Hormonally Charged: Dr. John Gray Discusses How Chemicals Control Our Relationships!

How do we reach a compromise and find a solution to accept our changing society, yet not lose who and what we are in the process? In the following interview Dr. John Gray shares his amazing conclusions. Learn more.

Article Summary:
  • Dr. John Gray is the author of "Why Mars and Venus Collide".
  • Men are driven by a competitive urge underpinned by testosterone.
  • Women welcome help from others because it releases oxytocin.
  • If you have read anything by respected relationships expert Dr. John Gray, whose insights into the remarkable contrast between how men and women think, feel and act have assisted countless couples' improve their relationship dilemmas, it becomes clear that both sexes indeed appear to come from different planets.

    Human behavior has long fascinated the academic and layperson alike, top of the list being how we perceive and interact with the world we inhabit.

    Men and women, since the first human relations began, coexisted in mutually beneficial social arrangements, with various cultures adopting distinct ways of interaction based upon a natural order that encouraged the strengths of each sex for the betterment of society. Oh how times have changed.

    It is thought that whereas once men and women had distinct, defined roles to play, there is now mass confusion regarding exactly how we should treat one another and what behaviors we should adopt.

    Dr. John Gray
    Enlarge Click Image To Enlarge.
    Relationship Expert Dr. John Gray.

    As a result, men and women are increasingly experiencing relationship difficulties, and enlisting the assistance of experts such as Dr. Gray. Furthermore, the thousands of "self-help" relationship books increasingly swamping the market is testimony to the confusion that exists.

    Men, who are often driven by a competitive urge underpinned by the aggression-promoting hormone testosterone, have traditionally been individualistic by nature, opting to get the job done on their own terms rather than seeking the cooperation, feedback and authority of large groups.

    Women, however, being the social animals they are, welcome such interaction. To them, assistance from others means they have good quality relationships and can foster, within themselves, deeper emotional feelings based on the care and protection they perceive they are getting under such circumstances.

    And according to Dr. Gray's latest bestseller, Why Mars and Venus Collide, it is our brain chemicals - namely and primarily the hormones' testosterone (in men) and oxytocin (in women) and the neurotransmitters' serotonin and dopamine (for both sexes) - that govern how we can successful interact with one another.

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    On their own merits, such chemicals have the power to both pull couples' apart and bring them together. Dr. Gray has focused his prolific research on how we can achieve the latter.

    With an increase in changing gender roles and a concomitant irrevocable tearing of society's fabric, many of the institutions that were once held dear are now seen as relics of a marginalizing past. However, the DNA and natural chemical structures that define who we are as men and women has not changed.

    How do we reach a compromise and find a solution to accept our changing society, yet not lose who and what we are in the process? In the following interview Dr. John Gray shares his amazing conclusions.

    Dr. John Gray
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    Dr. John Gray Shares His
    Amazing Conclusions.

    The Interview

    [ Q ] You previously mentioned compromise as being a major factor in successful relationships, but you also said that one should not necessarily change or give themselves' up in the process of trying to reach a compromise. Please elaborate on this point.

      Well, when we make compromises it's important that we are not losing ourselves because we then resent our partner later. But if I like to drive fast, for example, and if I'm in the car with my wife and it's upsetting to her, I could easily drive slower. It doesn't mean I should immediately give up driving fast altogether.

      When I'm alone in the car, I drive faster, but when I drive the car with her and she is sitting in the front seat, and she has a different comfort zone, I make a compromise and I'm happy to do that. But what's important is that she's happy to appreciate that compromise as opposed to thinking you should drive slow, not fast.


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      She appreciates that I'm making the adjustment for her. And that's what's important in relationships when there is compromise: you feel that there is something reciprocal, that your partner is doing something wonderful for you in response.

    [ Q ] To hear it as you have explained it is all good and well, but in practice, in the heat of the moment, it is not always easy to reach these kinds of compromises, especially when one - usually the man - feels his integrity is being threatened. One might feel harmed when they are criticized over something they are naturally inclined to do.

