Men Are From Mars Women Are From Venus (1992) is a popular relationship book in which author John Gray
dispenses relationship advice based on what he sees are the foundational differences between men and women.
- Bullet Summary
- Full Summary
- 1. Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus
- 2. Mr Fix-It
- 3. Men Go to Their Caves and Women Talk
- 4. How to Motivate the Opposite Sex
- 5. Speaking Different Languages
- 6. Men Are Like Rubber Bands
- 7. Women Are Like Waves
- 8. Discovering Our Different Emotional Needs
- 9. How To Avoid Arguments
- 10. Scoring Points with the Opposite Sex
- 11. How to Communicate Difficult Feelings
- 12. How to Ask for Support and Get It
- 13. Keeping the Magic of Love Alive
- TEDx Talk
- Real Life Applications
- Men and women are different by nature
- To get along, we should take a step towards the other without compromising our true nature
- Men care about competence and achievement, women about feelings
About The Author: John Gray is a relationship counselor and a speaker.
His academic background, not in psychology or humanistic fields, has been subject to some controversy.
It’s unsure where Gray completed his bachelor/master and he received the PhD, by a now defunct and unaccredited institution after completion of a correspondence course.
That being said, I find much of what Gray says to be high-quality, mostly accurate observation.
John Gray warns in the introduction that he generalizes about men and women.
Some of those generalizations will ring truer to you and some might seem less so.
The reason is simple: beyond the generalizations, we are all unique individuals.
Gray also mentions that sometimes genders switch: men relate to women’s descriptions and women relate to men’s descriptions (around 10% of women, possibly for being born with more testosterone).
That’s a case of role reversal and it’s nothing to worry about.
Differences lessen when genders have been single for a long time and will manifest more strongly with children or during high stress periods.
The author says that some men deny some aspects of their masculine side and women deny some aspects of their feminine side (most workplaces reward masculine attributes).
1. Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus
John Gray says that men and women are of two different nature.
To get along well they need to stop expecting the other to be the same and understand each other instead.
The most common complaints of a woman are that his man:
- Doesn’t listen
- Is inattentive
- Is no longer romantic
- Is self-centered
- Divorcing reason: he doesn’t give back to all her giving
Men would complain that his woman:
- Make a big deal out of nothing
- Withholds sex
- Is unreasonable
- Divorcing reason: no matter what I do she’s never happy
These are the most common fears by gender:
- Fears for men
Men deepest fear is of being incompetent and not good enough.
They are afraid of giving because, when they give, they risk failure and rejection.
Fear increases when he cares, so he might stop giving when he cares the most.
- Fears for women
Women can be unconsciously afraid of being worthy of love and she’s afraid of getting too much.
She’s afraid she won’t be supported and unknowingly pushes away the support she needs, which makes him feel rejected and turns him off
Men are empowered: when they feel needed and trusted, so women can feel free to show she needs him
Women are empowered: when they feel cherished and cared for
2. Mr Fix-It
He Needs To Show Competency
John Gray says that men care about abilities and women care about feelings.
Men value power, competency, achievement and their sense of self is defined by their success and ability to achieve their goals.
Achieving their goals is a way to prove their competency.
Similarly, men want and need to have their abilities recognized and appreciated and resent having them ignored or called into question.
When a woman offers to help it’s often an offense for the man as that’s a vote of distrust in his abilities.
Women instead want to be listened. They don’t want to be alone and like cooperation and assistance.
Men offer solutions when women complain, but women are not looking for solutions.
They want to have their feelings recognized and appreciated. They don’t want to be left alone when hurt or when dealing with a problem.
3. Men Go to Their Caves and Women Talk
When dealing with problems men tend to withdraw, go sit by themselves and avoid communication.
For solutions and examples also read:
The problem is that women do the opposite: they communicate to find a solution.
When the two sexes communicate, women often communicate for the sake of communication and for the sake of talking.
Men like to talk in a solution oriented fashion instead.
