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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: Would you please print the signs of a mental abuser? My husband is like night and day. There's no in-between. He curses at me, calls me names, tells me I'm stupid and, when he raises his hand palm outward, it's my sign to shut up.

I have to leave notes about where I am, what time I'll be home, and if I'm a minute late, I'm in for it big time. When I try to stand up for myself he tells me I'm a b---- or "too sensitive." He also tells me what to wear.

Why on earth would I still love this guy? Please print the signs because I know a lot of other women in this situation. -- BEATEN DOWN IN FLORIDA

DEAR BEATEN DOWN: By printing your letter I HAVE printed the signs of a mental/emotional abuser. Your husband's behavior is classic, and I don't know why you would still love him. Women stay with men like your husband because they don't think they deserve better, or because they are financially dependent. "Love" has nothing to do with it.

Because verbal and emotional abuse can escalate into physical abuse, I'm printing the toll-free number of the National Domestic Violence Hotline. It's (800) 799-7233.

DEAR ABBY: How do you deal with a thief in your midst? I have a 21-year-old relative who steals. He has stolen from me, and I suspect from other members of the family as well. Please don't suggest therapy -- he's had years of therapy. Recently, he was caught stealing from a purse belonging to his mother's best friend.

The problem is family gatherings. I'm not comfortable telling my guests that they must watch their valuables, but I cannot deal with the possibility of having a guest's possessions or money stolen. Also, I don't particularly relish the idea of having him loose in my house.

He hasn't shown any particular interest in attending these functions and often hasn't attended when invited, but it's hard to know whether excluding him might make him feel left out. My inclination is to tell him the reason I don't want to invite him. Should I? -- HIS RELATIVE

DEAR RELATIVE: If he asks why he wasn't invited, by all means tell him. If years of counseling haven't curbed his compulsion to steal, it's possible that one day he will learn in a jail cell what he didn't learn on the couch.

Meanwhile, I see no compelling reason to continue inviting him to family gatherings. Not only will you be doing your guests a favor, you'll be exposing your relative to less temptation.

DEAR ABBY: My boyfriend has two children from a previous relationship. I love them very much and treat them like my own. We often go out with the children to playgrounds, shopping, etc.

Abby, people often refer to me as the children's mother. They'll say, "Ask your mom ..." things like that. What's the proper response to this? I find it embarrassing because I'm not their mother. But I don't want to make anyone uncomfortable by saying I'm not. What would be the most polite response to someone in that situation? -- NOT MOMMY IN MAINE

DEAR NOT MOMMY: The most polite response would be to ignore their mistake.

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.)