Tuesday, April 30, 2013

How Do You Know It's Right?

Sometimes I have clients that vacilate-- they are not sure whether they should pull the plug or not on their marriage.  This is not a decision that anyone I've ever know has taken lightly, and many will try counseling to try and right the ship before jumping off the Titanic.  But recently I read that for every bad interaction it is going to take 5 positive ones to cancel out that negative occurence.  Knowing that, I can see how the odds become stacked against a couple that is spiraling downward.  So if you find yourself getting pulled into this black hole situation, maybe the best thing is to take a break.  There is nothing wrong with hitting pause and allowing yourself some time to think before you write the end of your love story.  Unfortunately, you need to be prepared for the fact that the other party may not agree with hitting pause, and if so, that is simply too bad.

Whenever I have found myself in a perplexing situation, either at work or personally, I just take a break.  Maybe I'll go for a run, or a walk around Dupont Circle during lunch.  If I need a weekend to think things through, I just pack up a bag and go.  Getting out of a situation does wonders to help you think clearly.  And here is the other thing I have realized-- you need to trust your gut.  When you escape the problem area, how do you feel?  If I have left someone and feel sad, then I realize I need to return and work on the issues at hand, but if I feel nothing but overwhelming relief-- like I am free and can breath again, then I know that the situation is simply unhealthy for me.

As many dear friends have said to me now that it is safe to fully share their opinions, falling in love is supposed to be easy-- it is supposed to be like any other friendship that just naturally develops overtime, without feeling forced or rushed.  Meanwhile, if you are trying to push a square peg through a round hole, you will undoubtedly find yourself facing a lot of friction.  That is NOT normal, NOT good, and you need to stop trying to force things. 

I go back to this-- trust your gut.  Don't try to make compromises you aren't willing to make.  If you find yourself making lists all the time to try to convince yourself that the good outweighs the bad, you really need to stop right there-- what does that tell you?  You should have no doubt that the good outweighs the bad; in fact, you should feel like the luckiest person in the world.  Everyone should see you glow-- and let me tell you, people are not idiots.  They can pick up on the lack of a good vibe.  Pay attention to the vibes you give off as a couple-- a life partner should be an asset, not a hinderance.  When you feel like a true team that can conquer the world-- that is how you know it's right.   

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Learning to Forgive

The first three decades of my life I have to admit, I was not a very forgiving person.  Then I became a mom, and the cliché is true-- motherhood changed me.  Everything ceased to go according to my plans, and I had to learn to let things go.  My marriage fell apart under various strains before my son even turned 2, and the last thing on Earth I wanted to be was a self-employed, single mom, but that is exactly what I've had to manage the last 8 years.  In the process, I lost almost all the material things I treasured, kind of like Job in the Bible, and of course there was the option of just wallowing in self-pity, and becoming angry and bitter-- but I have seen too many go down that path.  It does not end well.  So, I made a different choice-- to forgive and move on.  Not that it was easy, but it is far healthier and ultimately more rewarding.

In this last decade of my life, I've definitely mellowed.  I've come to accept that none of us are perfect, that we all make mistakes, and that you shouldn't judge someone based on whether they suffered a setback, but rather pay attention to how they recover from that setback.  Here are some concrete examples: (1) I am so proud of my ex-husband, who has blossomed into a wonderful father since our divorce; (2) I am truly touched by the warmth my father has shown me in the past few years after being MIA for the first 38 years of my life; and (3) I am relieved to see my mom at peace now that we have reconciled our differences just in time to bury my grandmother without further drama.  These are all beautiful gifts that I've been privileged to witness-- but only because I chose to forgive rather than harbor grudges against them.

Over the last 6 months, while many great things have occurred in my life, I have also suffered some severe losses-- I sold my condo at a huge loss, my grandmother died, and I broke off an engagement.  Yet when people see me, they cannot understand why I seem to be so happy.  Well, simply put-- it is all about perspective.  I have my health, a job I love, a great kid, and an amazing group of family and friends.  These past 40 years, I've learned that you need to focus on what you have, not what you don't have.  The fact is that money is often wasted on the rich.  Don't accept someone else's definition of success or wealth-- you need to define these things for yourself.

