Help! I'm from Mars and he's from Venus

You've read the book, now you can go on the course. Hero Brown took her boyfriend along - and came out with an identity crisis
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Indy Lifestyle Online
At the moment I'm in the wave machine, but would rather be in the Jacuzzi. My boyfriend is locked in the changing-rooms but is also hoping to make it to the bubbles. Other people seem to be hanging out in the deep end, paddling pool, shallow end, the cafe, even up on the diving-board.

These are not the observations of a swimming nerd, but of a woman who's just been Mars and Venused. The bestselling book, Men are From Mars, Women are from Venus, by American psychologist Dr John Gray, has mutated into a UK group workshop led by former Relate counsellor Chrissie McDonald. She is now sitting in my living-room, giving a potted demonstration of the workshop and trying to improve my relationship with the help of a metaphorical swimming-pool.

Never mind all this water malarkey, I say, I've got examples of my relationship angst straight off the press. Take the morning of her visit. There was my boyfriend, making my cup of tea, cooking breakfast and gently reminding me it was time to get up. Surfacing after much encouragement, I felt impelled to remind him not to overstew my teabag because the last few times the cuppa's been way too strong. For some reason, this comment seemed to arouse emotions of extreme agitation in said boyfriend. Cue catfight.

According to Chrissie, our argument was manageable because it arose from poor communication rather than downright antipathy. Ours is precisely the kind of relationship "niggling" that the workshops can help. Had I poured my stewed tea over my boyfriend's head while reaching for the breadknife, interplanetary workshops would not be sufficient. Full-blown therapy would then be required.

We start the session with a general chat (I promptly duck out to make another cup of tea). The boyfriend, Paul, is looking strangely relaxed and non-threatened by the prospect of spewing our four years of personal baggage before this stranger. After a quick preamble in which Paul works out what men generally want from women (sex, a mother figure and financial partner apparently - it's enough to make you weep) and I say what what women want from men (romance, intelligence, respect, equality, sex if it's any good), Chrissie quickly moves us on to analysing our feelings - or in Mars and Venus talk, our "Love Needs".

Apparently, there are 12 primary love needs, such as respect, care, devotion, reassurance, validation, approval and encouragement. Chrissie can broadly guess which sex will choose which. Venusians (women) are into devotion, respect, validation and all that soppy stuff. Blokes are into admiration, approval, encouragement and acting like 10-year-old boys do around their mothers. Nervously we peer at our 12 love cards, wondering what sinister personality defects we are about to reveal as we choose our top six "love needs".

The results are a complete revelation. Forget this Men are from Mars stuff, it appears that my boyfriend is a girl - five of his six "love needs" are Venusian. As for myself, I seem to have mutated into half a Martian (is this better of worse than being a full Martian?). Suddenly, I recognise a pattern to my behaviour; my reaction to Paul's tea-making was macho and insensitive. Oh my God, I'm a bloke. Before I know it, Chrissie is coaxing all sorts of nasty Martian examples out of me. We mull over my infrequent attempts at doing the dishes and my demands for praise and recognition on completion; my stony silence and refusal to talk through problems after a row, preferring to watch the telly or go to sleep and deal with it in the morning (the cure is apparently for me to say "Huh", "Oh", or "Really" when Paul pauses for breath, thus letting him know I'm listening without having to speak); and my irritation when I'm forced to say sorry (yes, it really does seem to be the hardest word).

Meanwhile, Paul's old student nickname of "Nigglearse" from his days of flat-sharing now makes perfect sense. "It's just because I want order and a tidy flat!" he says pleadingly to Chrissie who, in Venusian sisterhood, nods sympathetically and smiles.

We're verging dangerously on identity crises but Chrissie pulls us back from the abyss. "We all have Venusian and Martian in us," she says soothingly, "and it's just recognising them for what they are and knowing how to react to the other person."

Reprieved from the prospect of blokehood, I think about the ways in which I'm Venusian. Well, Paul calls me Cling-on, and HM (high maintenance) for a reason I suppose - it's part of my painfully girly need to be adored. I can't read maps (very Venusian), and Paul delights in telling me so (very Martian). Paul also has a blokeish tendency to try to solve my problems instead of just empathising and listening. And he likes to retreat behind his newspaper (his "cave" in therapyspeak), while I pester him for attention. This is the crux of Mars and Venus, says Chrissie. Simply by understanding why we act the way we do will help us avoid stupid confrontations.

Of course, the problem with all this Mars and Venus stuff is that you do feel as if you're participating in a Psychology for Kids class; I half- expect to be given a gold star. But at the end of the session Paul and I are beaming at each other like idiots - we feel pleased with ourselves and each other. It doesn't seem to matter that he's a girl's blouse and I'm a lad, because at least we know we still want the same things in life.

Now where's that Jacuzzi?

For details of Mars and Venus workshops, call 0113 2664481.

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