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DEAR ABBY: I am a 38-year-old woman with three beautiful children. For the past eight years, I lived with a man I care for very much, "Rick," who is an alcoholic.

Two years ago, I decided to take the children and move to China, teaching English and learning Chinese. The experience has been fabulous.

Rick has been at home, keeping house and drinking. Now that I am away from him, I realize how miserable I was, living with him and his disease. We will be returning to the United States in a couple of months, back to our house, back to Rick and back to his excessive drinking. I no longer want to watch him get drunk every night. I have told him how I feel, and he has promised to stop drinking, but I've heard that story before, and I don't believe him.

Rick has been waiting for us and is eagerly expecting us to resume our lives, but I don't believe he can even make it to the airport sober to pick us up. How can I resolve this from here? Or should I wait to get back? -- CONFUSED IN CHINA

DEAR CONFUSED: I don't know how Rick behaves when he's under the influence, but if there is any suspicion in your mind that he might retaliate by trashing your home and belongings, then you'd be wise to wait until you get home to deal with him.

He could surprise you and be sober when you return. But if he is not, you have given him fair warning, and you can insist that he leave with a clear conscience.

DEAR ABBY: Several months ago, I met and fell in love with an amazing woman I'll call "Maria." My problem is, although she makes me happy, and it thrills me to hear that she wants to spend the rest of her life with me, she kids me about breaking up on a regular basis. Sometimes it'll be a simple, "We're over! Oh -- just kidding," or, "We're done! I need a new man -- just kidding."

This humor of hers hurts a lot. She justifies it by saying that I don't have a sense of humor and that I take things too seriously. Abby, I love Maria with all my heart, and I want to have a future with her. But it hurts every time she does this. What should I do? -- ETHAN IN WAYNETOWN, IND.

DEAR ETHAN: Because your girlfriend is such a "kidder," how about testing her sense of humor? The next time she announces the relationship is over, agree with her. Say, "Yup! It's over!" If she can dish it out, she should be prepared to take it. However, if she can't, it's time you two had a serious discussion about passive-aggressive behavior -- because if you have told her that her teasing is painful and she persists, that is what she's engaging in.

DEAR ABBY: How do you tell your relatives' children not to ride bikes or play in your yard? We have a beautiful yard, but are very concerned about lawsuits. -- IN A DELICATE POSITION, PENNSYLVANIA

DEAR DELICATE: If you are concerned that the children will destroy your yard, then tell the children -- and their parents -- exactly that. However, if you're worried about being sued if the children should hurt themselves on your property, then ask the parents to sign a release for your insurance agent to keep on file. I'm sure it will get their attention -- and it should.

To receive a collection of Abby's most memorable -- and most frequently requested -- poems and essays, send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $6 (U.S. funds) to: Dear Abby -- Keepers Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in the price.)

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