Dear Abby:

For 35 years I have been married to the most manipulative, cunning, critical man ever born. "Homer" gets what he wants by using "helpful hints," offering "advice" and telling me "what's best," and sometimes even getting blue in the face and crying. He is very good at it, never quite overplaying his hand. He wears me down until I finally give in.

By using this technique, Homer has made sure that we live where he wants to live, vacation where he wants to go, drive the car he likes, and have even decorated our home in his preferred colors.

During the first years of our marriage, I gave in because I loved him. Later, I did it to avoid an argument. Now I do it out of habit. I loathe Homer for making me a doormat, and I loathe myself for allowing it to happen.

Homer will be retiring after the first of the year with a very nice annuity, which I feel I have earned, too. I have a small pension, but it's too small to live on my own. I don't know if I can bear Homer's company 24/7, but can I really start again at 65?

Everyone calls us the "perfect couple," but I am miserable and he is driving me closer to the door. I have often thought of just packing up and leaving. Can you help?

Sad in the South

Since you know you can't bear your husband's company 24/7, consider some alternatives. One solution might be to volunteer your time to a worthy cause. According to AARP, research has proven that regular volunteering prolongs life expectancy and improves a person's physical and psychological well-being. In your case, it is essential.

The National Senior Service Corps specializes in placing older volunteers in volunteer assignments in their communities. Three national programs under the NSSC umbrella are the Foster Grandparent Program, the Senior Companion Program, and the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program -- a "one-stop shopping" for senior volunteers. To find out what's available in your community, call 800-424-8867, or search online at: www.joinseniorservice.org.

As to your not having enough money to live on your own, volunteers are sometimes hired for full-time positions -- and that would mean your economic situation could change for the better. Please consider volunteering, because it could serve a dual purpose and save your sanity.

Dear Abby:

You often advise people to seek counseling from psychotherapists. You are "right on" with that advice, but please also tell them not to give up if the therapist they find doesn't work for them.

I am 60 years old and on my fourth therapist. I finally found someone who is helping me, and I feel great. I didn't give up and all my hard work is paying off.

I spent most of my life wishing I were dead. It will take time to work through the feelings that took years to cultivate. My "temporary" problem lasted more than 50 years. If I can get better, anyone can.

The money I'm paying my therapist (none of which is covered by insurance) is cheap at twice the price. I finally see a light at the end of the tunnel and I am at peace.

Feeling Better in the U.S.A.

Congratulations on your progress. I'm pleased you finally found a therapist who is meeting your needs. Sometimes finding that "perfect fit" can be a process of trial and error, and I commend you for not giving up.

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

(c)2004, Universal Press Syndicate