For a man, there must be a point and a conclusion in the conversation.
What a woman can do to help his man is to let him know in advance the outcome of the story, and then go back for the details.
Men don’t like the suspense: give him the facts straight.
I couldn’t agree more with this.
In my relationships I often found myself urging women to cut to the chase.
4. How to Motivate the Opposite Sex
Jon Gray says that a man’s instinct tends to be self-centered while a woman’s instinct is to care and look after others, even if that means sacrificing herself.
If both genders give in to their instinctive behavior, the man gets all the care and attention and the woman gets nothing.
One win, the other loses, which bodes badly for the relationship long term.
Once the two genders enter into a relationship instead they should meet in the middle.
The man should learn to care for the woman and a woman should learn to give less instead of endlessly giving and then resenting for not getting back.
She must remember to express her desire for her needs. And the man should express his desire to help.
This way, they both win.
I’m not too sure with the “looking after others at her own sacrifice”. The Moral Animal explains how women have a tendency to hoard resources when they can.
Which is the opposite of self-effacing giving.
5. Speaking Different Languages
He Must Hear Her Out
Men communicate literally while women communicate more dramatically and “artistically”.
Women use “artistic” language as a way to more fully express their feelings.
Men like to sort through their thoughts privately before communicating. But women can get antsy as he steps back and they need reassurance he still cares.
Women indeed prefer to sort through their thoughts “as they speak” and tend to put all her concerns out there.
Men can feel under assault when she does that because it’s a threat to who he is.
He needs to know she still values him.
When facing challenging situations the man likes his woman to tell him he “got this” as that’s a tacit compliment of his skills.
Conversely, he feels undercut if she offers assistance or sympathy.
The woman wants him to show concern instead, she feels snubbed if he doesn’t offer any assistance.
She doesn’t want him to tell her the problem is “easy” as that would be a way of brushing off her feelings.
Men also have a tendency to jump in with solutions as the woman talks about her problems.
He wants to show his skills and resoluteness.
But the woman doesn’t want to hear solutions, she wants first of all to be heard.
The man should then offer a solution only after he has fully listened to her.
6. Men Are Like Rubber Bands
Men alternate between the need for intimacy and the need for autonomy
John Gray says that men have periods in which they withdraw and want to avoid any communication.
Women don’t understand this because they only pull back if they feel unloved or if some serious issue arises.
Women then can be unconsciously afraid he’s avoiding her or going for ever and keep prodding him for a reaction.
The situation can easily escalate.
Instead, she should instead allow him to withdraw and give him the space he needs. When women don’t do it, they upset the cycle, “torture” the man and destroy the relationship.
On the other hand, he can reassure her that he will be back (men’s cycles are short anyway).
Once the man springs back, he’s ready for intimacy and romance again. But she might be hurt and need her time to rebuild back up. That can be another cause of friction.
When both partners can be supportive and understanding in their low periods, they will find their partner also finds it easier to do the same.
Let him pull away and he will come back quicker
For more on cycles of intimacy and distance also read:
7. Women Are Like Waves
Women Have Slower Up & Down Cycles
John Gray says that women have slower cycles instead.
They periodically enter into depression and can become negative.
When a woman is at a negative point of her cycle she cannot give love.
She may then revisit old issues, even if they have already been discussed and resolved.
They will demand to men that they pay attention and provide support. Some men are stumped sometimes by the time it takes for the women to get back to their usual loving ways. But they must avoid trying to rush her or criticize her because it’s a natural female behavior.
With his support, she will grow to trust the relationship more and she’ll go through waves in a milder, more loving way.
The author suggests that if a woman’s needs to be heard and supported overlaps with the man’s need to be on his own, she should turn to her girlfriends then.
Suggestions like these have sparked some criticism that the book asks women to do most of the “work” to meet in the middle.
I don’t fully agree with the criticism though.
8. Discovering Our Different Emotional Needs
Men and women have different emotional needs, and providing our partner with our emotional needs will not necessarily fulfill our partner.
