DEAR ABBY: We have been happily married for 17 years. I am 41 and and my wife is 36. We have three fine children, ages 12, 10 and 6. I do well financially.
My wife never went to college and regretted it. I supported her effort in going back to school, so she enrolled. Then her mother, who lives 400 miles away, became seriously ill with lung cancer.
Seven months ago, my wife quit school and went to stay with her mother. She is the only child in the family who was able to spend this kind of time with her mother. She keeps in touch and comes home when she can. It has been hard for her and hard for us.
In recent weeks, her mother has improved enough to come here with my wife to visit. Her mother also has home health care, so my wife could come home and proceed with her own life.
However, she is having a hard time leaving her mother now. I would like to tell my wife that she has helped her mother as much as she can, but we also need her.
My wife tells me she has been spending a lot of time going out to bars, dancing and partying with friends she has made in that town. She is very open with me and has told me some men are obviously attracted to her and have sent her flowers. She accepted the flowers and the attention, but said she would go no further.
Our sex life has not been very good in recent years, but she says she loves me and respects me more than anyone she has ever known. This barhopping bothers me because I love her very much and I'm afraid that something will happen sooner or later. She stays out until 2 a.m. and has never told these men she doesn't want any further relationship, so it seems to me that she is leading them on.
Do you have any thoughts about her relationship with her mother? And what do you think about these nights out with her friends? -- FRUSTRATED IN KENTUCKY
DEAR FRUSTRATED: You and your children are to be commended for your patience during your wife's seven-month absence. You have every right to lay down the law and demand that she come home. Your mother-in-law seems to be well cared for without her daughter's presence.
Hanging out in bars and accepting flowers from admirers is inexcusable behavior for a married woman. Give your wife an ultimatum. Tell her that you expect her home by a specific date. Then make an appointment with a marriage counselor. If your wife ignores your request, you will know where her loyalties lie.