How to stay happily married while renovating

Guest post by Raf Howery
Photo by @nathan_son_of_bruce
Photo by @nathan_son_of_bruce

Huh? Is this really a serious issue? Unfortunately, it is. And I have been asked about it multiple times, since my wife and I have completed four separate renovations and, even though we went through some tough spells, we’re still happily married.

Here’s what we learned along the way, and what we did to remain happily married while renovating…

Decided who the ultimate decision-maker will be

Before we began any renovation process, we decided who the ultimate decision-maker will be whenever there is a deadlock. You could separate the decision authority based on the different competences you each have… If you are good at budgeting, then by all means control the finances, and have the last say — but agree on that with your significant other first. In other words, decide who is the boss is in which areas before you even start the process.

You should also think about what kind of conflicts you may encounter and what the rule of thumb should be when they happen. Write them down and keep the list in front of you. These will be your temporary marital vows during your renovation.

Price your shopping wish list before you begin

Budget has a lot to do with your product wish list — from the marble, to your fixtures and appliances — and is often the main controversial and quarrel-initiating factor. Be in the know before you begin to alleviate any potential conflicts regarding spend. Figure out where your tastes lie, and price it out ahead of time. Get the material budget defined very clearly, and make sure that when you hire the contractor, the allowance for those projects match your budget. (An allowance is the part of the bid that the contractor gives you to buy the materials you want for things like kitchens, bathrooms, flooring and roofing.)

One of you should be doing all the communication with the contractor

This may seem extreme to some, but, trust me, you can avoid conflicts by streamlining all communications. Choose one of you to communicate and that same person should preferably own the budget, too. If one of you is playing bad cop with the contractor, make sure he or she is not the main communicator.

Take vacations during the dusty period

Dust and dirt makes it hard to be happy. Whenever possible, pack your bags and go somewhere else. There are many ways you can keep track of your renovation if you’re not on site. You can go back once the dust settles.

Be understanding of the other’s signs of fatigue and frustration

Being frustrated at your spouse’s frustration is going to get you nowhere. One of you needs to be up when the other is down. Resist the urge to be influenced by your partner’s mood. Step up and be strong until he or she is up again. Discussing this beforehand will go a long way when these feelings arise in either of you during the renovation.

Manage, manage and manage proactively

Managing a renovation can be tough. It requires great project management skills, and understanding of construction tasks and their interdependencies. Once you spend the time talking to your contractor to understand your renovation project plan — task by task, and the flow of the renovation — draw up a timeline with your significant other so you are both on the same page.

You probably already know which one of you is more organized, so you can now go ahead and put the timeline on that spouse’s smartphone calendar, and set up alerts for him or her to check on the progress of every task. Do the same with the materials you need to purchase.

And give yourselves enough lead time for every product so that you don’t face any unpleasant surprises down the line.

Turn shopping trips into shopping dates

If you are both into the project, you should try to transform your shopping days into actual dates. This is the most enjoyable part of the entire journey, so have some fun while selecting the things that will be part of your home. Take the time to enjoy browsing, dreaming, spending and romancing. It will strengthen your relationship and understanding of each other as you both build your cocoon.

Any renovation can be tough, but by being informed and organized, clearly delineating responsibilities and making a romantic journey of improving your nest, everyone wins.

What tips do you guys have for renovating your home, but not ruining your relationship?

Comments on How to stay happily married while renovating

  1. I’ve always wondered, when doing multiple renovation projects, how do you prevent yourselves from creating the same house over and over with the same fittings, styles, decor etc?

    • For us, that hasn’t been a problem for two reasons:
      – Each home we’ve bought has a different architectural style and time period. Because we care about our renovations being (mostly) in tune with the spirit of the house (and find it fun to work within that constraint), our 1901 home and 1965 home and 1983 cabin have naturally all come out looking pretty different from each other.
      – What’s the problem with creating the same house over and over again? If there are elements of your home you really like, there’s nothing wrong with having them in more than one home!

