it feels so good.”
Without this translation, when a woman says “You don’t love me anymore” a man may hear “I have given you the best years of my life, and you have given me nothing. You used me. You are selfish and cold. You do what you want to do, for you and only you. You do not care about anybody. I was a fool for loving you. Now I have nothing.”
“We are always in a hurry” translated into Martian means “I feel so rushed today. I don’t like rushing. I wish our life was not so hurried. I know it is nobody’s fault and I certainly don’t blame you. I know you are doing your best to get us there on time and I really appreciate how much you care.
“Would you empathize with me and say something like, ’It is hard always rushing around. I don’t always like rushing either.’ ”
Without this translation, when a woman says “We are always in a hurry” a man may hear “You are so irresponsible. You wait until the last minute to do everything. I can never be happy when I am with you. We are always rushing to avoid being late. You ruin things every time I am with you. I am so much happier when I am not around you.”
“I want more romance” translated into Martian means “Sweetheart, you have been working so hard lately. Let’s take some time out for ourselves. I love it when we can relax and be alone without the kids around and no work pressures. You are so romantic. Would you surprise me with flowers sometime soon and take me out on a date? I love being romanced.”
Without this translation, when a woman says “I want more romance” a man may hear “You don’t satisfy me anymore. I am not turned on to you. Your romantic skills are definitely inadequate. You have never really fulfilled me. I wish you were more like other men I have been with.”
After using this dictionary for a few years, a man doesn’t need to pick it up each time he feels blamed or criticized. He begins to understand the way women think and feel. He learns that these kinds of dramatic phrases are not to be taken literally. They are just the way women express feeling more fully. That’s the way it was done on Venus and people from Mars need to remember that!
WHEN MARTIANS DON’T TALK
One of the big challenges for men is correctly to interpret and support a woman when she is talking about her feelings. The biggest challenge for women is correctly to interpret and support a man when he isn’t talking. Silence is most easily misinterpreted by women.
The biggest challenge for women is correctly to interpret and support a man when he isn’t talking.
Quite often a man will suddenly stop communicating and become silent. This was unheard of on Venus. At first a woman thinks the man is deaf. She thinks that maybe he doesn’t hear what’s being said and that is why he is not responding.
You see men and women think and process information very differently. Women think out loud, sharing their process of inner discovery with an interested listener. Even today, a woman often discovers what she wants to say through the process of just talking. This process of just letting thoughts flow freely and expressing them out loud helps her to tap into her intuition. This process is perfectly normal and especially necessary sometimes.
But men process information very differently. Before they talk or respond, they first silently “mull over” or think about what they have heard or experienced. Internally and silently they figure out the most correct or useful response. They first formulate it inside and then express it. This process could take from minutes to hours. And to make matters even more confusing for women, if he does not have enough information to process an answer, a man may not respond at all.
Women need to understand that when he is silent, he is saying “I don’t know what to say yet, but I am thinking about it.” Instead what they hear is “I am not responding to you because I don’t care about you and I am going to ignore you. What you have said to me is not important and therefore I am not responding.”
How She Reacts to His Silence
Women misinterpret a man’s silence. Depending on how she is feeling that day she may begin to imagine the very worst—“He hates me, he doesn’t love me, he is leaving me forever.” This may then trigger her deepest fear, which is “I am afraid that if he rejects me then I will never be loved. I don’t deserve to be loved.”
When a man is silent it is easy for a woman to imagine the worst because the only times a woman would be silent are when what she had to say would be hurtful or when she didn’t want to talk to a person because she didn’t trust him anymore and wanted to have nothing to do with him. No wonder women become insecure when a man suddenly becomes quiet!
When a man is silent it is easy for a woman to imagine the worst.
When a woman listens to another woman, she will continue to reassure the speaker that she is listening and that she cares. Instinctively when the speaker pauses the female listener will reassure the speaker by making reassuring responses like “oh, uh-huh, hmmm, ah, ah-ha, or humph.”
Without these reassuring responses, a man’s silence can be very threatening. Through understanding a man’s cave, women can learn to interpret a man’s silence correctly, and to respond to it.
Understanding the Cave
Women have a lot to learn about men before their relationships can be really fulfilling. They need to learn that when a man is upset or stressed he will automatically stop talking and go to his “cave” to work things out. They need to learn that no one is allowed in that cave, not even the man’s best friends. This was the way it was on Mars. Women should not become scared that they have done something terribly wrong. They need gradually to learn that if you just let men go into their caves, after a while they will come out and everything will be fine.
