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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I have been married to my second husband, "Jack," for six years. We have two children. One is my son "Tommy" by a previous relationship. The other is our 3-year-old daughter, "Elizabeth." (Tommy's birth father has never been a part of his life.)

The problem is, Jack treats Tommy differently from the way he treats Elizabeth. He chastises Tommy when the TV is too loud, when he slams the door (I don't often consider it a slam), and rarely wants to spend any money on Tommy for haircuts, shoes, clothes, etc. If Elizabeth does any of the above, he doesn't "hear" it. If I buy something for our daughter, he seems content with it. He rarely has conversations with Tommy unless he's correcting him. A neighbor even noticed this and mentioned it to me.

If I try to discuss the situation, Jack becomes defensive and denies it, and the conversation ends. One day we did clear the air, and he said that Tommy is a constant reminder of my past relationship. Abby, Jack is the only father my son has ever known, and Tommy loves him. I don't want Tommy treated differently because of my life history -- he has done nothing wrong.

What's ironic is that Jack used to criticize one of his relatives because she treated her stepson differently from her own. I see the early stages of this in my husband. -- HEARTBROKEN IN CALIFORNIA

DEAR HEARTBROKEN: Since your husband has finally admitted that there's a problem, now is the time to take the initiative. Tell him that his behavior is extremely unfair and that you can no longer tolerate it because it's psychologically damaging to your son. Ask your physician for a referral to a family counselor who can straighten out your husband's thinking and help Tommy rebuild his self-esteem. If your husband refuses to cooperate, go to the counselor yourself, and take your son.

DEAR ABBY: My boyfriend of two years just broke up with me. He said he wants to date other people.

Abby, he has been a part of my life for two years and he's my best friend in all the world. I know that time heals all wounds, but how can I be around him when I still love him so dearly? He still wants to see me, and I wouldn't ever think of throwing our friendship away. But being around him, I can't help but think of how much I love him. Any coping tips? -- BROKENHEARTED, LAKE FOREST, ILL.

DEAR BROKENHEARTED: It's next to impossible to be close to someone who has rejected you and not bleed. Therefore, I would recommend at least a short "recess" in this friendship. Wear a heavy rubber band loosely around one wrist. Every time you get depressing thoughts of him, snap the rubber band. The pain in your wrist will distract you from the pain in your heart.

Face it: Getting over a romance is like quitting smoking. Although it's traumatic, "cold turkey" is the most effective and least painful way to do it. If you sneak a puff here, and sneak a puff there, you'll never get the nicotine out of your system.

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