Next month, I get to speak to the Fresh Start students at Living Classrooms.  These are young adults that may have made a mistake early on, and now need to start fresh in life.  They obviously won't have the same trajectory in life that I had-- but maybe that is actually better.  My path left no room for errors.  To escape poverty and follow my dreams, I had to walk a very tight line.  It's been a hard, and sometimes very lonely road.  I wouldn't wish this path on my own son, so what does that tell you?  Against all odds, I proved the one thing that I really wanted to prove, and it is this: that you could take a poor girl from the projects, and given the same opportunities as an affluent child, she could be just as pretty, smart and successful.  Why?  Because we are all created equal-- unfortunately, we are not all born with the same opportunities.

We all have to play with the hand we are dealt in life.  I was born with a crappy hand, but I played my hand well.  I hope to teach my son, and other young adults how to do this too.  That's why I am psyched to share my story with them, and more importantly to spare them some heartache by explaining that the best survival skill you can learn quickly in life is the ability to forgive.  To be able to forgive, at whatever appropriate level, in a timeframe that works for you, is the best gift you can give to yourself.  It allows you to stay positive and move forward, and with each new day we can appreciate new joys.  Let the sorrows go; let life's lessons make you that much stronger, and above all-- forgive yourself.      

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Mastering the Art of Breakups

For 15 years, it has been my job to deal with some of the nastiest break-ups in the DC Area.  At this point, I'd estimate I've played a hand in over 1,000, which I guess makes me a break up master.  Now, sometimes we're simply fighting over the allocation of debt, and that is sad, but most of the time I'm dealing with complex financial entanglements, some of which involved billions.  At the end of the day, however, it is my ability to detach that helps me think clearly-- it is just numbers to me-- a business deal gone bad, and now  I have to unravel it.

Putting the emotions aside, it is actually a very methodical process that I have to go through to help two parties separate.  Here are some key points:

(1) Talk about whether the house is being sold or is one party going to stay and cover the expenses.  (2) Joint bank accounts need to be closed or frozen.
(3) Joint credit cards have to be paid off and closed.
(3) Beneficiary forms need to be updated. 
(4) Safety deposit boxes should be cleared out together.
(5) Estate forms have to be revised while you immediately void any powers of attorneys or living wills that the other may have access to. 
(6) Each individual needs to do his/her own budget, and the party looking to vacate has to start the search for an apartment and movers. 
(7) Each and every day you need to bring home some boxes and start packing.
(8) Block the person from your FB page, change your status & delete unwanted pictures asap.
(9) If talking gets you no where, then stop talking.  Learn to disengage asap.

How long should this take?  Well, that depends on a ton of variables-- but the more you can control your emotions so that they don't cloud your judgment, the better off you will be, I promise.  If you need help dealing with the legalities of everything, consult a lawyer.  If you need help processing the emotions, call a counselor.  If you want to try and amicably resolve some of the joint issues quickly, call a mediator to assist with even just an interim agreement.  It is okay to ask for help-- that is exactly why these professionals exist.

Many don't understand how I can do what I do, but here is the deal-- they say that many of us study that which we seek to understand the most.  Well, for the last 15 years I have been studying family dynamics, and it is precisely because I never understood my own family.  However, in the last 3 years, I finally managed to connect all the dots and piece together my own family, which was torn apart by an erroneous court order 35 years ago.  Now, this family has come through for me in ways I cannot even begin to explain as I've unraveled my own latest break-up.  Calling off an engagement is not easy, and either is getting divorce, but this time my entire family stood by my side and provided an amazing amount of love and support beyond words.  So that is my final piece of advice-- let your family help, lean on them in your time of need.  That is exactly what families are all about-- sadly, it took this break up artist 40 years to figure that one out.  :)

Friday, April 19, 2013

Angels & Demons

No, I am not writing about Dan Brown's book, although I did enjoy it very much after some random stranger recommended that I read it a few years ago.  There I was, waiting for a friend at some bar, minding my own business reading The Da Vinci Code, when this cute guy approached me and started talking to me about the book I was reading until my friend arrived. No, I never went out on a date with this guy, but I did follow his advice, and that kept me entertained for another few weeks.

Those who know me are aware of the fact that I am constantly meeting new people, and little tid bits that I learn here and there have this amazing ability to take me in a new and exciting direction-- either personally or professionally.  Last week, I was reminded of this knack I have for meeting great people (and no, I don't think it is a coincidence), and I just have to give a shout out to all the wonderful gentle souls that have reached out and made a connection-- even if ever so brief.