This lesson is difficult for women because on Venus one of the golden rules was never to abandon a friend when she was upset. It just doesn’t seem loving to abandon her favorite Martian when he is upset. Because she cares for him, a woman wants to come into his cave and offer him help.
In addition, she often mistakenly assumes that if she could ask him lots of questions about how he is feeling and be a good listener, then he would feel better. This only upsets Martians more. She instinctively wants to support him in the way that she would want to be supported. Her intentions are good, but the outcome is counterproductive.
Both men and women need to stop offering the method of caring they would prefer and start to learn the different ways their partners think, feel, and react.
Why Men Go into Their Caves
Men go into their caves or become quiet for a variety of reasons:
1. He needs to think about a problem and find a practical solution to the problem.
2. He doesn’t have an answer to a question or a problem. Men were never taught to say “Gee, I don’t have an answer. I need to go into my cave and find one.” Other men assume he is doing just that when he becomes quiet.
3. He has become upset or stressed. At such times he needs to be alone to cool off and find his control again. He doesn’t want to do or say anything he might regret.
4. He needs to find himself. This fourth reason becomes very important when men are in love. At times they begin to lose and forget themselves. They can feel that too much intimacy robs them of their power. They need to regulate how close they get. Whenever they get too close so as to lose themselves, alarm bells go off and they are on their way into the cave. As a result they are rejuvenated and find their loving and powerful self again.
Why Women Talk
Women talk for a variety of reasons. Sometimes women talk for the same reasons that men stop talking. These are four common reasons that women talk:
1. To convey or gather information. (This is generally the only reason a man talks.)
2. To explore and discover what it is she wants to say.(He stops talking to figure out inside what he wants to say. She talks to think out loud.)
3. To feel better and more centered when she is upset.(He stops talking when he is upset. In his cave he has a chance to cool off.)
4. To create intimacy. Through sharing her inner feelings she is able to know her loving self. (A Martian stops talking to find himself again. Too much intimacy, he fears, will rob him of himself.)
Without this vital understanding of our differences and needs it is easy to see why couples struggle so much in relationships.
Getting Burned by the Dragon
It is important for women to understand not to try and get a man to talk before he is ready. While discussing this topic in one of my seminars, a Native American shared that in her tribe mothers would instruct young women getting married to remember that when a man was upset or stressed he would withdraw into his cave. She was not to take it personally because it would happen from time to time. It did not mean that he did not love her. They assured her that he would come back. But most important they warned the young woman never to follow him into his cave. If she did then she would get burned by the dragon who protected the cave.
Never go into a man’s cave or you will be burned by the dragon!
Much unnecessary conflict has resulted from a woman following a man into his cave. Women just haven’t understood that men really do need to be alone or silent when they are upset. When a man withdraws into his cave a woman just doesn’t understand what is happening. She naturally tries to get him to talk. If there is a problem she hopes to nurture him by drawing him out and getting him to talk about it.
She asks “Is there something wrong?” He says “No.” But she can feel he is upset. She wonders why he is withholding his feelings. Instead of letting him work it out inside his cave she unknowingly interrupts his internal process. She asks again “I know something is bothering you, what is it?”
He says “It’s nothing.”
She asks “It’s not nothing. Something’s bothering you. What are you feeling?”
He says “Look, I’m fine. Now leave me alone!”
She says “How can you treat me like this? You never talk to me anymore. How am I supposed to know what you are feeling? You don’t love me. I feel so rejected by you.”
At this point he loses control and begins saying things that he will regret later. His dragon comes out and burns her.
WHEN MARTIANS DO TALK
Women get burned not only when they unknowingly invade a man’s introspective time but also when they misinterpret his expressions, which are generally warnings that he is either in his cave or on his way to the cave. When asked “What’s the matter?” a Martian will say something brief like “It’s nothing” or “I am OK.”
These brief signals are generally the only way a Venusian knows to give him space to work out his feelings alone. Instead of saying “I am upset and I need some time to be alone,” men just become quiet.
In the following chart six commonly expressed abbreviated warning signals are listed as well as how a woman might unknowingly respond in an intrusive and unsupportive manner:
Six Common Abbreviated Warning Signals
When a woman asks “What’s the matter?”
