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by Abigail Van Buren

Four Was Cozy Company but Now Three's a Crowd

DEAR ABBY: "Stan" and I have been married 45 years. He was always a loving and attentive husband. Two years ago, things began to change.

I had a best friend I'll call Clara who was like a sister to me. Stan, Clara and her husband and I would often go to dinner. We were a close foursome. Unfortunately, Clara's husband was diagnosed with advanced cancer. He had to be hospitalized many times. Clara and I would walk together in the mornings before she went to the hospital. It seemed to help her face the day. Stan asked to join us, and the three of us would walk and go to breakfast, sometimes at her house.

As time went on, Clara opened up to Stan, and he would tell her things to make her feel good about herself. Well, one thing led to another. They would communicate on the computer day and night, sharing their feelings.

Abby, they fell in love.

Clara's husband passed away a few months ago. Now Stan says he has two women to worry about. Clara has told people at work that Stan is her boyfriend. He has told her she is his girlfriend, and if she ever found someone else "it would break his heart."

He takes her to lunch and they often spend the day together. He says all they do is talk, but he finally admitted they hug and kiss each other.

I have begged Stan to end the situation. He refuses. He says it's going to be like this from now on. He tells me he loves both of us and can't give either one of us up.

He blames me and says I should have told him to stop before it got out of hand. He says it's the first time in our entire married life that he has fallen in love with another woman. He feels no guilt because he says nothing sexual is going on.

My stomach is in a constant knot, and I cry all the time. They both know how hurt I am and say they feel bad about it, but it hasn't stopped them from being together. Please advise me about what to do. -- DEVASTATED IN DELAWARE

DEAR DEVASTATED: Whether anything sexual is going on between your husband and Clara is almost beside the point. What IS going on is a full-blown affair of the heart, and because of it your marriage will never be the same. The two people closest to you have betrayed your trust. Particularly outrageous is your husband's insistence that this is your fault because you should have told him to stop sooner. Talk about blaming the victim!

Consult an attorney to determine what your rights are as a wronged Delaware wife with 45 years of equity in her marriage. Then ask your doctor to refer you to a therapist who can give you the emotional support you need as you decide how to deal with this. Insist your husband join you. If you have adult children, talk to them about what is going on. Do not isolate yourself. You have a right to be angry. Decide nothing in haste. Give yourself one year to decide what is best for you.

DEAR ABBY: Is it proper to send a thank-you note to an attorney and a county prosecutor for working out a deal that had charges against you dismissed? Please help. -- NEEDS TO KNOW ASAP, GRENADA, MISS.

DEAR NEEDS TO KNOW ASAP: Absolutely! One good turn deserves another.

For everything you need to know about wedding planning, order "How to Have a Lovely Wedding." Send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Wedding Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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