First, thanks to the lovely woman that I met on the train ride up to New York, for she truly was a tremendous help to me as I was formulating the speech I wanted to give about the importance of scholarships.  Then, on the ride back, I met a sweet gentleman, who helped me find a seat in the snack car because the train was oversold.  While at the snack car, I met some other passengers, who told me I should call and complain about my train experience because they were convinced I would get a voucher that I could use in the future, and sure enough I got $150 towards my next ticket because of the delays and seating issues I had encountered!  You all rock and made that trip awesome.

Now, I could go on and on about all the bizarre encounters I have had over the last 40 years-- but really, that is best left for a novel, not a blog.  However, I truly want to emphasize that none of the great things in my life could have occurred without the intervention of angels.  Whether you believe in God or not, there is an undeniable force that surrounds us, and truly the more open you are and the more positive your attitude, I firmly believe good things will come to you. 

The past few weeks, despite some great challenges, I have been surrounded by angels.  My faith has undoubtedly helped me through a great deal, but ultimately it is real-live individuals with small acts of kindness that continually restore my belief in humanity and the notion that good does conquer evil.  It is unfortunate that you need the bad to appreciate the good, and we all have to stay on our guard for the demons out there-- but make sure to appreciate the angels here on Earth.  Angels are real-- you just need to open your heart to them.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Wiping the Slate Clean

We all get into arguments at home-- that is normal, but at the end of each fight do you feel closer?  Do you feel like you understand each other better?  Do you feel like you got to a real resolution?  These are key questions.  If with each and every fight you bring out the worse in each other and you lose more and more respect, then Houston we've got a problem.

Gottman warns that in the final stage of a relationship there are 4 tell-tale signs: (1) the problems seem severe; (2) talking seems useless; (3) you start living parallel lives and (4) lonliness sets in.  Every day when I meet with my clients getting divorced, I hear the same thing-- the good memories no longer outweigh the bad ones, and they simply can't wipe the slate clean and start fresh-- they just need out.

Before it gets to the point of no return, there are ways that people can learn to fight better-- in a respectful manner.  Without name-calling, making threats, giving ultimateums or stonewalling, it is possible to present a strong case for how you feel about something.  The reason we try to establish rules upfront is to prevent having bad behaviors create irrepairable damage.  Love is so fragile, and you need to treat it gently.  Pouring acid over each other is the surest way to kill your love.

Now bad fights don't usually play out in the beginning when everyone is on their best behavior, but I recently asked some of my happily married girlfriends if they still fight, and they all laughed and confirmed that conflict is normal even 10 years into knowing someone-- there are, however, established rules.  Here are 2 in particular that I want to embrace: (1) you have 24 hours to get something out of your system.  If something bothers you, let it out within a day, otherwise forever hold your peace.  (2) once an argument has occured and the issue has been resolved, you need to let it go.  Harboring ill-feelings and bringing up bad moments won't do anyone any good. 

Keep in mind that in my professional life, I have been trained as a lethal warrior-- and we do keep scorecards in court.  Forgiveness is not something that comes easy to litigators-- but it can be done.  The world of mediation and Collaborative Law taught me the power of promoting peace, and this seeped into my personal life such that in the last few years, I have come to forgive some pretty major transgressions.  Making peace with both my parents and our past had made me whole, and we have all decided to wipe the slate clean-- it's kind of like visualizing an etch-a-sketch, and letting the past go.  Was this easy?  No, and I am by no means suggesting that everyone should be given the same level of consideration.  You need to follow your gut.  Your instincts are the best indicator of whether something is right for you or not.  You'll hit reset when you are ready, and if you can't then it is time to move on.  

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Do You Prefer to be Liked or Respected?

If you had to pick one-- which would it be?  This was the question asked by Jon Meacham at an event I attended on Friday.  He says you can tell a lot about a politician by the answer to this question, and some of the examples he gave included Bill Clinton (clearly one driven by the need to be liked) versus Pres. Obama (who undoubtedly values respect more than winning some popularity contest).

Especially when dealing with an alpha male or female, keep this in mind:  Nothing will trigger a more viceral reaction than being disrespected.  After coming from New York, having worked really hard to get to a certain level, and dealing with one crisis after another all day, I admit nothing is going to set me off more at the end of the day than thoughtlessness-- don't park in my spot, break promises, make demands or dismiss my concerns.  Luckily, I have no problem telling people when to back off, and after I'm done, I can thaw and move on-- but not everyone around me can.  This has taken me a long, long time to grasp.