A man says: “I’m OK” or “It’s OK.”
A woman may respond: “I know something’s wrong. What is it?”
A man says: “I’m fine” or “It’s fine.”
A woman may respond: “But you seem upset. Let’s talk.”
A man says: “It’s nothing.”
A woman may respond: “I want to help. I know something is bothering you. What is it?”
A man says: “It’s all right” or “I’m all right.”
A woman may respond: “Are you sure? I am happy to help you.”
A man says: “It’s no big deal.”
A woman may respond: “But something is upsetting you. I think we should talk.”
A man says: “It’s no problem.”
A woman may respond: “But it is a problem. I could help.”
When a man makes one of the above abbreviated comments he generally wants silent acceptance or space. At times like this, to avoid misinterpretation and unnecessary panic, the Venusians consulted their Martian/Venusian Phrase Dictionary. Without this assistance, women misinterpret these abbreviated expressions.
Women need to know that when a man says “I am OK” it is an abbreviated version of what he really means, which is “I am OK because I can deal with this alone. I do not need any help. Please support me by not worrying about me. Trust that I can deal with it all by myself.”
Without this translation, when he is upset and says “I am OK” it sounds to her as if he is denying his feelings or problems. She then attempts to help him by asking questions or talking about what she thinks the problem is. She does not know that he is speaking an abbreviated language. The following are excerpts from their phrase dictionary.
The Martian/Venusian Phrase Dictionary
“I’m OK” translated into Venusian means “I am OK, I can deal with my upset. I don’t need any help, thank you.”
Without this translation, when he says “I am OK” she may hear “I am not upset because I do not care” or she may hear “I am not willing to share with you my upset feelings. I do not trust you to be there for me.”
“I’m fine” translated into Venusian means “I am fine because I am successfully dealing with my upset or problem. I don’t need any help. If I do I will ask.”
Without this translation, when he says “I am fine” she may hear “I don’t care about what has happened. This problem is not important to me. Even if it upsets you, I don’t care.”
“It’s nothing” translated into Venusian means “Nothing is bothering me that I cannot handle alone. Please don’t ask any more questions about it.”
Without this translation, when he says “Nothing is bothering me” she may hear “I don’t know what is bothering me. I need you to ask me questions to assist me in discovering what is happening.” At this point she proceeds to anger him by asking questions when he really wants to be left alone.
“It’s all right” translated into Venusian means “This is a problem but you are not to blame. I can resolve this within myself if you don’t interrupt my process by asking more questions or offering suggestions. Just act like it didn’t happen and I can process it within myself more effectively.”
Without this translation, when he says “It’s all right” she may hear “This is the way it is supposed to be. Nothing needs to be changed. You can abuse me and I can abuse you” or she hears “It’s all right this time, but remember it is your fault. You can do this once but don’t do it again or else.”
“It’s no big deal” translated into Venusian means “It is no big deal because I can make things work again. Please don’t dwell on this problem or talk more about it. That makes me more upset. I accept responsibility for solving this problem. It makes me happy to solve it.”
Without this translation, when he says “It’s no big deal” she may hear “You are making a big deal out of nothing. What concerns you is not important. Don’t overreact.”
“It’s no problem” translated into Venusian means “I have no problem doing this or solving this problem. It is my pleasure to offer this gift to you.”
Without this translation, when he says “It’s no problem” she may hear “This is not a problem. Why are you making it a problem or asking for help?” She then mistakenly explains to him why it is a problem.
Using this Martian/Venusian Phrase Dictionary can assist women in understanding what men really mean when they abbreviate what they are saying. Sometimes what he is really saying is the opposite of what she hears.
WHAT TO DO WHEN HE GOES INTO HIS CAVE
In my seminars when I explain about caves and dragons, women want to know how they can shorten the time men spend in their caves. At this point I ask the men to answer, and they generally say that the more women try to get them to talk or come out, the longer it takes.
Another common comment by men is “It is hard to come out of the cave when I feel my mate disapproves of the time I spend in the cave.” To make a man feel wrong for going into his cave has the effect of pushing him back into the cave even when he wants to come out.
When a man goes into his cave he is generally wounded or stressed and is trying to solve his problem alone. To give him the support that a woman would want is counterproductive. There are basically six ways to support him when he goes into his cave. (Giving him this support will also shorten the time he needs to spend alone.)
