Transforming Ordinary into Extraordinary Marriages
Feathering Your Nest
Does your residence reflect your personalities, lifestyle choices, and activities? While all couples have conflicts over their abode, couples on the track toward happy marriages aim to reduce conflict about sharing their space.
In the 31 years we have lived in our nest, some of the feathers have gotten worn out. Although our space needs have changed, we delayed remodeling because we knew how extensive it would be. Newsweek magazine (January, 2006) reported that couples make between 1000 to 2000 decisions designing and completing a project. Couples who enter into extensive remodeling projects raise their risk for divorce. Our goal for ourselves and for our readers who are building or remodeling: resolve to keep the relationship in the fore-front while the decisions/work goes on.
Start With a Master Plan
Before you start pulling out the ladders and plaster, plan how you will maintain your marital solidarity while you work.
- Don’t get lost in the process. Have frequent meetings to touch base,
asking: “What is the goal of this phase of the project; what is our
timeline; how are we doing with our decisions?”
- Take breaks to have fun away from the project. Go to dinner, take a walk,
socialize with friends, and talk about something other than faucets.
- Respect each other’s opinion. Assign numbers of how strongly you feel
about options. For example, “I like this faucet a 3 and this one a 10.
How do you feel?” Instead of compromising, aim at creative solutions
that encompass “both/and” instead of “either/or.”
- Assign a project director who is the main person dealing with your
contractor. This person represents your joint input without confusing
- Pick a good time for the project. If possible don’t take on a big project
while you are having a new baby or changing jobs although often those
transitions necessitate a change in your nest.
You will be happier with the results of your (re)building if you take the time to get clear about your project.
- Why are you moving, building, or remodeling? What about your present
circumstance no longer serves your needs? What will the new residence
or remodeled house do for you? If moving, will the new community
provide for your needs such as shopping, recreation, schools, etc.?
- What are all the ways to meet the need(s) you have articulated?
For example, a couple in need of expanded bedroom space might move
to a larger home or build an addition or finish a basement into
more bedrooms. Which ways will best meet your needs? How does the expense
of each alternative compare to your budget?
- Can you articulate a theme for your new space? Home magazines often describe homes and rooms by their ambiance such as “casual country,” or “cozy retreat.” A theme creates a vision. For example, our theme of “simple elegance” guided our choices as we replaced metal bifold doors with wooden six panel doors and chose the architectural details of woodwork and lighting consistent with a colonial floor plan.
Do Your Homework
To establish a theme, you will need to do some research.
- Visit home shows in your area. Bring a notebook. Jot down ideas.
Collect cards of designers and builders and product brands.
- Visit model homes and apartments. Collect more ideas on paper.
Bring a tape measure to see what ideas could fit in your space.
- Keep an open mind. We started with one idea of kitchen cabinetry and
ended up with something different when we saw stains and finishes we
didn’t know existed.
- Ask friends who have done similar projects what advice they would
give to you.
- Ask lots of questions about your current space. What do you like
about your current space? What are the daily frustrations? We eliminated
one of our aggravations by improving the lighting in our kitchen.
- Unless you are moving very soon, don’t plan your space for resale. Those mythical buyers won’t like your choices anyway. Instead, design what works for you. Avoid the latest fad colors and styles unless you really like them.
Start a project notebook with a section for each aspect of the project. Use clear plastic sleeves to collect articles and product information about appliances, flooring, and furniture. Some people like using a story board on a wall to plan out the phases of the project against a time line.
- Carry a small pad of sticky notes and pen with you so that when
thoughts appear randomly, you can capture the many details.
- Collect the random stickies into your notebook on a blank piece of
paper related to each topic (or on the story board.) Attach sticky notes
for different to-do items like, “call Fred,” “go on line to look for lamps.”
Sticky notes can be moved out of the project book and into your daily
planner that you carry with you. Then move them back when you have
completed the steps.
- Design for your use of space. Do you both cook? Maybe you need an
auxiliary sink for food preparation. Does one of you cook and the other
clean up? If so, cancel the extra sink. Ideas must work in your lifestyle;
many great ideas from the model homes won’t fit your taste and use.
- Leaf through appropriate books and magazines. The key is appropriate. If you are decorating an apartment, peruse magazines with apartment ideas. If you are building from scratch, look through magazines with floor plans.
Hire Good Helpers
If you have experience in the home building trades, you can act as a general contractor and hire subcontractors to do the actual technical labor such as plumbing and electrical work. Otherwise, hire a general contractor.
- Get recommendations.
- Check references.
- Trust your instincts. Do the people seem responsible? Do they seem qualified for the extent of your project?
You may also need an architect and/or an interior decorator as well. You need an architect if you are building a house or moving walls in a remodeling project. You can hire a decorator to direct the whole project or you can consult with one on an hourly rate as needed. We found the services of both of these professionals invaluable to our final outcome. They often ask questions about your “theme” or the uses of your space while a builder may not. Shop for someone who really listens and get second opinions.
Make Decisions Easily
If you pretend to make each decision as though you are making it without your partner, you will each get in touch with your own values and preferences. Then you can haggle about your differences, asking, “What is our ideal; what can we live with; what if money were no object?” Get creative about options. Do we need the largest shower or would we do ok with a medium size one?
Lastly, expect delays and detours. Don’t take out the frustration on each other. Use the opportunity of building or remodeling to make your marriage even better.