You Need Your Emotions Validated Whether You’re From Mars or Venus
“Sometimes, she just wants a sympathetic ear.”
Recently, my husband and I started watching Modern Family. I had watched it before but stopped. It came out when I was in grad school, trying to figure out where I was in life. Marriage and kids were so far away, I couldn’t relate. Now, with 2 kids and half a decade of marriage under my belt, it felt right to start again.
In season 2, episode 17 (Two Monkeys and a Panda, 2011), Claire is trying to help her daughters get along by letting Alex borrow Haley’s sweater. However, Alex accidentally rips the sweater and Claire agrees to help her by finding a replacement.
Meanwhile, her husband Phil has discovered two spa gift certificates expiring that day. He asks Claire to join him but she declines as she has to fix the sweater issue. He goes without her.
At the spa, Claire calls Phil to tell him he needs to make dinner that night because she’s busy driving around town trying to find the exact sweater. Phil offers simple suggestions that would fix her problems. Claire’s annoyed and snaps, “Just make dinner!” before hanging up.
The women at the spa who overheard the conversation are unimpressed with Phil. They explain that when his wife tells him her problems, he’s not supposed to help her. He’s confused and responds,
“If she lets me help her, I can make her problem go away.”
The ladies joke,
“That’s such a male thing to say. She doesn’t want you to solve her problems. Sometimes, she just wants a sympathetic ear.”
Then Phil finally gets it and starts giving examples of what he should and should not say.
“So if Claire says, ‘I hate getting stuck in traffic.’ I shouldn’t say, ‘Maybe you should leave earlier or don’t get on the freeway.’ I should just say, ‘I know. It’s so frustrating.”
The ladies exclaim,
“Yes! Yes! Yeah!”
At this point, I press pause and I look over at my husband,
“So what did you think of that?
“That’s what Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus talks about.”
I nod and agree because we both read that book. However, as I press play, I started thinking more about this.
Doesn’t everyone need a sympathetic ear sometimes?
The ripple effect of Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus
When Dr. John Gray published this in 1992, it popularized the differences between what men and women need in a relationship. With over 15 million copies sold, this book has influenced the way couples communicate with one another, formed the plotlines of movies and TV shows (not just Modern Family) and served as topics in women’s and men's magazines, newspaper articles and advice columns.
Throughout the book, Dr. Gray reiterates that these are stereotypes and encourages the reader to think carefully through his words regardless of their gender. Some men may resonate with Venusian society and customs; some women may resonate with Martian society and customs.
However, the concept that the most common relationship issues are due to fundamental differences between the sexes is so well-known, that no one really cares to think critically about it, glazing over what Dr. Gray tries to clarify.
As an author, I can understand why he gave his book that title (Even with a meagre 100 copies sold, I still got slack for calling my book, “How To Deal With Asian Parents”). Titles need to catchy, easy to understand and straight to the point. This was also the early 90’s. People want simple, black and white solutions and their attention is fickle.
“Oh that’s why my husband doesn’t get it. He’s from a different planet!”
“Oh that why my wife is upset at me. She’s from a different planet!”
But what happens when it infiltrates our culture and society for almost 30 years?
Men are from Mars; therefore, society expects them to behave like they are from Mars. They need to be masculine defined as the strong and silent type. They need to fix things. They need a man cave to destress. They don’t need to talk about it. They need to dismiss their feelings. They need to downplay their problems.
Women are from Venus; therefore, society expects them to behave like they are from Venus. They need to be feminine. They need love and attention. They need to talk about their problems even if it isn’t about solutions. They need reassurance.
If either sex behaves like they are from the other planet, it’s unnatural and weird. They’re aliens.
Over the years, as the media and entertainment industry continued to illustrate these differences, the boys and girls grow up and enter relationships.
It makes a generation question what their needs are in a relationship. The gender expectations have created a barrier in asking for what we want from our partners because we don’t actually know what we want.
“I don’t want to talk about my feelings because I’m a man. But do I?”
“I don’t need time and space alone because I’m a woman. But do I?”
“She wants me to nod and agree with her on everything because she’s a woman. But does she?
“He doesn’t need me to reassure him because he’s a man. But does he?
Or on the flip side, folks like myself who were born and raised to defy gender stereotypes defy them to a point where they deny who they are.
And of course, it misses the entire LGBTQIA community.
Men and women aren’t that different
Knowing what you need is half the battle; the other half is asking for it (and of course empathizing with your partner when you don’t).
What does your spouse do when you have a problem?
Whatever you need and ask for.
They’ll let you have your alone time if you ask for it.
They’ll listen if you ask them to.
They’ll ask questions if you tell them to.
They’ll offer to help if you want them to.
They’ll do something nice for you if you let them know.
What gender are you?
It doesn’t matter. We are emotional beings with the capacity to love one another. We need our feelings validated so that we feel like we are heard and understood by our partners.
Although the book puts a divide between the sexes, there’s still value in reading it with a grain of salt. All humans are from the planet earth; everyone has different needs in a relationship. Figuring out what those are and communicating that to your partner is the book’s bottom line.