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STUART MARKOWITZ and Ann Kelsey, the "L.A. Law" couple who gave Americans the Venus Butterfly sexual technique, are transforming before our very eyes.

The Butterfly man wants to be free. Last Thursday, the perfect couple agreed to separate, at Stuart's request. How inconsiderate of Stuart. Doesn't he realize what he is doing to America in its time of need?

It isn't enough we have to worry about the recession and the happenings in the Persian Gulf.

The uncoupling of Stuart (Michael Tucker) and Ann (Jill Eikenberry) could have an even more devastating effect on the American psyche. If a man as steady, as understanding and as short as Stuart takes the easy way out, gulp, no marriage is safe.

The abruptness of Stuart's decision made you wonder if he got a heart transplant after his recent heart attack.

I can understand why "Law" Executive Producer David E. Kelley felt compelled to disrupt Stuart's and Ann's idyllic life. They had a marriage that people fantasize about. They loved each other, were romantic with each other, overcame problems with each other. And they were rich to boot. They had it all, a bland development that led critics to begin carping about how boring they had become.

So Kelley decided to spice up their life by giving them big problems. Unfortunately, their separation was about as realistic as Vanna White asking Douglas Brackman (Alan Rachins) out for a date.

Their problems began a few episodes ago with Ann's overprotective attitude toward Stuart after his heart attack.

Last week, Stuart's heart began racing after he took a new attractive associate -- Gwen (Sheila Kelley) -- to dinner, flirted with her and then kissed her.

Later in the episode, Ann knocked on her husband's office door and asked to talk. He said he was too busy and she said she felt like he was avoiding her. Then he told her he wanted out for a while to find himself.

He couldn't wait until he got home? Even Charles Grodin gave his wife some pecan pie in "The Heartbreak Kid" before telling her he wanted out.

Stuart isn't being fair to Ann. He isn't being fair to every American husband.

As soon as he kissed Gwen, I know what many women in America were thinking. If Stuart Markowitz could give in to temptation so easily, then there isn't a husband in the world who wouldn't.

American males can only hope that Stuart quickly rethinks what he has done and gives Ann a logical explanation for his separation request. Maybe he can say BOB of "Twin Peaks" possessed him. Or maybe he could say he always wanted to know what Elliot felt like on "thirtysomething." After all, Stuart and Ann once said they loved that show.

This is one plot line that is just too soap opera-ish for "L.A. Law's" own good. At the very least, Stuart could have suggested going to counseling before taking his radical stance.

Remember, this is the guy who separates his law briefs with colored tabs. A tax lawyer, Stuart would weigh the pluses and minuses of a decision like this.

The minuses:

The nation is in a recession. This is not the time to move out. His law firm also is struggling with the costs of paying off Rosalind Shays.

It is holiday time. This is a depressing time to be alone. Stuart should at least stick it out through the office party.

What about little Matthew? You would think old-fashioned Stuart would try harder for his kid's sake.

Ann's mother will be able to tell her daughter, "I told you so." She wasn't keen on her daughter marrying a Jewish guy.

Stuart, well, wasn't exactly Robert Redford even before his hair began falling out. In fact, when "L.A. Law" premiered, some critics said the idea of short, round Stuart and tall, attractive Ann getting together was absurd. That was before they found out that Tucker and Eikenberry are married in real life and before all the stories about Tucker being a sex symbol.

After his heart attack, Stuart needs help from Ann in watching his diet.

The pluses:

Uh, Stuart can find himself.

Stuart and Ann's relationship may have been boring to some people, but in a way it also was refreshing.

Let's add up the rest of the relationships on "Law."

Douglas Brackman is divorced. Roxanne Melman's divorced. Michael and Gracie are kaput. Abby's divorced. Victor Sifuentes and girlfriend are kaput. Benny and Alice are kaput.

Right now, the newly married Arnie Becker has the show's best relationship.

In a way, maybe viewers needed to see Stuart say he wanted out so they could appreciate his boring relationship with Ann again.

For America's sake, let's hope Stuart finds himself quickly.

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