Monday, December 13, 2010

Advice for the unadvisable

kw: book reviews, nonfiction, psychology, relationships, communication

In the past eighteen years a multitude of reviews of the book have been written, so I'll make no more than passing notes here. It is Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus: A Practical Guide to Improving Communication and Getting What You Want in Your Relationships by John Gray, Ph.D. I seldom read psychological self-help books. This one caused quite a flurry when it came out in 1992, but I didn't read it then. I happened across a copy in a thrift store, and decided for half a dollar I could give it a quick read.

It seems the only ones who don't already know that men and women use different "dictionaries" for the same words are the ardent feminists who are trying to make women into men with "other equipment". The usefulness of Dr. Gray's book is in providing a basic translation aid. As to differing behaviors and differing approaches to life's problems, the basic tool set is simple:
  • When faced with a problem, women talk it out and men think it through.
  • Taken by surprise or upset, a man retreats into silence, while a woman wants to talk through the feelings.
  • Women feel cared for if they are listened to, but not if they are lectured. Men feel loved if they can help without being corrected.
  • Both men and women go through cycles of being more or less affectionate. Get used to it.
In 35 years of marriage, I've learned to let my wife talk about her concerns without trying to "fix" them. If she wants advice, she asks for it. To at least some extent, my wife has learned that when I go silent, it doesn't mean I am ignoring her, but that I am thinking. I have learned to talk about feelings more than I did when I was young and insecure. This is the key to this book: a lot of people are insecure, and they get into all sorts of relationship problems for that reason alone. With maturity and growing security and sense of self, most of these problems take care of themselves.

My pet peeve is still this: being told to do something I've already begun to do. Women are experts at this. It is amazing that they can observe the least detail of someone's dress and accessories, but don't notice a man on the way to the door with the garbage bag, when they say, "Take out the trash." Young men, be prepared to get used to this, or it will result in an endless series of arguments about her being "controlling." She's not being controlling, she's just not thinking. It is a kind of reflex, and you are unlikely to change it.

The best advice is, go for a long courtship, and make sure your partner is perfect already (it helps to observe how a woman treats her father or brothers, and how a man treats his mother or sisters). Nearly nothing will change after marriage (or whatever you substitute for marriage). Any imperfections that show up later, resolve to grin and bear 'em. The best advice for couples is something I didn't find in the book. Learn to close your "eyes". Don't "see" the other too much. Overlook more and you'll fight less.

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