What John Gray Missed in Venus on Fire, Mars on Ice

When I reviewed the book Venus on Fire, Mars on Ice: Hormonal Balance – The Key to Life, Love and Energy by John Gray Ph.D., I stated that I felt John Gray missed something important in his analysis in regard to his 90% number. For those who didn’t read that post, John Gray believes the key to successful relationships is when each partner gets 90% of what they need emotionally from the world and just 10% from the man or woman they love.

Venus on Fire, Mars on Ice talks about earlier times when women engaged in nurturing activities with other females during the day. When her man came home, all her emotional needs had been met. This is not true today. The book makes a case for why it is more important for men to engage in romantic gestures today than ever before. Because women lack these nurturing outlets, the man needs to step up and be more romantic. I don’t disagree with this assessment, but being more romantic doesn’t solve the core problem, which is the fact she isn’t getting 90% of her emotional needs met outside the relationship.

by James Vaughan

If a man is working twice or three times as hard to be romantic, because she is getting less than 90% of what she needs emotionally from the world, she has less incentive to increase that number. She is getting her roses and massages, why should she drive across town to meet her girlfriends for a yoga class? She is having her stress levels lowered and receiving attention.

This sets up the problem. Men are by nature energy conserving. We are wired to do specific tasks and then rest. That is how we restore our testosterone levels, which reduces our stress levels. Increasing romantic gestures has an energy cost. Comedian Dante Nero has wisely stated that when you do something for someone three times, it becomes expected. Over time a romantic gesture can quickly turn into an obligation. Now we have a situation where a man is not only expected to perform those obligations that were once romantic gestures, but he needs novel ways to continue to be romantic. He has created a romantic arms race against his past self.

I think John Gray missed what I see as the logical response.

One of my tech skills is optimizing database queries. Figuring out how to retrieve the data result I want as quickly and efficiently as possible. Fix the bottleneck and everything works better. The bottleneck here is the 90% number. A man should be spending more time encouraging his woman to seek out positive social networks that lower her stress level. If he doesn’t, then that de-stressing task becomes his responsibility.

Stress by Bernard Goldbach

I was in a relationship with a girl who had a healthy nurturing network. She was active with dance classes, meditated, went to church, was involved with several groups, and had a supportive best friend. During the time we were together, she stopped dancing, going to church, and attending her groups. Her relationship with her best friend also soured and her work responsibilities increased. Most of her nurturing network was gone. Eventually, she found herself unhappy and I was the only one left to blame. Knowing what I know today, I would have been pushing her to restore her social networks or build new ones.

So if your girl starts hinting that she is unhappy and you can see she lacks a nurturing network or other outlets to de-stress, take her out on a nice romantic date. During the date make a stop at an art supply store, pass by a dance studio that offers classes or any other hobbies she might be interested in participating in that are not based on competition. Encourage her to build out her network and hobbies in a way that supports her emotional needs. Otherwise, it will all blow back on you.

I’m no expert on this topic, but I am surprised Dr. Gray missed this point. It is simple arithmetic.


Add yours

  1. Glenn Whitney

    Sep 27, 2012 — 9:39 am

    This is correct, and astute – from my perspective being married for 18 years…

  2. does the book talk about the wrench in the works called kids? this can be very consuming for women (and also men) and it can be hard to turn off the mommy switch and turn on the wife switch.

    regarding the outside socializing and activities, i have found that encouraging that stuff makes it easier for the other partner to justify spending time on hobbies and friends. bottom line is their is rarely enough time in the day to have it all. but to keep sanity, it is essential that both parties agree on the importance of these outside activities.

  3. @Glenn – Thanks. Like many of the topics on this site, this is one I wish I had learned many years ago. 🙂

    @Chuck – I don’t recall or didn’t pay attention if the book had info on parenting. That might be covered more in one of his other books.

  4. Happiness comes from within. Whether you find that happiness in your work, reading books, watching movies, church, exploring the wilderness, hiking up a mountain, picking daisies–whatever. If you are looking to your relationship to provide you with happiness, which some people do, particularly women in my experience, you are DOOMED to fail 100% of the time. But traditional romantic love in western cultures provides this idea that ultimate happiness comes from romantic relationships. This idea is a HUGE FAILURE. Traditional romantic love seeks to achieve co-dependence not happiness.

