DEAR ABBY: I am a divorced father of two, both over 18. I have been dating a divorced mother of three. Her children are between the ages of 7 and 12.

We are really good together, and we would like to make a life together. The problem is, she's reluctant to let her ex-husband know about me for fear of his violent reaction (she has no lingering feelings toward him other than fear). Because of this, she doesn't want her kids to know we are romantically involved. They think I'm just a "friend." She gets defensive when I bring this up.

We have been seeing each other for a couple of years now. I love her, but I'm starting to get the feeling this will never move forward. What should I do? And how long should I wait?

-- Tentative in California

DEAR TENTATIVE: I wish you had written sooner. It appears that although the woman you're involved with is divorced, she is far from free. If she's afraid her ex will become violent if she makes her relationship with you official, and he has acted violently toward her in the past, she should contact her local police department and report it. She may also want to consider a restraining order and/or supervised visitation when he sees the children. If she is unwilling to free herself, then for your own sake, end the relationship because it will never progress.

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 or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.