John and Bonnie Gray, Just Doin’ Their Jobs

I want to poke just a little today at the way John and Bonnie Gray illustrate what communication between a husband and a wife ought to look like.  John Gray is the founder of the now vast Mars/Venus industries: books, seminars, websites, and so on.  Bonnie is John’s wife and in his books, she needs to act in ways that allow him to model how husbands should respond when their wives seem petulant and unreasonable.  So whatever Bonnie Gray is actually like, in the books, she needs to seem petulant and unreasonable.  It’s a nasty job, but somebody’s got to do it.  Here they are in much earlier days, before all the ducking and dodging and pausing and preparing.

Just a note here to clarify my position on the Mars & Venus books.  I disagree with nearly everything in them, with one exception.  It’s a very important exception.  When I do what John Gray says to do, everything works out really well.  I think his characterizations of male and female roles are stereotyped and rigid.  I think his historical grounding for those roles is preposterous.  Early man had to learn to “duck and dodge” his enemies in battle, for instance, so it should come naturally for a husband to “duck and dodge” his wife’s unreasonable tongue-lashing.  Oh, please!

On the other hand, it is not a small service he provides if, as has been my experience, doing what he says to do makes everything better.  And even if I value him only for that, I value him very greatly.

In this post, I want to look at what John Gray is supposed to do—what his job is—and at what Bonnie Gray is supposed to do.  If John does what he is supposed to do, nearly anything Bonnie does will work out.  If Bonnie does what she is supposed to do, it will make it much easier for John to respond to her.  In that sense, there is symmetry to their roles.  But only in that sense.

It can’t be all that much fun to be Bonnie Gray, the wife of John Gray, the founding genius of the Mars/Venus industry. John Gray uses his interactions with Bonnie mostly to provide instructions to men about how to deal with wives who seem petulant and unreasonable.  For that reason, Bonnie Gray, as she appears in the Mars/Venus books, comes off as petulant and unreasonable.

Here is a little clip from Mars and Venus Together Forever: Relationship Skills for Lasting Love.[1]  This was written to illustrate how John did what needed to be done—and so should we all, guys—and so resolved the crisis.  John tells her he was going to buy a new computer.  I’m adding his comments here, although they tend to excuse his choices, because he is trying to illustrate what “doing it right” looks like and he is being the example for us all.

Bonnie:           Why do you need to buy a new computer (she demanded)?  You already have one.

John:               Well, for lots of reasons. (He says he didn’t like being questioned, but by saying as little as this, he was able to prevent clashing with her)

Bonnie:           What’s wrong with the computer you already have? (She persisted).

John:               You seem upset.  (He “observes” this, after a pause.)

Bonnie:           Have you researched the market?  How much is this computer going to cost?  (She persisted, not answering my question.)

The next four exchanges are presented as a block.  He says he is ducking and dodging, continuing to hold back and not retaliate, but he is aware that he can take only so much more.  I will just present Bonnie’s four responses because she is the one who gets my sympathy today.

One.  Well I AM upset.  Whenever you want something, you just go out and get it.  I don’t know why you have to get another computer.  Yours works fine.  If we are going to spend money, there are other things we could spend it on.

Two.  It’s not like I have all this thought out (He asked what she thought they should spend the money on).  It’s just a feeling.  I feel like you get what you want and I get seconds.  Maybe I am mad that you want so much more than me.  When I want something, it doesn’t seem so important.

Three.  I don’t know.  (He asked her what she wanted to buy.)  But it feels like everything we do is for you and not me.  We always do what you want to do and you always get your way.  I’m afraid I will not get what I want.

Four.  We have been waiting six months to redo our floor.  Our couch needs to be recovered.  I still need a kitchen cupboard.  There are so many things we need to spend money on in the house and you are buying a computer.  It just feels like you don’t care about me.  You are going to buy what you want and that’s it.  What I have to say doesn’t matter at all.”

Here is the resolution of the computer argument above.

John:               I really want to understand your feelings and it really is hard for me.  It’s starting to sound like you’re saying I’m this selfish person.  Don’t I do anything nice?