  5. @dhammy – BRAVO! You nailed it. That might be the best comment this blog has ever received.

  6. I think your assumption that women need to be led to a solution is a bit insulting, although I am sure you didn’t mean it that way. There are a lot of emotionally dependent people, including men, who look for their happiness outside themselves. Men tend to do it with things, women with relationships, but that is only a tendency. A lot of men blame their wives for their lack of happiness while moving on to yet another relationship. Gray’s assumptions are simplistic, formulaic, and questionable, IMHO.

  7. Thanks, MAS. It is arbitrary but the 90/10 guideline proposed by the author here does sound reasonable to me. Sounds like it would be a book worth reading. But the whole concept is very hard to accept to a western culture who has been spoon-fed mythologies of romantic love their entire life.

  8. John (aka Wish I Were Riding)

    Sep 27, 2012 — 1:42 pm

    Wow, I love this topic. Maybe it will make women like Becky above uncomfortable. But then I wonder if she is already fairly stable with her relationships. My wife, is not like that. She has been the major bread winner her whole life. She had a crappy and unsupportive childhood. Since the birth of our child (now almost 9), our relationship has only gotten worse. I believe these things I’m reading about role and testosterone are extremely interesting. I will probably be buying that book. I also think your follow up post here is excellent. I have always hated the feeling of obligation with regards to gifts etc. It has only gotten worse since I was young what with the crazy commercialization of everything.

  9. Nope, doesn’t make me uncomfortable. I am very comfortable in my skin, have a great relationship with my husband, we have separate interests, we are separate people. We support each other in our interests. There are no myths at my house. I grew up in a very unstable environment and have had several crazy relationships in my life. I think stable relationships are about both parties knowing themselves and accepting the other person for who they are. There is a common notion that love “changes” people, as in, if I love her/him enough, s/he will change. Doesn’t work like that. Having a real relationship with someone is not romantic, and it is messy, just like life. Gray’s “fixes” just support the common myths in telling men how to make their women happy and vice versa. You can’t make other people happy with your behavior. You can please them, you can’t make them happy. At the risk of being the odd man out here, I don’t think Gray’s suppositions are based on much real replicable science, but more on pop psychology. Oh, and I am old, that probably makes a difference!

  10. John (aka Wish I Were Riding)

    Sep 27, 2012 — 2:39 pm

    I hear what you are saying Becky, but I was correct in my assumptions that you are doing fine in your life and with your relationships. I seems odd to me that someone who is not really having problems would find anything useful in posts like this. Heck I wish I (and more-so my wife) was like you. I feel pretty old myself, but I’m 42.

    Plus, you don’t really sound stressed out is what I’m partly trying to say. Again, an enviable position from where I sit.

  11. When I wrote this post I wanted to convey my motivations in a way that wasn’t insulting or condescending to the woman. The word I was looking for is really the entire theme of this blog and that is resilience.

    Having the man double or triple the romance may save the relationship, but it actually can make it more fragile as expectations rise. This can also lead to resentment. Diversifying the well emotional being of the couple just makes more sense to me.

  12. Some homosexual couples have similar problems. I reckon this is not a gender thing.

    Also, it depends on the person. Some people are more social, or more independent, or needier.

    It is difficult to generalize.

    Hope you are doing well, coffee-wise.

  13. Don’t want to come off as mysogynist on this topic because this idea of happiness and life balance is lost on many men as well. I’ve known more than a couple of romantic, foolish men who treat every new woman in their life as the coming of a new messiah. Their relationships rarely last long.

  14. @MAS Personally, I prefer John Gottman’s empirical theories on successful long-term relationships.


    @Becky The idea of leading is not gender specific. Some people are less calm, more stubborn, and slower to self-reflect and admit their shortcomings. Often times, leading them to the answer via questions or subconscious suggestions enables to them to achieve a higher level of happiness. Some might call it manipulation, but if you’re SO is happier and/or more satisfied/less stressed it would seem like the right thing to do.

