Psychologist offers some down-to-earth tips for relationships

Contrary to the best-selling book on male-female relationships, "Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus," Matt Bloom contends that crossing the gender gap doesn't have to involve negotiating with an alien.

Men and women aren't really that different, notes Bloom, a clinical psychologist from Mill Valley. Both sexes, in fact, want many of the same things, and good communication is one of them.

"Learn to communicate in a real way as an adult and you transcend gender differences," Bloom told 21 singles attending a recent workshop at the Marin Jewish Community Center in San Rafael. "By being increasingly real, the differences iron out."

To contrast his message with that of author John Gray, Bloom titled his talk "Men Are From Earth And So Are Women: Making It For Real."

Of course, there are many reasons why men and women sometimes find it difficult to get along. One of the big factors, is a fear of losing one's sense of identity in a relationship.

Men and women "are afraid that they will have to let go of `me' in a relationship," Bloom said.

"It's possible, though, to "give your…caring, guidance, love and support without a loss of self."

Bloom said the answer lies in being aware of one's personal boundaries.

He contrasted two views of relationships: "confluence," which emphasizes merging the partners' outlooks and expectations, and "contact," which allows for more differences. Bloom favors the latter.

"Contact provides energy, puts you on the boundaries of who you are and says to your partner, `Don't spare me to appease me. Be real with me,'" Bloom said.

Open discussion of differences can be threatening, he acknowledged. But if couples can weather the difficult moments, they'll experience what he referred to as "integration."

The result can be a more intimate and fulfilling relationship. Nonetheless, there will inevitably be some tough times along the way.

"It's exciting when you stay there with it, when it starts to get hot and the juices start to flow," said Bloom, "Stick around for the changes — don't wimp out prematurely."

Bloom gave workshop participants some tips on maintaining loving feelings despite differences. He told them to take time during conflicts to remember the most positive qualities of their relationships. He also suggested using techniques for avoiding conflict that worked well in past relationships — even the worst relationships have moments that work, he said.

Bloom concluded his remarks with a challenge, reminding participants that they are responsible for their own approach to relationships.

"What do you want?" he asked. "Are you willing to take responsibility for getting what you want?"