Dear Amy:

I have been seeing my boyfriend for a little more than a year. I care about him a lot.

I have two children from my ex-husband, and my boyfriend has three children with his ex-wife; we both have sole custody of our children.

My boyfriend is always overpraising his children and belittling mine. The truth is, his children are snobby, spoiled brats who don't appreciate him.

Lately, we have been arguing a lot, but last weekend we had the biggest argument we've ever had. He said something really out of line, and I slapped him. I love him, but I want him to respect me.

To make matters worse, there is a 19-year age difference.

My family is against us being together. They treat him badly, and when he's not around they say bad things about him. I told my family that it is my life and my choice, and to stay out of it.

I just want to be happy without all of the drama.

Sad and Confused

If you want someone to respect you, do you really think that slapping him is the way to go?

Not so much.

This relationship is becoming frightening, and you need to either fix it through intensive counseling or exit from it.

You may not possess the fortitude or sound judgment to get out of this relationship for your own sake, but now that you have subjected your children to verbal abuse and made them witnesses to the sort of violence that could escalate, you must act for their sake.

I can imagine that your family is reaching the frantic stage out of concern for you. Surely you can imagine how they must feel about this relationship.

You are showing terrible judgment in choosing to be with someone who doesn't treat you or your children well. Rather than defend your choices purely because they are yours, you should learn how to make healthy ones.

Dear Amy:

Our family has had one housekeeper for almost 20 years. She is wonderful and always leaves our house sparkling clean.

I would really like to express my gratitude to her in some sort of gift, but I'm not sure what the appropriate gift would be. Of course I will send a card, but I'd like to give her a gift as well. Her family is not the most well off, and I'd like to give her something for all of the help she has given us.

Any suggestions?

Thankful in D.C.

Nothing says, "thank you" quite like a big fat bonus. You might stop into your bank and explore some options, because it would be nice to offer your loyal housekeeper the start of a nice nest egg -- perhaps you could open a retirement account in her name, to which you make the first deposit. Make sure you research the tax implications for you and for her.

Write to Amy Dickinson at or Ask Amy, Chicago Tribune, TT500, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60611.

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