I hope to avoid a divorce.

We met in my native Germany; married when I was very young and have a daughter, 17, and a son, 12. We have moved 15 times in 21 years, including some local moves.

The problem: My husband, a career military officer, has always been driven by his need to work.

He comes home later and later, is exhausted on weekends and spends most of his time watching sports on TV or napping. We go to church on Sunday and then he usually pulls out the briefcase and works.

I take care of the children, the car and the finances, fix whatever is broken and at night I keep busy reading, doing projects, etc.

I now work three days a week, which has been wonderful for my self-esteem, but I'm more and more unhappy with my marriage.

We used to entertain as needed, but now I see "my" friends during the day and only go to social functions connected with his work. We have no friends as a couple anymore and no longer go out to dinner or the movies, because I wanted him to make the plans for a change.

He is supersensitive to criticism from me, usually gets offended over something early in the weekend and then gives me the cold shoulder through most of the next week. We live like polite strangers.

He helps the children with their homework, but they don't have any "fun" time together. They don't share his interest in sports and we gave up games years ago, because my husband must always win.

Despite all this, the children are well-adjusted and excellent students. Our daughter keeps things on a logical level with her dad and gets along well with him; our son clashes more often and reacts strongly to his father's put-downs.

He does leave us a small note every morning with a positive comment; he cares about our families and has been very generous with my parents.

I think down deep he loves me, but he says he can't understand my need for companionship and shared thoughts.

He won't take time off from work to go to joint counseling with me. Even if he would, I'm not sure it would help if he doesn't first find out what drives him to work the hours he does.

Are my expectations unrealistic?

No, they're not, nor is your response surprising. Your job gave you a little freedom of thought and that always invites rebellion.

Professional help is essential.

Begin with joint counseling, which is available on weekends and at night. He'll make time for it if he knows the marriage hinges on his cooperation, and he may even see the need for individual therapy later.

Therapy will help you see how you've contributed to his problem -- perhaps by running things so well he may not have felt needed at home -- and it will help him see how work has driven a wedge between you.

Some people work doubly hard to avoid close relationships; others compensate because they don't think they're as good as their co-workers.

Whatever the cause, fear is the culprit. It's a crippling disease that traps all of us at times.

Some mothers are such perfectionists they retreat or fall apart at the prospect of nurturing more people than they think they can handle, while some men may be so protective they feel overwhelmed by their duty to provide.

Children get along fine without much money, but they have to have attention and affection.

Already you're seeing your son respond negatively. This could lead to full-blown warfare between him and his father.

Your children need help with homework that really matters: learning how a family gets along. You and your husband are teaching them every day by what you do -- and don't do.

It's time to work together, so you can teach your children how to negotiate, to compromise -- and to talk. Your husband will always show his love more by providing than confiding -- that's his temperament -- but he has to share more than he does now. Poor communication is the single greatest cause of divorce.

And as distressed as you are, you'll have to be very gentle and understanding, for he is much more vulnerable than you. If he weren't, he could talk about his compulsion to work and his inability to lose simple games or handle criticism without having a five-day pout.

You'll also have to take the social initiative, so he'll talk more. Have an occasional party, mixing your friends and his, and arrange for the two of you to go out once a week. A nighttime picnic, where there's no briefcase and no television, is good because it's easier to talk by candlelight, especially after a therapy session.

The next year will be rough, as you take the marriage apart and put it back together in a better way, but it's better than divorce. After 21 years, there's really no such thing.

The memories you made together would always invade the privacy of your mind and your paths would keep crossing at graduations, weddings, births and birthdays -- and emergency-room traumas and funerals too.

It's foolish to throw a marriage away without trying to repair it first.

Questions may be sent to P.O. Box 15310, Washington, D.C. 20003.