Creating Healthier relationships
An interview with Dr. John Gray
By Randy Peyser
Known for his acute understanding of the dynamics between men and women as they navigate the sometimes raging rapids of relationship, Dr. John Gray, is the esteemed author of 15 best-selling books, including “Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus,” “What You Feel You Can Heal,” and his latest, “The Mars and Venus Diet & Exercise Solution.”
Dr. Gray has appeared on Oprah, The Today Show, Good Morning America, The View, and many other TV Shows, and has been profiled in Newsweek, Time, USA Today, TV Guide, and People, among others. A recipient of the Smart Marriages Impact Award, he is a certified family therapist, and the premier Better Life relationship coach on AOL.
In this interview, Dr. Gray provides his advice concerning many of
the problems we often face in a relationship at one point or
Handling the Green-Eyed Monster
Randy: Can you address the topic of jealousy? How can someone break through this kind of behavior that can be so detrimental to his or her relationship?
John: The problem with jealousy is that people generally don’t own it as their own problem. Sometimes their partner is doing something for which one could appropriately be jealous. For example, if you are in a committed relationship and your partner is spending all his time with somebody else, the feeling of jealousy is appropriate. However, if he is simply making a few calls here and there and you are feeling jealous, then the feeling is not appropriate.
What you have to do in terms of communicating a feeling to your partner is to recognize if your feeling is appropriate. Is it important to bring this message of feeling jealous to him? Or is it better to simply talk about the situation from the perspective of, ‘I miss you. I’d like to spend more time with you. Let’s spend some special time this weekend, just the two of us.’
Rather than focusing on the feeling of jealousy and expressing this
feeling to your partner, look at the situation from the point of
view that there is a problem, and ask him to help you solve that
problem. If you start out by accusing a partner, you will alienate
them. Instead, invite them to be part of the solution, and then work
together to solve the problem, rather than think you have to solve
it all by yourself.
Attracting a New Kind of Partner
Randy: A lot of people attract the same partner over and over again, whether it be an abusive person, a betrayer, etc. Do you have a way that you would suggest to break these long-standing patterns when it comes to attracting a certain kind of person you don’t want to attract any more?
John: I do. I’ve worked a lot with people who have had the same type of partner or situation again and again. You know the old saying, “When one door closes, a new door opens.” If the old door doesn’t fully close, then it is the same door that opens again and again, as opposed to a new door opening. Closing a door means to find forgiveness.
When we are in a negative pattern, we feel like a victim, and we don’t acknowledge that we contributed to the problem by staying in that relationship. When you truly are a victim in a relationship, there truly is a villain. The only way you contributed to that situation is by allowing that person to continue to victimize you. Most victims, if they explore it, will see that there were many signals along the way, and they didn’t listen to them or act on them.
Often a person in a victim pattern doesn’t feel comfortable saying “no” and leaving a relationship. They are afraid of hurting someone, or don’t feel worthy of better treatment, or are taking too much responsibility for everything. They are afraid to leave that relationship until it just gets really bad.
Their lesson regarding this repeating pattern is to fully resolve the upset they felt in the relationship they left. That means that they need to get in touch with their feelings and feel their anger, hurt, disappointment or guilt. They need to explore the fear they feel in the relationship and their fear of moving out of that relationship. They have to learn how to let that person go and find forgiveness.
When they explore all those feelings, they will be able to find a sense of understanding, and appreciation for what was there. That is the essence of forgiveness — letting go and moving on, recognizing that the two of you just didn’t fit well together. It wasn’t that you were just a victim, but you allowed yourself to continue in that situation. Staying in this kind of situation will always bring out the worst in someone who is victimizing you. This is the only level of accountability we can find in this kind of situation, but we need to find it.
In a healthier relationship, where there is no victim and villain, the solution always comes when you ask the question, “How am I contributing to this and what can I do?” Then you talk with your partner about how you can work together. The same kinds of problems will emerge in a healthy relationship as in a dysfunctional relationship. The difference is that in a healthy relationship, you are able to talk things through and find a resolution together.
In relationships where you cannot talk it through or find
resolution, you are like a square peg in a round hole. You cannot
make it work. Staying in such a relationship and expecting your
partner to make it work will actually pull out the worst in them
because you are just too different, or the partner is unavailable or
unready for a relationship, and trying to get more from them is an
unloving and unsupportive act because you are trying to change that
person. In trying to change someone you will always bring out the
worst in them.
Signs to Look Out For
Randy: How can a single person discern whether or not someone would make a good partner?
John: It depends on their age. When you are young, you are exploring, and you learn as you go through the minefields of life. As you get older, you learn how to recognize and clearly interpret the signs of a healthy individual.
Here is one sign that always means walk out the door and leave: If someone hits you, that is a sign they are not ready for an intimate relationship. If violence is part of a relationship, they don’t have any sense of maturity. You need to spare them from becoming more violent by leaving — and spare yourself from being a victim.
Some signs and signals you need to be very clear about and walk away from, while others you just need to correctly interpret, since the behaviors that lead to a dysfunctional relationship can be the same behaviors that could lead to a healthy relationship. That is where we don’t clearly interpret the signs.
For example, a partner might pull away and withdraw, which is a normal thing that occurs in a relationship. You just need to give them some room to do it, a little patience, and support them when they open up again. If somebody is violent in a relationship, however, often before they become violent, they shut down.
