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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: My boyfriend and I have been living together for nine months. We have decided to host Christmas dinner at our house and invited 20 people -- 10 from each of our families. His mother, unfortunately, is having a hard time accepting that her 27-year-old son is growing up.

She says she feels "awkward" and that their family has had its traditions for many years. (My boyfriend has spent every Christmas Eve and Christmas night at his parents' house since birth.)

I come from a family that is adaptable to change. Any suggestions for dealing with this potential future mother-in-law? -- FREE SPIRIT IN PHOENIX

DEAR FREE SPIRIT: First of all, don't plan on your boyfriend's parents attending your Christmas dinner, and don't take it personally if they don't. She may be unwilling to change their Christmas tradition.

If and when a wedding date is set, or your boyfriend makes clear to her that your arrangement will be permanent, the three of you can then come to an agreement to alternate these holidays so you and your parents are able to also host these gatherings. This is how new families establish their own traditions and in-laws aren't made to feel that one side is favored.

DEAR ABBY: I have been with my fiance for two years. Lately he's been having trouble controlling his anger. His outbursts are becoming more frequent, and he feels like they're justified. He says if I didn't "nag" him so much there wouldn't be any arguments.

I love him and want to spend the rest of my life with him, but I'm becoming frightened by the level he allows his anger to reach. Can you help a man like this deal with his anger? -- NEEDS HELP IN NORTH CAROLINA

DEAR NEEDS HELP: No, and neither can you, as much as you might wish to. Only he can do that, and it would take willingness on his part and counseling. Blaming you for his outbursts indicates he's not ready to do that. The smartest thing you can do is leave before he escalates to hurting you physically. Without professional help, the behavior you have described will only get worse.

DEAR ABBY: I have an elderly neighbor I have been friends with for many years. Over the past several years she has had numerous medical problems. I have done everything I can to be her friend. I do things around the house, bring her meals, whatever I can. She has no family and only one other friend besides me.

She is depressed and stays in bed most of the day, which contributes to her aches and pains. I keep telling her she needs to get up and walk or her pain will get worse. It has reached the point where she's so nasty about everything that I don't even want to talk to her.

I understand that she's scared and feels beaten up. I try to talk about things that are noncontroversial -- happy things. It doesn't work. She turns everything into an argument. I don't know what to do. I hate to ignore her, but it's really taking a toll on me. Am I a fair-weather friend? -- TRYING TO BE A GOOD NEIGHBOR IN MASSACHUSETTS

DEAR GOOD NEIGHBOR: No, you are a caring friend. Your elderly neighbor is ill, and she may be becoming demented. Because she is no longer able to care for herself or her home, contact the nearest hospital or senior center and ask to speak with a social worker on staff. The woman you describe may need more help than you can give her, from people with the training to do it.

Abby shares more than 100 of her favorite recipes in two booklets: "Abby's Favorite Recipes" and "More Favorite Recipes by Dear Abby." Send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $12 (U.S. funds) to: Dear Abby -- Cookbooklet Set, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in price.)