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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: All my life, I've lived the way I was raised to live -- church every Sunday, living those commitments during the week, and holding family and marriage above all else. I have waited on my husband hand and foot, taken excellent care of our family, done all of the housework and parenting (he was always too busy), and did nothing without first thinking how it would affect the family.

After 25 years of my husband running around on me, I kicked him out. (My goal was to wait until the children were out on their own.) Now, he has started the most malicious (and untrue) rumors about ME. I'm sure it's to cover up his escapades. People in this small town are having a heyday with the gossip. I can't even go to the grocery store without someone making a snide remark or not speaking to me. I am crushed.

For years I worked with every organization my children were involved in, held offices, cooked, baked, ran errands, raised money and supported all of their efforts. I came to know a lot of people this way -- and they came to know me.

What happened to those friendships? Why are people listening to the gossip and feeling sorry for him? His mother, sisters and brother have all had extramarital affairs, and it has been well known in this community. (His brother's affair was plastered across the front page of the local newspaper as part of a murder trial.)

Why are people believing him now? Please don't tell me that time will fix everything. It's been six months and the gossip is getting worse. Obviously, I can't sign my name or hometown -- I don't want to even think about what gossip would result from it.

My husband saw a psychologist and a psychiatrist for two years. They urged me to throw him out because they felt he was dangerous. I've talked with them both, and they tell me to just hang in there and ride it out.

Abby, that's much easier said than done. Please help me. I have talked with my husband's ex-aunt at length. She tells me his uncle did the same things to her, and she feels the same way I do. Is there no end to this malicious gossip and hurt? -- LONELY AND HURTING

DEAR LONELY AND HURTING: Probably not until the gossips in your town find something else titillating to talk about. The problem with gossip is that it sometimes takes on a life of its own, becoming more outlandish the farther it travels from its source.

Unless you plan to leave the community, you are going to have to do what your husband's psychologist and psychiatrist told you to do -- ride it out. If you need an ally, your clergyperson could be a valuable one throughout this difficult time.

Bear in mind that people who make snide remarks, or refuse to speak to you without having given you a chance to defend yourself, were never your friends to begin with -- so you haven't lost anything. It's possible that those who are siding with your ex-husband are doing it because of his perceived status in the community, not because the gossip is believed.

People who are truly your friends will listen to you, support you and help you build a future. Although this is a bitter chapter in your life, it is only a chapter. It's not the whole story. Viewed in the proper perspective, this experience will only make you stronger.

Everybody has a problem. What's yours? Get it off your chest by writing to Dear Abby, P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, Calif. 90069. For a personal reply, please enclose a stamped, self-addressed envelope.

4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600