How to Remodel Your Relationship and Your Home at the Same Time

Everyone knows that remodeling a home takes a lot of planning. What will it cost? What will it look like? Where will we stay during construction? These questions help people map out a path to a successful outcome. But couples who embark on such a project together often forget to think about one crucial question: What effect will this stress have on our relationship?

A recent Houzz survey of 5,800 homeowners in 10 countries—Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom and United States—offers insight into the many perils and pitfalls couples face during building and decorating projects. Here are a few tips and tricks to help remodel your relationship and home at the same time:

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Northshore Cabin
Photo by Pearson Design Group

The Ultimate Test
Remodeling is like a crash course in the viability of a relationship. You find out what you and your partner are made of. Large sums of money are involved, plus ego, personal preferences, childhood dreams, high stress, forced collaboration—the list goes on. “I think remodeling is in some way a litmus test for what your current relationship is and what it could be,” says Peter Pearson, who, along with his wife, Ellyn Bader, founded The Couples Institute in the early 1980s.

Pearson, who has been counseling couples and training therapists, says remodeling—or tackling any major undertaking as a couple—brings up dilemmas that are blind to geographic location, ethnicity and culture. Most couples found the process of renovating, decorating or building a new home fun and fulfilling, but also frustrating and difficult, particularly in Australia and Spain. In Sweden, an overwhelming majority said the experience was fun.

Streatham
Photo by Lambert & Sons Limited

Bones of Contention While Planning
Communicating with each other is another challenge. “Most people get in arguments or get hurt when they feel like they’re not being understood,” says Dawn Michael, a couples therapist and clinical sexologist who used to teach classes to couples on how to navigate through a remodeling project. “That is the biggest challenge in relationships and can equate to design too.”

The best way to resolve an issue? Compromise topped the list. But so did looking at photos on Houzz. (No, really.) Michael suggests it to her clients too. She says sitting down together as a couple and going through pictures helps each person understand what the other likes and helps them come to clear conclusions on style and design choices that can prevent disagreements later on.

Michael also suggests having each person write down 10 ideas or desires they have in relation to their issue and exchange them with their significant other. Then each person circles things that are similar, checks the ones they can compromise on and crosses out the ones they completely disagree on.

Portfolio
Photo by Moosejaw Woodworks Co Ltd

Challenges Once Things Get Underway
The most common challenge couples face while in the thick of a renovation project is staying calm and composed and being flexible about living conditions. For example, if you’re staying in your home during a kitchen remodel, you may need to get used to making your coffee on a fold-out table in your garage, doing dishes in a bathtub or eating lots of takeout food. Some people are better at reverting to their college dorm room days than others.

Differences in project management style between individuals is another pain point. One person may not mind the mess; the other can’t stand it. Or one is perfectly fine moving along at a leisurely pace, while the other just wants the project finished five minutes ago. A professional can help take the reins on project management, but no matter what, if you’re taking on a big project, you’ll have to be on top of how things are running.

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Faringdon flagstones
Photo by Natural Stone Consulting

The Decider
When Pearson and his wife worked together on an addition to their house, they made two decisions that prevented 99 percent of all possible disagreements.

First, they decided what the budget was going to be. According to the survey, this was one of the top tips given by respondents for other couples as well. Figure out what you can afford, agree on it and stick with it. If something comes up during the project that calls for a change in the budget, discuss it with your significant other before making a decision.

Secondly, Pearson and Bader divided up the decision-making process so that Bader got 51 percent of the voting power and Pearson got 49 percent. In other words, he had input and Bader sought his opinion on things, but in the end, she had the final say because they had decided early on that she would be better suited for spearheading the project.

This 51-49 split can cover all areas of the remodel or be divided up between tasks. One person may take on the selection of materials and finishes, while the other is more comfortable with project management. The budget, though, should always be a 50-50 decision, arrived at mutually.

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Coastal Contemporary - Santa Barbara
Photo by Jodi Fleming Design

Polish Those Negotiating Skills
You and your partner need to make a lot of decisions together…hundreds of them. Once a discussion comes up, that’s when negotiations begin. You and your partner are negotiating on what the solution or decision should be and Pearson says that’s why it’s important for you to have the right negotiating skills.

“The key is to agree on what we disagree about: ‘We seem to disagree on the acceptable level of clutter in the living room.’ When you say that, nobody points a finger. It’s the key for successful negotiation. Instead of saying, ‘You’re so damn tight and won’t spend anything on remodeling,’ try, ‘We seem to disagree on the acceptable budget for the remodel.’”

My Houzz: Couple Build Their Dream Modern-Farmhouse-Style Home
Photo by Heather Banks

Is It Worth It?
Despite disagreements and challenges, the majority of homeowners in every country surveyed had the same top three thoughts about their relationship during the remodel: “We make a great team,” “I’m glad I’m with this person” and “If we can make it through this, we can make it through anything.” The latter is particularly important.

While remodeling is challenging, it can strengthen relationships. Many reported that after completing a remodeling project, they now spend more time at home together, eat and cook more at home, and have more company over. A large majority of people in many countries also said they feel more comfortable, happier and more organized at home.

And an overwhelming majority said the result of the project was worth going through the experience. “Every time you go into a room that you remodeled together, it reminds you of the success of the project, which relates to the success of the relationship,” Michael says.

Streatham
Photo by Lambert & Sons Limited

Managing Stress
When you have a lot invested in something—time, money, hopes and dreams—it can turn into a high-stress situation. If you’ve ever planned your or your child’s wedding, obsessed over the perfect birth plan or thought you had that far-away vacation worked out to the last detail only to have everything blow up in your face, then you might have some understanding of what a remodeling project can entail.

You’ll need a few tricks to help manage the inevitable stress. Many people found that venting to each other or to friends and family was a huge relief or simply get out of the house and take alone time. Hugging, kissing and being affectionate can definitely also help manage stress.

 

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