How to Support a Man in His Cave
1. Don’t disapprove of his need for withdrawing.
2. Don’t try to help him solve his problem by offering solutions.
3. Don’t try to nurture him by asking questions about his feelings.
4. Don’t sit next to the door of the cave and wait for him to come out.
5. Don’t worry about him or feel sorry for him.
6. Do something that makes you happy.
If you need to “talk,” write him a letter to be read later when he is out, and if you need to be nurtured, talk to a friend. Don’t make him the sole source of your fulfillment.
A man wants his favorite Venusian to trust that he can handle what is bothering him. To be trusted that he can handle his problems is very important to his honor, pride, and self-esteem.
Not worrying about him is difficult for her. Worrying for others is one way women express their love and caring. It is a way of showing love. For a woman, being happy when the person you love is upset just doesn’t seem right. He certainly doesn’t want her to be happy because he is upset, but he does want her to be happy. He wants her to be happy so that he has one less problem to worry about. In addition he wants her to be happy because it helps him to feel loved by her. When a woman is happy and free from worry, it is easier for him to come out.
Ironically men show their love by not worrying. A man questions “How can you worry about someone whom you admire and trust?” Men commonly support one another by saying phrases such as “Don’t worry, you can handle it” or “That’s their problem, not yours” or “I’m sure it will work out.” Men support one another by not worrying or minimizing their troubles.
It took me years to understand that my wife actually wanted me to worry for her when she was upset. Without this awareness of our different needs, I would minimize the importance of her concerns. This only made her more upset.
When a man goes into his cave he is generally trying to solve a problem. If his mate is happy or not needy at this time, then he has one less problem to solve before coming out. Knowing that she is happy with him also gives him more strength to deal with his problem while in the cave.
Anything that distracts her or helps her to feel good will be helpful to him. These are some examples:
Read a book
Listen to music
Work in the garden
Get a massage
Listen to self-improvement tapes
Treat yourself to something delicious
Call a girlfriend for a good chat
Write in a journal
Pray or meditate
Go for a walk
Take a bubble bath
See a therapist
Watch TV or a video
The Martians also recommended that the Venusians do something enjoyable. It was hard to conceive of being happy when a friend was hurting, but the Venusians did find a way. Every time their favorite Martian went into his cave, they would go shopping or out on some other pleasing excursion. Venusians love to shop. My wife, Bonnie, sometimes uses this technique. When she sees I am in my cave, she goes shopping. I never feel like I have to apologize for my Martian side. When she can take care of herself I feel OK taking care of myself and going into my cave. She trusts that I will come back and be more loving.
She knows that when I go into my cave is not the right time to talk. When I begin showing signs of interest in her, she recognizes that I am coming out of the cave, and it is then a time to talk. Sometimes she will casually say, “When you feel like talking, I would like to spend some time together. Would you let me know when?” In this way she can test the waters without being pushy or demanding.
HOW TO COMMUNICATE SUPPORT TO A MARTIAN
Even when they are out of the cave, men want to be trusted. They don’t like unsolicited advice or empathy. They need to prove themselves. Being able to accomplish things without the help of others is a feather in their cap. (While for a woman, when someone assists her, having a supportive relationship is a feather in her cap.) A man feels supported when a woman communicates in a way that says “I trust you to handle things unless you directly ask for help.”
Learning to support men in this way can be very difficult in the beginning. Many women feel that the only way they can get what they need in a relationship is to criticize a man when he makes mistakes and to offer unsolicited advice. Without a role model of a mother who knew how to receive support from a man, it does not occur to women that they can encourage a man to give more by directly asking for support—without being critical or offering advice. In addition, if he behaves in a manner that she does not like she can simply and directly tell him that she doesn’t like his behavior, without casting judgment that he is wrong or bad.
How to Approach a Man with Criticism or Advice
Without an understanding of how they are turning men off with unsolicited advice and criticism, many women feel powerless to get what they need and want from a man. Nancy was frustrated in her relationships. She said, “I still don’t know how to approach a man with criticism and advice. What if his table manners are atrocious or he dresses really, really badly? What if he’s a nice guy but you see he’s got a pattern of behaving with people in a way that makes him look like a jerk and that’s causing him trouble in relationships with others? What should I do? No matter how I tell him, he gets angry or defensive or just ignores me.”
