Renovations are hard on a marriage. The dust. The noise. The loss of privacy. The unforeseen costs, the conflicts of opinion, the pressure to make decisions. One moment you and your partner are having a basic disagreement about where the TV goes and the next minute they only thing you agree on is that you are idiots for spending your life’s savings building a house for a crumbling marriage.
At least, I’ve heard that can happen… We’ve done three renovations on three different homes, and are still married. We are both generous with our opinions, even in the steely face of opposition. We’ve had some tense discussions about which way a refrigerator door should open, but at this point, I’ve figured out a few things that keep our marriage a place of refuge rather than something I want to escape. Of course I’m going to say communication, duh, and compromise. (cue the eye-rolls.) I am talking marriage-specific communication that needs to happen with your partner before you commit to a renovation. The compromise take place all along the way, every single day, sometimes before you are even out of bed, but if you are married, you knew that already.
Dream big, scale down
Talk about your dreams. No, seriously. College may have been the last time you actually dreamt out loud, but dreams are what the effort is about. Even if you are just doing a simple (hahaha, no such thing) kitchen remodel, talk about how you hope to use the space. Hosting Friendsgiving every year? Launching your marmalade startup? Start with your dreams, then scale back to what you can afford, then scale back some more because you really will spend more than you think possible.
The purpose of a renovation should be twofold: invest your savings into a living asset and improve not only your house but also your lives. Those things don’t always line up: an ocean themed bathroom may be your wished-for oasis, but you may not recoup the cost of the tiled mermaid mural; this is where compromise comes in handy. If it really is your life savings, spend it thoughtfully.
Make a ten year plan
While you are dreaming together, talk about the future. Specifically, talk about what you want the next 10 years to look like. Are you just starting out as a couple? Have kids? Want more? Career changes? Is this the house you plan on living in for 5 years? 10? Until you die? Will aging parents be staying with you? What life do you imagine living in the house? The answers to these questions will inform how you decide to invest your money.
Illustration by New Yorker Cartoons
Money money money
Money is the crux of most of the arguments. Yes, you’ll end up spending much more than you think you will. If you’re using savings it will feel like setting your safety net on fire while leaning how to tightrope over the burning wreckage. When you reach this point (you will invariably reach this point, no matter how many helpful blog posts you read), take a deep breath and reframe the process: you are building a new safety net. Together, you’re investing in real estate, making solid choices that will gain and add value to your lives. What’s more, you can live in your investment.
The way we spend money intersects with our values and identity, which is why conversations about door handles can suddenly become a flashpoint, so make sure you have the money conversations after the dream conversations. No two people are going to have identical values, but having the conversations BEFORE the decisions need to get made helps keep the choices simple. Is one of you a foodie who thinks a warming drawer is an essential spend, whereas the other would rather get a sexy bathtub for long soaks? What about the AV system? Speakers so big you can hug them: offensive or dreamy? This level of detail isn’t necessary, but the tempers flare when we think we are protecting our dreams.
You are each other’s home
Oh, gawd. No, but really. The house isn’t a symbol. It’s a house. Invest in each other more than in the space you inhabit. A healthy marriage is one in which both people are committed to each others happiness. Your marriage will not only survive the renovation but come out reinforced: much like the house.