      Well in the heat of the moment nothing ever gets accomplished. The best thing to do is to contain yourself and take responsibility for the heat of the moment, which features strong reactions that don't reflect who you truly are.

      We need to always contain ourselves and not feel that we are free to just unload and express whatever we feel or think. We need to take into consideration how somebody is going to hear that. The purpose of communication is so our ideas can be heard. And if you are communicating in a way that your partner can't hear you, then what's the point of doing it. And, yet, people do that simply to intimidate, which destroys relationships.


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      You can say things that are maybe perceived as mean, that are maybe your authentic feelings and it is real. But if it is perceived by another as mean, or hurtful, or critical or unsupportive, what's the point of that? That just sabotages relationships.

      So in the name of being authentic, many people ruin their relationships. And if you look at what true authenticity is there is a whole layer of feelings whenever you are in the heat of the moment.

      There are the first feelings, which might be defensive reactions, frustration and anger, disappointment and fear, mean thoughts and projections - a whole list of things. And underneath that there are feelings, which are tenderer: disappointment, sadness, vulnerability and need. And when you address those deeper levels and those deeper levels are being met - for example, our needs - the heat of the moment does not arise that much in the sense of negative responses toward our partners.

      We all want to be positive and loving in our relationships, and when we find that we are not, that is a direct symptom of stress. That's why I have written this book about how men and women cope differently with stress.

    We All Want To Be Positive And Loving In Our Relationships
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    We All Want To Be Positive And
    Loving In Our Relationships.

      If you understand, as a man, how she copes with stress, then in the heat of the moment you know how to handle things; so she calms down and is more relaxed and helpful.

      Most men will say "calm down; relax, don't worry about it; it is not a big deal, and I won't do it again, I'll handle this for you; isn't that enough to make you happy?" And in a man's world that should be enough. If you are upset with me and I say I have made a mistake and will do it differently next time, boom it's done.

      But for women, when there're upset there's different hormones at play. You can measure these hormones at play in a woman. What she needs is to stimulate the production of a hormone called oxytocin that will help her to feel more loving and positive, kind and gentle. And oxytocin is stimulated by conversation. So women want to talk about problems.

    Oxytocin is a mammalian hormone that also acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain. Recent studies have begun to investigate oxytocin's role in various behaviors, including social recognition, bonding, anxiety, trust, and maternal behaviors.

      For men, they cope best with stress through a hormone called testosterone. For men, testosterone is stimulated through fixing things, solving things and achieving things, or simply rest, which also rebuilds testosterone.

      So men either want to forget it or solve it - those are both testosterone producers when they (men) are stressed. And women want to be in this middle zone.

      There are three zones: either you do something about it, don't do something about it and then something in between, which is talk about it (laughs). And the talking about it - if she feels hurt - can potentially dramatically help women lower their stress.

    [ Q ] Would it be accurate to say that men are driven primarily by testosterone whereas women are driven by oxytocin?

      These are certainly key players, particularly in terms of what lowers stress. See, in life, we are always looking for what makes us feel good. And what makes us feel good is anything that will lower stress levels. And that's one of the physiological differences between men and women: the testosterone production helps lower stress and makes men feel good.

      Men are always driven in directions that will help stimulate testosterone and those can include situations where men can feel a challenge, where there is competition and where he can feel success resulting from achievement. Measurable success and achievement stimulates testosterone.

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      When you are in the gym, one thing is you are working your muscles, which, when re-built, will stimulate testosterone, but just simply challenging yourself in that way, exerting yourself, will build testosterone and, for men, will help them to cope with stress.

      Whereas, for women, it can have other beneficial features, but emphasizing too much testosterone (production, in women) can actually lower oxytocin levels. Working out in a gym and building testosterone levels, while not harmful for women, certainly will not build oxytocin.