The answer is that she should definitely not offer criticism or advice unless he asks. Instead, she should try giving him loving acceptance. This is what he needs, not lectures. As he begins to feel her acceptance, he will begin to ask what she thinks. If, however, he detects her demanding that he change, he will not ask for advice or suggestions. Especially in an intimate relationship, men need to feel very secure before they open up and ask for support.
In addition to patiently trusting her partner to grow and change, if a woman is not getting what she needs and wants, she can and should share her feelings and make requests (but again without giving advice or criticism). This is an art that requires caring and creativity. These are four possible approaches:
1. A woman can tell a man that she doesn’t like the way he dresses without giving him a lecture on how to dress. She could say casually as he is getting dressed “I don’t like that shirt on you. Would you wear another one tonight?” If he is annoyed by that comment, then she should respect his sensitivities and apologize. She could say “I’m sorry—I didn’t mean to tell you how to dress.”
2. If he is that sensitive—and some men are—then she could try talking about it at another time. She could say “Remember that blue shirt you wore with the green slacks? I didn’t like that combination. Would you try wearing it with your gray slacks?”
3. She could directly ask “Would you let me take you shopping one day? I would love to pick out an outfit for you.” If he says no, then she can be sure that he doesn’t want any more mothering. If he says yes, be sure not to offer too much advice. Remember his sensitivities.
4. She could say “There is something I want to talk about but I don’t know how to say it. [Pause.] I don’t want to offend you, but I also really want to say it. Would you listen and then suggest to me a better way I could say it?” This helps him to prepare himself for the shock and then he happily discovers that it is not such a big deal.
Let’s explore another example. If she doesn’t like his table manners and they are alone, she could say (without a disapproving look) “Would you use your silverware?” or “Would you drink from your glass?” If, however, you are in front of others, it is wise to say nothing and not even notice. Another day you could say “Would you use your silverware when we eat in front of the kids?” or “When you eat with your fingers, I hate it. I get so picky about these little things. When you eat with me, would you use your silverware?”
If he behaves in a way that embarrasses you, wait for a time when no one else is around and then share your feelings. Don’t tell him how he “should behave” or that he is wrong; instead share honest feelings in a loving and brief way. You could say “The other night at the party, I didn’t like it when you were so loud. When I’m around, would you try to keep it down?” If he gets upset and doesn’t like this comment, then simply apologize for being critical.
This art of giving negative feedback and asking for support is discussed thoroughly in chapters 9 and 12. In addition, the best times for having these conversations is explored in the next chapter.
When a Man Doesn’t Need Help
A man may start to feel smothered when a woman tries to comfort him or help him solve a problem. He feels as though she doesn’t trust him to handle his problems. He may feel controlled, as if she is treating him like a child, or he may feel she wants to change him.
This doesn’t mean that a man does not need comforting love. Women need to understand that they are nurturing him when they abstain from offering unsolicited advice to solve his problems. He needs her loving support but in a different way than she thinks. To withhold correcting a man or trying to improve him are ways to nurture him. Giving advice can be nurturing only if he directly asks for it.
A man looks for advice or help only after he has done what he can do alone. If he receives too much assistance or receives it too soon, he will lose his sense of power and strength. He becomes either lazy or insecure. Instinctively men support one another by not offering advice or help unless specifically approached and asked.
In coping with problems, a man knows he has to first go a certain distance by himself, and then if he needs help he can ask for it without losing his strength, power, and dignity. To offer help to a man at the wrong time could easily be taken as an insult.
When a man is carving the turkey for Thanksgiving and his partner keeps offering advice on how and what to cut, he feels mistrusted. He resists her and is determined to do it his way on his own. On the other hand, if a man offers her assistance in cutting the turkey she feels loved and cared for.
When a woman suggests that her husband follow the advice of some expert, he may be offended. I remember one woman asking me why her husband got so angry at her. She explained to me that before sex she had asked him if he had reviewed his notes from a taped lecture by me on the secrets of great sex. She didn’t realize this was the ultimate insult to him. Although he had appreciated the tapes, he didn’t want her telling him what to do by reminding him to follow my advice. He wanted her to trust that he knew what to do!
While men want to be trusted, women want caring. When a man says to a woman “What’s the matter, honey?” with a concerned look on his face, she feels comforted by his caring. When a woman in a similar caring and concerned way says to a man “What’s the matter, honey?” he may feel insulted or repulsed. He feels as though she doesn’t trust him to handle things.
