We listened to this classic book together after having a particularly stressful argument. After 15 minutes, Lihong exclaimed, "Now I get it...you're a man!"
This classic book by John Gray was written in 1992, but still rings true to us. It does a great job of articulating stereotypical differences between men and women in a format that is great for reading and listening. We highly recommend listening to it together. The author includes lots of jokes and examples that are easy to relate to. Not every couple is going to fit these stereotypes. Sometimes roles are reversed. For example, the author does make some pretty broad generalizations. Don't let this stop you from enjoying the book and learning from this, admittedly simplistic, model of men and women.
Here are our take aways. We also include a list of four "Classic Marriage Arguments", a "Martian/Venusian Dictionary" and a list of favorite quotes.
Understand and accept differences between men and women in order to reduce our natural tendency to demand change and improve tolerance. There are differences between men and women as evidenced by consistencies in complaints made by traditional couples across time and cultures. For example, women are more likely to be seeking empathy when sharing problems whereas men tend to share problems in order to find solutions. The author argues these differences are so engrained as if they come from different planets. This suggests an approach of acceptance rather than demanding change.
Men and women process stress differently. Women talk it through while men find distractions. Women need someone to listen to them in order to process stressful situations. When the listener reacts by trying to fix the problem, women are likely to see this as a sign that the other lacks empathy. Men are different in that they tend to seek distractions as a means of dealing with stressful situations. Common distractions include sports, news, and politics. These distractions put the man's tendency to solve problems to work on other people's problems; which are of no real consequence to the man, allowing him to relax. This is why men often have a "man cave" or retreat to their "nothing box". Women should avoid seeing his retreat as a rejection, and recognize it as his way of coping with stress.
Don't give advice. Almost no one wants advice unless explicitly asked. Even if a women asks for advice, she is more likely to be seeking validation that a situation is more difficult than a cold analysis. Men tend to only seek advice when they fail to solve a problem themselves. Thus, a man seeking advice is probably vulnerable to criticism.
Women should "love" their man by respecting him instead of trying to improve him. Women tend to view their man as a "work-in-progress" in need of constant suggestions for improving. She views her efforts as an act of love, but men often see it as disrespectful and a sign that she does not accept him for who he is. When he resists, she feels unappreciated.
Men should "love" their wife by making them feel "cherished". Women are happiest in a relationship when they feel they deserve love. Men can do this by making them feel chosen. Ask about her day. Listen when she needs to express herself. Notice when she needs help. Each little thing counts as much emotional difference as the big things like "making money".
Recognize differences in motivation and fulfillment. The author suggests that men are more results oriented whereas women tend to care more about relationships. This seems like too broad of a generalization. However, we do agree that it is important to recognize how different people are motivated. For example, some people are more motivated by career success and social recognition; while others may feel less influenced by broader perceptions and focus more on relationships with family and close friends. It's important to recognize that these differences in motivation are necessary for societal success.
Women can motivate their man by making him feel needed and respected. Let him know when he does good things. Show him that you respect and believe in him, even when he is failing. For example, if he is lost, don't suggest that he "asks for directions" because this implies that you believe he can't solve the problem. Once a man feels needed and respected, he becomes more confident and feels a stronger desire to help.
Women are natural givers...which can lead to resentment. Early in a relationship it is common for women to do more around the house, help organize trips, check the mail, pay the bills, and other chores that help keep life orderly. This might be because women tend to have a higher standard for cleanliness and order...so they are the first to act when they see something out of place and feel more pressure to control chaos. This can lead her to become bitter and resentful. This can only be solved through a combination of two things: 1) Women getting better at setting boundaries so they don't give too much...which also allows more opportunity for men to step up. 2) Men learning to give more and increase their standard for cleanliness and order.
Women will sometimes make false statements that hide deeper truths. For example, a women might tell her husband, "we never go out" when she really means, "I really enjoy your company ... would you please take me out?" This can be confusing to men who tend to be more literal. Men who understand this are less likely to become upset by false statements that, if said by a man, would easily be interpreted as a criticism or attack. The author also lists statements that women often mis-interpret. More examples are included below under "Martian/Venusian Dictionary".
