Ask Amy Amy Dickinson, Ask Amy

Amy Dickinson is a general advice columnist.

DEAR READERS: I've stepped away from my column for a few days. Please enjoy these "Best Of" columns in my absence.

DEAR AMY: I come from a big family, and we all come together on Christmas Eve every year. I plan to host the event at my new house this year, but there is a problem. My brother's teenage daughter has been having drug problems for the past couple of years and has now reverted to stealing money, jewelry and medication from her parents. She was recently caught stealing cash and winning lottery tickets from my sister's house, has run up her mother's credit card at the mall and has stolen checks totaling more than $1,000. I have jewelry, medications and checkbooks upstairs in my house. There will also be numerous purses belonging to my guests around the house, and I'd hate to have to lock them up. Is there a way to put it across to her parents that she is not invited to the celebration, without being rude?

Confused in Massachusetts

DEAR CONFUSED: This isn't a question of rudeness. You need to acknowledge your niece's drug addiction. You shouldn't place her in a situation where she will have access to medications, cash or anything else that she might be tempted to steal.

I shared your question with Jeff VanVonderen, an "interventionist," whose work is featured on the A&E documentary series "Intervention." He suggests that people facing this situation ask themselves this question: "What other person in that condition on the planet would you allow in your house? I'm guessing you wouldn't allow a friend, neighbor or stranger in this condition into your house.

"Family members are supposed to be safer, and more accountable, than strangers. Don't give your niece a license to be less safe and less dependable than you would trust a stranger to be.

"If you really want to show your solidarity as a family, give her an intervention as a Christmas present." (December 2005)

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DEAR AMY: My husband and I are in our 50s with grown children who are on their own. We are youthful and healthy and, up until recently, our marriage was monogamous. Some time ago, we talked at length about sexual experimentation in the form of "open" marriage. In fact, my husband was the one who suggested the idea, and we struck a deal. We agreed that if I wanted to get involved with someone else, it would be OK with him and he would feel free to do the same. Well, I did and he didn't. Even though it's only a once-in-a-while thing for me (with one man), I'm finding it very enjoyable, almost addictive. My husband and I get along well and still share an active sexual life, but he's feeling slighted because he hasn't found anyone else, and now he's pressuring me to end my relationship. The other man wants to continue, and to be perfectly honest, so do I. My husband admits that if he also had "something going" right now, he would be OK with my relationship. The only one feeling left out at the moment is the guy who started this whole thing. What should I do?

Part of a Triangle

DEAR PART: Perhaps you could take out a "personals" ad on your husband's behalf: "Wanted: Sexual partner for my husband so he'll let me have my fun." I know that proponents of "open" marriage will claim that this version of marriage works, but your letter illustrates why it doesn't. What are the odds that both partners will find other fulfilling sexual partners at the same time, have relationships of the same duration and intensity, and not damage their marriage? The prospects are not good. Open marriages don't work because the "openness" more or less negates the "marriage." Perhaps you and your husband should have come to a contract of sorts before you embarked on this adventure. What you are doing is fraught with risk -- sexual, physical and emotional.

Obviously, you two need to negotiate this matter together. A marriage counselor could help both of you to open up about your open marriage. (July 2005)