Your divorce came through. You are no longer sleeping with the enemy. Everything should be right in the world. And yet, with all of the insights and lessons you learned the first time around, here you are, stuck in new battles with Mate #2. What happened?
From my experiences as a couples mediator, here's my take: You have notions of the way your first marriage should have been, and now you are determined to create that ideal the second-time around. You are committed to expressing your thoughts and opinions, and when something is important to you, it's no holds barred. It's almost as if, dare I say, you are a bit hardened and more demanding. You have learned to put your cards on the table and your new mate can take them or leave them.
Think you're being wise? Perhaps you are, if we're talking about finding a new mate who accepts your religion, your children or your values. But when this "I must protect myself" attitude comes into play with the negotiable things in life, it's like staking your new relationship on the color of a couch.
How can you know if something is negotiable? Here's a short list of the wars you should negotiate, not win:
1) Décor Wars - If you're moving into your new mate's home, rather than fighting about whether his or her vase belongs in the living room or the garbage, negotiate its location in the house. Does it have to be a centerpiece or can it go in your mate's home office where he spends more time than you do? Instead of arguing over animal print versus floral patterns, negotiate the exact items reflecting these preferences. Does it have to be an 8 x 10 animal print rug or can that print be an accessory, like a small pillow on the couch? Forget the all or nothing thinking and go for a compromise.
2) Extended Family Wars - If you thought the battles over where to spend a birthday or holiday dinner ended when you got divorced, think again. Now more than ever, you need to put on your negotiator's hat. Look for trade-offs like Easter Sunday at your sister's house and Mother's Day with your mate's parents. Join families when you can, but expect that the way you used to spend holidays and birthdays is going to change. Be sure to prepare your own extended family and children for those changes as well so they aren't mad at you or your mate when you miss that family event you've been at for the last 10 years. Let them know this is what you want too. For more on how to negotiate in a love relationship, read my new bestselling book Fight Less, Love More: 5-Minute Conversations to Change Your Relationship without Blowing Up or Giving In.
3) Financial Wars - Who's paying for what? Do you keep separate accounts? If you had a certain way of doing things in your last relationship (whether you loved or hated that way), don't try to re-do or fix those ways in this new relationship. Start from scratch. Talk about what makes the most sense. How would a joint account affect your wealth for purposes of alimony? What money are you planning to leave to your children? Hairy issues, but you must talk about them and recognize that what was no longer is. There is no right or wrong here, just what works for both of you.
The key to working through negotiable issues with Mate #2 is to make sure you are not invoking comparisons to your past relationship. Your new relationship shouldn't be a reaction to the old one. Any time you try to do the opposite of what you did in the last go-round, or the exact same thing as you've always done it for 20 years, you are in the wrong. Be flexible, be in the present and be negotiable.