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DEAR ABBY: I'm conflicted about a relationship I have developed with a 77-year-old lady I'll call "Martha." I have been acting as her caregiver.

For the first three years, I was addicted to pain pills, which Martha and I both get. I was so strung out I didn't realize what kind of person she was. She expects me to be there every free minute, which, under different circumstances, would be fine. But I have a husband and a dog. I have since gotten sober, while Martha is still strung out. She threatens to destroy my life if I won't do what she wants, and I'm scared to quit because we have loans together.

How do I start having a healthy balance with her and my life? Now that I'm sober, I realize how badly she has been treating me the whole time. Can you please advise me how to distance from her? — SOBER WOMAN IN GEORGIA

DEAR SOBER WOMAN: For the sake of your sobriety, your relationship with Martha must end. Do not allow yourself to be blackmailed into continuing one with her. She needs to find another caregiver, and you need to find another job. Because your name is on those loans, you may be obligated to pay them off if she doesn't. This is why you should discuss this mess with an attorney. That Martha still abuses her meds means you may have some leverage.

DEAR ABBY: My husband and I argue about returning gifts his parents give us. They buy excessively for their grandkids throughout the year, especially at holidays. They also buy multiple gifts for my husband and me. We are drowning in too much stuff and constantly battling clutter in our home.

None of these gifts are from our family's wish lists, nor are they particularly thoughtful. In years past, I have asked my mother-in-law to limit her purchases to three gifts — one toy, one outfit, one book — with no success. I also have pleaded with her to stop buying me small knickknacks, and have suggested more experience-based gifts. Still, year after year, we come home with a bunch of stuff we neither need nor want.

How can I get my in-laws to respect our wishes? To make matters worse, my husband becomes defensive of his parents when I get frustrated, even though he fundamentally agrees with me. How do I help his parents understand that what they are really giving us is a fight? And, if none of them care about my wishes, how do I get past feeling disrespected and disregarded? — BURIED IN STUFF

DEAR BURIED: By now you should have realized that your mother-in-law, Lady Bountiful, isn't going to change. You will spend less time being frustrated if you let go of your resentment about her spending sprees. My heartfelt advice to you is to develop a sense of humor where she's concerned. If you can't use her gifts, donate, regift or sell them.

Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Contact Dear Abby at www.DearAbby.com or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.

For everything you need to know about wedding planning, order "How to Have a Lovely Wedding." Send your name and mailing address, plus check or money order for $8 (U.S. funds) to: Dear Abby, Wedding Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Shipping and handling are included in the price.)

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Jeanne Phillips
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