Dear Annie: I've been married eight years, and the entire time there have been problems between my mother and my husband. I'm used to my mother's rude, disrespectful ways, but my husband is not.

To avoid constant criticism and bickering, we limit our contact with her. Mom complained about this, and I politely explained why she sees less of us. Of course, this didn't help because she sees nothing wrong with her behavior. She said my husband made me say these things and he's the one keeping us away from her. She refuses to see it's her own doing.

I've learned that Mom has cried to the rest of my family about how horrible my husband is, never missing an opportunity to badmouth him. I don't see the rest of my family very often, and I hate to think they believe my mom. She can be very convincing. My main concern is that she'll talk that way around my 6-year-old daughter, and I don't think that would be good.

It's a shame that honest discussion has never helped and avoiding her is what works best. Should I suggest she talk to a therapist, or are some people just naturally unpleasant to be around? —Midwest Mess

Dear Midwest: Oh, absolutely, some people are just naturally unpleasant, which doesn't mean therapy won't help them, but they are unlikely to recognize the need for it and do the necessary work to make it successful. You could ask your mother to go to therapy with you, together, to work on your problems. Still, it will help to keep in touch with the rest of the family so they can get to know your husband the way you do. And if Mom says one negative thing about your husband to his child, you should remove the girl from her presence and inform Mom that there will be no more visits with her granddaughter unless she can behave.

Dear Annie: My husband and I have a single male friend who built a beautiful home four years ago. He'd have us over for a barbecue at his new place once or twice a year. Lately, though, it appears he has not cleaned the house since he first moved in.

"Matt" has two dogs and there is dog hair everywhere. The rugs look like they have never been vacuumed. The kitchen countertops look dirty and I don't even want to discuss the bathrooms.

My husband and I have started making excuses not to visit and especially not to eat in his home. Matt lives in a remote area and cleaning help may be hard to find, but my husband would like to suggest he hire someone to do his housekeeping. Do you have any way to help us get this point across to Matt without hurting his feelings? —Matt's Friends

Dear Friends: Men are generally less sensitive about issues of housekeeping than women are. Next time you visit, we don't think Matt would be overly embarrassed if you simply said, "Matt, you ought to get someone in here to help you clean up. Dogs shed a lot." It would be even better if you had a name to give him. Do a little online research and see if there is a cleaning service in the area. Or suggest Matt ask one of his neighbors if they know anyone. You'd be doing him a favor.

Dear Annie: A very close relative is a kleptomaniac. She has stolen items from us, as well as from others in our family. I have caught her going through drawers and cabinets.

It would be very awkward not to have her visit with the rest of the family, even though it upsets us every time she leaves and we find things missing. We would appreciate any suggestions you might have. —Ripped Off

Dear Ripped Off: Your relative has a mental health issue and should be evaluated by a professional. In the meantime, you can have family gatherings outside your home — at a restaurant, park, community center, etc. And if you insist on entertaining her in your house, lock your cabinets and move your valuables into your bedroom and lock the door. We hope that helps.

Dear Annie: I'd like to weigh in on the letter from "Shell Shocked," who was taken by surprise when his wife of 25 years up and left.

Being a good provider, not going out with the guys and being "loyal" does not make a happy marriage. Marriage partners need to stay in tune with their spouses and make an effort to keep the love alive.

Did he ever give her compliments? Little gifts for no reason? Did he ever tell her he appreciates all she does for the family? Did he spend time doing things she enjoyed? Did he help her around the house when it was obvious she was tired or overloaded? Did he ever give her a hug and tell her that he loves her? My guess is probably not.

I'm in a similar situation and seriously thinking of leaving after 30 years. The kids are grown, and if all I'm good for is cooking, cleaning and laundry, I can do that as a single woman and be much happier. —Feeling Unappreciated

Dear Feeling: Please give this letter to your husband and tell him you wrote it. These are words he needs to see in writing.

Annie's Mailbox is written by Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar, longtime editors of the Ann Landers column. Please e-mail your questions to [email protected] .net, or write to: Annie's Mailbox, P.O. Box 118190, Chicago, IL 60611.