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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I owe you a debt of gratitude, and I'll tell you why: I'm the guy ("Tormented in Oregon") who suspected his wife of having an affair with another woman after finding a collection of love letters and poems written by her best friend, a gay woman I'll call Grace.

When I returned from work the day my letter was printed, I was confronted by my very angry wife, "Julie." I was shocked because I never dreamed you would print my letter. And just in case you did -- I had changed some details so that if it were published, she would not recognize that I wrote the letter. Boy, was I naive!

The letters and poems were actually written by Grace to an ex-lover. Julie was just holding onto them for safekeeping. I was immediately placed in the doghouse, primarily for snooping and jumping to conclusions. I had to promise to commit myself to some very intensive marriage counseling. I also had to apologize to Grace. She also felt violated that I had read something so personal without her permission.

Some of the things I have learned, and would not have, had you not printed my letter:

1. Marriage is based on mutual trust. This does not include snooping into your spouse's private papers.

2. If there are problems at home, look no further than yourself. Blaming some outside influence will get you nowhere.

3. Honest communication is essential, no matter how difficult or painful it may be.

4. Be grateful for your spouse's friends. True friendship gives everyone a fuller, happier life, and actually enriches the relationship between husband and wife.

5. Paranoia will destroy your marriage faster than anything else -- and may, in fact, drive your spouse away from you.

6. Gay women do not go around seducing straight women.

Again, Abby, thank you. We are not out of the woods yet, but thanks to you, we're getting there. By printing my letter, you made me fess up to my actions and confront my own demons. -- A GRATEFUL FRIEND IN OREGON

DEAR GRATEFUL FRIEND: Based upon the lessons you've learned in only one month, your personal growth has been phenomenal. For that I congratulate you. Letters like yours make my column rewarding. Thank you for the update and kind words.

DEAR ABBY: I am 74, and for the past three years, due to health problems, have been unable to write legibly. When e-mail came along, I got a computer. It brought me great joy to know that I could communicate with my family and friends of a lifetime. I have always been a writer and love to receive mail from people I care about, but I became frustrated when I could no longer write "thank-you" cards to them.

My question: Is it better to acknowledge my thanks via e-mail so the response is immediate, or wait for the days when I muster up the ability to write and sign a card? Personally, I prefer knowing they received my gift no matter how they let me know. -- RUTH PHILLIPS

DEAR RUTH: Those who care about you know about your difficulty with writing. If using a computer makes it easier to communicate with your family and friends, then do so. Perhaps you can also use it to design your own personalized thank-you cards.

To receive a collection of Abby's most memorable -- and most frequently requested -- poems and essays, send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby's "Keepers," P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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