There are I think many more that are concerned with being liked, and many non-New Yorkers or non-litigators that don't really get the whole respect thing, having an attitude in the beginning, being a bit biting or sacrastic, and later having a good laugh over it all.  In court, we all throw punches, and then afterwards, we are all able to go hang out with our colleagues and relish in our war stories over a drink.  We go from slinging mud at each other one minute, to hugging each other the next.  It has been my M.O. for almost 15 years now, but I am starting to see that this is not the norm for most.

When you only hang out with your own kind, there is so much you can't see.  I love how much my world has expanded over the last several years, but learning to change certain deeply seeded behaviors is hard, and it doesn't happen over night.  While I continue to work on my progress, I just encourage others to be more patient with the alphas they'll encounter-- it's not that we don't want to be liked, it's just that we value respect hundred times more.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Closing the Achievement Gap

A lot of people talk about wanting to close the achievement gap, but few actually put their money where their mouth is.  Today I get to meet some of the most generous people in corporate America-- donors that have spent at least $1000/person for the Albert G. Oliver's annual luncheon in New York City, and it is my job to illustrate what a difference their donations can make in a child's life by sharing my story.

I was born in Queens to an immigrant single mother, and we grew up with government assistance, including government-issued cheese.  I did not know English until I started kindergarten, where I got pulled out for English as a second language.  Fortunately, I was able to learn English quickly and flawlessly.  By the time I was age 14, I was an honor roll student and nationally recognized rhythmic gymnast.

26 years ago, while minding my own business sitting in Junior High, I was called down to the principal's office, where I was introduced to a representative of the Albert G. Oliver program.  After lots of screening interviews, tutoring, tests, and tours of various private schools, I got the gift of a lifetime- the chance to attend Phillips Academy Andover-- free of charge.

In the summers, the Oliver Program helped me obtain internships, and they encouraged us all to do community service.  This way, I built my resume and contacts, so by the time I applied to college, I had my pick of many great schools, just like any other of my Andover peers.

The Oliver Program arranged for a college tour the summer before we all sent out our applications, and this is how I was introduced to Georgetown.  I made DC my home after law school, and for the last 15 years I've been a family law attorney, helping families work out their issues.

Today, I get to run my own firm where I actually promote settlements outside of court, and I enjoy doing a lot of mediation and Collaborative cases.  Now, I may not get paid anywhere near what my corporate colleagues make, but I am surviving, and more importantly I have work-life balance.  I have created  a life where I have choices, and I make it a priority to give back to the community.

In addition to volunteering at my son's school, the past few years I've been able to lecture to students at both Georgetown and GWU Law School.  I mentor students and help train volunteers for the DC Bar Pro Bono Program.  I've spent years helping at the courthouse, with the Women's Bar Association and other non-profit organizations.  Last year, I was able to provide legal commentaries for Sirius XM at least twice a month, and then this past year I was given the opportunity to develop my own tv show for a local public access channel to help families tackle major issues.

I've taken things to a whole new level recently, putting over 20 shows on YouTube to try and spread the word on a national level.  Meanwhile, I've had several essays published and been recognized in various media formats, including blogs, journals, and magazines across the country. 

At age 40, I've been mentioned in the ABA journal twice; ABC has had me on twice; and both the Washington Post and Bethesda Magazine have done feature stories on me and my work.  So the ongoing joke at home is when am I actually going to get paid for any of these endeavors?  I don't have an answer to that, but when people ask "why are you doing all this?"  That I can answer.

Cynics might think I am an ego maniac.  Many think I'm some genius that has figured out how to have my cake and eat it too.  Few understand the truth, but I am going to share that truth today.

The truth is that there is an overwhelming sense of gratitude that I have for the Oliver Program, and at the same time a tremendous sense of guilt-- guilt that I could never repay them.  Well, today is the day I get to pay them back.  Hopefully, sharing my story will prove that it is possible to close the achievement gap-- but it is not easy, and it is not an inexpensive process.  Just look at all the resources it took to create the woman that I am today.

I am who I am because of the generosity of many; because my mother was able to make the ultimate sacrifice of letting me go; and because Oliver believed in me.  To everyone that played a part, all I can say is thank you.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Prenup Trends This Spring

There are a flurry of engagements that occur between the holidays and Valentine's Day.  Now, as many brides are busy planning their weddings this spring, it is my job to draft a ton of prenuptial agreements.  Interestingly enough, I am seeing a very distinct trend where these documents are no longer for the rich and/or famous.  Normal, every day people are getting these prenups done mainly to 1) protect their separate interests and 2) minimize any exposure to alimony. 