Men look for: trust, acceptance, appreciation, admiration, approval, and encouragement
Women look for: caring, understanding, respect, devotion, validation, and reassurance
Top 3 mistakes women make in relation to men’s needs:
- Tries to improve him or his behavior with unsolicited advice
- Complain about what he hasn’t done and doesn’t appreciate what he’s done
- Corrects him and his behavior as if he was a child
Top 3 mistakes men make in relation to women’s needs:
- Minimize the importance of her feelings and needs
- He listens. but then blames her for bringing him down
- After listening, he says nothing and splits
John Gray says there’s a knight in shiny armor in every man and a girl looking for a knight in shiny armor in every woman. And they can find each other.
9. How To Avoid Arguments
John Gray says that arguments often balloon out of men’s failure to pay sufficient attention and women’s expressions of disapproval.
Disapproval will get the men angry and defensive.
When arguments arise verbal attacks can be destructive for the relationship. Men usually charge the hardest as they want to “win” the argument, using strong and aggressive words.
The woman backs down to avoid never ending escalation and the man feel he has “won”.
But she hasn’t changed her opinion, so the following “peace” is phony as the underlying issues have not been fixed.
To avoid that communication degenerates into fights the author suggests men strive to listen without raising their defensive walls and women should communicate without criticizing their partners.
More on communication:
- Solving relationship conflict
- How to solve unsolvable problems
- Fixing combative relationships
- Two good books are Difficult Conversations and possibly Crucial Conversations
And if you’re already arguing a great way is to stop and take a break.
She Must Be Direct
Women often unknowingly start arguments by not being direct when sharing feelings.
For example, when a man is late, the woman might be worried or bothered. But when he shows up she asks rhetorical and critical questions such as:
“why didn’t you call”
“how can you be so late“.
The man feels attacked because that’s disapproval to him.
When a woman expresses frustration or disappointment the man gives explanations without allowing her to vent.
What she feels though, is that he doesn’t care about her feelings. For her to hear his reasons, she needs him to hear her reasons first
It takes two to argue, but one only to stop it
10. Scoring Points with the Opposite Sex
She Must Appreciate Him For What He Gives
John Gray says women give unconditionally and proactively.
Love for women means anticipating someone’s needs and they don’t stop giving.
Men only give when they feel that their efforts will be appreciated and often are not good at guessing when it’s time to give unless they are specifically asked.
And they tend to stop giving when they feel they have done their part.
When it comes to giving, men value results while women appreciate more the thoughts that come with it.
So women appreciate lots of little gifts while men tend to value the big gifts more.
When men and women fail to understand these dynamics, the relationship can easily sour.
When the woman does not appreciate the man giving he may stop giving altogether while she continues to give unconditionally expecting to eventually get something back.
However, as she gets nothing back, she starts feeling unloved and grows resentful.
To help meet each other’s needs, men should give in many little ways without being asked and learn that if their partner does not ask doesn’t mean she’s happy.
Women, on the other hand, should talk clearly if they are not happy and should reduce their own giving -or even ask things back- and never forget to appreciate him.
Here’s a simple one for women: “thank you for listening”.
With men giving and her appreciating, both will gain.
11. How to Communicate Difficult Feelings
John Gray goes deeper into intpersonal psychology.
He says that to ease unresolved conflicts men bury themselves in work while women might seek perfection and lapse into depression to avoid feelings of anger.
I invite you to read Daring Greatly by Brene Brown for deeper research on perfection seeking and vulnerability.
Before even tackling effective communication the author says we must first unlearn to repress our feelings and to avoid negative communication.
He suggests that writing is a great way of expressing negative feelings in a controlled manner instead of exploding with our partners.
Both positive and negative feelings as often we don’t realize how loving we can be.
Once we write and work through our feelings we will be better prepared to explain in a clearer and loving way.