Bonnie:           Of course you do.  I don’t mean to upset you.  I just have a lot of feelings coming up.  I really appreciate you trying to listen.  Just the fact that I could talk about my feelings without you getting upset with me makes me feel so loved.

So that’s how this round ends with a woman like Bonnie.  The problem is that she has feelings that prevent her from having a fact-based conversation about the computer and other household needs.  The solution is that John ducks and dodges long enough (he was getting close to the edge there at the end) that Bonnie gets the feelings out; she appreciates his listening to her; the emotional relationship is restored; and, eventually, the household purchases will be decided upon.

Now let’s look at what Bonnie Gray’s responsibilities are.  Since John’s responsibility is to “duck and dodge,” you will not be surprised to learn that Bonnie’s are to “pause and prepare.”  Women come naturally to this role because while the caveman husband was off fighting enemies—that’s where the ducking and dodging came from, remember—the cavewoman is home preparing.  Gray runs through things women prepare for: meals, children, their appearance, relationship, and so on

Women need to pause when they feel themselves cranking up the grievance machine.  So Bonnie need not respond by saying “You’re not listening” or “You just don’t understand.”  She can say, “Let me try saying that in a different way.”  That is pausing.  It gives John a chance to remember that he’s supposed to be listening to her feelings, not solving her problems.

“Preparing” comes next.  Bonnie says, “I have a lot of feelings coming up, and I would like to talk about them.  I just want you to know in advance that it sounds worse than it is.  I just need to talk for a while and feel that you care.”  In saying that, Bonnie not only prepares John for the ducking and dodging he is going to have to do, but also apologizes in advance for whatever she may say that is offensive or mean-spirited.  This approach asks his patience as a favor to her and promises that the barrage will be as brief as can be, still allowing time for the feelings to be expressed.

That’s what she should have done in the “buying the computer” scenario.  Asking for his patience (her job) and listening receptively to whatever feelings she has (his job) are both collegial acts. It could look adversarial to a bystander, but it really isn’t.  Bonnie needs to say how she feels and it isn’t going to be pretty.  She engages her husband as a helper and a hearer and promises her gratitude for his work when she is done.  John ducks and dodges while she unloads her feelings, then initiates reconciliation when the time is right.

“It could look adversarial to a bystander,” I said.  I was the bystander I had in mind and I really would not like to see that transaction, much less to be on the receiving end of Bonnie’s anger.  As a bystander, I ask the kinds of questions I am going to look at in the next post in this series.  I ask questions like, “Is it really fair that I have to put up with this kind of abuse over and over?”  I ask, “Is this really the best she can do?”  I ask, “Is it always going to be like this.”

In the next post, I am going to show you what happens when I actually act on those sentiments, rather than just asking them abstractly.  I have actually done that.  I did it for years.  It was ugly and I am glad I don’t do it anymore.  And so is Bette, although if I did let it slip and act like that, she would say, “That’s not like you at all.”  Little does she know.


[1] I MUCH prefer the earlier title of this book: What Your Mother Couldn’t Tell You and Your Father Didn’t Know.  His point in this book is that we don’t know what we need to know because our parents didn’t tell us and they didn’t tell us because we are living a life that would have mystified them entirely.

About hessd

Here is all you need to know to follow this blog. I am an old man and I love to think about why we say the things we do. I've taught at the elementary, secondary, collegiate, and doctoral levels. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. I have taught political science for a long time and have practiced politics in and around the Oregon Legislature. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. You'll be seeing a lot about my favorite topics here. There will be religious reflections (I'm a Christian) and political reflections (I'm a Democrat) and a good deal of whimsy. I'm a dilettante.
This entry was posted in Love and Marriage and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to John and Bonnie Gray, Just Doin’ Their Jobs

  1. Doug says:

    First let me say that the “Notify me” checkboxes do appear, but only when you’ve indicated you’re going to leave a comment.

