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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: How do I get out of an affair that has been going on for two years? I started it at a bad time in my life --- fights with my husband, the pressure of having three young kids, and a business we co-owned that was in financial difficulty. I know what I did was wrong. My husband doesn't know, and I don't think he suspects.

I'm afraid if I end the affair, I will get blackmailed or found out. My lover refuses to end it. He wants me and thinks he can treat me better than my husband. Any advice? -- STUCK IN HOT TEXAS

DEAR STUCK: Just this. A man who "refuses to end it" and implies that he would blackmail or betray you is not someone you would ever want to spend your life with. It's time to tell your husband everything -- that you deeply regret what you have done, why it happened, that you want to heal your marriage and be free of this barnacle who refuses to let go. The longer you wait, the more difficult it will be. Do it now.

DEAR ABBY: My wife, "Marissa," and I are expecting our first child. My sister "Patti" has a little boy whom we all love and adore. When Patti learned that we're having a girl, she said we don't "deserve" to have one because she has always wanted a daughter. Then Marissa added fuel to the fire with a few well-chosen remarks of her own that she shared with friends and neighbors.

I just want all of this to stop and I don't know how to accomplish it. I'm upset with Patti for her behavior, and sad that my wife and sister are at odds. This is hurting everyone in the family. What should I do? -- STRESSED-OUT DAD-TO-BE

DEAR STRESSED OUT: Everyone needs to just calm down. Your wife and sister need to apologize to each other. Patti may have been joking when she said you don't deserve to have a baby girl. What she may have meant -- and overstated -- was that she was experiencing a twinge of jealousy.

Suggest to Marissa that your sister shouldn't have been taken literally, and that she apologize to Patti for "snapping." Ditto for your sister for her tactlessness. Then remind your sister that we don't live in a country with a one-child policy. If she wants to try for a daughter, she is free to do so, and in the meantime, she'll have a sweet little niece to spoil.

DEAR ABBY: My family moved to a new state last year. While there have been ups and downs, one of the things I miss most is my pets. Before we moved, we had a dog, a cat and some goldfish. Now we're in an apartment and can't afford all the fees associated with having pets. Also the apartment is too cramped to accommodate them.

My son "Toby" is 2. He loved each of the animals. He'd watch the dog run around, pet the cat and stare at the fish. The cat slept in Toby's nursery, the dog guarded him in his stroller, and the fish loved him because he fed them.

How can I encourage my son's natural love of animals? A few hours playing with a cat or dog would be fine. -- PETLESS IN MARYLAND

DEAR PETLESS: Buy your son more goldfish. Read him stories about animals, and take him to the zoo as often as you can manage. His love of animals has already begun and this will continue it to develop.

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