Living in the Hallways

Emily and Miguel have been married for five months.  Emily, age 32, has never been married before and Miguel, age 37, has two children from a prior marriage.  They are all living in the house where Miguel lived in his previous marriage.

One day while preparing dinner Emily says to Miguel, you know we should purchase a salad spinner.  To Emily’s surprise, Miguel responds, “we have one,” and proceeds to pull out a salad spinner from a bottom kitchen closet.

In discussing this seemingly small incident with them, Emily explains that her upset was that she didn’t know what is in “her kitchen.” On further reflection what upset Emily was Miguel’s statement “we have a spinner.”  Who is the “we?” Where did this object come from, and does it have a place in making salad in my new family?

You may think that Emily is making a big deal about a salad spinner, but let’s take a further look as we move through each room in “Emily and Miguel’s” home.

Remember, it is not a home they created together.  It is one of those retrofits, where Emily has to fit in.  How about the dining room table that comes from Miguel’s previous marriage? Emily also had a dining room table that she purchased before she married Miguel which along with some of her other furniture she brought to the home.  Miguel acknowledges that Emily’s table is kind of in no man’s land—they have yet to find a proper place for it in the new home.  It is used though as an extension of the dining room table when needed for additional guests.

Let’s go upstairs.  What do we find there?  The bedroom set from Miguel’s previous marriage.  Miguel and Emily did purchase new sheets and the bed was moved to a north-south direction from its previous east-west location.  Emily asked if they could purchase new bedroom furniture but Miguel felt it was an unnecessary expense.

On the mantelpiece in the living room are many photos of Miguel and his children; are there any pictures of Emily and Miguel or Emily and her relatives anywhere in this “new” home to reflect the “new family”?  None.  When asked, “Where are you in this house?” Emily replies, “I am living in the hallways.”

Comment: When creating the new family it is of great importance to pay attention to how the living arrangement accommodates both parents and that the home represents both of them. When referring to the start of living together do not say, “When she or he (the new parent) came into the family.” This implies that the new parent is entering the “old family” and not that the couple is creating a new family.

Often there will be practical issues about purchasing all new furnishings or utensils (let alone a house or car). The issue that emerges from Emily and Miguel is awareness on how they are accomplishing the creation of a new family as reflected in how they as a couple start anew. Is there a place for the sofa or salad spinner from a prior life (or family life)? Discussing all these issues before moving in together is of critical importance in establishing a well functioning new family.

P.S. Sometimes there are items of the previous spouse in the “new” home with reasons such as—“he doesn’t have room to store his tools”, “she left her winter clothing here.” The principle of move out applies equally to moving the prior spouse out completely—that must happen before one can move in to a new family.

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