Q: I’m engaged to a man who has been divorced for three years. He has two boys and his ex lives five minutes away so both parents share the kids equally. While I very much want to get married, I’m not comfortable moving into the house he and his ex-wife owned together. He says staying where he’s at gives the kids continuity and suggests we redecorate every room if that would make me feel better. It’s not that simple. That house is a constant reminder of what was “theirs.” The neighbors are people she knows. I resent it. What do you suggest?

A: Red flag! If the house reminds you of what was “theirs,” we can only imagine how you must feel about the kids. If it’s really just the house that’s bothering you, this is not the first time we’ve heard it. It’s natural to want to have your partner all to yourself, but when you marry someone with children, there’s a very clear past, present and future. But very few of us have the luxury of creating everything from scratch. We suggest you pay attention to exetiquette rule No. 7 is, which is “use empathy when problem-solving.”

Just as you feel you may have to carve out a space that is “ours” from what was “theirs,” the first spouse hopes that the good times that were “theirs” can remain intact as “good times” when compared with “your” new times. What needs to change is not necessarily the house, but the way you look at the situation.

For starters, stop comparing. It’s the most destructive thing first spouses and second spouses can do if they want to cordially coexist for the sake of the kids. That means if it’s best for the kids to stay put, stay in the home and live your life, not in comparison to what has gone before, but by creating a new and happy life for the future. It’s the energy that’s created in the home that makes it yours. It’s what you bring to the relationship that makes it new.

The bottom line is, wouldn’t we all like to start over with a new house, new furniture, new life? Sure, but oftentimes it’s just not possible. So you do what you can.

Start by checking your attitude. The best thing you can offer your family is a happy home — it doesn’t necessarily have to be a new one.

 

Jann Blackstone-Ford, Ph.D., and her husband’s ex-wife, Sharyl Jupe, authors of “Exetiquette for Parents,” are the founders of Bonus Families (www.bonusfamilies.com).

 

— McClatchy-Tribune