Another new trend worth noting is an increasing demand to have future spouses waive any interest in businesses that are in the process of being created-- and I've even seem some Operating Agreements, where the companies are requiring a prenup before they will allow someone to have an intersest in the business.  So, more and more I have to come up with some creative solutions while dealing with an ever increasing need to keep the emotions calm. 

My prenup consults have truly morphed in the last few years to more of a pre-marriage counseling session, where we talk a lot about the benefits and the perils of marriage.  I often give people a list of books they should read, including Gottman's Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.  Dr. Chapman's love language quiz is always well received, and I often recommend a few of the videos from my past shows with couples counselors. 

The fact is, love is not enough to weather all storms.  There are some key skills we all need to have if we want to keep a marriage intact, and we have to accept that marriage is always going to be a work in progress.  To embrace the notion of a team and give up the idea of purusing an individual form of happiness is not easy, especially because it is quite contrary to our American culture as Robert Scuka pointed out to me in a recent interview.  Furthermore, we need to accept that happiness is not a permanent state of being-- it is something we have to continue to strive for, as we continue to build on trust, respect and proving our continued commitment to the marriage.  

Why do I bring all this up?  Because the rate of success for marriage is not good-- especially for second marriages.  People need to realize the risk and then see the weak spots as opportunities for further improvement.  While they work on the relationship side of things, it is my job to minimize the legal/financial downside in the event the partnership doesn't succeed.  This really is not very romantic, but almost a necessary evil, which is why I have one final recommendation for engaged couples: don't wait until the last minute to finalize a prenup.  Get it over before those wedding invites go out, and afterwards sit back and enjoy the countdown to your special day.    

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Mind the Gap (between generations)

Most days, I don't notice the 13 year age difference with the person I've been seeing, but some days I feel like he must have been transported in time from the dinosaur era.  I have to remind myself that this 1950's baby, who is now in his 50's, was brought up during a time where a man's primary job was to be a good provider.  The fact that he actually pitches in with cooking, cleaning,and some child-raising is rather remarkable, although something most of my GenX peers would expect in their partners. 

There are 3 areas where we seem to have some recurring conflicts of interest, and although none of these are insurmountable, they do require some recognition of our age differences coming into play:

1. Emotional Awareness- Sadly, few if any of the baby boomer men were taught to be emotionally available to their partners-- instead, men were bred to be rocks.  Now don't get me wrong-- having a rock is awesome, but if you require a deep emotional connection with your partner, you may need to exercise some patience while breaking down some bad habits (like bottling things up or trying to bury feelings) and instead learning to create a safe place to talk about concerns and feelings without passing judgments.   Learning how to fight well is never easy, but it is extra hard when you have to try and shift the paradigm by which someone's viewed the world for several decades.

2. Power Battles- Try to keep in mind that men from the baby boomer generation often were raised by stay-at-home mothers, with few divorces and blended family situations back then.  Unlike today where women hold leadership roles in various fields, back then men held ALL the power.  Knowing that boys generally want to emulate their dads, you can easily see then how a baby boomer male may have a really hard time dealing with a fiery, opinionated, and uber independant GenXer that doesn't back down.  It's not so much about intentionally seeking to be dominant, but for an old school guy it may be a shift to truly respect and see a woman as an equal.

3.Stages of Life- I grapple with this one a lot.  Aside from the difference in our energy levels, my focus is still on building my career and getting my son ready for college in 9 years.  At the same time, I want us to enjoy life, and retirement is just not even on my radar.  Meanwhile, the person I've been seeing is much closer to being an empty nester, and he is very focused on retirement and savings.  His worries are so vastly different from mine, and I have to be senstive to this whenever we have financial discussions and make major life decisions.

In the end, I really do enjoy being with someone who sees things differently, and who brings a different skill set to the table, but the generation gap definitely adds a whole new set of challenges to our relationship.  As many of my girlfriends know, I continue to recommend that some GenXers look to older guys as companions, for they are a bit more mellowed out and usually less obsessed with the rat race, but if you do date someone a decade or so older and you want it to last, you need to be cognizant of the 3 key points mentioned above and mind the generation gap.   

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Why Shoot for the Moon?

The saying goes "shoot for the moon-- even if you miss, you'll land among the stars."  Some of us, without perhaps having ever heard this saying, just know this instinctively.  Throughout life, I've always been willing to give something a shot-- why?  Well, maybe when you start off with nothing, there just doesn't seem to be much to lose.

