Dear Abby: Since tragic fire, my husband’s been paranoid, abusive

He hits his wife and constantly accuses her of cheating.

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DEAR ABBY: Our house burned down a year ago, and we lost everything. My husband, “Jeff,” tried desperately to get to our 2-year-old daughter, but she perished in the fire. I managed to get our 3-year-old son out while he was trying to save our daughter. Jeff ended up in a burn unit on a ventilator for nine days because he burned his lungs. When he was released from the hospital, things got worse.

We lived with my mom and stepdad for a bit until we found a place, but as soon as Jeff got home, he started hitting me and calling me a cheating slut. We have been together 20 years, and I have been faithful. If I go to the store or to run errands, he gets mad at me for being gone a little too long. If I try to explain what held me up, it’s automatically because I’m cheating, but Jeff feels he can leave and be gone for hours, and it’s OK for him.

I love him, but I can’t take it anymore. When our son acts out and starts being mean to me, Jeff tells him to respect me, but I think to myself, “How can you tell him to respect me when you don’t?” Abby, please help me. — SO LOST IN THE EAST

DEAR SO LOST: The fire and tragic death of your daughter has done more damage to your husband than sear his lungs. It has also taken an emotional toll. It is important that you no longer allow him to take out his anger and frustration with himself on you.

If you have any power at all in your relationship, insist he seek help from a licensed mental health professional. If he refuses, you cannot remain married to him because his physical and emotional abuse may continue to escalate, and seeing it will affect your son.

Have an escape plan in place before you confront him. A safe way to formulate one would be to contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline. The toll-free number is 800-799-7233 and the website is thehotline.org. Do it NOW.

DEAR ABBY: My high school friend returns to our hometown once or twice a year. Her last several visits were exhausting. She talked about herself for hours without asking one question about my life. She objectifies men and calls people weak for expressing their emotions.

Our friendship has been a long one. I went to her wedding and did the flowers for her dad’s funeral. But the more I understand myself, the more I see how toxic she is for me. I have reached the hard realization that I no longer want to be around her. I don’t like who she is or how she makes me feel.

I would like us to simply drift apart, but she can be a bully. When I have tried to be unavailable, she has bullied me into seeing her anyway. My partner says I need to break up with her, but I don’t want to hurt her or have a confrontation. How can I gracefully exit this relationship? — STRESSED IN THE WEST

DEAR STRESSED: There may not be a graceful way to exit from a relationship with a bully. Ask yourself which would be worse: telling her exactly what you have written to me, or allowing yourself to be steamrollered into another exhausting and frustrating encounter with her. Once you have the answer to that question, you will know exactly what to do, which may start with blocking her number.

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.

What teens need to know about sex, drugs, AIDS and getting along with peers and parents is in “What Every Teen Should Know.” Send your name and mailing address, plus check or money order for $8 (U.S. funds), to: Dear Abby, Teen Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Shipping and handling are included in the price.)

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