      And it is when she has the oxytocin levels - that is when she will lower her stress levels. So women will have to balance working out and other testosterone-building activities, which is any competitive activity - any activity that involves urgency or emergency - with a more relaxed, oxytocin-producing activity such as talking about feelings, sharing, cooperating, commiserating. Talking about problems is a big one that helps women to produce oxytocin.

    Women Will Have To Balance Working Out And Other Testosterone-Building Activities
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    Women Will Have To Balance Working Out
    And Other Testosterone-Building Activities.

    [ Q ] In the workplace we see that men, after a solution has been found, will primarily take a more direct approach to solving a particular problem, they will be more inclined to take charge right away, whereas women tend to adopt a more collaborative approach and will discuss the problem in greater detail (sometimes called gossiping, context depending).

    Underpinning all of this is the fact that guys often resent being told what to do, while women are more likely to welcome and accept feedback and advice. These different acts are linked to the two hormones you discuss?

      Exactly. There was research that showed that when men worked in a collaborative group it actually caused more stress for them, whereas it lowered stress for women. If you try to make sense of that, you can easily do so by looking at the concept that testosterone is stimulated whenever you can take credit for something.

      When somebody tells you to do something, and you do it, you get part of the credit, but you don't get all of the credit. Whose idea was this? And then somebody else takes credit for the idea.

      So when you take credit for something (on your own), that's going to stimulate feelings of success, greater success, and therefore this is going to stimulate a greater output of testosterone. And this will, therefore, also lower cortisol for men.


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      Whereas women actually take pride in 'we did it together and shared', and that's kind of a feather in their cap. This is like the old joke about why men don't stop and ask directions. It is because they don't get credit if somebody else who directs them. But for women it is a feather in their cap when they can say that they stopped someone and received directions: that means that she has the ability to get support, she has good quality relationships.

      Anytime a woman can ask for support, and get it, that stimulates the production of oxytocin, which lowers their stress. Another issue in the medical field is tying to get men to go see their doctors. A much greater percentage of women will seek out the help of doctors and ask for their help, simply because it's an oxytocin producer to ask for help and get it.

    When You Take Credit For Something, That's Going To Stimulate Feelings Of Success.
    Enlarge Click Image To Enlarge.
    When You Take Credit For Something, That's
    Going To Stimulate Feelings Of Success.

      Whereas, for men, it's almost like defeat to have to ask for help; it's definitely not a testosterone producer. Unless you feel confident as a man that you tried everything you could on your own and you had to find a solution and part of you finding this solution is picking the right doctor. Therefore men probably get there, but not as frequently as women.

    [ Q ] In the gym this individualistic approach can be seen as well?

      Yes. In the gym you will see men more frequently doing more isolated, individual weight training - on their own - and there will be way more women that get involved in the aerobics classes, which is a shared activity.

      It is not that women don't press weights, but the hormone that we have discussed - oxytocin - is produced when doing shared activities or when interacting with a trainer, or working out with a friend. They will produce more oxytocin at these times to balance their stress levels.

    Oxytocin Is Produced When Doing Shared Activities.
    Enlarge Click Image To Enlarge.
    Oxytocin Is Produced When Doing Shared Activities.

    [ Q ] You do often see men training alone, as opposed to women who tend to, as you say, train in groups. Is this also because men are more competitive?

      Yes. I will often use a trainer just so they can pick the weights for me. I'll go into the gym and see what another guy did and up him one, so I have to be careful not to hurt myself (laughs). It's the competitive urge. It's just a natural tendency.

      It's not good to stretch your muscles too far, but to compete is a stimulator of testosterone; it's a challenge and that has a beneficial effect for men.

      Often, in the workplace, for men in their jobs, there's not an opportunity for challenge if they are in more of a routine job. And that's why working out in the gym can be very helpful along with any type of sport - or even watching a competitive sport. Because it creates an outlet for that competitive side of men - it creates a stimulus for testosterone.