It is very difficult for a man to differentiate between empathy and sympathy. He hates to be pitied. A woman may say “I am so sorry I hurt you.” He will say “It was no big deal” and push away her support. She on the other hand loves to hear him say “I’m sorry I hurt you.” She then feels he really cares. Men need to find ways to show they care while women need to find ways to show they trust.
It is very difficult for a man to differentiate between empathy and sympathy. He hates to be pitied.
Too Much Caring Is Smothering
When I first married Bonnie, the night before I would leave town to teach a weekend seminar, she would ask me what time I was getting up. Then she would ask what time my plane left. Then she would do some mental figuring and warn me that I hadn’t left enough time to catch my plane. Each time she thought she was supporting me, but I didn’t feel it. I felt offended. I had been traveling around the world for fourteen years teaching courses, and I had never missed a plane.
Then in the morning, before I left, she asked me a string of questions such as, “Do you have your ticket? Do you have your wallet? Do you have enough money? Did you pack socks? Do you know where you are staying?” She thought she was loving me, but I felt mistrusted and was annoyed. Eventually I let her know that I appreciated her loving intention but that I didn’t like being mothered in this way.
I shared with her that if she wanted to mother me, then the way I wanted to be mothered was to be unconditionally loved and trusted. I said, “If I miss a plane, don’t tell me ’I told you so.’ Trust that I will learn my lesson and adjust accordingly. If I forget my toothbrush or shaving kit, let me deal with it. Don’t tell me about it when I call.” With an awareness of what I wanted, instead of what she would have wanted, it was easier for her to succeed in supporting me.
A Success Story
Once, on a trip to Sweden to teach my relationship seminar, I called back to California from New York, informing Bonnie that I had left my passport at home. She reacted in such a beautiful and loving way. She didn’t lecture me on being more responsible. Instead she laughed and said, “Oh my goodness, John, you have such adventures. What are you going to do?”
I asked her to fax my passport to the Swedish consulate, and the problem was solved. She was so cooperative. Never once did she succumb to lecturing me on being more prepared. She was even proud of me for finding a solution to my problem.
MAKING LITTLE CHANGES
One day I noticed that when my children asked me to do things I would always say “no problem.” It was my way of saying I would be happy to do that. My stepdaughter Julie asked me one day, “Why do you always say ’no problem’?” I didn’t actually know right away. After a while I realized that it was another of those deeply ingrained Martian habits. With this new awareness I started saying “I would be happy to do that.” This phrase expressed my implied message and certainly felt more loving to my Venusian daughter.
This example symbolizes a very important secret for enriching relationships. Little changes can be made without sacrificing who we are. This was the secret of success for the Martians and Venusians. They were both careful not to sacrifice their true natures, but they were also willing to make small changes in the way they interacted. They learned how relationships could work better by creating or changing a few simple phrases.
The important point here is that to enrich our relationships we need to make little changes. Big changes generally require some suppression of who we truly are. This is not good.
Giving some reassurance when he goes into his cave is a small change that a man can make without changing his nature. To make this change he must realize that women really do need some reassurance, especially if they are to worry less. If a man doesn’t understand the differences between men and women, then he cannot comprehend why his sudden silence is such a cause for worry. By giving some reassurance he can remedy the situation.
On the other hand if he does not know how he is different, then when she is upset by his tendency to go into his cave, he may give up going into his cave in an attempt to fulfill her. This is a big mistake. If he gives up the cave (and denies his true nature) he becomes irritable, overly sensitive, defensive, weak, passive, or mean. And to make matters worse, he doesn’t know why he has become so unpleasant.
When a woman is upset by his going into the cave, instead of giving up the cave, a man can make a few small changes and the problem can be alleviated. He does not need to deny his true needs or reject his masculine nature.
HOW TO COMMUNICATE SUPPORT TO A VENUSIAN
As we have discussed, when a man goes into his cave or becomes quiet he is saying “I need some time to think about this, please stop talking to me. I will be back.” He doesn’t realize that a woman may hear “I don’t love you, I can’t stand to listen to you, I am leaving and I am never coming back!” To counteract this message and to give her the correct message he can learn to say the four magic words: “I will be back.”
When a man pulls away, a woman appreciates him saying out loud “I need some time to think about this, I will be back” or “I need some time to be alone. I will be back.” It is amazing how the simple words “I will be back” make such a profound difference.
