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She Thinks I Never Do Anything Right. So Why Even Try?

She says she's sick of doing all the housework. He says her nagging is bringing him down. Can this marriage be saved?

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The Couple

Kate: 36, nonprofit manager

Brendan: 38, software developer

Married: 9 years

Kids: Aidan, 6, and Max, 4

The Counselor

Stephanie Whitman, Chicago

The Background

Kate wants Brendan to help out; he thinks she’s a nag and feels criticized when he does pitch in. To escape he’s been staying out late with his buddies. Kate worries he’s got a drinking problem and that their marriage is doomed.

Kate: This is so not the life I envisioned. When we were dating I was upfront with Brendan about the future I wanted — a career, a family, and a husband who’d share the childrearing and chores. Brendan agreed to an equal partnership. Famous last words! If he’d do his fair share, I wouldn’t have to bark orders like a drill sergeant. Brendan works from home, so you’d think he’d find time for a few chores. What’s wrong with him?

Brendan: Nothing’s wrong with me. Our standards and priorities are way different and Kate chews me out if I don’t do things exactly the way she wants. Kate expects all the toys to be put away every night, but what’s the point if they’ll come out again the next day? It’s a big deal to her if Aidan and Max’s socks don’t match, but as long as the kids are safe and healthy I don’t care whether they wear one blue sock and one brown one. Why should I waste time in the morning finding them matching socks?

Kate’s a perfectionist. She’ll walk into a room, find the one thing that’s wrong out of 100 things that are right, and go ballistic. I won’t notice that a light has been left on — until Kate says, “I wonder who didn’t turn off the light again?” I’ve stopped trying to please her. When we’re together she berates me for what I’m not doing — or doing wrong — and then gives me the silent treatment. I hate fighting, so at night I hide out in my office or hang out in bars with my friends. It’s the only relief I get.

Kate: Brendan says “perfectionist” like it’s a four-letter word. Yes, I’m a perfectionist. And a proud one. I won’t apologize for having high standards or wanting Brendan to be a good role model for our sons. If he leaves clothes around, Aidan and Max will think it’s okay to do the same. I’m mad that Brendan’s so disengaged from our family life. He’s been working on his company so much that he’s oblivious to what it takes to keep things running smoothly at home. If he paid attention, he’d understand that I need more support, especially in the morning. I’ve got an hour to get ready for work, take the boys to school, and get to the office on time, so I need Brendan to get them dressed and fed as well as make their lunches and pack their backpacks. But more often than not he’ll take a call from a client in Tokyo without telling me first. I hate scrambling around and that’s when I start yelling — not the best way to begin the day.

Brendan: Here’s the deal: I’m an entrepreneur, so my work never ends and my schedule is consistently inconsistent. I have to take calls from Asia first thing in the morning because of the time difference. Kate should know this by now. Instead of getting pissed at me, she should stop staying up until 2&nbap;a.m. posting photos on Facebook. Then she could wake up before 6:45 and she wouldn’t have to rush. It’s not my fault that she cuts it too close.

Kate: Well, evenings aren’t much better. Brendan is still in his office when I bring the boys home at 5 p.m. I have to ask him to help supervise their homework and baths; otherwise I’ll get stuck doing everything myself, while he sends e-mail until I put dinner on the table. On weekends, the minute I come home from grocery shopping, he stops paying attention to the boys and turns the TV on. So I have to put everything away — and keep the kids from fighting over the snacks. It’s not like I walk in the door, drop the groceries, and take a bubble bath. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I took a bubble bath.

Brendan: So take a bubble bath already! No one’s stopping her. Kate makes it sound like I ignore our kids every chance I get. That’s not fair — and it’s not true. But unlike Kate, I don’t think they need constant supervision. I’m not a helicopter parent. And just because Kate comes home doesn’t mean my workday is over. I wish she’d cut me some slack.

Kate: I’m too angry to cut Brendan any slack! It’s like he’s given up on our marriage but hasn’t bothered to tell me. I mean, what else am I supposed to think when he stays out drinking? We haven’t had a real conversation or gone on a date in years. I love Brendan and want our marriage to work, but we’ve lost our connection. I’m stressed out from doing all the chores and I’m worried that he’s drinking too much. Things have to change fast. I hope that counseling will help us get back on track.

Brendan: I don’t see how counseling will do any good. I bet Kate and the therapist will gang up on me. But, hey, I’ll give it a try. Because if I don’t, Kate will make my life even more miserable.

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