John Gray, author of men are from mars, women are from venus Credit: John Gray

Mars and Venus revisited: Does John Gray still believe men and women are from different planets?

His seminal book has sold more than 50 million copies since its publication over 30 years ago, but does author John Gray still stand by the advice in Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus?

When it was first published just over three decades ago, the book Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus was a self-help sensation.

Its premise – that men and women are so intrinsically different that they may as well come from two separate planets – led its author, John Gray to insist that rather than erasing our differences to achieve relationship nirvana, we should embrace them instead.

His book laid out the necessary strategies, which for men included sitting and listening to their partner for ten uninterrupted minutes while she shared her feelings (a practice known as The Venus Talk) and for women involved allowing her male to sporadically retreat to his own space (his ‘cave’) to unwind.

Both the sexes, he explained, availed themselves of a subconscious “points system”, with the man receiving points for doing the dishes and proffering regular non-sexual physical affection (hugs). The woman, meanwhile, could receive points for not articulating when her partner had mucked up and for definitely articulating that she enjoyed their sex life together.


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Relationships have changed…

When it was released in the UK in 1993, many critics argued that Gray’s hypothesis was rather simplistic, with men characterised as uber-competitive and women as chatty worriers. Yet readers lapped it up. It went on to become the world’s bestselling relationship guide and has sold more than 50 million copies to date.

So, does Gray still stand by his teachings?

“Well, relationships have dramatically changed since then, but our biology hasn’t,” he says.

“My book was relevant to the lifestyle we had back then in the Eighties and Nineties where women were living a more traditional life and looking forward to being married even though some were becoming more independent. People related to the solutions I had in the book. But these people aren’t the dominant society now,” he adds.

“My new books have evolved as we no longer have traditional male-female roles, and they show how to have a successful marriage and life now.”

Helping people to create a connection

Today, Gray is speaking from his very own man cave in his home in the picturesque town of Mill Valley, California.

“When I had all the success with the book, I bought this big house, dug a hole in the mountain and created my underground cave,” he says. “I’m more of an introvert, so cave time for me involves reading books and practising all kinds of spiritual techniques.”

He has written 12 books extrapolating on the Mars-Venus theme (which include Mars and Venus in the Bedroom and Mars and Venus Starting Over) and also has a website through which he offers relationship courses along with his daughter Lauren, 38.

“Ideally what a relationship can do is form a loving connection between two people, which broadly put is a man providing a woman what she needs to be happy and a woman providing the man what he needs,” he says.

“In my work I see that the root of most relationship problems is a failure to understand how women and men think and react differently to situations. For example, a woman may talk about what happened during her day and the man, thinking she wants him to solve her problems will interrupt when all she wants to do is to vent. I help couples understand each other and find their attraction to one another again.”

“Men today are too feminine”

His points system, he argues, is still valid, and though society has become more fluid with increased numbers of men adopting caretaker roles at home and women becoming the primary breadwinners, Gray insists there’s nothing wrong as long as there is balance.

“What we have now is lots of women who have moved further to their male side,” he explains, “but it’s important for them to express their female side as it lowers their stress levels.”

Similarly, he adds, a man suppressing his masculine side will not fare well.

“Men today are too feminine,” he says. “They get stuck in their depression and their anxieties. We have a whole world of psychology pushing men to hate masculinity, but it’s all nonsense,” he scoffs.

“There’s no such thing as toxic masculinity. There are toxic people, both men and women.”

Certainly, Gray himself seems to have his own hormone levels well under control. “I’m 72 and my testosterone is 50 per cent higher than when I was a young man,” he declares. Moreover, he adds, “making love gets better as we get older” and goes on to tell me that he’s still fully functioning in that department.

This is slightly more information than I’d bargained for, but excellent news nonetheless for his wife of two years, Vicky – a relationship coach in her forties whom he met during a Mars-Venus training class.

“My friends said, ‘Why get married if you’re not going to have kids?’ but I’ve made a commitment to her for life and I wanted her to feel secure.”

“Marriage is fantastic for me”

Vicky is his third wife – his second, Bonnie, having died six years ago after a marriage lasting 32 years (they had one daughter, Lauren, and Gray is stepfather to Bonnie’s two daughters from a previous marriage).

“From the time Bonnie discovered she had cancer,” he says, “I stopped my work and took care of her – I was like her nurse.”

“I watched her go from a vibrant, beautiful, amazing woman to a skeleton and after she passed, it took me two years of grieving to come back. But I’m very happily married now,” he adds. “Marriage is fantastic for me.”

How Gray came to write the world’s most famous relationship guide is fascinating in itself.

Born in Houston, Texas, at 18, he attended a Transcendental Meditation lecture where he met Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the renowned guru to the Beatles, and for the next nine years travelled the world as his assistant and pursued a life of celibacy.

After moving to California, he promptly stopped being celibate and says: “I noticed that personal growth seminars were a big deal. I took a couple but thought I could do a much better job, so I started my own.”

He toured the US presenting relationship workshops with his first wife, Barbara De Angelis, only for her to leave Gray after two years of marriage.

“Here I was teaching a class called Making Love Work,” he says, “and then she falls in love with another guy!”

“I learned that you can have love for someone, but they may not be the right person. It was the first big trauma of my adult life.”


Looking at things with a different perspective

Two years after his divorce in 1984, he married Bonnie, though while on his honeymoon, Gray suffered further heartache when he received the news that his father had died – a hitchhiker had locked him in the boot of his car and he subsequently died of heat asphyxiation.

Later, wanting to experience what his father had gone though, Gray climbed inside the boot of the car and unscrewed the rear light, just as his father had done to get some air.

In doing so, he discovered that he could reach the button from the outside to open the boot, “but my father was trying to get out – he wasn’t thinking how to get in,” says Gray.

“That taught me a valuable lesson that if you can’t find a solution, you need to look at it from another perspective.”

It was a lesson he was to use when it came to his seminal Mars-Venus concept. While holding his relationship workshops in the Eighties, “it was very explosive at the time to be talking about the differences between men and women,” he explains.

“I was even getting death threats. I’d been thinking for a couple of years as to how I could present my arguments in a fun, positive way and then I saw the film ET.”

“One day [in a seminar] I said, ‘Imagine your husband is from another planet’ and when one woman asked, ‘Which one?’ I replied: ‘Mars’, so logic had it that women would be from Venus. By now, everyone was laughing and suddenly I had my idea.”

So, does he follow his own Mars-Venus teachings?

“Oh, I’m very much an example of what I teach,” he says, proudly.

“People say, ‘How can you be so perfect in a relationship?’ but my teaching doesn’t require perfection. For example, I get angry and frustrated sometimes, but when I do, I take time out and stop talking.”

“What I teach is that you don’t have to change yourself that much,’”he adds. “You just have to know what works.”

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Written by Lina Das