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by Abigail Van Buren

Careers and Kids Have Dulled Marriage's Luster

DEAR ABBY: I am 37 and my husband, "Bernie," is 41. We have been married for 15 years. Our children are 2 and 4. Between our work and caring for the kids, Bernie and I have lost the ability to enjoy each other's company.

In the past, I considered Bernie my best friend. Now he's no longer able to laugh or lighten up. For instance, when we occasionally hire a baby sitter and go out for dinner, all he'll talk about is how much the dinner costs and his "plan" for when we return home. He'll say, "I will pay the sitter; then we'll get the children ready for bed. While I get their pajamas, you start the bath water ..." He goes on and on -- as if we don't do these same things every night of the week! I told Bernie he acts like I am a maid he just hired, but he seems compelled to repeat our routine regardless.

Bernie gives me no longing looks or loving smiles. I wear attractive clothes, offer to pay for dinner and tell funny stories. Nothing I do puts him in a good mood. He seems to be happy only when he's with his golfing buddies. His excuse is, "You're a mother now." Please help me. My self-esteem couldn't be lower. -- LONGING TO SHARE HAPPINESS

DEAR LONGING: Your husband may have an obsessive-compulsive disorder that would explain why he repeats the ritual of putting the children to bed. Medication has proven to be helpful for it, if a person is willing to admit there is a problem and discuss it with a doctor.

His loss of interest in you "because you are a mother" and his retreat to the golf course are problems that can be resolved only through psychotherapy for him and marriage counseling for the both of you. Please don't wait to ask your doctor for a referral. If Bernie refuses to go, go without him. This is not your fault, so please don't blame yourself. Your husband appears to have more baggage than a carousel at O'Hare airport.

DEAR ABBY: Thirty-four years ago, when I was 16, I became pregnant. My parents sent me to a home for unwed mothers where I placed my baby for adoption upon birth.

Two years ago, my birth daughter located me. I agreed to meet her and her family. She had been adopted by a loving and devoted couple. Unfortunately, both parents have recently passed away. The young woman has now decided that I should take on the role of mother to her. She has made it clear that she thinks that I "owe it to her."

Abby, this person is a stranger to me. I do not have a mother/daughter bond with her, and quite honestly, I have no desire to create one. I have my own family and do not want my life turned upside down. I am willing to be her friend or acquaintance, but NOT her mother.

I wish I had never agreed to meet her or to let her know my identity. Why can't she just accept that I will never be a mother to her and leave me alone? -- BIRTH STRANGER

DEAR BIRTH STRANGER: The young woman is clinging to you because the parents who raised her are dead and she thinks you're all she has. She is an adult. Tell her the truth. You gave her life, and besides friendship, that's all you're able to give her.

Good advice for everyone -- teens to seniors -- is in "The Anger in All of Us and How to Deal With It." To order, send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $5 (U.S. funds only) to: Dear Abby, Anger Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600