Women's emotions rise and fall like a wave (i.e. The “Wave” Theory). Where a women is in the wave cycle depends on their level of confidence. At peak confidence, women are able to give a lot of love and avoid bringing up old issues that once bothered her. If her confidence level falls, so falls he ability to give love and avoid bringing up old problems from the past. Her mini-crisis of confidence might be caused by many things. Men should avoid assuming they are at fault unless they have been derelict in their duties. Women can take a long time (weeks or even months) to get through a wave. Men need to be patient and supportive by validating her emotions during these times and avoid taking her criticisms/comments as an attack on him.
Speak the others "Love Language". We tend to give love the way we want it. The author argues that men desire “trust, acceptance, appreciation, admiration, approval and encouragement” while women tend to desire, “caring, understanding, respect, devotion, validation and reassurance.” While this may be true for many couples, the bigger take away is to learn your partner's love language and speak it.
Women should learn to ask for help. Women tend to assume that men can "read their minds" or that someone who truly loves them should know what they want and need. This simply isn't true. Empower your man by telling him your wants and needs.
When verbal communication fails, put it in writing. This is especially useful when emotional tensions are high as it allows you to review what you are writing before you hit "send". We have found using email to be more effective than texting. Writing also helps to avoid miscommunication because it forces the author to make their words explicit. Finally, it can be quite illuminating to read old letters. It's invaluable data on how you and your relationships have changed over time...and more useful data are always better.
Classic Marriage Arguments
Classic arguments between traditional couples tend to sound like this. A man, his confidence shaking, says with exasperation that, "Nothing he does is enough to make her happy". A women, fueled by years of growing resentment, exclaims that, "He doesn't listen... he doesn't care...I give and give but he doesn't give back". Underlying these common complaints are four root causes:
Man gives his wife advice - Women tend to see advice giving as her man not listening. Women "complain" in order to process stressful situations...which often don't have solutions. By patiently listening and validating her emotions, men can avoid arguments and help their wives feel more confident. This will in turn help her avoid falling into an emotional "wave" during which she tends to bring up old issues from the past.
Women gives her husband advice - Men see advice giving as disrespectful. A man that feels needed and respected is more likely to help around the house, hold his tongue when he feels attacked, and seek out advice ("ask for directions") without feeling weak. Men generally know what they need to do to improve. What they sometimes lack is a good reason for making the right decision. Women can sometimes help by showing with their actions (and lack of words) that they believe in him...especially when he doesn't deserve it.
Man doesn't do enough around the house - Men tend to be more comfortable in a messy place and dealing with chaos. As a result, women tend to act first when organizing things. If men don't improve their standards for cleanliness and order, this can lead to his wife becoming bitter and resentful. Women can help also by setting boundaries. For example, clearly delegate certain chores to your man so that he knows exactly what he is responsible for and when he is done. Once established, avoid doing his chores even if you disagree with minor details on how he accomplishes them.
Women seeks, but doesn't receive, emotional validation - When women bring up a problem their man will often say, "don't worry about it" or "it's no big deal". She takes this as discounting her emotions and becomes upset. He then feels criticized by her reaction. At this point, women often either bottle up their need for emotional validation or explode. Men should avoid downplaying the importance of anything upsetting their wife. Women can help their man by explicitly telling him that they, "just need him to listen".
Martian/Venusian Dictionary [Taken directly from Link]
Things men say vs what they really mean:
It's nothing. --> Nothing is bothering me that I cannot handle alone. Please don't ask any more questions about it.
It's all right. --> 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. . . . I can process it within myself more effectively.
It's no big deal. --> 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.
Things women say vs what they mean:
I want more romance. --> 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.
No one listens to me anymore. --> 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?
“A woman’s ability to give and receive love in her relationships is generally a reflection of how she is feeling about herself.”
“Emotionally charged arguments and quarrels can be avoided if we can understand what our partner needs and remember to give it.”
“The secret of empowering a man is never to try to change him or improve him.”
“Asking for love and support is essential to the success of any relationship.”
“Gender insight helps us to be more tolerant and forgiving when someone doesn’t respond the way we think he or she should.”
“You cannot, nor should you ever try to, change your partner. That is his or her job. Your job is to change the ways you communicate, react and respond to your partner.”
“When we expect our partners to be more like us, we are automatically giving them the message that they are not good enough the way they are.”
“We mistakenly assume that if our partners love us they will react and behave in certain ways – the ways we react and behave when we love someone.”
“Ironically, men are primarily motivated by being needed, but are turned off by neediness.”
“Unclear and unloving communication is the biggest problem in relationships.”
“It is very difficult for a man to differentiate between empathy and sympathy. He hates to be pitied.”