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DEAR ABBY: I have a problem with my in-laws. My brother-in-law will never invite his parents for Christmas, so my husband always insists we have a combined family Christmas with my parents so his parents are not left alone.

The problem is my in-laws have bad-mouthed my parents in the past, and they treat my parents as if they are "less than." They also don't treat me all that great.

I get into fights every year with my husband about this. This year I tried to compromise, saying I'd have the in-laws over for Christmas Eve, but my husband will not bend. He wants both families here, which means I will be uncomfortable all day. It is my Christmas, too. I know it's only one day, but why should I have to compromise and be unhappy for the rest of my life? Please help. -- DREADING CHRISTMAS IN HOWELL, MICH.

DEAR DREADING CHRISTMAS: You have to compromise because, when you married your wonderful husband, you blended your family with his -- obnoxious and pretentious as they may be. You compromise because marriage IS compromise. Keep the spirits bright by keeping the atmosphere as light as possible -- and your in-laws separate from your parents. And remember that the illusion of the "perfect family" is just that -- an illusion.

DEAR ABBY: My parents divorced several years ago because my father had an affair. After a couple of years, he came crawling back to Mom, promising that he would never do it again. She took him back, and they were remarried a few years ago. My younger siblings and I were so happy.

I am now married and living in the city, and I was recently visiting. My parents were out of town, and I was taking care of my much-younger siblings. I was given access to my dad's computer to keep track of the kids' schedules, and quite accidentally I came across a love letter e-mailed from another woman. I couldn't help reading more of the letters that I found from her -- and his responses. He's having another affair. I also found letters from yet another woman in his e-mail as well.

Now I don't know what to do. If I don't tell Mom, I will be tacitly enabling him to continue cheating on her. But if I do tell, I am terrified I'll rip my family apart all over again. I don't ever want to talk to my father again. His treatment of my mother makes me sick. Please help me. -- AMBIVALENT IN CHICAGO

DEAR AMBIVALENT: Although it was wrong to have searched through your father's personal correspondence, it may be just as well that you did. Your mother should be told what you found. She needs to be able to make an informed decision about whether this is the kind of marriage she wishes to continue. And she also needs to be checked for STDs, because it appears your father is sexually compulsive and is unable to change his ways.

DEAR ABBY: I was wondering if you could please advise me as to the three most important things in a relationship. I had a disagreement with a friend regarding this topic and hope you can enlighten me with your opinion on this serious subject. Thank you. -- SLEEPLESS IN ARIZONA

DEAR SLEEPLESS: The answer to your question would probably vary depending on the values of the people involved in the relationship. However, to me, the most important qualities are trust, communication and a sense of humor.

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