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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I met my husband in church where he had recently been "saved." While we were dating, I found out he had come from a nonreligious, alcoholic home, but he told me how much he wanted to be a better husband and father than his father had been. The first few years I actually believed him when he said I had spiritual problems and was not submissive enough. I eventually realized it was his way of justifying emotional abuse toward me.

Over the years, he has become more and more distrustful and critical. Everything is black and white to him. Despite the fact that he says "no church I know of is worth going to," I have continued to raise the children in church. I refuse to allow them to become isolated and insist they participate in activities that interest them. I make sure they are around families who are good relationship models. I secretly went to counseling for a while. I have a lot of prayer support.

Why am I writing? Because I've known a number of women over the years who have found themselves in similar or even worse situations. They married a man from an alcoholic or abusive background who had a "religious experience." In every case, including mine, the man swept her off her feet and was in a big rush to marry.

No matter how much in love a woman is, if a man comes from a troubled background, she should be VERY careful. Some men truly change, but many slip back into patterns that are familiar to them, and then the wife and family become the targets of his anger and pain.

What I would have seen during a long engagement was that my husband swings between being the greatest guy in the world to being angry, depressed and controlling. It's not true that only women from troubled families will be attracted to such men.

Abby, please don't try to contact me, as I save "rocking the boat" for important issues, like those affecting the children. I just want to help others avoid what I have experienced. If I had known at the beginning what I know now, I'd have had a greater chance to get my husband into counseling, and we might have a better marriage than we have now. -- FRUSTRATED, BUT COPING

DEAR FRUSTRATED: I agree with some -- but not all -- of the points you have made. The myth of "Prince Charming" is difficult to dispel because girls take it with them from early childhood into young womanhood. Long engagements and premarital counseling make sense, if both parties are willing to take off the rose-colored glasses and take a good look at each other. (Who was it who said that the marriage contract should be invalid, because both parties enter into it while they're insane?)

You have a keen insight into your husband and the core issues that trouble your marriage, and for that, I congratulate you. Obviously the counseling you sought was of value, and you are in this for the long haul.

Of course, women who are dating men from troubled backgrounds should look closely at what they might be taking on, but so should men who are dating women from dysfunctional families. Counseling is very helpful to people who sincerely want to change and are willing to work on their issues.

I hope one day your husband recognizes that with some effort on his part, you both could have a happier marriage.

Abby shares more of her favorite, easy-to-prepare recipes. To order, send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, More Favorite Recipes, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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