FIRST THERE WAS the book. Then came the audiotape. And then, more books - sequels to "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus." Next came more audiotapes and a video infomercial and then the interactive CD-ROM. And then, the cruise. Couples who want to take a communication course from a Mars-and-Venus-trained facilitator can do so on a boat to Bermuda.
Today, author John Gray is busily calling newspapers around the country to talk about a new holiday he is creating. June 9 will be Marriage Day, a day when couples around the world will join together to renew their marriage vows.As John Gray sees the universe, men and women are worlds apart. Apparently millions of Americans share his view. They are buying enough books to keep "Men Are From Mars . . ." on the best-seller lists. They are helping Gray create an entire industry out of bringing men and women together.
So many couples with so much distance between them. If you thought about it too much you could get sad. Are men and women really so far apart? "Yes and no," say local communications experts. "Yes and yes and yes," says Gray, in book after tape after seminar.
During the early part of his life, Gray thought men and women were pretty much alike. But when he realized their innate differences, that's when his relationship seminars took off, that's when he started writing books.
In a telephone interview, Gray talked about growing up in a family of six sons and one daughter. He spent his childhood among guys. So, too, his early manhood. For nine years, young Gray was a monk living in a monastery. "I learned the culture of men," he says.
In the monastery, he also learned to contemplate, to know himself, and to appreciate the higher powers of love and forgiveness.
At the time he left the monastery, Gray actually thought he knew a lot about love. Then he got married.
He was divorced after two years. He found his wife to be warm and delightful when they married. But love in practice turned out to be more difficult than love in theory. His wife made a big deal out of little things, things that didn't matter a whit, the way Gray saw it. "I thought there was something wrong with her."
He studied with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, gaining two degrees in creative intelligence from the Maharishi European Research University. He got a graduate degree in psychology and human sexuality from Columbia Pacific University. He began teaching relationship seminars. His students began telling him he didn't understand women.
It was mostly men who called him one-sided, Gray recalls. He says he was a "big resister" to the idea that there were differences between the way men and women communicate. But by then there was a lot of information coming out about right brains and left brains. And then, too, there was his failed marriage. He started rethinking his philosophy of love.
Today Gray's main point is that women need to feel heard and men need to feel appreciated. Then both will feel loved.
The fact that men and women don't access their emotions in the same way can be seen from the time they are tiny, Gray says. Little girls talk before they know what they are feeling. Little boys act before they know what they are feeling.
When they grow up, says Gray, it's the same: Women want to talk. They may say things they don't mean, as they chatter their way into their true feelings.
Men, being naturally active, want to get to the point and offer solutions. They need to learn to use their innate warrior skills to dodge the arrows a woman may sling. They need to realize she's not attacking them and that they don't have to solve her problem.
Then they can listen to anything without being defensive, Gray says. As soon as a woman feels heard, she will remember how much she loves her husband.
He also makes these points:
- When a woman is unhappy, a man may feel like a failure and may eventually give up trying to fulfill her.
- Any man can learn to listen if he is approached in an appreciative way.
- When his partner is upset with him, a man needs to remember she's temporarily forgotten how wonderful he is. To remember, she needs to be heard.
- The male instincts required to hunt, kill and protect find free expression in sports. By releasing his focus from work through a seemingly unimportant activity (such as sports or watching TV), a man gradually remembers what is most important to him - his love for his wife and family and the desire to be there for them and with them.
- Emotional security guarantees that a woman is safe to share her feelings without invalidating arguments and interruptions from her man. It is the force that frees her to be herself.
- The way to tell if a man is in his cave (withdrawn to a place of safety and meditation) is merely to ask.
- Once a man experiences his woman's appreciation, his resistance to doing more melts away.
- When a woman feels secure enough to share her feelings with the man she loves and he can listen without being wounded, the relationship will thrive.
Kay Packard teaches couples communication courses at the University of Utah. Her students learn to take turns talking and listening empathically. They learn, as do Gray's students, that they don't have to solve their spouse's problems. All they have to do is listen.
Unlike Gray's students, Packard's students all learn the same techniques. They both learn that listening doesn't mean they agree with what their spouse is saying. They both learn that listening in a caring way does not imply a promise to change.
Gray's students learn the same truths. But as listener and speaker, they have sex-specific roles. Gray tells women to approach their husbands by saying, "I just want to talk, I don't want you to solve anything for me."
He tells husbands how to listen. A husband can relax in the knowledge that he is not being called on to change or to solve a problem.
In short, Gray doesn't seem to think the roles are often reversed. He doesn't seem to think women need to learn how to listen without suggesting solutions. He doesn't seem to think men like to talk, too.
But Packard says some do. She has seen many men who can identify and talk about their feelings. She doesn't believe it's only women who feel nurtured by such conversation.
Local psychologist Steve Ross counsels with couples. Like many of his clients, Ross has read "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus." Says Ross, "When you write pop psychology, you keep it simple. You address your book to a typical couple on a typical day in their relationship.
"It oversimplifies. Couples do move back and forth, trade roles. Women have to `go to their caves' for awhile and be alone and think things through."
Perhaps the best thing to remember about John Gray is that he's telling one man's truth. If he is programmed by his gender, he is also the sum of his experiences. And if hundreds of thousands are buying his book, perhaps hundreds of thousands have had similar experiences.
In his book "Mars and Venus, Together Forever," Gray talks about his parents' relationship. It was distant. His father had a series of affairs, and his mother was hurt and withdrawn.
Yet she was grateful her husband didn't ever abandon the family. Now, many years later, grateful wives are part of Gray's formula for success. And allowing men to be silent sometimes - like his father was - is also part of his formula. Even though it didn't work for his parents.
That's what he seems to be doing with all his books and tapes, taking elements from his parents' marriage and trying to make a new formula, trying to make it come out right this time.
If Gray is working out his own demons on the pages of his book, he has done so successfully. Not only is he financially successful, he now has a happy marriage.
He is still the same person he was the first time he was married, he says. The only thing that's changed, he says, is that he's learned not to criticize or judge or be quick to tell a woman how to solve her problems. There's only been one little modification in his personality. He's learned how to listen when his wife talks.