    Does The Competitive Urge Cause You To Try And Lift Heavier Than Another In The Gym?


    [ Q ] With more women now in the workplace and some men opting to stay at home, the gym provides a valuable way for these men to keep the testosterone circulating.

      Absolutely. And to add another dimension to this, there are stay home mothers today and you might think well she's at home and she's raising her children and that's a big oxytocin producer but they also like to get out as well. And by getting out they are not necessarily doing it for the testosterone; they are doing it for the oxytocin.

      Because women today, when they are at home with their children, often feel isolated, unlike women 30 years ago: then they were all at home. So there was no sense of isolation because you had your neighbor and a sense of community with all of these women supporting and helping each other. That network was just part of the fabric of our society. That has changed.

      With more women in the workplace, there are now more women isolated in their homes and raising children alone in their homes. This isolation causes oxytocin levels to go down.

      When women are interacting with other adults, feeling that they are getting the support that they need, they can then unconditionally support their children, and that is a major oxytocin producer. So this is a significant distinction I just made: a big oxytocin producer is when women nurture their children.

    A Major Oxytocin Producer Is When Women Are Interacting With Other Adults.
    Enlarge Click Image To Enlarge.
    A Major Oxytocin Producer Is When
    Women Are Interacting With Other Adults.

      However, if she feels pressure - like she doesn't have enough support and has to do it all by herself - that she doesn't have enough help, then it doesn't produce oxytocin. It actually produces testosterone and cortisol levels go high.

    [ Q ] We do hear a lot about the influence testosterone has on how men interact with the world but less about how oxytocin benefits women.

      That's why I wrote the book. It was actually five years ago that UCLA did the research to prove it. I've been talking about it for 20 years, but there wasn't any real research to prove this distinction between testosterone and oxytocin.

      And since they came out with the research, the drug companies have been working on a lot of patents and processes to increase oxytocin in women, because oxytocin not only lowers stress in women, but it also governs all of a woman's sexual responses. So when oxytocin levels go high, women can be orgasmic. When oxytocin levels go low, women fake it or are not interested.

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    [ Q ] You mentioned earlier some of the ways women could boost their own oxytocin levels. What are some of the ways men can assist with oxytocin production in women?

      Well once I understood how important the oxytocin hormone is, then understanding the things that women are asking for and often complaining they don't get in their relationships gained a new significance.

      For example, when a woman says, "My husband doesn't bring me flowers," a man might kind of think, if you want flowers go buy them in the store, we're grown ups. When a man buys a woman flowers it will increase their (the woman's) oxytocin levels.

      The interesting thing about this is that once a man has a formula, he begins to think that's all he needs. But if I go give my wife 24 roses, my thought is that that is 24 times more potent than one rose. But it is not. You can see a woman light up when you bring her one rose. You can see her light up the same when you bring her 24 roses. That's because every act of love stimulates a little oxytocin.

    Every Act Of Love Stimulates A Little Oxytocin
    Enlarge Click Image To Enlarge.
    Every Act Of Love Stimulates A Little Oxytocin.

      Whether it's a big thing or a little thing, it's still a little oxytocin. It's a big illusion. Guys give a woman a diamond and it's like, 'okay she is happy'. Then you get her a bigger and bigger diamond and think it's going to have a bigger and bigger effect. It doesn't.

      It's the lots of little things on a consistent basis that will help women be happy and cope with stress. Let's take the metaphor of the big diamond again. That's something that is going to make a woman happy: Well, sure you get her a diamond ring and she's happy, not because it's a diamond ring, but because of what it symbolizes; what she thinks it symbolizes. Which is a lifetime of love with this man who is going to continue doing all of these little romantic gestures.

      Those are the things men are generally doing in abundance, before he gives the big diamond ring. He's planning dates, he's complementing her, he's telling her he loves her, and he'll listen with interest.

