"You're trying to change me," Leslie blurted out over a dinner of macaroni and cheese.
"What are you talking about?" I asked with all the pretense of surprise I could muster. Truth is, I was trying to change her, I just didn't want her to know that.
It had been tense in our little apartment ever since we got home from work. The tension between us had something to do with Leslie not being as organized in the kitchen as I wanted her to be. I made some inane critical comment about not being able to find something I could always find in my kitchen growing up. Well, OK, it wasn't the first critical comment I'd made that week, or even that evening.
"I'm talking about the way you make snippy comments," Leslie said. "No matter what I do, it's not good enough."
"That's not true," I said defensively. "Give me one good example of how I'm so critical." That was a mistake. For the next several minutes she tossed out a specific example, and then I'd explain how reasonable my critical comment was. We were playing a game of mental Ping-Pong that no one would win. Actually, it was our first fight as a married couple. And after the blowup, I sat helpless, not knowing where to go or what to do.
I (Leslie) knew exactly where I wanted to go—back home. And I probably would have if Chicago hadn't been 2,000 miles away. Sitting in that tiny kitchen in the middle of Los Angeles, beginning graduate school as well as a marriage, I wanted nothing more than to be somewhere safe and welcoming. Sure, it's a cliche, the new bride "running home to Mom," but it wouldn't exist if it didn't contain a kernel of truth. Turns out a lot of newly married women, as well as their husbands, experience this urge in the aftermath of their first fights. We've seen it countless times with the couples we've counseled.1