’Til death do you part, right?
When you moved in with or married your significant other, you probably promised to have their back, no matter what. You know: in good times and bad; in sickness and in health; ’til death do you part. But the rules of your relationship probably skipped over one very crucial—and, honestly, taxing—milestone: remodeling your home.
Turning your house upside down and addressing home remodeling costs is stressful enough, but doing so while bickering over every last detail with your partner? Now that’s a headache. Maybe that’s why a study from Houzz found that 12 percent of couples considered separation or divorce mid-remodel.
Sure, certain DIY projects are known for causing arguments, but that statistic is still pretty surprising; we’ll be the first to admit life offers far more challenging hurdles than selecting a backsplash or conquering that enormous kitchen remodel cost. But from a psychological standpoint, the stat actually makes sense.
“It’s high emotional stakes on both sides because it’s so personal,” explains Dr. Judy Ho, PhD, triple board-certified clinical, forensic, and neuropsychologist, and author of Stop Self Sabotage. “Homes are people’s personal retreat, a type of sanctuary, and their basis for safety.”
According to Deborah J. Cohan, associate professor of sociology at the University of South Carolina and author of Welcome to Wherever We Are: A Memoir of Family, Caregiving, and Redemption, the plot only thickens when you consider how a simple remodeling project can affect your budget, occupations, and day-to-day as a family or a couple.
“Struggles over remodeling bring to light how a couple is living together and what each person most needs and craves,” Cohan adds. “Arguing over switch plates and faucets is usually much more about control and who makes choices in the relationship.”
But just because you’re remodeling your home doesn’t mean your relationship as you know it is over. In fact, many people find remodeling with their significant other to be a positive and collaborative experience, but it can take a little effort. (And maybe careful avoidance of the DIY home projects that people regret doing themselves the most.) Below, see six tips for keeping your cool while home remodeling as a couple, whether you’re doing the work yourselves or hiring the pros.
1. Great Expectations
You don’t have to be a design enthusiast to care about how your place looks. After all, it’s where you spend most of your waking (and sleeping!) hours, so it should feel, well, like home. You and your partner are bound to disagree on your must-haves, but doing so in front of your contractor, should you hire one, will make for a very tense—and awkward—experience. Keep the bickering to a minimum by discussing your priorities beforehand.
“Share your individual list with each other without criticizing the other person’s preferences and explain why those personal goals and wants are so important to each of you,” Dr. Ho recommends. “Then, develop a shared wish list both of you can agree on.”
2. Raise Your Voice
With so many decisions to make—and so little time to make them—it can be easy to stay silent about something as trivial as a switch plate. But if you don’t totally agree with your partner, speak now or forever hold your peace.
“Maybe he just assumed you’d be happy with subway tile in the master bathroom, when
your heart was set on large-format tiles,” says Dan DiClerico, a home expert at HomeAdvisor. “If you don’t speak up in the moment, the decision will be made and you’ll have to live with those subway tiles forever.”
What’s the alternative? Resenting your partner and the whole remodeling project? Um, no thank you.
3. Lock It Down
Confession time: It’s really, really easy to get side-tracked by a beautiful paint color or fabric that doesn’t quite fit in with your remodeling plans. But as tempting as it may be to scrap your entire project and start from scratch, it’s important to make a plan—and stick with it.
“Not only does it end up blowing the budget, it raises the temperature on an already heated process,” DiClerico says. “The key is to be as thorough as possible during the planning stage, so that you’re on the same page from the beginning.”
Go ahead, keep your new inspiration on the back burner for another project.
4. Compromise, Compromise, Compromise
Remodeling, like a relationship, is all about compromise. Simply put, it wouldn’t be fair if your home’s aesthetic was all about you. But just because you’re meeting your partner in the middle doesn’t mean it’s a losing situation. Instead, think of it as an opportunity to reassess your remodeling needs.
“It's really about deciding what is important and what you can let go of,” Cohan says.
While it’s important to advocate for the things you want, you should also prioritize your partner’s wish list.
“Offer compromises on the items and projects that are not your musts,” Dr. Ho says. “Your partner will really appreciate your flexibility and is likely to respond in kind.”
5. Enlist a Contractor
Repeat after us: Your contractor isn’t your therapist.
Sure, a contractor can use their expertise to mitigate any disagreements, but he or she isn’t there to hear all about your relationship woes. Instead of complaining to your contractor about your partner’s awful taste in molding, ask for their professional opinion when the two of your need guidance.
Speaking of your contractor, it’s crucial to include all parties in important conversations.
“Couples run into trouble when they start having a lot of side conversations with the contractor or architect.” DiClerico says. “Especially around major design decisions, it’s critical that everyone is present at the table.”
6. Take A Break
We’re not going to sugarcoat it: Remodeling your home can be a very time-consuming process. But sometimes, it’s important to put away the paint swatches or tile samples and rekindle the flame.
“There will be down times in the project where you can sneak away for a few days,” DiClerico says. “Even if it’s just a weekly dinner out at your favorite restaurant, with a ban on any renovation talk, you need to make time for each other. A little extra love and patience will go a long way.”
According to Dr. Ho, the number of positive interactions a couple has can improve their relationship. Translation? Carving out some quality time can actually help keep tension and stress during the remodel at bay.