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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: My mother remarried two years ago. "Bart" is good to her; however, he drives me and my husband absolutely up the wall. He's a compulsive talker, and he belittles my brother whenever he can. He also makes inappropriate comments about sex. They are not directed at me, but he gives me information about my mother and him, which makes me very uncomfortable.

Now he is bad-mouthing my mother to my husband and telling my husband not to tell me, because he knows I will tell my mother.

They have started pressuring us to go on vacation with them for a solid week. I can't bear the thought of it. My husband doesn't want to go either, and he says I should not tell my mother how I feel -- just avoid her husband as much as possible.

Abby, I think I should level with her, but how do I go about it without breaking her heart? -- HURTING IN OTTUMWA, IOWA

DEAR HURTING: Dodging your stepfather is not a solution. You are overdue for a frank talk with your mother. Tell her everything you have told me. Her husband's comments are clearly inappropriate, and the situation won't change unless she's made fully aware of how and why he's driving people away.

DEAR ABBY: The letter in your column about complimenting employees when they do a good job brought back many memories for me. I am a senior citizen now, retired -- but it brought a smile to my face.

Twenty-six years ago, I went to work for an optometrist. I was working there for about a month, when I received a note from him telling me about the excellent job I was doing and thanking me. That note meant so much to me; it also motivated me to try to do even better.

People are always quick to criticize. How wonderful it would be if all people would give praise when it is due. -- LENORE SHANKMAN, STRATFORD, CONN.

P.S. Two years after I started the job, the optometrist and I were married!

DEAR LENORE: That's high praise, indeed, for a job well done. It's a smart employee who makes herself indispensable. I'm glad that your boss only had eyes for you!

DEAR ABBY: Your letters about husbands doing things for their wives sparked my interest. Not only does mine open doors, he does the laundry, goes shopping -- and does a very good job of it.

He takes me out to dinner each and every payday, sweeps, mops the floors and shampoos the carpets, and keeps the yard beautiful. He does NOT mess in my flowerbeds, however. That's my baby.

He can't cook, but that's OK because I love to cook.

We are in our 50s and we leave love notes all over the house. He always kisses me goodbye on his way out the door to work -- whether I'm asleep or awake.

I hear of so much family violence, I'm very happy and consider myself a lucky woman. In this imperfect world, I got the almost perfect man. -- A HAPPY COUPLE IN MISSOURI

DEAR HAPPY COUPLE: My congratulations to you both. My column is usually a trouble-dump. But with the exception of the series of letters I have printed about acts of kindness, I don't know when I've enjoyed printing letters more than those I've received from couples who take the time to express their love for each other. Perhaps they will provide inspiration to couples who need it.

What teens need to know about sex, drugs, AIDS, and getting along with peers and parents is in "What Every Teen Should Know." To order, send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Teen Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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