  15. When dating, my husband and I did everything together. With small children, my husband buried himself in work because he was anxious about providing for the family. Young and hormonal, I followed his lead and turned my attention solely on the household and my part-time teaching job. We both suffered from neglecting previous relationships, hobbies, and ourselves. I tried this and that unsuccessfully to pull myself out of the hole, but it wasn’t until he started going to the gym 3 times a week without me that I realized how much we each needed to be doing stuff away from the family. He spends less time on work work and more time on his fun work like building things and running a side e-business. And has reconnected with friends that have developed into important relationships. Having been somewhat of a loner, I opened up and was rewarded with some great girlfriends and have spent the past two years and many hours playing a new sport (flat-track roller derby) in an all-women league. We’ve never been happier with each other. Our kids like us better too. 🙂

    MAS, thank you for posting the John Gray material with your thoughts. It was affirming to see our situation described, both the good and bad.

  16. Romance is like HIT: it is short, intense, and needs a long recovery period!

    Romance is good to get the pair-bonding started, but then has to give way to a more steady and settled relationship.

  17. @All – I’m thankful to get all this feedback from successfully married people. I’m still single, so this post was theory to me. Glad it has some validity in the real world.

  18. I think Becky beat me to some of what I was going to say, but I’ll post anyway because you said you appreciated posts from the happily married. Specifically, I find Gray’s work to reductionist based on gender. My husband and I read his books early in our relationship and they helped us only marginally. The 5 Love Languages and I Promise You: Preparing for a Marriage That Will Last a Lifetime are the two best books I’ve read on relationships and have helped my relationship with my husband.

    I do think your suggestion would work well for an introvert in a relationship with an extrovert and I have taken a similar approach to life. My husband is introverted and needs time alone at the end of a stressful week and I am an extrovert who needs time with other people. So, I go do things with other people and he gets time alone for his hobbies. I wouldn’t rule out competitive hobbies for women if they bring happiness, though. Martial arts is competitive viewed externally, but it is an important group bonding experience for me.

    Also, even if stress makes it more difficult, sex can be good for both genders.

    Finally, you have to be wary of separating your time to recover too much, or you may lose the strength of your connection.

    Caveat, I’ve only been married a little over a year, no kids. So while I’m happy and have been with my husband approaching a decade I haven’t been married long.

  19. Thanks, Kate, you may have said it much better than I, although our situations are different. Let me see if I can make my view clearer. I believe that you have to really like the person you are in a relationship with, and then you make the decision about whether you like them well enough to accept their eccentricities. Chris Rock (yes, Chris Rock!) said it best when he said you have to get past the other person’s “representative” to see if you like/love them enough to commit to some sort of relationship. All of us send our “representatives” out into the world, and romantic love is between representatives. If you have a great long term relationship with someone, you have allowed one another to see past the representatives and decided that the joy of the relationship is worth the tolerance it requires. I don’t think this has much to do with gender. Perhaps that cannot happen until you decide you actually like yourself well enough to allow someone else to see who you are. It’s a journey!

  20. One encouraging thing to note – in my experience of the friends of my wife and of some of my psychotherapy patients – women in their 40s and 50s are better able to maintain their network of supportive female relationship *while* still being in a close relationship with a man than women in their 20s and 30s. A generalization, sure. Let’s see what other people say…

  21. @Glenn – Well the math works both ways. You married guys have taken most of the stable candidates off the market. And because your relationships work, those women don’t become available, However, the ones with issues return to the market more frequently. I think I’ll quit now before I go off a do a yard sale analogy. 🙂

  22. I think this book was recently recommended by Amy Alkon of Advice Goddess: its the best book on relationships that I have read to date. It highlights the implicit expectations we bring to relationships that we may not even be aware of and how fairness is what it is all about. If you haven’t read it I highly recommend:


  23. @Pauline – Thanks for the tip. It looks like Chapter 8 might address Chuck’s question in the 2nd comment on this post.

  24. @matthew – Sorry your comment got flagged as SPAM. I was able to recover it. Do you have Javascript turned off?

  25. A really astute observation that has opened my eyes regarding my current relationship challenge. Thank you!!

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