As we all know by now, the key to living happily ever after in the world according to John Gray is in accepting what he believes are the inherent differences between men and women. Once these differences are embraced, strategies can be developed that will enable men and women to understand one another better and help them along the road to everlasting happiness. Arguments can be one major roadblock on the old happiness highway. But never fear! “Dr.” Gray has the solution to avoid them.
“The best way to stop an argument is to nip it in the bud,” writes the good doctor. “Take responsibility for recognizing when a disagreement is turning into an argument. Stop talking and take a time-out.” (153) Sounds like good enough advice to me. However, in order for “responsibility” to be defined we have to delve a little deeper into this chapter. Remember: in Gray’s world, gender is everything.
According to Gray, men have two approaches to avoiding hurt—both are pro-active. First, they fight. “This stance definitely comes from Mars . . . [Men] immediately move into an offensive stance . . . They strike out [and] start yelling . . . their inner motive is to intimidate.” (154) Mars is the god of war after all, right? The second approach is flight. Also coming from Mars, Gray says that this proactive avoidance is an attempt “to avoid confrontation, Martians may retire into their caves and never come out.” (154) This is apparently because men walk on eggshells. “It is so ingrained in men,” writes the “doctor,” that they don’t even realize how much they do it.” (I guess that explains why this book spends so much time on instructing women how to walk on them.)
Hmm . . .
Now what about women? Goddesses of love have two very different approaches—both are passive reactions to a perceived problem. First, women fake. In this mode a woman pretends that there is no problem. “They try to make everything ‘all right, OK, and fine.’” Slotting nicely into Gray’s gender-defined world we are told that “Unlike men, when a woman uses these phrases it may be a sign that she is trying to avoid a conflict or an argument.” (155) Secondly, women fold. “This person gives in. They will take the blame and assume responsibility for whatever is upsetting her partner.” (155) Remember that quote
Well, that may explain what men and women do to avoid arguments, but why do men and women argue? Gender differences, silly!
Gray says that men argue because they are “deprived of the love [they need].” When he is deprived of this love “he becomes defensive and his dark side begins to emerge; instinctively he draws his sword.” (157) Apparently, this applies to all aspects of a man’s life. Gray argues that while a man may seem to be arguing over things like money, work, and other facets of modern day living, “the real reason he has drawn his sword is he doesn’t feel loved.” (157) The “doctor” provides his readers with effective phallic imagery—not to mention a pretty unflattering picture of men—and predictably places men in a position of power. Only the man can determine when he feels loved. Until he decides that he is loved, the woman at the tip of that sword of his anger is damned if she does and damned if she doesn’t.
Indeed, Gray maintains that men argue as a result of not being admired, not feeling encouraged, appreciated or trusted, and not feeling acceptance or approval. (157-158) A woman, on the other hand, argues for other reasons: she doesn’t feel validated and cherished, she hasn’t been respected or reassured, she doesn’t feel as if her partner cares about her, or she feels misunderstood. (159-160)
It all boils down to the same paradigm we’ve seen for the last eight nauseating chapters: Men receive admiration, trust, encouragement, etc. for doing. (And they appear to need admiration, trust and encouragement 24 hours a day in order to function. What are they? Infants?) Women need to have their emotional heads patted and looked after by their male partners. Once again, women are passive reactors. Now did it ever occur to the good “doctor” that people argue because they have two opposing viewpoints? For example, your house needs and new roof and new windows. He wants to have a new roof put on the house first, she wants to replace the windows. How does feeling “unloved” enter into this argument? How does feeling “cherished” apply?
Gray supplies us with the anatomy of an argument so he can make his points. Naturally we all know that misunderstandings happen all of the time, and to that end the good doctor has provided us with his celestial translation guide. The problem, however, is not that misunderstandings between partners happen often enough, it is the guide itself and the position that women must assume if they follow it.
For example, Gray notes that apologizing for misunderstanding is very difficult—if not impossible—for a man. We’re told that on Mars (!) “it means you have done something wrong and you are apologizing.” (162) If this is impossible, does it mean that men never do anything wrong? Well, let me return to that point later . . .
