When we’re having trouble in our marriage, we often begin looking outside for explanations for our behavior and to understand what is occurring with the diminishment of care and feelings for our spouse. The most important thing to do when keeping a marriage alive with passion is to embrace change and to seek out new skills to help your relationship grow in depth and maturity. This knowledge comes from becoming more self-aware of our needs and wants, but it also focuses on how better to understand, appreciate, accept, trust, and respect what makes our spouse feel loved based on their needs and wants as well.
We all want to be loved, and to be allowed to remain true to ourselves when we are in a marriage partnership. In the beginning, we fall in love with all the similarities of interest we share together. Hopefully, this also embodies our very human values of truth, honesty, and justice too. So what happens after the first few years of marriage when the novelty of being head over heels in love dissipates? If we encourage growth as individuals and add to our relationship skills to nurture and put effort into building up our relationship, then this fledgling me-centered love blossoms into a mature love that allows us to both: (1) grow as individuals, but also (2) form a bond to one another that deepens as we go through the ups and downs of life together. We do this by respecting and honoring one another, showing appreciation, and nurturing our need for romantic love and acceptance. How you do this is different for men and women, if you understand for example that women need more emotional support to feel loved /connected/not alone, and men need more affirmation to feel loved/respected/needed, then you’re able to love the person in the way they need to be loved, rather than the way you want and think they should be loved.
Millions of people gravitate to John Gray, Ph.D. and his Mars Venus analogy that men and women use communication for different reasons. His work is credible, because he has counseled thousands of couples, synthesized research across the mental health and medical (diet, nutrition, physiology, neuroscience) fields to explain underlying trends that impact everything from our health, work satisfaction, and happiness. He focuses on gender intelligence, because inter and intrapersonal relationship health is what determines how well we are able to have it all—work satisfaction, keeping our marriages intact, and producing thriving children (despite previous learned dysfunction from our families of origin). John Gray asserts we’re from different planets, but we’re now here on Earth so we need to learn the other’s dialect to stay connected. We often frame how we see the world based through our own lens of experience and knowledge first, before we become aware that other people interact within and view the world from a different perspective. When we try to force ourselves to focus on our similarities, then we run the risk of neglecting the part of us, the differences or opposites that may have attracted us to our spouse in the first place. Co-dependency and resentment could result, because we begin to think the other person does not get us, is neglecting us, because they are withdrawing when we want to connect, or connecting when we want to withdraw. In a healthy relationship there is room for dancing, for give and take, and keeping passions alive, by learning how to love our spouse in the way they want to be loved. The Mars/Venus analogy is appealing for two reasons as we strive to keep passion alive in our marriages:
(1) Once the Honeymoon’s Over, The Differences Can Become the Source of Tension
These differences can make or break a marriage, depending on our understanding of what is happening. John Gray’s material does not condone being more like your gender to the detriment of your relationships. The Mars/Venus analogy allows couples to honor their masculine and feminine traits, and use it as a way to better understand each other. While understanding the differences helps ease the tension, it is not the most important aspect of any relationship. However, the comic relief is refreshing as we tackle how better to love one another. Understanding gender differences neutralize one way is better than another. It aims to bring couples closer together so they can work on increasing their emotional intelligence, continue to bond and attach as a couple (without becoming co-dependent), and discover how their relationship beliefs and personality traits also factor in to the success and growth of their relationship. Passion builds over years of being together, of nurturing and appreciating how the other person being there for you makes life easier and richer.
Between 2 to 5 years into our marriages—if we aren’t aware of the tendencies of why men communicate to predominantly solve problems and women communicate to connect to other people, then we can find ourselves resenting one another. As tensions crop up in our marriage just due to living life, men can increasingly withdraw into their work, or pursuits outside the marital relationship, as women increasingly attempt to talk issues out either at (notice I didn’t say with) their husband, or look to others outside of their marriage to feel appreciated and loved.
