Dear Abby: A few years ago, my wife, "Sheila," had an affair that nearly destroyed our 15-year marriage. She carried on the affair right under my nose, telling me she had simply made a "good friend" on a trip she had taken with a girlfriend. At first I was trusting and naive, and then too much in denial to openly challenge the small gifts, cards and phone calls that began arriving shortly after her return. When I asked if there was anything more to it than just friendship, she lied to me.

With counseling, our marriage has survived, although it is still somewhat shaky. My current problem is that after I discovered the affair, I told Sheila I wanted her to get rid of the gifts she had received from this creep, which she had the audacity to openly display in our home. Now she has boxed them up and put them in the basement, but she's balking at getting rid of them.To me, her reluctance means she hasn't really let go of the relationship. I'm ready to dissolve the marriage as a result. I'd appreciate your feedback.

- Seething in Seattle

Dear Seething: You have every right to expect Sheila to dispose of the souvenirs along with the relationship. If your wife is unwilling to accommodate your reasonable request, both of you need to reconsider the logic of staying in this marriage.

Dear Abby: Thank you for all the letters you are printing about abuse. Your recent letter from Michael Groetsch in Kenner, La., about "serial batterers" really got my attention.

I was in an abusive marriage for 34 years, and I know what breeds abuse - it's silence. Abby, I'm not silent anymore. I now work for a women's crisis center, and I was recently asked by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to tell my story. I was on a victim impact panel for a sensitivity training seminar for law enforcement. I have since been asked to speak at other meetings and plan to do so.

On the door to our office hangs a sign. It says, "There's no excuse for abuse." Those few words say quite a lot. Keep up the great work, Abby. There should be more out there like you.

- Karen in Victoria, Texas

Dear Karen: You are to be commended for your activism in helping other abused women.

I would like to correct a statement I made in my answer to Michael Groetsch: I stated that the majority of domestic abuse comes at the hands of men who are "unable to control their anger - not psychopaths," and I added that these people can be helped through therapy and anger management programs. I regret to say that I may have spoken too optimistically.

In his book, "He Promised He'd Stop" (C.P.I., 1997, $14.95), Groetsch points out that a batterer who is motivated to change and feels remorse can be helped. But a serial batterer is generally cold, detached, and does not possess a conscience. Professionals report that therapy with a serial batterer is rarely, if ever, successful. While the habitual offender may enter a treatment program (often court-ordered), he rarely completes it. He generally enters counseling only to manipulate his partner into dropping criminal charges and returning to him. The safest recourse for victims of chronic abuse is to end the relationship, once a comprehensive support system and personal safety plan have been established.

What teens need to know about sex, drugs, AIDS, and getting along with peers and parents is in "What Every Teen Should Know." To order, send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Teen Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

Universal Press Syndicate

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