When women say “I’m sorry” it apparently doesn’t mean that they are apologizing for doing something wrong, it’s just a way that women express how they care about others. (I guess when men say this at a funeral it means they did something wrong. I’m confused.) As a matter of fact, women love the words “I’m sorry” so much that Gray advises men to use this little phrase to their advantage. “The easiest way to derail an argument,” writes “Dr” Gray, ” is to say ‘I’m sorry’.” (163) Indeed, Gray gives us a rare peek into his personal research archive to prove that this little trick works:
“Sometimes . . . apologizing is very difficult. At those times I take a deep breath and say nothing. Inside I try to imagine how she feels and discover the reasons from her point of view. Then I say, “I’m sorry you feel upset.” Although this is not an apology it does say ‘I care’ and that seems to help a lot.” (162)
Ooooh! What a remarkable way to skirt around taking responsibility! Just re-word the “apology” a little so that technically you’re not really apologizing for anything that you may have said or done, but it sounds like you are! Wow! Kill two birds with one stone: she thinks you’re truly sorry and you’re validating her! That’s genius! Who knew our little rich kid-computer guy-TM monk-facilitator-rocket scientist was a lawyer too! Well, I’ll be!
Yeah, and who knew women were so dumb! Okay, let’s reflect for a moment. So “Dr.” Gray is telling us that in order to avoid a full scale blow out when he’s done something wrong that has upset his wife, he doesn’t apologize for his actions, but instead twists things around a little bit to lay the responsibility on his wife’s shoulders! A little doubletalk and maybe a hug could fool any woman. (In fact, I’ll just go ahead and admit it: if “Dr.” Gray gave me a hug and said he was sorry that I felt the way that I do about his snake oil show, I’d pull The Rebuttal off the web faster than a New York minute!) In the end the woman is supposed to think that whatever he has done is fine, what’s wrong is her interpretation of it. Very existentialist! Charlie Manson should’ve used this script at his trial. “Hey, murder isn’t wrong. It’s all in how you interpret it, man.”
Now what was it that Gray said earlier in this chapter? Oh yes, to avoid an argument women “fold.” “This person gives in. They will take the blame and assume responsibility for whatever is upsetting her partner.” (155) Now, didn’t Gray just manipulate reality so that she would take the blame?
Furthermore, absolutely nothing has been solved. Instead the argument has been “derailed.” This is an interesting choice of words. Having effectively “derailed” the argument both parties remain at odds. This is not communicating! It is avoiding communication as if it were the plague. And what do you do when both sides are presenting facts? Do you hire a mediator? A union representative? Do husband and wife enter binding arbitration until he concedes that, indeed, he’s finally feeling loved and she feels cherished and heard? Heard? He hasn’t heard a damned thing–he’s “derailed” the argument by lying to her and saying “I’m sorry”.
Oh, honey! Do I have a headache!
According to our mail-order graduate, men usually start arguments because they “unknowingly invalidate” their partner’s feelings. (164. Enhancements mine) Gray tells us that men have an instinctual need to offer solutions to a woman’s concerns. Indeed, “every cell in a man’s body instinctively reacts with a list of explanations and justifications designed to explain away her upset feelings.” (Wouldn’t you like to see the paper trail on that research?) However, a woman “cannot appreciate his solution until he validates her need to be upset.” (164)
Oh, boy! Men have a lot of power. I stand in awe of it every stinking time I read this poor excuse of a book. Women need a man to tell them that their concerns are valid? After all, that’s what validate means. So when talking with a man, I need him to tell me (or infer to me) that what I’m saying to him is valid (Hey, let’s use Najarian’s thesaurus. Logical, well-founded, satisfactory, convincing, cogent, et. al.). Well, how about “acknowledgement”? (Let’s use it again! Agree, concede, thank, appreciate, recognize, et. al.) This is a good word. It shows that while you may not understand someone’s thoughts, you are acknowledging the fact that you’re listening to the person and making an honest effort to understand their point of view.