  2. Divide & conquer by each person’s priority. Meaning, figure out who cares most about what thing. For example, my husband & I recently gutted & renovated our only bathroom. We each had different priorities — I wanted double sinks & a vanity w/lots of storage, Ihe wanted a certain type of toilet, wanted a certain type of fancy tile, he wanted lots of lighting w/individual controls, but we both wanted fabulous showerheads in a huge shower. So, within our established budget, we each picked out the things we cared most about, & the other person agreed not to argue the point. That left us with a much smaller number of things to actually sort over together.

  3. I agree with Trystan–be willing to defer to the other person if they feel more strongly about a particular element than you do (and be willing to find some things that neither of you care much about–those make the easiest decisions!). The back-and-forth has helped us feel like we each get some of “our” style and preferences in our projects.

    It also really helps to make time for time off from the hard work–and from each other. We’ve done many a major home improvement project and are always much happier when we still build in time to go out with friends, volunteer, travel, etc. It can be hard because you feel like you should be working all of the time, but it’s impossible to sustain that for long. Plan for balance.

  4. I agree with all this. Additional tips if you are living in your reno and doing it yourself:

    Resist the urge to demo everything right at first. Force yourself to finish one room before moving to the next. You can work around having no kitchen counters, or having your bathtub temporarily hooked up in the middle of your unfinished basement because you had to tear the bathroom floors up, or sleeping the whole family in one room because you knocked down walls. (True stories!) You can’t deal with all three at once! And yes, I know the call of the crow bar is intense. Your sanity will thank you in the long run.

    Define how you see the projects. After a few years of renovating a 150 year old farmhouse, I realized most of the fighting was based in this. As the author points out, you need to take time off. I view the house like a marathon, several years of work and I want to still enjoy leisure time during the weekends. Boyfriend tends to want to sprint, never stopping and pushing to be over faster. We now have a system sorta like interval training. A few weekends of intense work on the house and then I spend time solely devoted to my kid and fun stuff. Set priorities as to which projects need to be done quickly.

    Expect the unexpected. Surprise rotten floors, electrical not to code, delays or mistakes in receiving orders, a toilet getting smashed by accident. Be flexible. Adapt really really easily. Grumble if it helps but don’t let surprise work affect you deeply or you will start worrying too much and stop sleeping. And the unexpected costs a shit-ton of money and eats away at your budget.

    Fix small goals. If you view all the work for the whole project, you will go nuts. Split it down into acheivable goals. Insulation, plumbing, the kitchen, the windows etc Consider the next step, not the next step three projects away.

    Laugh. Have fun at the small stuff. High-five yourselves. Try not to blame. You are in this together.

  5. The last item on this list made me smile – my parents have done a ton of renovating to their early 1900s home and when I was growing up my mother would tell me very excitedly that she and my Dad were going on a date. “Oh where are you going?” I’d ask only for my Mother to say “Home Depot!” I told her that didn’t really count but since they did go out to eat before heading to Home Depot (eating out was a pretty rare occurrence for them) I was informed that yes, it was too a real date.

  6. Yes to shopping dates! My husband and I did two renovations so far; our tiny kitchen, and our only bathroom (technically not the only bathroom in the house, there’s one in the basement suite that we were lucky enough to have a tenant who was okay with sharing with reduced rent.) Two other things to add which we found helpful; have healthy hearty food on hand always, and keep your bedroom (or at least one room in the house) clean and renovation free. Even if it’s just beans on toast, always have easy fast food on hand. There will be plenty of times you’ll try to work longer and start getting seriously cranky from the hangries. Being able to quickly produce some food cuts down on SOOO many fights/squabbles. We also found that there’s products to help make healthy food using only a microwave, sooo nice when you’re without a kitchen. I found having at least one room which was renovation free helped the spirits soooo much. Having a clean neat bedroom to escape the reno from was amazing.

  7. THIS! I actually have a draft of a guest post written about how our marriage survived our DIY bathroom remodel last year. (Our house has a single bathroom, and we gutted the entire thing.) We had a major fight, which on the surface was about grout; something we never imagined ourselves arguing about!

    When people ask about how the project went, the joke has become “Well, we’re still happily married!”

    One thing I would add would be to enjoy the process, and the sense of accomplishment that it brings. We became excellent communicators with each other, and came out stronger for having worked through issues that might not have otherwise arisen.

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