She picked the restaurant, a new one in the neighborhood that had won crowd-drawing reviews in the food columns. It sounded good to him.

But service lagged and bordered on the rude. He remarked on the staff's poor performance; for some reason she ignored his complaints. They chatted on.

When their meals finally arrived, hers turned out to be worth the wait. His was disappointing. He nibbled at it, grumbled a bit and, usually easy to please, considered sending it back to the kitchen.

But he saw his wife's face darken in a frown. "Shut up about the food," she told him firmly, "and let's enjoy our dinner."

What had prompted the outburst, so unlike her? The husband was hard put to know.

Psychologist Celia Halas has an answer. She thinks it probably has something to do with the way women are raised in our culture.

The Phoenix therapist has just written a book, "Why can't a Woman Be More Like a Man?" (Macmillan, 243 pages, $10.95), aimed at explaining to men why women behave differently from them. It is based on her eight years of counseling men and women in their relationships as well as her own experience in coming to grips with frustrations in her homelife.

If her title sounds familiar, it's the question an exasperated Henry Higgins ponders musically in "My Fair Lady" when he can't understand what it is Eliza Doolittle wants.

Because of the way society directs them from the time they are small, Halas says women characteristically "readily accept responsibility for things that are really none of their doing and blame themselves for things they cannot change.

"If a woman's children fail, she blames herself. If on a night out, her husband does not like the restaurant she picks, she feels responsible for his disappointment."

The man's natural reaction, she says, would be to blame the bad meal on the chef. His wife, however, "did not want to disappoint him. She was concerned with the relationship."

Halas sees a great deal of this misunderstanding between the sexes in her practice. For housewives, it may bring on middle-age depression -- a "widespread" occurrence, she says -- when their children no longer need them or they are divorced or widowed "and have lost their place."

Now 58, Halas experienced "a nervous breakdown" herself as a housewife when her three children were grown. Impressed with the benefits of therapy, she returned to school at 45 for a doctorate and a career. Her husband, though perhaps initially threatened by the change in the family's status quo, is "today my biggest booster."

"The worst mistake we make in our culture is to raise boys and girls differently," she says, and once they become adults to expect them "to join together and live in close harmony."

In the beginning, Halas says, "young girls learn they should be compliant, pleasing and cooperative." When they grow up, they are to be "supportive." Boys, on the other hand, are trained to be "action-oriented and to grow up to make big things happen -- and to take care of women."

Women also are brought up "to be relationship-oriented. They center themselves around it." Men, too, "are raised to expect that they will have relationships. But they expect to accomplish things, and a wife is only one of their goals. Many women have no plans for themselves after marriage, while men have plans on where they want to go. They don't identify themselves as a spouse."

How does this produce conflicts in a marriage?

"The man comes home from work saying, 'I have accomplished so much, and I've done it all for you.'

"And the woman says, 'But you didn't call at noon.'"

In school, boys and girls take the same courses and are encouraged to work seriously -- but often for the girl, "not so seriously as not to want to drop everything when Prince Charming comes along."

One man, the father of a newborn daughter, told Halas he planned to raise her like her older brothers, "but I will spoil her more." That, says Halas, "is a contradiction. Boys and girls should get the same messages. It would spare the men heart attacks and their wives wouldn't be widows."

From these "subtle and pervasive influences of home, parents, peers, schools," adult women, she has found, generally differ psychologically from adult men in several ways. In addition to the tendency toward self-blame, these differences include:

Powerlessness: "It is really true that women have a tremendous sense of powerlessness." It stems primarily, she believes -- and she says this as a "strong feminist" -- from feelings of inferiority. "They have come to believe that everyday messages that tell them that men are smarter, stronger and more capable."

In her consultations with male spouses, "I knew that men don't realize these things." What husbands see as their wives' nagging and complaining," she suggests, is a manifestation of their powerlessness. They see a need for something to be done and appeal to the person with the power to do it.

"Our culture is set up for men to have all the power. Men feel free to make large purchases without consultation. Women go where the man's job is.

"We see men as stronger. They generally are stronger physically. A woman is afraid to take a chance. She's afraid that if that person becomes angry, he will totally clobber her. A lot of them have."

Women, she says, "are taught to avoid confrontation, to work around it." In childhood quarrels, "boys are told to go out and stand up to it."

She wants to make clear, however, that "I say we don't feel powerful. Not that we aren't powerful."

Orientation to others: "Women place more emphasis upon others' opinions and acceptance than men do. They look to others for direction and fulfillment. This dependence upon others for their happiness increases their anxiety." And in later life, "having built their lives around others, women often find themselves without personalities of their own."

A woman's dependence is the theme of an upcoming book by writer Colette Dowling, "The Cinderella Complex: Women's Hidden Fear of Independence" (Summit Books). From her research, she reports in a New York Times Magazine adaptation from the book, "I came to the conclusion that psychological dependence -- the conscious or unconscious wish to escape responsibility -- was the unidentified element in the conflict many women are experiencing today.

"Women are brought up to depend on a man and to feel naked and frightened without one. We have been taught to believe that as females we cannot stand alone, that we are too fragile, too delicate, too needful of protection. So that now, in these enlightened days, when so much has become possible, unresolved emotional issues often hold us back."

Society, she writes, "continues to support the notion that wives and mothers should have the option not to work. As a result of being given the choice, many middle-class women continue to think of work as a kind of experiment -- a form, almost, of play."

Fear: Women, Halas says, "are more immobilized by it than men." They take fewer risks, seeing it as a chance to lose rather than gain something. Faced with a conflict in the home, a woman may withdraw rather than challenge what she does not like.

Fantasy orientation: "Most women," he writes, "have been brought up with fanciful expectations of life." But once they are married, "they are disillusioned by real men who are not simultaneously sturdy oaks and Sir Galahads, by children whose needs never let up and by the narrowing confines of a home." They blame their unhappiness on life "rather than the unreality of their upbringing."

She has been told, Halas says, that her book seems to apply mostly to housewives and not to career women outside the home. She disagrees. A large percentage of the women she sees are "successful career women who have problems in relationships at home."

Halas does see a change for the better in some young women today whose career-women mothers have provided them a model -- "and who are seeing more options for themselves." But these changes overall, she finds, "are surprisingly slow. The subtle messages are still there."

Both Halas and Dowling believe women, if they're not employed already, should prepare for the time when their children are grown or they are on their own. "Depression usually goes out of doors when you feel productive," says Halas.

What can men do to improve their relationships?

"Do not discount a woman's perceptions," advises Halas. "Recognize they're going to be different and listen.

"Trust women to be capable, and they'll perform capably.

"Don't get a lot of pleasure treating women as if they were dependent.You'll come to resent the burden."

If we raised boys and girls alike, she suggests, each would acquire some of the positive attributes of the other -- more sensitivity in relationships for the male, a stronger sense of independence for the female.

"Most of the difficulties" in relationships " would be erased if both moved toward the center."