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Renovating as a Couple: Marriage Tips

By E. E. Kane

Two is better than one. That's as true in any home improvement project as it is in marriage. It is especially true when you tackle the home improvement job as a couple without hiring a third party contractor. When embarking on any remodeling project, prepare for the task ahead with these tips, before your money pit sucks your relationship dry.

1. Get the communication thing down.

You must be able to talk clearly and easily to each other about every aspect of the project. You should also be well versed in working through issues together. No two partners see eye to eye on everything, and you are certain to meet hundreds of details that you might disagree on. If you seldom agree or compromise on anything, your project is probably doomed. Hire a contractor.  If you are certain you can communicate and compromise when needed, your project is sure to succeed - eventually.

2. Plan together.

Discuss every detail, even if your spouse only cares about the soundness of your home and couldn't care less about the color of the walls. And you may leave the details of an energy-efficient bathroom up to your spouse, until you discover your partner's idea of super-efficiency looks like a high school football locker room. For the most part you can give each other carte-blanche if your interests are so happily divided, but you still need to run everything by each other. As you plan, talk about the following important topics:

-Is our budget flexible or firm?

-What are our biggest priorities for this project?

-What will we do if we reach the end of the budget before the project is complete?

-How many hours per week are we each willing and able to devote to this project?

-Who will manage children, school, pets, meals, household chores, and other daily life details?

-Will we need to make temporary arrangements to live somewhere else, use the neighbor's facilities, or camp out in an RV in the driveway?

3. Be ready to compromise.

Even with the most detailed plan, there will be kinks. Ask anyone who has torn out bathtubs, old floors or mowed down a wall: chances are good you will find a not-so-nice surprise, like mold, rot, or insect damage. If you set your priorities in the planning stages of a number of things that must get done no matter what, you'll be ready to make the hard decisions. Focus on the necessities first and leave the frills for later, if you must. It's always good to reserve money in your budget for setbacks or surprises.

4. Set aside a sanctuary.

Every remodeling situation is unique, but you should always make sure you have a place somewhere in the house where one or both of you can escape. Even if you are not living there yet, set aside one room and set it up for relaxing. Seal out the dust and stock it with everything you would want to make it comfortable.

5. Work together.

This may or may not seem like a given, depending on your personality. Working as a team is the safer course for many projects. The work is easier and faster with an extra pair of hands, and it can be more fun.

6. Work separately, but stay close.

If you are both fiercely independent and stubborn, you might rather work on different aspects of the same project. But stay close for safety and assistance, and each of you needs to be ready to jump up to help the other lift, hold or pull at any given time.

7. Take turns playing the gopher.

Your personalities might slot you into a natural leader/helper relationship. One of you might have more experience. Or you might just believe that the man should always be the lead. Don't assume your partner, even if he or she has little experience, does not want to occasionally take a leading role.

Avoid hurt feelings that are sure to pop up by looking objectively at your strengths. One of you might be more precise than the other. One of you might enjoy research. One of you might have years of experience performing a task. Pride has to take a back seat. Both of you should keep these phrases on your lips:

"Do you need any help?"

"What can I get for you?"

"That looks great!"

8. Take breaks.

Your mind and body are intent on reaching your goal, especially if you have lived without water or electricity during the project. It's easy to push yourself past your limits, and soon you feel testy, then so exhausted that all you want to do is flop. It's a perfect formula for petty arguments, impulsive decisions, and potential injury. Set realistic goals, and keep snacks and drinks handy to maintain your energy. Set a timer to take a sit-down break every two hours or so.

9. Reward yourselves.

Remodeling can be physically and emotionally intense, especially if you are also working full time at your day job. Doing all of the work yourselves means the project will take longer than you expected, and much longer than you want it to. Somewhere in the middle, you might wonder if you will ever finish, or if you'll still be slaving away your weekends, up to your elbows in joint compound and plumber's putty. You'll be tempted to call in professionals. It's not a bad thing to ask for help, but keep your spirits up with an informal reward system:

-Explore local restaurants. You're too tired to cook, so enjoy the excuse to order in.

-Make it a picnic - enjoy the outdoors or spread a cloth on the floor. Light some candles and make a toast to another day's work behind you.

-Veg out in front of your favorite movie, or a new release.

-Plan an occasional overnight at a hotel with some plush extras, or a comfy bed & breakfast.

10. Take advantage of togetherness.

Remodeling your house together can be great for your marriage, if you take advantage of it. Talk, joke, tease, and laugh. Throw out subtle hints about the sexiness of your partner in this handyman role. Make up little competitive games (safety first, of course). Talk about memories, your dating years, what you hope to be doing five years from now. And every now and then, pause for affection.

11. Document your efforts.

Some couples blog about their remodeling projects to keep their family and friends current. House blogs are popular on the web, and are a great source for ideas and support. You don't have to blog about your remodel, but you should at least take pictures or video footage as you go. Look at the pictures when you feel discouraged to see how far you've come. And if you ever decide to sell your house you can show prospective buyers the before and after photos of the improvements you made.

12. Don't play the blame game.

Accidents happen. Don't make them worse by saying something stupid like "I can't believe you did that!" If you are upset with your partner, take a break from working and get a grip. Then deal with it.

Some day you will look back at this time of your life, and hopefully you will remember it with fondness. No, you probably won't want to repeat it, but isn't it strange how some of the worst of life's circumstances turn out to be the best memories?