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Looking to God for relationship advice Add to ...

John Gray credits one relationship for his success as the author who explained that men are from Mars and women are from Venus, and now, in a new book, Why Mars & Venus Collide.

God.

When he writes, he prays. "I say, 'Use me to answer the questions that people have about their relationships.'

"I have a very strong relationship with God," he confides on the phone from Dallas, where he has stopped on a large cross-country book tour. "But I don't use the word God much because people have so many ideas of who He is. I pray to a higher power, something greater than me."

In 1992, the publication of Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus generated sales of more than 50 million copies in 45 different languages.

God granted him a bestseller, as prayed for. Mr. Gray has written what he calls "spinoff books" such as Mars and Venus on a Date, Mars and Venus in the Bedroom and Mars and Venus Starting Over, among others, but he has never written a sequel to the book that made him an "international gender expert" and created a brand that now includes online dating, relationship counselling, and courses on how to become a counsellor yourself.

His new book aims to help couples deal with the romance-killer known as stress.

"We are under stress more than ever before, and one of the major sources of stress are changing gender roles, particularly with more women in the work force," he says. He believes conflicts arise because men and women cope with stress differently.

Mr. Gray has a simple explanation, and it's all in the hormones. Testosterone, the male hormone, is stimulated in work environments, he says. Both sexes may enjoy the flood of testosterone produced by the demands of deadlines and other work pressures, but for men, it acts in their bodies to reduce the stress hormone, cortisol, and gives them more energy, while in women, it doesn't. The hormone women require to lower the presence of cortisol is oxytocin.

A woman may thrive in the workplace but she needs to go elsewhere to get her fix of stress-reducing oxytocin, he explains. She needs to go get her hair done, have a manicure, hug a baby or grow some vegetables in a garden, among other choices.

Her partner can help. "The following list of suggestions will give men some ideas of how they can promote oxytocin production in their partners," he writes. "If he does one or two of these things, he'll see a change in his partner right away." The actions include "notice her new blouse," "hug her when you get up" and "take her apple or berry picking."

When it's pointed out that the advice sounds patronizing to women, Mr. Gray is quick to respond. "Being out in the work world has a more stressful effect on women than on men, but I am not in any way encouraging women not to do that. I present the perfect argument for people to say women should stay at home, but what I'm saying is, 'Hey, we're not going in a positive direction unless we do something to help women cope more effectively with stress, not by changing their roles, but instead by recognizing the solution to the new important step of growth that our society is taking.' "

A reader might also think that his new book is simply suggestions for how a man can do romantic things a woman enjoys. Which is exactly what he did in the first Mars-Venus book.

Mr. Gray, who has been on Oprah 16 times, acknowledges that much of the book's content is similar to his first bestseller, only with the scientific overlay of recent research into hormone function and brain scans on how men and women differ. "This book could have been called, Why Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus," he affirms.

His recycling of similar information but with scientific backup may be because he has something to prove. His runaway bestseller 16 years ago caused several critics to ridicule his credentials.

"I don't know if vindicated is the right word," he explains. "But I feel very happy about it. Everybody was always saying, 'Where's the research? Where's the research?' And now I can point to the research. It's not that I feel like I have to be vindicated," he continues in his rapid-fire manner of speaking. " Men are from Mars is the biggest selling book in its category. So, it's not like I'm going, gee, I wrote a book and nobody appreciated it."

The fifth of seven children born to a Texan oilman and a stay-at-home mother, Mr. Gray got a couple of degrees from the Maharishi International University in Iowa, followed by a doctorate in psychology from an unaccredited school, Columbia Pacific University. He dabbled in recreational drugs as a teenager, and after high school, followed the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the Indian guru who ministered briefly to the Beatles. For nine years, he was a celibate monk, working as the Maharishi's assistant. "It was a happening kind of thing," he says of that period. "I learned to meditate and it all resonated with me. I was tremendously happy doing it."

His investigation into gender differences was a result of a failed marriage, he admits. At 31 - he is now 56 - he married Barbara De Angelis, now a successful author herself, who writes about relationships. The two were business partners, running seminars and workshops for couples. "I was devastated," Mr. Gray says of the breakup. "She was the person I loved. Also, my career at the time was therapy. I didn't feel I could stand up and talk about relationships when mine had failed."

When they split, he agreed to give her all the research material they had gathered in their seminars as well as control of the centre they had established in Los Angeles. "I gave her the whole brand we had," he says, adding that he even agreed that she could publish the book they worked on together, How To Make Love All the Time, without listing him as a co-author.

"I told her that I wouldn't compete with her. I had to develop a whole new seminar, which eventually led to my Men are from Mars idea." Mr. Gray remarried shortly after his divorce. He and his current wife, Bonnie, have been together for almost 24 years. They have three daughters.

"I think I am an investigator," he says. "And the failure of that first marriage did cause me to question the foundation in my relationship. In my rethinking of what happened, I began exploring the possibility that some of the tension between men and women is that we're not understanding that men and women are different."

To help him communicate that idea, the higher power gave him one crucial suggestion.

"I am well versed in Gestalt theories and all the different varieties of rational and emotive therapies. But what I have found is that complicated ideas and complicated theories don't stick in people's heads when they need them in their relationship. I have a simple nuts-and-bolts approach."

shampson@globeandmail.com

 

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