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Love on the rocks

Love stories generally build up to a romantic climax and then end, leaving us with the impression that the couple lived happily ever after. Sadly, the reality is rarely as rosy as this.

In the first flush of love nothing much matters beyond being together - no sacrifice is too great if it helps you spend more time with the person whose mere presence intoxicates you. But when the intoxication starts to wear off, as it does unfortunately, little misunderstandings start occuring, causing friction, irritation, long cold silences or angry rows and the rosy image of love can give way to a deep sense of disillusion.

Why is there this friction between men and women? John Gray thinks he knows the answer. The root cause of the problem, apparently, is that men and women don't understand just how different they are emotionally. Men and women respond to problems in very different ways and consequently have very different emotional needs. When people insist on their own needs and fail to properly appreciate the needs of their partners there is bound to be friction.

Women, typically, deal with problems and stresses by talking about how they feel. A woman may easily feel overwhelmed and by talking she will find relief and feel less upset. There is no need necessarily to deal with the practicalities of the problem - they are of secondary significance. What really matters is expressing herself, exploring her emotions and getting the support from a loving relationship in which she feels that she is understood.

Whereas women want to talk and talk about their problems, men withdraw into the caves of their mind to focus on solving the problem. A man's self-esteem is built on a sense of how competent he is, so he feels he must develop the skills to solve his problems on his own. Asking for help or idly expressing how terrible you feel is perceived as an admission of weakness and incompetence. Rather than looking for understanding, men want their partners to admire them for the way they achieve their goals.

To illustrate a typical lack of understanding Gray describes the following scenario: a man and a woman return home burdened by their respective problems - he has been sitting on the train or in his car silently trying to work out the problems of the day, but they seem insoluble and a guy like this, when he gets home, is likely to have a burning need to just sit in front of the telly or play a game just to take his mind off his problems and find a way to gradually relax. But just when he is trying to forget a confusing and problematic reality, his partner wants him to listen as she pours out all her problems, looking for support and understanding. If he has the energy, he may tolerate this just enough to work out what the main problem is, then he will bluntly suggest a solution before returning to the TV or the game. But the woman doesn't want solutions - she wants a kind ear and someone to embrace her. Each annoys the other: he with his silence and she with her continual moaning.

The more busy life becomes, the greater this friction will be. As the problems men face seem greater and more intractable, the more they need to escape and the less they are able to patiently sit and lovingly listen to their partner's frustrations. The more demanding a woman's life becomes, the greater her emotional turmoil is and the more she has to express. If her partner is glued to the TV or out skydiving all the time, they will grow further and further apart.

John Gray, whose job it is to provide counselling for couples, is optimistic. With a little help he thinks men and women can understand each other better and learn to respect their differences. He thinks that women can start to respect that men need to withdraw to cope with stress and they can realise that this doesn't mean that they no longer love them. And he is convinced that men can find that listening to their partner talk about her problems could actually help them come out of their caves in the same way as watching TV or skydiving. Apparently, men need to be needed. By learning to listen without giving solutions they can see how much of a positive difference they can make in their partner's life and thus appreciate how important they are. So the key to keeping the flames of love alight would seem to be less telly and more listening.




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Want to know more about John Gray's ideas? Check out his book "Men are from Mars women are from Venus".