But Gray can’t use the word “acknowledge” because that would put men and women on an equal playing field. A playing field where equally powerful human beings are making a mature and honest effort to understand the other’s point of view without the need to validate or be validated. But, you see, that’s not gender-specific. That approach doesn’t fit into the paradigm that Gray has heretofore established for women: passive, powerless, and rambling shrieking harpies who need the approval of a man before having a successful relationship.
And while we’re told that men have this way of unknowingly starting arguments, women have a little different approach. Once again, this is a time when Gray gives women power, but it’s wholly negative.
“Instead of directly expressing her dislike or disappointment, a woman asks rhetorical questions and unknowingly (or knowingly) communicates a message of disapproval.” (164. Enhancements mine.) Hmm . . .
“When a women is upset the tone of her voice often reveals that she is not looking for a valid answer but is making the point that there is no acceptable reason.” (165) What power we have as women! Just by the very tones of our voices we can send men spinning through the house like dust devils! “One of the ways women unknowingly communicate disapproval is in their eyes and tone of voice. The words she chooses may be loving, but her look or the tone of her voice can wound a man.” (167) (Wow! Come home too late, Herbie, and you might be pecking the cheek of Morgan le Fay!)
Now, you must understand. Gray says that men unknowingly start arguments by not validating their partner’s feelings. But women, while they may start arguments unknowingly, also start them knowingly just by their look or through the tone of their voice. As Gray says, “Women commonly interrogate a man about his behavior with a disapproving tone.” (166) But this shrieking tone of disapproval can be completely avoided if we remember our role as women. You see, ladies, you have to be supportive and accepting of your man at all times. And it doesn’t matter what he is doing. As the questionably credentialed doctor writes:
“To approve of a man is to see the good reasons behind what he does. Even when he is irresponsible or lazy or disrespectful, if she loves him, a woman can find and recognize the goodness within him. To approve is to find the loving intention or the goodness behind the outside behavior . . . To treat a man as if he has no good reason for what he does is to withhold the approval she so freely gave in the beginning of the relationship.” (166)
So even if he’s being a jerk, don’t become angry. Don’t judge him. He’s got a good reason for acting that way. Trust that he would help you if he could. Maybe he’s having an affair to give you a rest because you need your sleep at night. Maybe he’s not contributing to the maintenance of the household because he’s unsure of proper dusting technique and feels a bit inferior asking you about it. Maybe he’s reading this book because he’s tried to jump-start his IQ, but he just can’t! Trust, my friends. Trust that he would if he could.
Doesn’t it strike you as offensive that Gray never mentions once in this book that men must always see the good in what women do? Hmm, if she’s not accepting, admiring, or trusting him does Gray ever say that men should recognize the goodness within their female partners? Does he ever tell men to be patient and wait because women can’t give what they don’t have? Does he ever tell men to trust that she would if she could?
And doesn’t it offend you that men are portrayed paradoxically as keystones of knowledge, power, and direction as well as your plain old spineless dolts? It doesn’t make sense. A woman looks at a man with one look of disapproval and they slink off into the sunset feeling all “unloved.” If a woman pursues they’re told to spin on their heels before retiring to their cave, holler “I’m sorry” and off they go! So the argument is derailed and nothing–absolutely nothing–has been solved!
And people still write to me and proclaim John Gray a “genius.” It’s a wonder anyone can sleep at night!
To further aid men and women in fulfilling the roles that Gray has deemed appropriate he has provided another translation table wonderfully titled “The anatomy of an Argument.” (Does it surprise me that in all six scenarios it is the woman who is angry and ready to drag her poor defenseless husband into the Coliseum? No.). The ultimate use for this particular table is to enable women to become less disapproving and have men be more validating. Here are a few predictable snippets:
How she can be less disapproving: “I know you need to pull away at times but it still hurts when you pull away. I’m not saying you are wrong but it’s important to me for you to understand what I go through.” [Woman moves down stage left, falls on sofa exhausted from all the energy it takes placating the stupid moron.]
How he can be more validating: “’I understand it hurts when I pull away. It must be very painful for you when I pull away. Let’s talk about it.’ (When she feels heard then it is easier for her to accept his need to pull away at times.)” (179) [Man finishes pouring beer with one hand, moves up stage right, finds remote, turns on TV, starts watching the game.]
