What He's Really Thinking When You Fight

When you and your husband argue, does he seem maddeningly unable to understand why you're so upset? New brain studies show that men and women really are wired very differently.
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Where the Problem Starts

An hour before she and her husband, Tim, are expected at his parents' house, Liz walks in the door to find him watching football in the den with their toddler, Ella -- a dirty mess from her day at the playground -- at his feet. The house is a disaster, they're expected at the party in an hour and the cookies they had offered to bring to the get-together are sitting unbaked in the fridge. After racing to get the cookies in the oven while settling a work issue with a colleague on the phone, Liz dashes to the bedroom to change. "Will you get Ella ready to go? I've left her dress and shoes out," she calls out to Tim, who's still sitting in front of the tube. Tim nods his assent, and when Liz emerges, she finds him pacing impatiently by the door.

Leaning over to adjust Ella's dress, she asks Tim if he's cleaned her up. "Yes," he says, exasperated. "We're late. Let's go." But when they arrive at Tim's parents', and Liz reaches to take Ella out of her car seat, she sees that her daughter's hands and face are still covered with grime. "She's filthy," Liz hisses. Tim shrugs, saying he'll clean her up when they get inside. "That's not the point, Tim," shouts a now-fuming Liz. "Why didn't you see how dirty she was when you were changing her? She needed a bath."

Once inside, Liz can't get over her anger -- she can't even bring herself to talk to her husband. Miffed by her coldness, Tim purposefully ignores it and within moments a conversation with his uncle eclipses Liz's distress in his mind. Tim's sister, on the other hand, takes one look at Liz's flushed face and pulls her into the kitchen for a hug and a chat. "I can't believe him," Liz seethes. "She looked like something out of Oliver Twist! Not only that, but lead levels in the soil in our neighborhood are astronomical!" she says. "We had such a scare after the renovation when her first tests came back high for lead. Does he want her to have brain damage?"

Liz stays on a slow simmer for the rest of the evening. The next morning, she arrives at the breakfast table determined to find some kind of resolution. She tries to talk about the argument and what it means for their relationship, but Tim accuses her of exaggerating and overreacting. Liz thinks he doesn't care about her, and Tim doesn't know why she's making such a fuss. "Why," he wonders for the hundredth time, "does every little thing have to turn into a full-blown drama? Why can't she just move on?"

Continued on page 2:  Anatomy of an Argument


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