"Wade is so selfish," sobs Lindsay, 34, who recently quit her job as director of placement for a university to stay home full time with their twin 2-year-old daughters.
"For six years I've put up with him, but I refuse to do it any longer. Maybe if I take the girls and move to my mother's, it will shock him out of his awful passivity."
Wade never pays attention to her, Lindsay claims: "He always tunes out when I start a conversation." Not that she expects him to cater to her every need, but "Is a little consideration, a little thoughtfulness once in a while, too much to ask?"
When they met, Lindsay found Wade's somewhat detached attitude refreshing. He didn't fawn all over her, the way her first husband had, and she was immediately attracted to this sexy man who was determined to leave his mark on the world. But now, only what Wade wants and needs is important.
Lindsay's chief complaint is that her husband never helps with chores or child care. He always works late at his marketing job, she says--sometimes until 11 p.m. Lindsay is exhausted and desperate for a break, but Wade gets angry and resentful when she tries to talk about it. "He loves to play with the girls, but makes it clear that runny noses are my job, my problem," Lindsay explains.
Money is another constant trigger for fights: "Wade always complains that I throw money around if I buy myself a new sweater. If he ever sat down and worked up a budget he'd see we don't have to pinch pennies. But God forbid I suggest we go out for dinner alone; he always claims it's too expensive and not as good as my cooking."
Wade, 34, admits he doesn't help much around the house, but as far as he's concerned, his wife never sees his side.
"She sounds like a broken record. I'm working hard to prove myself and make enough money to support this family, and she buys a cashmere sweater and wants to go out to dinner!" he exclaims.
Lindsay's constant criticism is not only undeserved, he insists, it's destroying their closeness. "How would you like it if every time you walked in the door, you were bombarded with a laundry list of things you should do and complaints about what you never got around to doing?" he asks. "Sure, I tune her out. What else can I do?"
Sadly, neither knows how to break the cycle of arguing that is making them feel like adversaries in a never-ending war.
"Lindsay and Wade are at a relationship impasse, so primed for a fight that just about any issue will trigger all-out warfare," says Neil Schiff, a psychologist in Washington. Like many couples, they don't realize that the words they use to present their feelings and needs can exacerbate problems. Before they can resolve their differences, they both need a vocabulary lesson.
For example: Lindsay communicates with insults, blame and nagging. Wade plays ostrich to defend himself against his wife's carping.
Keeping the following vocabulary rules in mind can help them, and you, stave off arguments and zero in on long-lasting solutions:
* Remember that certain words are time bombs. "Always" and "never" are signals that you are mounting a character assassination rather than initiating a conversation.
* Don't resort to threats. Announcing "I want a divorce," "This marriage is over," or, as Lindsay did, that she will take the kids away, is like pouring oil on a fire. You can't possibly have an intimate conversation if one of you feels the trust and basic foundation of your marriage is in jeopardy.
* Refrain from making global statements such as: "Talking to you is pointless," "You're just like your father" and so on. Though you may be frustrated, this only hastens the end of the conversation without yielding a solution.
Though all couples fight, once they learn to present feelings in a non-threatening way, they will end the power struggles and put the conversation on another, more focused level.