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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I am a 37-year-old mother of four. I recently confided to my husband the attraction I feel for a male friend of ours. He did not take the news well. We have had problems in our marriage for some time. I had not been shy in the past about telling him about my feelings. He dismissed it then, but was unable to now.

He approached our family and friends for support. My mother, in particular, was very supportive of him. I begged him over and over to keep our problems between us. I said it was only adding fuel to the fire and it had to stop. This was not only suggested by me, but also by a marriage counselor. He continued dumping on my mother.

It has been several months, and it still hasn't stopped. I am still feeling Mother's wrath, and she won't stop meddling. She has approached former teachers of mine, co-workers, present and past friends and family members. I'm not sure if she is trying to humiliate me or change my feelings. What gives a mother the right to do and say whatever she wants? -- PUZZLED IN PENNSYLVANIA

DEAR PUZZLED: Your mother may be enjoying the excitement she is generating -- or she may simply be a gossip. However, at this point that should be the least of your worries.

I don't know what you thought would be gained by discussing your attraction to other men with your husband. If you wanted his attention, you certainly succeeded. But how did you expect him to react? A good rule to follow before opening one's mouth is to pause and ask yourself, "Is it true? Is it helpful? Is it kind?" If the answer is no to two out of three, the wisest thing to do is to keep your mouth shut.

Instead of marriage counseling, which your husband ignored, I recommend individual counseling for you to determine if your marriage is worth saving and to separate emotionally from your mother.

DEAR ABBY: I am a 13-year-old girl. I live with my father and stepmother, "Nicki." They have been married for two years. The first year was a little bumpy. Nicki made me see a therapist because she went through my backpack and found a fake suicide note I had written as a joke. Therapy made me sad, so I stopped going.

Ever since then, Nicki has tried hard to play "Mom." She acts like my real mother is dead. Every time I talk about my mom, Nicki gets irritated.

About four months ago, she blew her top and kicked my father and me out of the house. We had to spend the night in a motel. My father and Nicki made up, but since then, things have been very strained. Every once in a while, my father reports to me that Nicki "has cried her eyes out" because she thinks I don't like her.

Abby, I don't want to hurt Nicki, but she's not the only one with feelings. I have been hurt ever since she kicked us out. I don't know what to do. It seems like whenever I do something she doesn't like, she acts hurt. I feel trapped. Please help. -- CONFUSED IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

DEAR CONFUSED: If ever a blended family needed counseling, it is your family. Please clip this column, show it to your father and tell him that you are the author. Professional counseling should help resolve not only many of your problems, but Nicki's as well.

For an excellent guide to becoming a better conversationalist and a more attractive person, order "How to Be Popular." Send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $5 (U.S. funds only) to: Dear Abby Popularity Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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