Avoid keeping a secret diary of your relationship. I can’t remember the source but a study shows that keeping a diary raises the chances of breakup -and then regretting those breakups-
12. How to Ask for Support and Get It
Women should not come to expect their partners can read their mind and anticipate their needs.
They should ask for help but ask without making it seem like a demand because men hate doing things when they are demanded.
Indeed, giving excessive instructions will make him feel like a slave.
Women have to ask with tact because any request to be more or get more makes the man feel inadequate
Questions with the form of “could you” or “can you” sound to him like questioning his abilities, so “would you” or “will you” are better. And it’s best to let him choose the way and time he does it.
It’s OK to ask him when he’s busy, but be prepared for him to postpone or say no.
A woman should also come to understand denials as a request also implies the possibility of a no.
13. Keeping the Magic of Love Alive
John Gray says that there’s a conundrum in love.
The more we feel in love and safe, the more turbulences of the past can surface as our minds “let go”.
Wade through them: they’re only a sign that your relationship is great.
The author says that love changes over time.
The bliss of the beginning does not last forever and our normal faults emerge for what they are.
But by sticking through the highs and lows the initial bliss becomes a more mature form of love which gets stronger as the years go by.
“Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus” has been criticized for relaying stereotypes from pop psychology.
Some women resent the portrayal of women as (more) emotional creatures, while some reviews complained that Gray’s advice is “sexist” because it asks the woman to do more of the adjustment.
I did indeed notice more “requests for changes” aimed at her rather than at him, but that doesn’t necessarily mean “sexism”.
It might simply mean the author believes it’s easier for the woman to adjust or that it’s simply best for the relationship.
Is It Unscientific?
Well, yes, it is unscientific.
But unscientific means that it’s not been studied in a controlled setting and recorded in some quantitative format.
it does not mean “inaccurate” (as much as “scientific” does not always mean “accurate”, also see the replication crisis in psychology).
And while it doesn’t have the scientific backing of a John Gottman, I gotta say that this book has, in many ways, more insights than many other research-backed books.
I also believe it can help many couples to better understand relationship dynamics, common gender-typical issues and, ultimately, it can help many men and women in improving their relationships.
Men & Women As Stereotypes
On the criticism that men and women are often stereotyped, well… That’s certainly true.
You just need to look at the title to realize that this is not going to be a book that goes into the nuances of what makes us similar rather than different :).
Also, it applies mostly to “average” men and women. The top guys who work on themselves to improve and develop a growth mindset won’t get nearly as defensive as the author mentions.
And of course the same is also true for high quality women.
I wonder how come a huge best-seller author like John Gray didn’t get an invite to the main TED Talks.
Maybe it has something to do with the current (mistaken) socio-cultural diktat that men and women are pretty much the same (also see “Blank Slate theory“)?
I don’t know that, but it certainly didn’t stop Gray from getting millions of views at TEDx:
Real Life Applications
“Men Are From Mars Women Are From Venus” is all about deep insights with direct practical applications.
What struck me the most based on my experience were:
Give Him The Results Quick
When telling a story, give him the “executive summary”, a one sentence of what happened.
Then flash out the details. Men will get impatient if it takes too long to get to the main point.
He Must Let Her Vent First
The man must let the woman vent first before giving explanations or she’ll feel he doesn’t care.
Any book saying “men are”, “women are” is bound to be generic.
It’s not necessarily a bad thing and generic statements can be super helpful… You just need to be aware of the limitations.
Venus / Mars Terminology
Venus and Mars terminology might have helped to make the book a hit, but it’s distracting.
“On Venus” and “Martians”, which Gray uses all the time, is taxing to the readers’ brain because we always have to mentally translate into the respective gender.
I personally also find it jarring because it stresses the differences while, at the end of the day, there is more in common.
Overall, I enjoyed “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus”.
Do I recommend you read it?
Do so with a critical approach.
But also with enough of an open mind to accept our own gender’s limitation, which in turn will help us become better human beings for a better life and a better relationship.