Two Pease in a pod
BARBARA PEASE HAS very white, very even teeth. You can't fail to notice them, because she's always smiling. And she's flashing her pearly whites at me now, leaning forward conspiratorially to tell me that most journalists who interview the Peases end up confiding in them. And even while I'm making a firm mental note not to let slip any of my personal problems over the next hour or so, I can feel myself falling under the Peases' spell.
It's impossible not to like Barbara and Allan. They're funny and personable, full of enthusiasm about what they do, and unsurprisingly expert at making you feel immediately comfortable in their company.
It's a winning formula that has made the Australian-born couple very successful. They've sold 18 million books worldwide, and their eight bestselling titles have been translated into 47 languages. The couple are in Hong Kong to promote their latest self-help book, Why Men Lie And Women Cry.
Apparently it's already flying off the shelves in local bookshops. Once the promotional tour ends at Christmas, you'd think Barbara and Allan could afford to slow the pace down a little. But there's a new book on body language out next year, and the final in the 'Why ...' trilogy (Why Men Don't Listen And Women Can't Read Maps; Why Men Lie And Women Cry) planned for 2005.
There's a regular relationships spot on This Morning, British ITV's flagship daytime show. Then there's Pease International, their company that produces videos, training courses and seminars for businesses and governments worldwide. And there are Allan's speaking commitments (he's an expert on body language), which means he travels for three months of the year. Not alone, though. Barbara goes with him.
'We're together 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but we don't find it tough,' she says. 'If Allan goes away for a conference, and I have to stay at home for some reason, we don't like it. Normally I go everywhere with him, so we need really special techniques to stay together'. No kidding. It would drive a wedge between most couples, but not the Peases, because they really are genuinely, sincerely in love. And it's not that they can't keep their hands off each other during our interview (he plays with her hair, she strokes his shoulder), or that they've been happily married for 14 years that convinces you it's the real thing. They're just about to begin IVF to start a second family (between them they already have four children, aged 19 to 30) and they're so joyfully, eagerly excited about it all. Like a couple of love-struck teenagers, in fact.
So what's their secret? 'We wrote Why Men Don't Listen And Women Can't Read Maps to save our relationship,' says Barbara.
'We're both very strong characters, and it was a choice between discovering why we're different, and coming up with a solution, or divorcing'.
'We have the same problems as every other couple in the world but now we understand each other; we manage each other. We often get asked if we want the sexes to become the same. I can't think of anything more boring! I don't want to change Allan, or feminise him so he becomes more like me. I love his differences, but I manage them, and that's the key. The opposite sex is called the opposite sex because they're opposite. They're not the same. Don't try and change them. Understand them. Manage them. Have solutions.'
This is the central message behind the books and, say the Peases, the reason they're almost as well read by men as by women (they claim a 40/60 split).
'Men like our books, because they're non-threatening,' says Barbara. 'A lot of relationship books point the finger at men and say they're to blame. We say men and women are just different, not better or worse, and here's a book to teach you how to understand those differences and give you solutions. We're not saying these are the only solutions - as couples you should come up with your own - but here's one we know will work'
Go on then, give us an example. 'Take nagging, which is the most important chapter in the new book. Women don't even recognise the word 'nag'. A man created that word. A woman doesn't nag, she reminds. But women have to learn to speak in more direct terms. A man would say, 'I want you to take the garbage out by 5 o'clock today'. We beat around the bush, and say, 'It would be really nice if you took the garbage out soon'.'
'You've got to be direct, because men are really bad guessers,' says Allan. 'If you infer something, other women know what you mean. But to men, it's a complete mystery. Guys talk directly to each other, and to a woman it sounds as if they're being aggressive or rude ... but then they'll have a beer together. Whereas women think, 'If another woman treated me like that I'd never speak to her again'.'
They're right, of course, but don't we know this all already? It's hardly rocket science. The answer is that we probably do know but we don't always consciously articulate it. And the Peases' books are there to remind their readers, as Barbara says, that's it's the little things that matter in life and relationships, not the big things.
Of course it's all becoming more difficult, say the Peases, as society and male/female roles continue to rapidly evolve and change.
'Today, women work, but when they get home at the end of the day their brains are wired to think about children - they need to be bathed, fed, homework done - whereas a man comes home and wants to de-stress. Women have to teach men by saying, 'Darling, we've both been at work; we need to share the jobs. There are six things that have to be done at the end of the day. Which would you like to do: empty the dishwasher; bathe the kids; get tea ready; or iron the clothes?'
Nice idea, but the most recent research shows men are still far from sharing the household burden. Yes, say the Peases, because women still aren't asking in the right way.
'Be clear; be direct,' says Allan. 'Here's a list of the 30 things that need doing around the house. Which do you want to do? Women think men will help out when they need help, but men will only offer help if you ask, because for a man to offer help to another man is to assume the other guy's incapable.'
So the onus is on women - as always. Yes, but they're the ones who keep relationships together, says Barbara. Men are quite happy to continue the way they've been for years. 'It's us that wants the change.'
Allan thinks it's the worst time in history for relationships. 'The things couples argue about today were never argued about by your grandparents. Back then, he went to work, she looked after the family, and when he came home he wanted peace and quiet. Today there are so many choices.''
So in these uncertain times, how can the Peases be sure they're addressing the issues closest to couples' hearts? They know because they have a constant stream of e-mails and letters from their fans around the world begging them for advice.
Why Men Lie is a response to the most asked questions from readers around the globe, and the next book will go further in exploring issues around love and sex.
'There are so many areas people have difficulty with,' says Barbara. 'How do you survive an affair? What is sex? What is love?'
And beyond the trilogy, any chance they'll diversify into family relationships? Absolutely, says Barbara, especially if the IVF is successful. The body language of babies, relationships between parents and children ... the possibilities are endless. And with the Peases' special brand of humour and commonsense advice, they're almost certain to be bestsellers like the other books.
Why Men Lie And Women Cry: How To Get What You Want Out Of Life By Asking by Allan and Barbara Pease is published by Orion, $112