Women greatly appreciate this reassurance. When a man understands how important this is to a woman, then he is able to remember to give this reassurance.
If a woman felt abandoned or rejected by her father or if her mother felt rejected by her husband, then she (the child) will be even more sensitive to feeling abandoned. For this reason, she should never be judged for needing this reassurance. Similarly, a man should not be judged for his need for the cave.
A woman should not be judged for needing this reassurance, just as a man should not be judged for needing to withdraw.
When a woman is less wounded by her past and if she understands a man’s need to spend time in the cave, then her need for reassurance will be less.
I remember making this point in a seminar and a woman asking, “I am so sensitive to my husband’s silence, but as a child I never felt abandoned or rejected. My mother never felt rejected by my father. Even when they got a divorce they did it in a loving way.”
Then she laughed. She realized how she had been duped. Then she started to cry. Of course her mother had felt rejected. Of course she had felt rejected. Her parents were divorced! Like her parents, she also had denied their painful feelings.
In an age when divorce is so common, it is even more important that men be sensitive to giving reassurance. Just as men can support women by making little changes, women need to do the same.
HOW TO COMMUNICATE WITHOUT BLAME
A man commonly feels attacked and blamed by a woman’s feelings, especially when she is upset and talks about problems. Because he doesn’t understand how we are different, he doesn’t readily relate to her need to talk about all of her feelings.
He mistakenly assumes she is telling him about her feelings because she thinks he is somehow responsible or to be blamed. Because she is upset and she is talking to him, he assumes she is upset with him. When she complains he hears blame. Many men don’t understand the (Venusian) need to share upset feelings with the people they love.
With practice and an awareness of our differences, women can learn how to express their feelings without having them sound like blaming. To reassure a man that he is not being blamed, when a woman expresses her feelings she could pause after a few minutes of sharing and tell him how much she appreciates him for listening.
She could say some of the following comments:
· “I’m sure glad I can talk about it.”
· “It sure feels good to talk about it.”
· “I’m feeling so relieved that I can talk about this.”
· “I’m sure glad I can complain about all this. It makes me feel so much better.”
· “Well, now that I’ve talked about it, I feel much better. Thank you.”
This simple change can make a world of difference.
In this same vein, as she describes her problems she can support him by appreciating the things he has done to make her life easier and more fulfilling. For example, if she is complaining about work, occasionally she could mention that it is so nice to have him in her life to come home to; if she is complaining about the house, then she could mention that she appreciates that he fixed the fence; or if she is complaining about finances, mention that she really appreciates how hard he works; or if she is complaining about the frustrations of being a parent, she could mention that she is glad she has his help.
Good communication requires participation on both sides. A man needs to work at remembering that complaining about problems does not mean blaming and that when a woman complains she is generally just letting go of her frustrations by talking about them. A woman can work at letting him know that though she is complaining she also appreciates him.
For example, my wife just came in and asked how I was doing on this chapter. I said, “I’m almost done. How was your day?”
She said, “Oh, there is so much to do. We hardly have any time together.” The old me would have become defensive and then reminded her of all the time we have spent together, or I would have told her how important it was to meet my deadline. This would have just created tension.
The new me, aware of our differences, understood she was looking for reassurance and understanding and not justifications and explanations. I said, “You’re right, we have been really busy. Sit down here on my lap, let me give you a hug. It’s been a long day.”
She then said, “You feel really good.” This was the appreciation I needed in order to be more available to her. She then proceeded to complain more about her day and how exhausted she was. After a few minutes she paused. I then offered to drop off the babysitter so she could relax and meditate before dinner.
She said, “Really, you’ll take the babysitter home? That would be great. Thank you!” Again she gave me the appreciation and acceptance I needed to feel like a successful partner, even when she was tired and exhausted.
Women don’t think of giving appreciation because they assume a man knows how much she appreciates being heard. He doesn’t know. When she is talking about problems, he needs to be reassured that he is still loved and appreciated.
Men feel frustrated by problems unless they are doing something to solve them. By appreciating him, a woman can help him realize that just by listening he is also helping.
A woman does not have to suppress her feelings or even change them to support her partner. She does, however, need to express them in a way that doesn’t make him feel attacked, accused, or blamed. Making a few small changes can make a big difference.
