Restoring Harmony

Men and women respond differently to stress which leads to conflict and misunderstanding
Why do Mars and Venus collide? As bestselling author Dr John Gray PhD explains, it's because men and women deal differently with stress.
In the last 50 years, life has become more complicated. Longer working hours, intensified by gruelling commutes and more traffic, the increased cost of housing, food, and health care, rising credit card debt, the combined responsibilities of work and childcare in two career families are only a few of the sources of stress in our fast paced modern lives. In spite of the new technologies designed to connect us, information overload and round the clock accessibility via the Internet and cell phones have reduced much of our communication to the equivalent of text messaging. We are stretched to the limit with little energy for our personal lives. With increased independence and opportunities for success at work, we are often left with a sense of isolation and exhaustion at home.

The unprecedented levels of stress both men and women are experiencing are taking a toll on our romantic relationships. Whether single or in committed relationships, we are often too busy or too tired to sustain feelings of attraction, motivation, and affection. Everyday stress drains our energy and patience and leaves us feeling too exhausted or overwhelmed to enjoy and support each other.

We are often too busy to see what is obvious. A man will give his heart and soul to make enough money to provide for his family and return home too tired even to talk with them. A woman will give and give to support her husband and children and then resent them for not giving back the kind of support she thrives on giving. Under the influence of stress, men and women forget why we do what we do.

As I travel the world, teaching the Mars and Venus insights, I have witnessed a new trend in relationships linked to increasing stress. Both couples and singles believe they are too busy or too exhausted to resolve their relationship issues and often think their partners are either too demanding or just too different to understand. Attempting to cope with the increasing stress of working for a living, both men and women feel neglected at home. While some couples have experienced increasing tension, others have just given up, sweeping their emotional needs under the carpet. They may get along, but the passion is gone.

Men and women have always had challenges in their relationships, but with the added stress of our modern lifestyles, these challenges have become bigger. With increasing stress in the outside world, our needs at home have dramatically changed. Without an understanding of our partner's new needs for coping with stress, we can actually make things worse while trying to make things better.

Fortunately, there is a new way to understand and cope with rising stress levels. Instead of being another problem we have to solve, relationships can actually be the solution. Instead of coming home to a new set of problems and stress, coming home can be a safe haven of loving support and comfort. Understanding how men and women cope with stress in different ways gives us a whole new perspective for improving communication and successfully giving and receiving support in our relationships.

Good communication skills can bring men and women together, but when the increasing stress of our busy lives is added to the mix, Mars and Venus collide.

Stress is a major contributor to why we fight, but the fact that men and women cope with stress differently is at the root of our conflicts. Though men and women are similar, when it comes to stress, they are very different. With increasing stress, these differences are intensified. Instead of facing life's challenges and growing together in love, many couples drift apart to a comfortable but passionless distance, or they are ripped apart by feelings of resentment, confusion, and mistrust that lead to explosive fights.

It is sometimes as if we are from completely different planets; men are from Mars, and women are from Venus. Without a positive way to understand our different coping mechanisms, Mars and Venus collide instead of coming together.

Our greatest challenge today is that men and women cope with stress differently.

Men and women not only respond to stress in unique ways; the kind of support they need to relieve their stress is different as well. There are many ways to understand each other and learn more effective strategies to create a healthy and happy relationship that actually will lower your stress levels.

The more aware we are of our natural differences, the more tolerant we become when and if those differences show up. Instead of thinking, "What's wrong with my partner?" you are able to ponder what is wrong with the way you are approaching him or her. Instead of concluding that your partner is purposefully being inconsiderate, you at least feel some comfort knowing that he or she is oblivious or clueless. Couples often have no real sense of how things affect each of them.

Accepting our differences can immediately lighten up our relationships. Many couples feel a heaviness in their lives because they believe they have to sacrifice themselves to please their partners. This attitude needs to change.

Certainly, every relationship requires making adjustments, compromises, and sacrifices, but we do not have to give up our selves. Instead, we can arrive at a reasonable and fair compromise. Life is not about having everything our own way whenever we want it. We experience the opening of our hearts when we share.

When a plane takes off and flies on automatic pilot, it will arrive at its destination. Though the course seems perfect, it is not. At every point on its route, a plane's course varies due to changing wind speeds and plane resistance. It is never perfectly on target, but it is generally moving in the right direction. A plane on automatic pilot constantly makes small adjustments to correct the direction.

Relationships are the same way. No one is ever perfect, but your partner can be the perfect person for you. If we continue to correct and adjust ourselves, we can create a lifetime of love. When we can own our mistakes and adjust our actions, we can reduce the tension in our relationships.

There are many new sources of stress in our lives brought on by the shift in the roles of men and women. The increased pressure on women to work outside the home and the diminished earning potential of men to be sole providers has shaken the foundations of our society. The complex mosaic of traditional roles and expectations for men and women, fashioned and refined for thousands of years, has been shattered, and we are still picking up the pieces.

Never before in history have we witnessed so much social change in such a short period of time. With equal rights, higher education, sexual liberation, and greater financial independence, women today have more choices to create a better life than ever before, but we are all more stressed at home. Never in history have women been expected to do so much and that can be overwhelming on Venus. Of course, that stress is immediately transmitted to Mars and ends in misunderstanding, friction, and a sense of helplessness.

There are physiological reasons for why women find comfort in talking about their problems while men prefer to retreat, or for why women can multitask and remember everything while men focus on one thing at a time, forgetting everything else. There is now scientific evidence to prove how the brains and hormones of men and women are hardwired to respond differently to stress.

Remembering and understanding our differences is only half the battle. The other half is about action - learning to cope more effectively with stress.

Not only can we learn great communication techniques to reduce our stress, but we can also learn more about how our bodies react to stress. Specifically, the genders create very different hormones that reduce stress. Men create testosterone, while women create oxytocins.

When you learn to cope more effectively with stress and remember the gender differences that are hardwired into our brains, you will blame stress for your problems rather than blame your partner. Instead of waiting for your partner to change, you will learn how to lower your own stress levels. When your stress is reduced, you will be freed from the compulsion to blame or change your partner. Instead, you will remember and experience the pleasure of loving and accepting your partner just the way he or she is, as you did when you first fell in love.
Mars and Venus orbit around the sun on their own paths in harmony, just as men and women must do to create lasting love.

We also need to understand that stress can't be made to go away, it is a part of everyday life; it is more about how to balance it. We actually need some level of stress in our lives. What we need to understand is unhealthy stress and ways in which we can cope with stress effectively and reduce unnecessary stress in our lives.

For some tips and free information on how to reduce your stress, for NOVA readers visit