And remember, friends, the need to cave is instinctual. He can’t do anything about that, but he can talk about it. But because men are following an instinct when they cave you cannot expect–nor should you expect–that they will do anything but talk about it. Gray has never told men to try and be open with their problem solving in this book. In fact, in this particular chapter he’s telling men to walk away and avoid conflict all together! This “discussion” is just another trademark of Gray’s: patronize them, validate them, pat them on the head–and just do whatever the hell it was you were going to do in the first place. Oh, and say “I’m sorry.”
How she can be less disapproving: “It’s OK that we are rushing and I don’t like it. It feels like we’re always rushing” or “I love it when we are not in a hurry and I hate it when sometimes we have to rush, I just don’t like it. Would you plan our next trip with fifteen minutes of extra time?” [Again men in a position of power. He is not only setting the tone of the trip, he has even planned it!]
How he can be more validating: “’I don’t like it either. I wish we could just slow down. It feels so crazy.’ In this example he has related to her feelings. Even if a part of him likes to rush, he can best support her in her moment of frustration by expressing how some part of himself sincerely relates to her frustration.” (173)
Here we go again with Gray’s favorite endorsement to placate the woman with no interest or intent to modify behavior that may be causing his partner some degree of distress! Why not use those magic words: “I’m sorry”? “Gee, honey, I’m sorry you don’t like to rush.” I mean, technically he’s not really apologizing for doing anything wrong and he has no intention of not rushing, but I’ll bet it makes her feel better and shuts her up already!
Seriously, though, consider this carefully! “I wish we could just slow down.” Well, it’s within his power to slow down, but he doesn’t seem willing to modify his behavior. Indeed, Gray has just told men that they shouldn’t modify their behavior. Once again it is the woman who accommodates! Gray has merely advised this man to “support her in her moment of frustration.” Read: pay her some lip service and then go about your activities as originally planned.
Okay, so the message we take away from this chapter is “the best way to stop an argument is to nip it in the bud.” (153) Both men and women start arguments unknowingly, but only women are identified as the party who is able to start arguments knowingly. Men are told to to say “I’m sorry” in order to derail an argument. This will fool the woman into believing that you care about what she has to say. And now that she has been heard and validated, she’ll go away. And, realistically, since arguments can be debates, nothing ever gets solved. In the end we’ve swept everything under the rug and not solved a thing.
This particular approach has real potential. Yes, the potential for a small scratch turning into a gaping head wound that the good “doctor” has told us will heal with his band-aid therapy! Gray hasn’t told men and women how to communicate in this chapter and he’s said as much: “How to AVOID Arguments.” He’s told men how to maneuver out of taking responsibility and he’s given yet another lesson in accommodation for women.
How? Let’s apply his technique to a real-life scenario: how should we invest our money? Should we go for a traditional IRA or a ROTH IRA? Two excellent plans! How do we decide? She wants the ROTH and begins to put forth her argument, he disagrees and retreats. She has to tell him she loves him and then he says he’s sorry. Well, that’s been solved! NOT! So, what plan do we invest in?
She appreciates and trusts him, he feels big and strong, and now he can say he’s sorry. But why is he sorry? For liking a different IRA? And her feelings have been validated even though she hasn’t had a chance to talk about the advantages of the ROTH IRA and then they, what, go watch TV? Yeah, I guess that’s all these rocket scientists can do now since they’ve effectively nipped this argument in the bud!
If Gray thinks arguments should be derailed, then his reaction to all confrontation, no matter what it is, is passive. And what an amazing revelation that is! You know, I have seen nothing but a fear of women throughout this self-help nightmare and it has been beautifully presented in this chapter. Women paralyze men through their look, the tone of their voice, asking rhetorical questions, probing, and being otherwise disapproving. What fear is this? Are we talking about adult behavior, “Dr.” Gray?
This book isn’t a “guide for improving communication and getting what you want in your relationships.” It is a juvenile attempt to avoid all conflict. It solves nothing.
28 July 1998