If you were with a violent person in the past, in a future relationship when someone shuts down, you might mistakenly assume they are going to be violent, nd become afraid or upset. But they are not about to become violent; they are just shutting down.
Here are some more signs to be aware of: Being attracted to a partner who is not available. It is a very common thing for people to fall in love with someone who is not available, who is already taken, or who does not have the maturity to be available in a relationship.
Why is it that we want something we can’t have? Why is it that the things we can have we don’t want? That is part of the human neurosis — the more we can’t have it, the more we want it, How about passionately desiring what we can have? How about wanting and needing that? We seem to dismiss what we can have and seek after the things we can’t have. This is a symptom of unresolved issues within ourselves.
We really don’t know how to be happy. Before you can find a partner, you have to learn how to be happy without a partner. That’s a cliché, but it really is true. It is not as easy as that, but that is at least the direction you want to go in, which is to acknowledge that the things you seem to want are the things that are not good for you, or available to you.
In the “Mars Venus Diet and Exercise Solution,” I point out that if you want to know what foods are good for you, look at what foods you want to eat when you are feeling really good. When you are feeling stressed, unhappy or tired, what are the foods you eat at that time? Those are the foods that are not good for you. When your brain is clear and feeling good, you tend to desire things that are good for you. When your brain is not feeling clear and good, you tend to desire foods that are not good for you.
In the same vein, when we are not feeling really good about ourselves, and our self-esteem isn’t good (even though we may think it is), look at the results in your life. If you keep wanting things that are not good for you, that is a sign that you are not coming from a place of really loving yourself.
So what does it mean to love your self? I have written a book called, “What You Feel You Can Heal” in which I explain how we can learn to feel good about and love ourselves more, increase our self-esteem, and not feel like we are dependent on someone else to feel good about ourselves. Often, people who have this problem in relationships get married young, and they don’t really give themselves the chance to explore who they are and what makes them happy, or does not make them happy.
They don’t really know what they like or don’t like, what they want or don’t want, or how to react to things. They also don’t yet have a sense of knowing their true self, which is to be a loving human being who has particular needs, who deserves to have those needs met, and who understands that other people have the same rights as well.
Women are more vulnerable in this regard than men because they have the nurturing gene. Women tend to easily lose themselves at a time in life when they are learning who they are. They will easily lose themselves by trying to nurture somebody else too much, while not nurturing themselves.
I look at the 20’s as being a time when individuals need to be much more selfish so they can prepare for their 30’s, which is a time when people can begin to grow into unconditional love. The 20’s needs to be a time when we learn to love ourselves. It is not that people in their 20’s can’t be in relationships, it is just that they need to make sure they are not sacrificing anything during that time.
I am a big believer in sacrifice in a meaningful way as you get older. But you can’t make a sacrifice without giving up your self unless you know who you are. It takes a while to become anchored into who you are so you can give to someone unconditionally without feeling like you are giving up your self.
So many times, I will counsel women who say, “I have given up who I am. I don’t know who I am. I have been giving, and giving, and giving, but what about me?” They would not be doing this if they had a strong sense of “me” to start with. It takes time to grow during life in the 20’s.
Coming back to that question about patterns, if you know who you are and you tend to love who you are, you will tend to be naturally drawn to the people who are available to you.
Here is a practical tip: Quite often when we meet someone we might feel a very strong sexual connection with them and then find out they are not available. If that is your pattern, then the next time you feel a strong sexual connection with someone, realize this is your body’s way of telling you this person is probably not available to you.
The people who are available to you are probably the people to whom
you feel no sexual connection. Give them a chance in relationships.
As you start working through your personal issues, you might find
your sexual attraction starts to become more automatically connected
to people who are available.
Ending the Drought Rekindling Passion
Randy: One of the things I am hearing a lot from couples who have been together for a long period of time is that they have become best friends, but they have stopped being intimate. Usually, one or both partners want more passion, but it is just not happening. Do you have any recommendations?
John: Yes. Often, we lose touch with who we are while making those daily compromises that create harmony in a relationship. In the name of love and being harmonious friends, we chip away at what we would really like, at who we really are, and how we feel. We don’t even realize we are doing it, but as we chip away at pieces of ourselves to get along with somebody, the passion starts to diminish. That is why we are no longer lovers, but just good friends. To bring back passion, often you have to look at those places where you have given up a little too much in order to please your partner.
You can bring the passion back. There are writing exercises in the back of “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus” and in “What You Can Feel You Can Heal” where you can journal the kind of feelings that come up which you don’t want to share with your partner because you think it might bother him or her. At least you get to explore those feelings and what is underneath them yourself.
Often individuals who do these exercises will find they fear
expressing who they are, asking for what they really want, or doing
what they would like to do. Once an individual can begin to feel
more authentic, the passion comes back. It is about reconnecting to
who you are.
Want more of John Gray? You can watch Dr. Gray’s two new Internet TV Shows, “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus” and “The Mars Venus Wellness Solution” at www.marsvenus.com. These shows air live on Tuesdays, but can be downloaded any time.
Randy Peyser is the author of the upcoming book, “The Power of Miracle Thinking” available at www.authoronestop.com She also helps authors find agents and publishers, and edits books. Visit: www.miraclethinking.com.
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