In the eleven years that my husband and I have been together we have moved five times; we have built four homes, and remodelled four others. I am very familiar with what a couple can expect ‘under the influence’ of construction. Beyond this, my husband is the founder and owner a very successful Design/Build firm in the San Francisco Bay Area, so we have a lateral view of what many, couples go through, over and over again.
The emotional tax during a remodel is very real, indeed. Yet because there is little available information about it we tend to take the hard rout. We think, “Oh, it’s not as bad as other people make it out to be!” or “If we don’t make a big deal about it, everything will be just fine.” And, actually, what choice do we have?
Less than halfway into it, many couples realize that not only is there a huge emotional side to their project, but that it is far bigger than they had imagined it could be. We have all heard about couples who divorced, or nearly separated, after building their dream home. Answers to the question of “why” are limitless, but the bottom line is this: if they knew what to expect and/or had some guidance, they may have still liked each other once their home was finished. Remodelling is a huge deal, and it is not for the faint of heart or the uninformed. Even if you have a very strong marriage, there are likely to be emotional side-effects you would rather avoid, and could, if you exercise the care necessary ahead of time.
Because of my own challenges with this personal aspect to remodelling, I had searched everywhere including book stores under home-construction; home-remodelling, and even the self-help aisle. But I found little that paid the slightest attention to the emotional fallout of home-remodelling. It was just as frustrating to search on-line for any comprehensive guidance that could arm couples ahead of time. All I was looking for was something that would both confirm, and ease, the impact home-remodelling has on domestic life and -not least of all- on marriage.
Remodelling is a multi-layered entity to say the least. There is the physical project which is worth many, many layers all by itself, and then there is real-life before, during, and after the project. As involved as the project will be, your relationship needs equal care and consideration.
I sincerely hope that this article will aid in revealing some common (though not so strange) issues before they become problematic, and lessen the element of disappointment in those you can not foresee.
The sense of accomplishment that comes with witnessing your project to its completion can be very satisfying indeed. The greater reward of such projects, however, is the sense that the experience has brought you and your spouse closer together; that you can enjoy looking back on it ALL with more pleasure than pain; and that the great care you took of your relationship will fill your new home with the natural air of completion, and comfort. These are memories in the making for you both, so it is important to be aware of what is happening between you as you grow your new home together.
My goal is to help you position yourselves for offering greater kindness to one another throughout your entire building process.
Nine Essential Steps.
Essential Step #1
Decide together, that you need to decide how to communicate with each other
Revise your skills; explore new Skill-sets. Buy a book on effective communication for couples, and READ it together. Take a short workshop TOGETHER. But make it fun because fun is an important binder which makes learning something potentially ‘ho-hum’ much more… well FUN! The more intelligent you are the more you will need it, simple because you are more likely to reasonably talk yourselves out of it. But take my word for it, find a way to agree on your communication styles, and (I’ll say it again) have FUN with it because you will need to be able to deal with potentially uncomfortable issues when neither of you feels like it, or when you are both exhausted.
Essential Step #2
Decide on what is true for you!
a. Do you really want that library? Is it essential that you buy your tile from Italy? Can I really live without a room of my own for my projects? When we remodelled our kitchen I hadn’t thought about recycling. What a blunder on my part because I believe in recycling. I could kick myself because what’s true for me is that I feel responsible for how I live on my planet. So, that is a value I neglected at the time. Why? Honestly, I just didn’t want to argue with my husband over it. That’s ridiculous! But I learned Essential Step #2 from it and have applied it elsewhere, thank goodness.
b. Champion your partner’s truth. This is very important. It is a very engaged form of active-love that pays dividends. When your partner trusts that you not only know what they want, but that you will protect it, everyone relaxes. Remember that you have to ask them what they are not willing to give up; what they absolutely must have to feel satisfied with the design or handling of the job; and what they definitely do not want. Please do not forget to think of your own answers to these and other questions of your own. Once you are clear about what you want you must tell your partner. If they are to be on your side when you need them they must be informed. We generally can not be expected to support what we do not know about. Even when we are aware of our partners needs it is still sometimes difficult to keep it all together.
Essential Step #3
Make the commitment!
Yes, you are actually going to do this remodel. So often one person is on board completely with the project and the other one isn’t that keen, but they tell themselves, “we need the room,” or “It will make her happy,” or “my husband decided …so I had to go along!” Whatever your reasons and/or reservations, if you are moving forward with the project then do what ever you needed to do to get on board with the reality of it, and plan together how to make it work for you both. When one of you can not wait to begin, and the other is not enthusiastic at all, you will likely create deferred resentment. And for good reason I am afraid. Someone’s feelings, opinions and needs, are not being taken care of. Both of you need to win, and both of you need to feel safe and supported if this is going to go as smoothly as possible.
Essential Step #4
Accept the idea of multiple choices!
2. This or That Way
This step provides flexibility. Think Bamboo verses Oak. When considering these nine steps, remember that you have as many choices as you can dream up. In other words, stay away from the mono-way attitude I call MWOTH (MY WAY OR THE HIGHWAY). Remove the stifling air of a stale-mate as in the either/or (this or that way) choice. Brainstorm! The sky is the limit when it comes to ideas. That’s sky-way. Make it a game. How many solutions can you each come up with in 60 seconds? Whoever has the most choices, wins. Let yourselves have fun with it; be silly and outrageous; be real and practical too. The point is not to edit yourself, or each other, when playing this game. You will be surprised at the very practical ideas you can build together from just one ridiculous notion.
