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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: My mother has never liked her sister-in-law. Mom thinks "Auntie Beth" is "completely out to get her," even though no one has seen any evidence to support my mother's claims.

For the past several months, Mom has been complaining nonstop about how "awful" Beth is. She says things at the most random times to people she barely knows. If we don't show sympathy toward Mom, she then becomes enraged. It has caused many problems between our family and Auntie Beth's. We can't have holidays together because my aunt is not allowed in our house. No one wants to be involved in the drama or to participate in the terrible gossip.

How can I help my mother understand the harm she is causing and get our family back together? -- SICK OF THE DRAMA

DEAR SICK OF THE DRAMA: Your mother's behavior appears to have escalated from disliking Aunt Beth to obsessive and paranoid. If it is time for her annual physical, her doctor should be told about it because her behavior is not normal and she may need a neurological exam or counseling.

Unfortunately, there isn't much you can do about this, because if you try, she may think that you are "against" her, too. But the rest of the family can refuse to allow her to exclude Aunt Beth by not accepting invitations in which she is not included.

DEAR ABBY: I have started a relationship and am falling in love. I have known "Willa" for a few years, but we never really hung out before this. We see eye-to-eye on lots of things. However, the other night she told me she'd had a past relationship with her best guy friend, "Mike," whom she refers to as a "big brother." I have known him for a year.

Mike is someone I hang out with. Their fling was eight years ago. Willa also hinted there may be other mutual friends she has had relations with before me. I don't care who she's been with, but I feel I should know which ones we socialize with. And I'd rather hear it from her than find out from a friend. Willa says it isn't her place to spread other people's business. What do you think? -- WANTS ANSWERS

DEAR WANTS ANSWERS: Unless Willa intended to make a full disclosure, she shouldn't have teased you by making you curious. Obviously, you do care about whom she has been with, so now you need to be honest with yourself about why. Would you prefer not to socialize with the men with whom she has had past relationships? Because she has clammed up, perhaps you should assume that she has been with all of the men she has introduced you to. The question you need to ask yourself is whether you can put her past aside and focus instead on building a future with her.

DEAR ABBY: I am curious to learn what your readers do when they receive a gift card for a place where they don't shop or eat. Some restaurants are located far from where I live, and some stores don't carry anything I need or want. -- GRATEFUL, BUT ... IN COLUMBUS, OHIO

DEAR GRATEFUL, BUT: I'm printing your letter, but I am sure most of my readers would do what I would do and that is re-gift it to someone who would appreciate it and use 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 your name and mailing address, plus check or money order for $14 (U.S. funds) to: Dear Abby, Cookbooklet Set, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Shipping and handling are included in the price.)