In Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, John Gray puts a planetary spin on gender differences, arguing that men and women are so unalike that they could have come from different worlds. His book has a catchy title, sold millions of copies and is a thought-provoking read.
However, from my point of view, it frequently misses the spaceship. Of course men and women have their differences, but my experience tells me that these dissimilarities aren't nearly as significant as some might think. Most of the men and women I've known have homes on both planets—and several others, for that matter—and they often have similar tales to tell.
In her new book, The Gift of Betrayal: How to Heal Your Life When Your World Explodes, Tucson psychiatrist Eve Wood explores the painful and confusing ramifications of marital infidelity. Like her previous two books—infectiously cheerful guides to personal growth—this one is overflowing with empathy, enthusiasm and encouraging success stories. It offers lots of sagacious suggestions to help people not only survive the implosion of a marriage, but to actually grow from it.
It also offers an assortment of not-so-sagacious notions on gender differences that seem a bit incongruous coming from a therapist of Wood's caliber. More like a Roseanne Barr routine without the laughs, this material is an asteroid belt of clichés, stereotypes and washed-out social myths that consigns the sexes to different solar systems.
For Wood, this topic strikes painfully close to home. Shortly before she began writing the book, her own marriage fell apart following her husband's betrayal, and she found herself in a whirlpool of despair. Writing the book was undoubtedly an important element in her recovery, but Wood got the ball rolling by looking for the opportunity in the disaster.
"When my world exploded," she reports, "I was overwhelmed and afraid. I suffered and struggled a lot. But all the while, I chose to focus on the positive—to grasp the gift, to articulate it, and to make it real."
The first step, she says, in making it real is to begin believing that a happy future is possible. Most of the chapters approach that restorative belief from different angles.
Wood discusses sociopathic spouses, the often unconscious factors that lead people into bad marriages, marital meltdown as a doorway to self-discovery, how forgiveness functions in recovery, intuition and affirmations, taking risks, empowering our dreams, drawing pleasure and passion into our lives, and the magic of living in the moment.
"We all have so much to celebrate in this moment," she says, "and the more we let go of our attachment to worry, expectation and self-doubt, the easier it becomes for us to allow our uninhibited, hopeful, joyful selves to emerge. We can all be happy right now."
Her ordeal behind her, Wood appears to now have an ample supply of joy. She's remarried now, to a man she seems crazy about, but based on Wood's depiction of men, some readers may wonder why she was so quick to invite one of those guys back into her life.
According to Wood, a man is essentially a capricious child, incapable of being a woman's best friend or confidante, because his brain is not capable of relating to her emotionally. Men—conquest-happy buffoons that they are—have only two emotional settings—OK and angry—and, having much less mental capacity than women, "don't usually know why they do things."
"They're not like us," Wood says, "Emotional intensity scrambles their brains on a regular basis. They can't think straight. Remember that they have one-track minds. Their cognitive functions get easily clouded, and they say and do stupid things to create space. ... They can't process what you're telling them."
Not surprisingly, Wood also believes the widely circulated claim that men never ask for directions. (I ask for directions all the time—sometimes when I'm not even lost ... but I'm neurotic.) Thankfully, Wood feels that men are good for some things: exhibiting bravado, fixing stuff, cracking jokes, buying flowers and, most of all, sex.
Overall, this is a great book. It has lots of insight about healing from marital trauma and building a new and bountiful life. It's written from a woman's perspective, but it's a book that can be useful to men as well—if they can get past a couple of dubious chapters.
But, of course, I'm a man, so I'm probably just being defensive. You know how we are.