Join the debate. Vote Now on the Dear Abby Poll of the week.

by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: My husband, "James," constantly tells me he loves me, but I don't think I love him. I'm sure most women would love having a man tell them he loves them all the time, but it drives me up a wall. If I walk into a room, James says he loves me. If I leave the room, he says it again. The words have lost their meaning for me, but if I don't respond in kind, James thinks I'm mad at him.

I am emotionally exhausted from having to constantly reassure him. If I try to discuss anything serious, he cries, and that just turns my stomach. I'm not an uncaring, unfeeling person. I'm very emotional, but when a man cries it makes me uncomfortable.

Please don't suggest counseling. James is a pastor who would want to go to a Christian counselor. That makes me uneasy because he knows all the ones around here. We don't have much money and no insurance. If I ask for a divorce, it will end his career.

Divorce is not an option for many people, but I don't want to wake up one morning and realize I have lived my entire life putting myself second. Abby, when is it OK to say this isn't working? -- MISERABLE IN THE MIDWEST

DEAR MISERABLE: Say it now, while there may still be a chance to save your marriage. It is crucial that you find the money you need for nondenominational couples therapy with a licensed professional. Your husband needs to overcome insecurities that may stem from the fact that he feels you becoming increasingly distant, or that may have originated in his youth. And you need to control the impulse to shut down when your husband expresses emotions that make you uncomfortable.

Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Understanding and accepting what the weaknesses are can be powerful tools in overcoming each other's shortcomings. Whether your marriage can be resuscitated (or not) will depend upon whether the two of you are capable of working this through. I wish you luck, because of how much each of you has to lose if it fails.

DEAR ABBY: A woman with whom I have become good friends over the past year lost a son 10 years ago, and is estranged from her adult daughter. I would like to acknowledge her in some way on Mother's Day because I don't think her daughter will.

Would it be appropriate to send her a card and/or flowers? -- KATHY IN WISCONSIN

DEAR KATHY: Unless your friend is an older mentor, I would refrain from sending a card with a Mother's Day motif. But a card telling her you're thinking of her -- or what a valued friend she is -- might be nice. Or a phone call. Ditto with the flowers.

DEAR ABBY: I am an over-50 "cougar" who has a boyfriend who's not happy with my looks. He loves all the other aspects of our relationship, but he wants me thinner and prettier. I'll never look 30 again. What do you think I should do? -- BARB IN RENO

DEAR BARB: Change boyfriends. If yours doesn't like you the way you are, face it -- your romance is on the downhill slide. Of course you'll never look 30 again. But what's important is how you feel about yourself.

My answer might be different had you said you wanted to be thinner because you thought it would make you more attractive. Please give this some serious thought while you still have a healthy level of self-esteem -- because the longer you're with this man, the more it will be eroded.

For everything you need to know about wedding planning, order "How to Have a Lovely Wedding." Send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $6 (U.S. funds only) to: Dear Abby -- Wedding Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in the price.)