25 years ago, there was a scholarship fund in NY that took a poor little girl out of the hood and sent her to a lily-white community in New England.  As the daughter of a single mother, who was an immigrant without a college degree, I did not share much in common with my boarding school peers-- except in the academic arena.  Thanks to the generosity of others, I was afforded every opportunity that my classmates were given to achieve, and I made a life-altering choice to make the best play out of the hand that I was dealt.

In the last couple of years, we can all see how this social science experiment has worked out-- I've  expanded beyond your normal legal career and become an author, lecturer, legal commentator, and local tv host.  At 40, I get to share ideas on a level that many would never even dare to dream of, and much to the chagrin of some of my older colleagues that would prefer I keep my mouth shut about alternative dispute resolution methods.  Indeed promoting healthy relationships and out of court settlements is not going to bring in as much money to many legal service providers, but what they fail to understand is that I wasn't bred to focus on finances-- I was inspired by some of the best thinkers in this country to share great ideas and build on the work of others to help all those around me. 

A few months ago, Arianna Huffington spoke at GW, which is my alma mater, and she said that you should never underestimate someone.  She gave the example of a mosquito in a room, and how that one tiny creature could make your life miserable when you are trying to go to sleep at night.  Well, I guess I'm like that mosquito.  Because I can never repay the people who provided me with such amazing opportunities in my academic and professional career, not only do I try to pay it forward, but I want everyone else to think about what they could do to help improve our communities and inspire the next generation.

I wish I could have been born with a trust fund so that I could support so many of the great causes out there, but I accept that fate had something else in store for me.  Although I may lack funds, I do not lack ingenuity.  Using my connections, I do my best with my weekly pro bono tv show to promote local non-profits and healthy families, and in addition this month I will plant some more seeds at my son's elementary school as a volunteer for Junior Achievement.  The icing on the cake will be heading to NY next week as the guest speaker for an Albert G. Oliver fundraiser-- now this was the program that gave me my first big break in life, and if there is one thing I want to make sure those donors realize is that there money is definitely being well spent.  Even if none of the AGO Scholars ever reach the moon, they will fall among shining stars. 

Monday, April 1, 2013

5 Key Tips When Merging Households

Fifteen years ago when I got married for the first time, it was so easy to merge households-- we both had nothing and were basically starting from scratch.  When we had to untangle everything, we remained civil and amicable for the most part, and for the last 8 years I've continued to keep all my accounts and everything separate-- until now.  Luckily, the methodical side of me was able to ensure a smooth transition, from a practical point of view, and maybe others will benefit from this check list too, so here it is:

(1) Talk about what your shared/joint expenses are going to be and how they will get paid.
(2) Open a joint account and one joint credit card, where you can earn points together.  You should both review this monthly and set a limit for how much someone can charge without the other's consent.
(3) Update your address with all your creditors, etc. Notify DMV, voter's registration, and all your service providers.
(4) Notify your insurance companies and add on additional drivers as needed.
(5) Avoid arguing over what should stay or go in terms of furntiure or artwork, etc. 

Let's talk about point #5 as the rest are pretty self explanatory.  Instead of getting into heated battles over whose crap should go, try to create 3 categories: 1) yes, we'll keep it; 2) no, can't stand it; and 3) maybe I can live with it.   If you have different tastes, resist putting everything in category 2 because you need to be cognizant of the fact that there may be some things that someone is sentimentally attached.  While at first glance it may seem there is very little you can stand, try to avoid automatically exerting veto power without any discretion.  Trust me-- this won't end well.

Ultimately, you can't force someone to get rid of everything, but that also shouldn't mean you need to deal with it all in your sacred space.  Maybe he gets to have his man cave, where the things you don't like will be out of sight.  Or perhaps the office away from home can house some things.  Maybe you need to ask a relative to keep a few family heirlooms for you.  Storage facilities are another option.  What I found to be one of the best solutions was to sell or donate a few items and just start new. 

Merging households later in life is not easy, but if you can keep in mind that the reason you are going through such difficult tasks is because you love each other and want to be together, it should all work out okay.  Just be considerate of each other's wants and desires while trying to find solutions that will work for everyone in the new household.  Easier said than done, I know, but I'm not asking you to try something I haven't lived through myself.  Just remember- finding the right house and spouse is the hard part, the rest should be a walk in the park.