This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus" by John Gray. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.
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What makes a successful relationship? Is there a universal advice that makes romantic relationships last?
According to relationship counselor John Gray, the key to a successful relationship is for both partners to feel equally fulfilled and loved—it should be a win/win relationship. Both partners should be equally motivated to fulfill each other’s needs.
Keep reading to learn about what makes a successful relationship.
What Makes a Successful Relationship?
Most of us want to meet and settle down with the right person and make a relationship last. However, most romantic relationships break down sooner or later. According to relationship counselor and the author of Men are From Mars Women are From Venus John Gray, one of the main reason relationships break down is because people feel as though they give more love than they receive. But the truth is that they are both giving love, but not in their partner’s desired manner.
The key to a successful relationship is to understand and show love in the manner your partner wants to receive it. The first step is to understand that men and women have different love needs. While men in love need to feel needed by their partners, women in love need to feel cherished.
If you feel unfulfilled in your relationship, you might need to motivate your partner to show you the kind of love you need.
If your partner is feeling unfulfilled in your relationship, you might need to motivate yourself to show love to your partner in a different way:
- Men must learn how to give.
- Women must learn how to receive.
Men Are Motivated by Being Needed
On Mars, men operated with a win/lose philosophy. Every man looked after himself and his own needs. Life on Mars was like a game of tennis—each man not only wanted to win, he wanted to actively make his competitor lose.
Once men discovered women, however, their view changed. Women instinctively sent out a signal of need to these men: “We need your power and strength. Come to Venus and satisfy everything we are missing.” The men were motivated to overcome their fear of dependence. All of a sudden, their capacity to sacrifice and serve the needs of someone else was awakened. Once in love, men were suddenly motivated to serve others to the best of their ability. They experienced their partner’s happiness as their own. Men started to develop a win/win philosophy. They learned how to give.
Unfortunately, because the signal of need is a subconscious instinct for a woman at the start of a relationship, many women neglect to keep sending that signal of need. Not being needed is torture for a man in love. When a man stops feeling that he is needed, he becomes passive, uninterested, and ungiving. He goes back to his win/lose way of thinking and chooses to satisfy his own needs at the expense of his partner’s.
Why Men Have a Win/Lose Philosophy
A man’s deepest fear is the idea that he is incompetent or inadequate. That is why men put so much emphasis on proving their power, autonomy, and achievement. Subconsciously, men fear reaching out and giving in a relationship because it leaves them vulnerable to failing the woman they love.
That is why men developed a win/lose philosophy—they thought that by not caring about the needs of others, they wouldn’t be at risk of failing to fulfill those needs.
A man will not be ready to open up and give love until he realizes that it is OK to make mistakes. A man must feel accepted and encouraged to risk putting himself out there.
Unfortunately for many men, their hesitance to give freely results in their partner’s resentment. That resentment feels like blame to a man and confirms his fear that he isn’t good enough.
Women Are Motivated by Adoration
On Venus, women operated with a lose/win philosophy—women are willing to sacrifice personally to help another woman win. Everyone on Venus did their best to nurture one another’s needs.
Once women discovered men, however, they began to see another way of doing things. Men taught women the joy of being taken care of and the importance of receiving emotional support from someone that didn’t need caring for in return. These women were motivated to stop being martyrs. They started to develop a win/win philosophy and learn how to receive.
Unfortunately, many women carry their instinctual lose/win philosophy into their relationships. A woman who consistently gives more than her partner will not feel adequately cherished in the relationship. She will become exhausted and unappreciative. Often, she will blame her partner for her unfulfillment.
Why Women Have a Lose/Win Philosophy
Women have a deep fear of being abandoned, judged, and rejected. Subconsciously, women feel unworthy of receiving support. Depending on others is difficult for women because being ignored or dismissed after expressing need would confirm their deepest fear that they are unworthy of the support they desire.
That is why women on Venus developed a lose/win philosophy—they thought that by sacrificing their own needs for others, they would become worthy of love.
A woman will not be ready to open up and receive from her partner until she realizes that she is worthy and deserving of love. Unfortunately for many women, they don’t come to the realization that they are worthy until they have exhausted themselves from years of giving too much in a relationship.
A Successful Relationship Has Boundaries
Because men are naturally hesitant to give and women are naturally hesitant to receive, it can be difficult to establish boundaries in a relationship. But setting boundaries is essential to building a successful relationship and avoiding resentment. Setting boundaries means regulating how much you give, as opposed to expecting your partner to give more and keep the score even.
If you feel you are in a nonreciprocal relationship and holding resentment towards your partner, you’ll need to go through these three steps to heal the relationship:
- Motivation: First, both you and your partner need to become motivated to make the changes necessary to heal the relationship. The woman will need to feel understood and cherished. The man will need to feel needed and trusted to make the necessary changes.
- Responsibility: Next, both you and your partner need to take responsibility for your role in building a non-reciprocal relationship. The man will have to take responsibility for not giving enough support. The woman will have to take responsibility for not setting boundaries for how much she can give and for not asking for what she needs to receive.
- Practice: The final step is to practice setting and respecting limits with your partner. One of the most important aspects of this step is learning how to express feelings in an honest yet respectful way. Both you and your partner will need to understand in advance that mistakes will be made.
Here are some examples of how you can practice setting boundaries, respecting boundaries, and expressing your feelings in an honest yet respectful way:
- Practice telling your partner when you deserve to be treated better. For example, “I don’t appreciate the way you’re speaking to me. Please stop yelling, or I will have to leave the room.”
- Practice saying no to requests that will make you resent your partner. For example, “I need to relax right now. I’m sorry I can’t help you.”
- Practice telling your partner what you need instead of expecting him to instinctively know.
- Practice allowing your partner to change and adjust her expectations.
As a woman, once you learn to set boundaries for your partner, you will be motivated to forgive past disappointments and ask for support in the future. By communicating your needs and your limits, you’ll realize your worth and become more open to your partner.
As a man, once you learn to respect your partner’s limits, you will be motivated to make changes and give more. As you realize that you are allowed to make mistakes, you’ll feel safe to reach out and give your partner the support she needs.
Reading this guide and learning to appreciate your partner’s love needs is a great first in building a successful relationship. But don’t forget, some phases of love will feel better than others. That doesn’t mean that your love is any less strong or less healthy than it once was. It just means that you need to work a little bit harder to nurture warmth and kindness with your partner.
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Here's what you'll find in our full Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus summary:
- Why it feels like men and women come from two different planets
- How to navigate the gender-based differences in communication
- The 6 things that men and women need in a loving relationship