    But as for the John Gray thing, I see the value in the underpinnings of what he’s saying, but the text is just so . . . so . . . wussy. Based on what I’ve heard before and read here, it feels like it was written completely for women, which kind of defeats the purpose. I mean, it’s great that women know they’re from Venus, but a vast majority of less enlightened men will never know they’re from Mars.

    In the exchanges you’ve got here, John Gray is asking people to be more aware of their feelings, and the feelings of others. When something seems amiss, and someone is acting irrationally, you should immediately try to get to the source of the problem, rather than reacting to the symptoms. If that fails, pull out the rope-a-dope, which is what he does.

    This all seems pretty commonsense to me. Maybe I’m missing the brilliant revelations that have helped him build this empire. What say you?


    • hessd says:

      Wussy, eh? You have finally let your diplomatic character get the better of you. Ducking and dodging really is rope-a-dope. I hadn’t ever seen that and it’s perfect.

      So let’s do the easy response first. You write like a man who has had experience “getting to the source of the problem” and also a man who tried rope-a-dope.

      Do you remember which one worked? And it isn’t always rope-a-dope. My first experience with this had to do with being “unavoidably late.” Since not being guilty of anything is one of the great passions and liabilities of my life, I focused on the “unavoidably” part. That wasn’t the right part. The woman I was married to at the time–probably Marilyn–was still engaged in the “late” part. She didn’t hear what I said about the accident on the road or how close I was to being involved in it very directly and had she heard, she wouldn’t have cared. So what I did was to spend some time apologizing for being late. Not very much time, as I recall. Then she was all interested in how close I came to getting hit and how understandable it was that I was late and how wonderful it was that I got home safely. Not rope-a-dope, but a very clear inversion of MY priorities.

      That was the easy response. Here’s the hard one. Gray is not asking men to be more aware of their feelings. He is asking them to be less aware of their feelings and more aware of their wife’s feelings. Note the singular and plural problems in that sentence so I can ask you about them when we remember. And how can you say it is “written for women” when, in fact, it tells men how to get the kinds of outcomes they want? And is it really irrational to do first the only thing you can do first–this is from Bonnie Gray’s point of view–and so, clear the way to do what can, after all, be done second? What if “the source of the problem” is not treatable? Like, for instance, being “from Venus?” Gray says that there are serious main and side effects to making them act like they are from Mars. A main effect is that they often divorce you. A side effect is that they stop “being women.” (This latter means, of course, that they stop being women in the way Gray thinks they ought to be.)

      There is a solution, however. It is to marry a woman with dual citizenship and both of us have chosen that solution. Pretty smart of us, I think.

      • Doug says:

        Okay, so the first response was not as thoughtful as it should have been.

        Yes, we clearly got a couple of good ones, and I know you were being self-congratulatory in a jokey way, but we are with Kathie and Bette out of choice, not providence. I’ve dated dramatic and overly emotional women and it’s just not for me. I chose someone who can talk about her feelings and rarely acts out without knowing or conveying why. I think that’s a great human trait, don’t you?

        But where Gray gets it right is that sometimes you need to help people peel away the layers of emotion before even they know what’s underneath. I know I’ve been the emotional one plenty of times, not aware of why. Sometimes I can dig down and find it, sometimes I can’t. Sometimes it’s a choice. I have a recent example of that one.

        Unfortunately, the way Gray says things is only going to work for about 10% of the male population, and only because most of them are gay. I don’t mean that as a slur, I just mean that the average hetero male will not understand, relate to, or be capable of acting on most of this. He’s created methods of understanding women, for women.

        That has value for the same reason I like reading women’s magazines at the doctor’s office: I like to know what women really think about. But I’d be willing to bet that a VAST majority of these books are purchased by women, thinking that they’re bridging a gender gap. I think the bridge only goes halfway.

        The only real answer–or maybe it’s just the best one–is to find someone you naturally relate to. If you have good human skills, you’ll do well in most relationships. But there are a few people out there who will just naturally fit you, and not require you to change how to relate to each other in order to thrive.


  2. jimm d says:

    that’s not bonnie gray in the picture

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.