A major remodeling or renovation project in your home can cause great stress, which often wears on your relationship. Keeping a good attitude and maintaining strong communication are just two keys to ensuring your marriage not only survives but thrives during your remodel.
It was their dream home: a three-bedroom row house in downtown Philadelphia, close to work and all the conveniences of city living. It needed a lot of work, but Jessica and Rob Frye were still in their 20s, engaged to be married and believed they had the time, initiative and patience to rip up some carpet and tear down some wallpaper.
Tear apart your house without tearing apart your marriage.
But as anyone who has ever remodeled a 100-year-old home could have predicted, the job involved a lot more than fresh paint and some crown molding. "You move a wall and there's a pipe there you weren't planning on or you pull up a floor and there's a hole you weren't planning on," Jessica recalls. "We pulled ceilings down and found newspaper insulation. Our beams have bark on them. I mean it's just a disaster. But it's funny."
Funny? Yes, Jessica still regards this project, now almost three years in the process, as something amusing. Her attitude is what has helped keep her and Rob's relationship strong even through the incredible stress of a renovation project.
"Patience is key," Jessica says. "It's so easy to get frustrated over the mess and the money, but going through it with your partner and best friend makes it worth doing-and fun. We just take it day-by-day, nail-by-nail, and at the end of project, we sit back and reflect on what we do have. It may not be walls or a new bathroom or a living room couch just yet, but we have each other."
Relationship experts say the Fryes have learned one of the most essential ways to keep their relationship strong while their home is in demolition mode: Keep a good attitude and keep communicating. Here are some other tips.
Just the Two of You If this is a do-it-yourself project, be realistic about what exactly must be done, how much time it will take and how much skill and patience you actually have to complete it. "It's easy to tear it apart," Jessica says. "A monkey can do that. It's trying to figure out how to put it back together that's the challenge."
Break down your project, from the first throw of the sledgehammer to the last bit of touch-up painting. Then decide what each of you is good at-such as one paints, the other cuts molding–and what projects will need two sets of hands, such as hanging drywall. "A division of labor is very, very important," says Petalyn Swart Albert, a San Mateo, Calif., life coach who counsels couples going through renovations and new home construction. "Giving complete sovereignty to each other in those particular areas will really negate a lot of questioning and undermining and finger pointing and latent resentment."
Working side by side, as during any do-it-yourself project, will teach you a lot about each other as a couple, says Albert, who with her husband has built four homes and remodeled four others. When a pipe bursts, you'll learn which of you is better in a crisis situation. When you're bleary-eyed from combing through seemingly thousands of wallpaper patterns, you'll learn the beauty of compromise. Albert started her counseling business because of the stress her own remodel put on her marriage. In the end, the experience strengthened her relationship, but there were some contentious moments. "It really is a voluntary crisis that you're about to enter into," she says. "It can be fun and it can actually deepen your intimacy. You're making it work for one another as well as yourself. It's really a beautiful process if it's done in the right way."
Another way to help the process move smoothly is accepting your limitations. Some projects you can complete entirely on your own; others, such as moving load-bearing walls, require some professional assistance. Don't hesitate to call in the experts when necessary; this can help save you from extra cost–and extra fighting–down the road.