Dear Abby:

I'm writing in response to "The Girlfriend," who is having problems because of nasty comments from her boyfriend's mother.

I know all too well the damage that can result from such a situation. For 15 years, I endured potshots from the mother-in-law from hell. She ended up talking to my now 16-year-old daughter (her granddaughter) the same way she had talked to me. After 13 years of staying on the sidelines, my husband finally told her to lay off. Of course, by then our marriage was almost over. Ironically, our divorce was finalized on my former mother-in-law's birthday -- a fact from which I'm sure she got great pleasure.

My advice to "Girlfriend" is to check her boyfriend carefully for apron strings before tying the knot with him. If he's afraid to speak in her defense, perhaps he is no more ready for marriage than his mother wishes him to be.

Wiser Now in Wichita

Thank you for sharing your own experience, and for pointing out that if verbal abuse is tolerated, the acid can spill over and damage innocent bystanders. Read on:

Dear Abby:

My advice to "The Girlfriend" is to deal with those cutting remarks from her boyfriend's mother by herself.

When the mother criticizes her manner of dress, she should say something like, "Oh! You've hurt my feelings. I would never think of criticizing how YOU dress," and then change the subject. Under no circumstances should she allow herself to be drawn into an argument. If the mother criticizes her cooking, she should say, "I tried so hard to please you. I'm sorry you don't like it. The next time we have dinner with you, we'll come to your house and you can cook or take us out." Do not cry, become hysterical or critical of her. You'll be surprised what you can accomplish if you refuse to be baited or put on the defensive.

One last thing: Explain to your future husband how you will handle his mother after you are married. You will not give her a house key, you'll expect her to call before she comes over, you will control how often you see her and when she will see the grandchildren, and you will not tolerate any marital interference.

Queen of My Own Household

Costa Mesa, Calif.

Something tells me your mother-in-law had a rude awakening when she found out who rules your roost.

Dear Abby:

Your response to "The Girlfriend" was right on the money. I hope she commands the respect she deserves, and walks away if "Roy" doesn't make it plain that she must be treated with respect.

If her boyfriend won't stand up for her now, believe me, he never will. She can save herself years of grief if she wakes up to the fact that there are real men out there who are willing to love and respect a woman and treat her as an equal partner. I found one, and so will she.

Standing Tall, Stratford, Conn.

What you said is true. A healthy marriage is a partnership, in every sense of the word.

Dear Abby:

I have a question about birthday etiquette. When there's leftover birthday cake from a party, isn't it true that the honoree should be allowed to take it home, or does the remainder belong to the person who paid for the cake?

Birthday Girl

The leftover cake should go home with the birthday girl, if she wants it. However, if the generous person who paid for it would like some, the birthday girl should be willing to share it. Consider this: Your hostess may have wanted to be sure you didn't eat your cake and have it, too. (On your hips, I mean.)

(c)2004, Universal Press Syndicate