      You can go into a restaurant and tell right away who is married or not. The guy listening with interest is looking forward to having sex that night - he's on a date - and the guy eating his food and looking around the restaurant is married. He's not looking at his wife. And it's not that he doesn't love his wife - let's not diminish the man in any way here - it's that he has seen her many times, so why does he have to be looking at her in that way.

    She's Happy Because Of What The Diamond Ring Symbolizes.
    Enlarge Click Image To Enlarge.
    She's Happy Because Of What
    The Diamond Ring Symbolizes.

      But when you are not stressed, and understand that women need this kind of attention (listening with interest), then you happily give it to her; it just takes a little willpower, a little attention to looking at her, rather than looking away at a TV set somewhere in the restaurant while she is talking (laughs). It's kind of an automatic reaction.

    [ Q ] There is a well known phenomenon whereby after a certain period of time, married couples usually lose the passion they had at the beginning of their relationship. Can you give me your thoughts on this process?

      When this happens it means the initial honeymoon period is over. This (honeymoon) period means you are just automatically stimulated by the presence of your partner; you don't really have to do much at all. I jokingly say when you get married and fall in love you get three years of free hormones. And that means that she has got plenty of oxytocin just thinking about you and you have got plenty of testosterone just thinking about her.

      It really doesn't matter if you have a good relationship built at that point or not. Then there's something really famously known as the 'seven year itch', which is where you feel you want to do something else, be with somebody else. That itch - when it shows up - is basically because a need is not being fulfilled; a romantic need is not being satisfied; you are not feeling the passion for and attraction to your partner anymore.

      You just feel like 'yes I can just go and meet this other person' and suddenly you flame-on, you feel all excited and alive, and you go back to your partner and you feel kind of flat. It's very tempting to move on in the relationship (at this point). And if you're not married, that's when people will move on - after six or seven years or so.

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      So what we want to do is - while these are natural phenomena, like if you don't clean up your house gradually dust will build up and mould will grow and the whole thing will start falling apart - however you can clean up the house and it stays clean - keep it going.

      You have to keep it going. If you have a new paint job on your house and you don't clean it, it's going to look good for a time but then it's going to start not looking so good.

      We have to maintain things that we own but not right at the very beginning. The same thing with relationships - it's just wonderful in the beginning with the newness. But when the newness wears off there are difficulties - see, newness itself stimulates an abundance of brain chemicals called dopamine and serotonin (the so called feel good neurotransmitters) so when you have a lot of dopamine, you are interested and attracted and motivated to spend time with your partner, and when you have a lot of serotonin you feel very forgiving, accepting and appreciative of your partner.

      If they are late you go, "Oh, it's okay, no big deal." Seven years later, if he's late you remember when he was late 15 or 20 times before and you can't take it anymore.

      If you are married, and seven years has passed, and you go out to dinner - and this happened to me at around seven years - I've been married 24 years - where there was a shift after this (seven year) period: we were leaving a restaurant and I'd opened the door for my wife to walk through - a small but important little romantic gesture. It was a double set of doors and a man walking in from the opposite direction opened the other door for her.

    Dopamine Causes You To Want To Spend Time With Your Partner.
    Enlarge Click Image To Enlarge.
    Dopamine Causes You To Want
    To Spend Time With Your Partner.

      She walked through and smiled at this stranger and with a sweet kind of voice said, "Oh thank you so much," and to me that tone of voice said, "Oh thanks, you didn't have to do that, you just did that, what a gentleman." Now what was implied in that was: "now my husband, I do his laundry so he better open that door for me". Now, that's called taking your partner for granted. And that's what starts to happen, as well, when these hormones start decreasing.

      It's like looking at one of the most beautiful views in the world and after seven years not noticing it. I live in one of the most beautiful places in the world, but I'll go somewhere new - I'll travel to Australia - and it will be spectacular and I will be all excited because it's new and it's different. Then I'll come back to my home because I haven't been there recently and suddenly it's new and different and exciting.