(2) The Mars Venus Analogy is Light-Hearted & Easy For All People to Relate to and Understand
When relationships begin to fall apart it is serious business. Running to a professional, rather than facing it head on ourselves can decrease our self-confidence, and set us back, because talking often does not solve the problem, but rather reinforces it. Time may well be better spent learning and implementing new relational skills (conflict resolution, gender intelligence, emotional intelligence, stress and anger management, positive parenting) to alleviate symptoms in the present and for future success. Then follow-up maintenance of learning how to reframe our memories to offer forgiveness, and re-build trust may be useful. Mars Venus material lets you build upon your relationship, it does not see your relationship as needing to be fixed or failing, and it empowers you as the individual to take control and responsibility for creating a successful marriage based on your own solutions and strengths.
We may find ourselves having affairs, or cheating emotionally with someone other than our spouse, we may contemplate divorce, and we may separate our children from having a stable upbringing as well if we go through with divorce. We become afraid, we begin to panic, and the realization that our love is a place of stress instead of comfort is painful. John Gray uses his extensive experience of over 20 years as a marriage and family therapist and synthesizing research to explain the trends in a light-hearted way to take the sting out of the issues we are facing. Relationships are constantly in a state of evolution. We first have to recognize this is the case. If we don’t the more we try to keep things the same, like questioning why it’s so hard to hold onto the honeymoon phase, then the more they change.
It is not our similarities that keep us together, it’s often recognizing, appreciating, and working with our gender differences that complement and deepen a long-term relationship. When we hold onto our core values, then the by-product is our ability to focus on the highest good both for ourselves, and our spouse. Our decisions are then made from a place of love, rather than denial, avoidance, hurt, sadness, fear, jealousy, embarrassment, or anger.
In his wide body of work at the heart of helping us to understand relationships John Gray’s material addresses how to honor our inner values, and help make us congruent in our thoughts, feelings, and actions from the inside-out. He uses the Mars/Venus analogy as a way to notice that men and women are indeed different. If we can honor the masculine side in men and the feminine side in women, then we become more whole, more self-aware, and attuned to supporting our spouse, rather than trying to make them be more like us. It frees us from clinging to notions that are focused on dependence and independence, rather than interdependence.
Interdependence is a paradigm that focuses on we, and how to pool our talents and abilities to get a richer end result. We are in this together. When we cooperate our results are the very fabric of the human value of living in harmony and community. We understand that while independently we’re true to our own selves and self-reliant, but when we come together we actively honor, appreciate, accept, and respect each other; which in turn makes us more capable of nurturing others without the dependent feelings of jealousy, resentment, fear, or anger.
Passion increases from being in a safe and embracing relationship. When the other person experiences you at your worst, and continues to love you anyway, it is in choosing to see the best in each other that affirms your potential, and gives you the safe space to grow individually and as part of a couple. This is how to live in unconditional love. This is what makes us thrive as humans.
(1) Focus on Rewarding Positive Behaviors
If it has gotten away from you, then show appreciation and gratitude out loud for what the other person is doing right in the relationship. Even if it is tiny at first, this re-focuses your attention back on your marriage and why you enjoyed being married in the first place.
(2) Provide a Safe Emotional Space
Create romance by taking time to re-visit dreams, to provide an emotional space that lets you both lower your guard down. Even if the disagreements tend to outweigh the agreements, continue to make love together. If you drop the ball on intimacy, pick it back up. Reaffirm and re-commit to one another that despite the current downward trend, you both want to stick it out together.
(3) Make Love Often Despite Disagreements
Commit to having quick liaisons whenever one person is in the mood, but also plan romantic evenings so you make time to learn what the other likes. Never say no to sex. In a healthy marriage there tends to be ten areas where couples choose to disagree, so if you’re having a fight or disagreement it is not okay to withdraw physically. Set a date and time to work through the issue when you can both be more logical, but don’t neglect your sex life. Half the battle will already be won, and passion will remain intact because you both know that your needs will be unconditionally met and you will not be turned down or away.