Four Magic Words of Support
The four magic words to support a man are “It’s not your fault.” When a woman is expressing her upset feelings she can support a man by pausing occasionally to encourage him by saying “I really appreciate your listening, and if this sounds as if I’m saying it’s your fault, that’s not what I mean. It’s not your fault.”
A woman can learn to be sensitive to her listener when she understands his tendency to start feeling like a failure when he hears a lot of problems.
Just the other day my sister called me and talked about a difficult experience that she was going through. As I listened I kept remembering that to support my sister I didn’t have to give her any solutions. She needed someone just to listen. After ten minutes of just listening and occasionally saying things like “uh-huh,” “oh,” and “really!” she then said, “Well, thank you, John. I feel so much better.”
It was much easier to hear her because I knew she was not blaming me. She was blaming someone else. I find it more difficult when my wife is unhappy because it is easier for me to feel blamed. However, when my wife encourages me to listen by appreciating me, it becomes much easier to be a good listener.
What to Do When You Feel Like Blaming
Reassuring a man that it is not his fault or that he is not being blamed works only as long as she truly is not blaming him, disapproving of him, or criticizing him. If she is attacking him, then she should share her feelings with someone else. She should wait until she is more loving and centered to talk to him. She could share her resentful feelings with someone she is not upset with, who will be able to give her the support she needs. Then when she feels more loving and forgiving she can successfully approach him to share her feelings. In chapter 11 we will explore in greater detail how to communicate difficult feelings.
How to Listen Without Blaming
A man often blames a woman for being blaming when she is innocently talking about problems. This is very destructive to the relationship because it blocks communication.
Imagine a woman saying “All we ever do is work, work, work. We don’t have any fun anymore. You are so serious.” A man could very easily feel she is blaming him.
If he feels blamed, I suggest he not blame back and say “I feel like you are blaming me.”
Instead I suggest saying “It is difficult to hear you say I am so serious. Are you saying it is all my fault that we don’t have more fun?”
Or he could say “It hurts when I hear you say I am so serious and we don’t have any fun. Are you saying that it is all my fault?”
In addition, to improve the communication he can give her a way out. He could say “It feels like you are saying it is all my fault that we work so much. Is that true?”
Or he could say “When you say we don’t have any fun and that I am so serious, I feel like you are saying it is all my fault. Are you?”
All of these responses are respectful and give her a chance to take back any blame that he might have felt. When she says “Oh, no, I’m not saying it’s all your fault” he will probably feel somewhat relieved.
Another approach that I find most helpful is to remember that she always has a right to be upset and that once she gets it out, she will feel much better. This awareness allows me to relax and remember that if I can listen without taking it personally, then when she needs to complain she will be so appreciative of me. Even if she was blaming me, she will not hold on to it.
The Art of Listening
As a man learns to listen and interpret a woman’s feelings correctly, communication becomes easier. As with any art, listening requires practice. Each day when I get home, I will generally seek out Bonnie and ask her about her day, thus practicing this art of listening.
If she is upset or has had a stressful day, at first I will feel that she is saying I am somehow responsible and thus to blame. My greatest challenge is to not take it personally, to not misunderstand her. I do this by constantly reminding myself that we speak different languages. As I continue to ask “What else happened?” I find that there are many other things bothering her. Gradually I start to see that I am not solely responsible for her upset. After a while, when she begins to appreciate me for listening, then, even if I was partially responsible for her discomfort, she becomes very grateful, accepting, and loving.
Although listening is an important skill to practice, some days a man is too sensitive or stressed to translate the intended meaning of her phrases. At such times he should not even attempt to listen. Instead he could kindly say “This isn’t a good time for me. Let’s talk later.”
Sometimes a man doesn’t realize that he can’t listen until she begins talking. If he becomes very frustrated, while listening he should not try to continue—he’ll just become increasingly upset. That does not serve him or her. Instead, the respectful thing to say is “I really want to hear what you are saying, but right now it is very difficult for me to listen. I think I need some time to think about what you have just said.”
As Bonnie and I have learned to communicate in a way that respects our differences and understand each other’s needs, our marriage has become so much easier. I have witnessed this same transformation in thousands of individuals and couples. Relationships thrive when communication reflects a ready acceptance and respect of people’s innate differences.
When misunderstandings arise, remember that we speak different languages; take the time necessary to translate what your partner really means or wants to say. This definitely takes practice, but it is well worth it.