      So change stimulates these brain chemicals that make you feel good. And if you are with your partner for a period of time and you are not growing and changing within yourself and doing things to create stimulation in your relationship - going on romantic dates for example - you start going flat on the hormones and the attraction goes away. The potential is usually still there; it's just gone flat.

    [ Q ] Considering the laws of attraction, what are some ways to reignite the positive chemicals you speak of?

      Well, first keep in mind if you do the things that I recommend then you won't get to that point; you will keep it going. But if they drop down at any point in the relationship, what you do is just fake it until you make it.

      You have to remember the things that you spontaneously did when the hormones were there - do those things again, but this time it won't be spontaneous. It will take a little bit of willpower. So basically I'm going to plan a vacation, a little romantic getaway with my wife, where we will have a couple of days away from work, away from the children, where we can do things together and have fun.

      And, yet, when I'm planning that, I don't even really feel like spending time with her (laughs) or being romantic. So what are we going to do? This is when the hormones are flat: you sort of go, what's the point of doing this? And then you suggest it to your partner and they go, "No, I don't really want to go," (laughs). Then you think well, why should I even bother? It is hard work planning something and spending all of that money for a reaction like that.


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      I remember about three years into my marriage with my wife, and I planned this romantic getaway - I didn't feel like it - but she was always complaining that we didn't do anything, so I said, "okay I will do it." So I planned it and wanted it to be really exciting. A part of me really did not want to do it.

      It wasn't' spontaneous so I didn't feel like doing it. And then, as we're going along, she didn't seem as happy or excited as I thought she would be. I said, "Well aren't you excited?" and she said, "I don't know, we have got so much mail and when we get home there will be so much more, and there are the kids and the babysitters to arrange, and who is staying with the dog?"

      She started listing all of the problems associated with getting away and was not thinking it was really worth it. I said it is not worth it either if I'm spending all this money (laughs) and making you feel worse.

      Well, I bid my time and just listened for a while - because I understood how men and women deal with stress differently, that is that women will need to talk about their problems. And it seems backwards for a man, but if you do something to make a woman feel good, sometimes, before she can fully feel good, she has to tell you all the reasons why she doesn't feel good.

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      If you hadn't done something to make her feel good, she would just continue not feeling good, but she wouldn't tell you all the details of it. It's literally when women start getting more serotonin - you are going to do something good for them - and they are anticipating more love and support, their brain starts perking up.

    [ Q ] What exactly happens here?

      What happens then is they become aware of all of these problems they are going to be letting go of and they need to talk about them. So it sabotages the romance, so people just don't do those little things they used to do at the beginning.

      But if you can consciously do those things - plan dates, create intimate conversations when the TV set's not on, look at each other, talk about what you did today and how that felt and what you wanted and didn't want to do - the kinds of things you did in the beginning - these have a huge impact for women in creating the oxytocin and lowering stress. Then their hormones flourish.

      Now there are certain supplements you can take that will boost those hormones. There are wonderful different supplements that are available. There is something called DMG - Dimethylglycine - an amino acid - which helps to stabilize blood sugar. You take a gram of it before you eat a meal - on an empty stomach - and your blood sugar becomes more stable, which helps produce more brain chemicals.

      For women there's an amino acid called 5-HTP. 5-HTP - all natural - will help produce serotonin in women. These are not drugs, just proteins. And with the right stimulation from these supplements, she will feel better. So Dimethylglycone and 5-HTP can help a lot. Green tea extract can certainly help a lot as well, because it stimulates the metabolism.

      I think all weightlifters should use this; it is such a great thing. So green tea extract is good for keeping the metabolism in line and because when you have more energy you have more energy for romance.

      There is also a supplement, which is an extract of the magnolia plant, that helps to lower cortisol. Again when they lower stress levels, women will have more energy and they will have more hormone production. The green tea also helps with hormone production; it increases DHEA, which creates all the other hormones, including oxytocin.