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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: My husband and I have been married 34 years. We are both 53. For the last few years, our marriage has been strained, but we have never cheated on each other that I'm aware of.

Now my husband is doing something I'm afraid spells trouble. A few months ago he started "helping" his female hairdresser learn how to use her computer at her house, which is close to ours. Then he decided he should "help her" buy a printer by taking the weekly sales ads from the Sunday paper to her house every Monday night. I knew nothing about it for the first couple of months. It just "slipped out" one night.

I thought he was working a lot of overtime on Mondays, and now he's consistently two hours late -- but only on Monday nights.

When I told my husband I thought seeing her could lead to something more than business, he agreed. But he swears he only wants to help her because he admires her for raising her 10-year-old son alone, and she needs his help. He estimates it might take one and a half to two years to find her the right printer.

I say that's hogwash. I doubt that she's even looking -- for a printer, that is. I think she's looking for a man, because she has no boyfriend and is very short on money.

I don't want to push him into doing anything if this is innocent, but I also don't want to be a fool and get dumped in the end. I have stuck with this marriage through a lot of turmoil, and I think I deserve some loyalty. What do you think I should do? -- FAITHFUL IN WASHINGTON

DEAR FAITHFUL: Pay attention to your intuition. Finding a reliable, reasonably priced printer is as easy as visiting the library and checking out Consumer Reports. At most, it should take a couple of hours. That's a far cry from a year and a half.

I urge you to do the following: Seek the advice of an attorney who specializes in family law. It's important that you know what the laws are in your state that affect the division of family assets. If your husband is in business for himself, you may also need the advice of an accountant. If he's having an affair -- and I'm willing to bet he is -- he may have already started hiding money that belongs to both of you.

If you don't have your own credit rating, establish one now. You may need it. Begin upgrading your job skills and prepare a resume in case you have to find a job.

Then give your husband an ultimatum -- because you do deserve some loyalty, and you shouldn't have to share your husband with his hairdresser or any other woman.

DEAR ABBY: As a retired nurse, I think someone needs to correct the stereotyping of elderly people as complainers. There is a fine line between complaining and explaining.

The elderly in our society are, generally, people who have been hard workers most of their lives and, in my experience with them, are mostly embarrassed by their limitations. Also, families need to know the health history of their elders.

The next time Mom or Dad or Uncle Charlie seems to be complaining, listen up! You may be hearing something you'll need to know someday. -- BEA HYVARE, R.N., FRIDLEY, MINN.

DEAR BEA: You could be right. However, if a relative complained repeatedly to me about the same ailments, my first response would be: "Does your doctor know how you've been feeling? What did he (or she) have to say about it?"

Abby shares her favorite recipes in two booklets: "Abby's Favorite Recipes" and "Abby's More Favorite Recipes." To order, send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 per booklet ($4.50 each in Canada) to: Dear Abby Booklets, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in price.)

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