Essential Step #5
Choose your POA!
a. What is a POA? Position Of Attitude means: adopt how you want to be with the larger picture. Do you want power-struggles? Do you want the culture of your relationship to continue to feel friendly and efficient? Do you want it to feel honourable, clear and unencumbered? Do you have realistic expectations? How do you want to behave when problems come up; personal disagreements; billing issues; budget concerns? The more you think about, discuss, and decide on ahead of time (in terms of how you will be with each other at such times) the better you will likely preserve intimacy. Intimacy and trust are the assets most often at risk during power-struggles and blaming.
b. Decide what out-come you want. This sounds simple enough but it is worth re-claiming. Do you want this to be a happy experience? Do you care more about the bottom-line than about how you treat one another? Is there a middle ground that has wiggle room for you both? Is there a way to view it all so that the budget remains sane AND you don’t shatter your relationship over an inflexible iron will?
If you do actually care more about the bottom line, then you have a real challenge. Either you should admit it and deal with the consequences, or find some way to soften your approach so others don’t turn on their heels and run away from you as fast as they can. You may really want to preserve your intimacy, and your partner’s trust that you are always safe for them to problem solve with (or whatever). However, maybe you’ve been accused of being really controlling or perhaps even overbearing. In this case, you may feel it is important to find a way to get a grip on what drives you to the point of losing your grip on the big picture. An active decision to deal with this part of yourself, is a huge act of love that your husband or wife will absolutely notice.
c. Accept the idea of multiple choices: Remember this from Essential Step #4? This is a great tool to bring into building your position of attitude. You can choose what ever attitude you want to have. Remember that the attitude you already have is one you are allowing yourself to have. I know that you didn’t come by it accidentally. You earned it through time and experience. Yet, have you ever noticed that there are statistics to back up every point of view on just about anything you can dream up? It’s the same with our attitude about anything. So, decide between a selection of attitudes you would most like to hold, and then find the evidence to back it up. It’s there if you look for it.
d. From blame to game: The bottom line here is there is no room for blame. If you are creating this project together; championing one another; claiming and sharing your POA; brainstorming for fun and choices; if you are learning and declaring what is true for you… then there is no room for blame. You will find that you are both on the same team, and you’re not just pretending to be. Your finished house will not give you back the love you laid at its foundation, nor can it replace the intimacy and trust you sacrifice to it for the sake of any part of it. And dollar equity alone feels very empty at the end of the day.
Essential Step #6
Develop an attitude of adventure. This is so important. Get real! Let’s face it; this project is not essential to survival. It will make life easier; your friends may be impressed; you will have more room and hopefully everyone will have the space to be who they are in the new digs, but it is not a question of survival. Don’t make it about survival. Make it about the adventure and about the stories you get to tell together for years after. You want to shoot for the kind of stories you can safely tell your grandchildren.
Essential Step #7
There are several solutions to every ‘unique’ problem!
This goes along with the idea of multiple choices. You don’t get to misbehave just because you think your issues are unique and this exempts you from: giving up your mono-way attitude; or from effective brainstorming; or from championing your partner; or for that matter, from honouring what is really true for you. Solutions come from Ideas, and good ideas come from you. Recognize the possibilities that are unique rather than the problems that are unique. Brainstorm ways that the unique possibilities may actually take care of the issues at hand.
Very Essential Step #8
Do NOT give up your tools of sanity!
This kind of temporary situation will always take too long. If you practice yoga; if you go to the gym; if you meditate; play soft-ball; go for long walks; play scrabble; see your friends… what ever keeps you sane when life is normal, it is even more important to do them now! Do not accept anything less at this time, and I encourage you to really support one another in absolutely making this happen.
The love you two have, the history, the kids, the pets, the sorrows and the pivotal moments you share together, are all far too precious to compromise even over a house. It doesn’t matter how much the house is worth now, or how much it will be worth.
Extremely Essential Step #9
Making it Count!
This remodel will take several months of your lives. Make the shared experiences count toward the overall quality of your relationship and toward the tone of your individual lives. This is a growth experience anyway you slice it. Make it count personally, and in what you learn about being in relationship. Make it count spiritually if you have that persuasion. Make it count in the examples you will set for your children or friends who will go through the same challenges on similar projects.
This final step is by far and away the one that I care most deeply about. In the work I do with grief coaching, it is so clear to me that radical changes in our lives create great losses for us as well as great opportunities. The losses ask us to grow up a little more, and the opportunities as us to share what we’ve learned. Tearing down and rearranging our home is an experience that stirs our core sense of survival. This is why many people do fly into a survival-mode during a building project. It taunts ALL instincts of self-preservation; currency, shelter, and domestic and emotional safety, to name just four. But remember that this is an optional ‘danger’. It is as it were, both perceived and self inflicted. We volunteer to hold onto the image of a better life for ourselves. If all goes south, you could suffer a financial loss, but you probably won’t die. Not unless you make yourself, and others close to you, sick with worry or fright.
So make this whole experience count toward who you want to be personally, with your family, and in the world. This way, no matter what happens, you will feel more able to handle anything, simply because you chose; committed to; and preserved who you wanted to be long before the issues arose and it became too overwhelming.
Suffice to say during times of great change we are asked to address our core values. We must do this for the sake of your mutual success, both personally and as a team. We are also being asked to face up to what we want most. These are the essential agreements that we must cling to when we have extreme anxiety, worry and fear. Take care of your selves, and take care of each other. If you begin with these essential steps, you will go very far in achieving success at every level. Your sense of personal pride will extend beyond yourself, and years from now only the glow of fond memories will arise when you remember this time together.
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With my warmest gratitude.