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How to renovate and stay married

There’s a reason that your grandmother told you never to wallpaper with your partner. And, that marriage counselors recommend never undertaking any big home-improvement projects in your first year of marriage. Renovations are friggin’ stressful!


Even the simplest projects can go off the rails quickly -- with budgets and timelines stretching or the finished product not matching expectations. All of this leads to a lot of confusion, frustration and even anger. Add to these emotions physical chaos, a lot of dirt, sweat, tears and even blood and you start to understand what your grandma was talking about. Intentionally or unintentionally it’s easy to direct the stress of renovations at the person you love the most. So how do couples get through renovations and still want to live together? Here are a few tips to help you maintain sanity (and your marriage), even during the toughest projects.

  1. Take turns taking the lead.
    Most projects don’t work well with two head honchos. Realistically assess your skills and interests and figure out who is going to lead during the various steps in the project. It’s ok to do this on the fly, but it’s important to respect the role AND (in my opinion) for everyone to take a turn. Swapping the lead shows that you respect and recognize each other’s strengths and keeps contrasting opinions from halting the project – when we disagree about how something should be done, the lead gets to make the final call. Because we both lead at various points, we each make concessions and no one feels bulldozed; plus we both have a sense of ownership over the final product. Win-win! 
  2. Take a break.
    When tensions hit a peak, just take a break. If you work when you’re frustrated, the quality of what you’re doing is going to suffer. Truly. During our bathroom renovation, we both had points where we had to say, “I’m frustrated. I’m going to go for a walk.” Getting out of the renovation zone helps clear your head and cool your frustration. For big projects, I think it’s even OK to take a weekend or two off. Don’t let all of your home-time become frustration-inducing renovation time. Do things you enjoy that don’t involve power tools. It’s good for your mental health. That said, I often find that the weight of procrastination is worse than the work itself. Once you’re calm, carry on.
  3. Keep your sense of humor.
    "I’m going out for cigarettes!” This is our running renovation joke as two non-smokers. When things aren’t going our way, one of us usually makes this comment  – the subtext, of course, being that we’re going to start driving and never come back. It’s ok if your sense of humor doesn’t lean that way (I know, we’re weird people), but try to remember to laugh when simple things get messed up. It’s going to happen. Better to shrug, crack a joke, and try something else than blow up in a fit of anger.
  4. Appreciate what you’ve accomplished
    There are going to be points in your project where all you can see if the unfinished mess in front of you. Take some time to remember what you’ve already accomplished and latch on to these thoughts for precious life. This is one of the reasons that taking a lot of photos before, during and after renovations is great -- you get a chance to see precisely how far you’ve come. Way to go, you!

Hopefully, once the project is finished, your relationship will be even stronger than when you started. Or, you actually went out for some cigarettes and are now basking in the Mexican sun with your demolished house (kitchen, bathroom, basement) a distant memory. Feels good doesn’t it?


Got tips for renovating with your beau? Send them my way! And, check out everything we've been DIYing (together!) over on our blog

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Stephanie Catcher
September 9, 2020
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Steve Catcher
June 9, 2014
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