Dear Annie: My brother-in-law, "Fred," has been married to my sister for 20 years. The problem is, he discards items that aren't his, and he does it without asking.
I know Fred likes things very tidy, but at a recent family gathering, he removed some signs on the walls that were displayed for renters. When I asked why, he said it was "a joke," but the signs never reappeared. Yesterday, I noticed a coffee mug in the wastebasket. Fred said he could not clean it, so he tossed it, but I washed it fairly easily. And by the way, this is my coffee mug.
Fred's a nice enough guy, but his behavior seems to be worsening. How do I approach this? Should I just let it drop until he throws out something valuable? Irritated Sister-In-Law
Dear Irritated: We've asked a few doctors about Fred's problem and were told it could be an obsessive-compulsive disorder, a control issue or something else altogether. Such behaviors can get worse if they are not addressed.
First, tell Fred directly that he is not to throw out any items that belong to you. Then, suggest to your sister that Fred be evaluated by a psychotherapist, and she might also check the Obsessive Compulsive Foundation (ocfoundation.org), 676 State St., New Haven, CT 06511.
Dear Annie: I read the letter from "Torn in Tacoma," asking how many previous sexual partners it is appropriate for a woman to have had. You basically told him it had less to do with the number than with her character.
But really, Annie, how many is too many? 10? 30? 100? How honest is a woman expected to be? My first serious girlfriend said I was her first, but I found out I was her fourth. I met my wife in college. When I asked about her past, she said, "I swear, only you and my old boyfriend." You know where I'm going with this.
After 12 years of marriage, I discovered I am not even in the top five. Her mom dropped off a bunch of things at our house, including old letters. I found out there were many men before me. I think about this every day and can't let it go. What do I do now? Losing It in North Carolina
Dear Losing It: We know this information is a shock for you, but try to accept that what happened before you became involved with your wife is not part of your life together. You should have known if she had a child or if her previous sexual life caused a medical problem or gave her an STD, but that's it. When you questioned her, she no doubt felt obligated to lie in order to protect your feelings and maintain the relationship -- which she obviously values. If you can't get past this, it's time to see a counselor, with or without her, and figure out how best to handle it.
Dear Annie: I read the letter from "Wishing It Weren't So in Wisconsin," who has no intimate contact with his wife. My husband could have written that letter.
When we first married, I kept the house spotless, dressed nicely and had a wonderful meal ready for him, despite having four children and a job. He never said so much as "thanks." In addition, I always had something new to try in the bedroom. He never reciprocated.
I've begged him to be more responsive, but he remains happy with the basics. I got tired of being the only one to crave intimacy, and sex is now just one more chore. Maybe if "Wishing" tried to be more romantic when he wasn't looking for sex, his wife would comply. I know I would. In Misery in Michigan
Dear Misery: We don't know if this was "Wishing's" problem, but any husband who thinks it may be his, take a hint. Bring your wife some flowers tonight.
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