How To Prevent A Home Renovation From Wrecking Your Relationship

Marriage therapists share their advice for HGTV-obsessed couples who want to tackle a remodel or other home improvements.

You’re plopped down on the couch with your partner getting sucked into yet another HGTV vortex when you receive a sudden and urgent burst of inspiration to renovate or remodel your home. “Cost be damned!” you think. “We must have an open kitchen design!”

Even when home improvement programs show the minor setbacks or disappointments along the way (ugh, there may not be enough room for a farmhouse sink after all), it still often seems like a fairly smooth process for the couple. And, of course, it’s easier when you have money to spare on home improvements and seasoned pros like Chip and Joanna Gaines basically doing the project for you. What you typically don’t see on camera are couples having heated arguments about budget-busting cabinetry and then silently stewing in separate rooms for the rest of the evening.

“Keep in mind that you’re not seeing everything that goes on, and the shows are staged to make both the reno and the hosts look good,” psychotherapist Tina Tessina, author of “How to Be Happy Partners: Working It Out Together,” told HuffPost. “The hosts on these shows, like ‘Fixer Upper,’ or ‘The Property Brothers,’ or the mother-daughter team on ‘Good Bones,’ are already experts at doing this. They know how to run a crew, choose a design, choose finishes and work together. A new couple doing a first renovation knows very little of this.”

In real life, a renovation can definitely create some tension in the relationship (think HGTV stars and exes Tarek and Christina El Moussa bickering on camera) and bring underlying issues to the surface — in fact, a Houzz survey found that 12 percent of couples considered a divorce during the remodeling process. We asked marriage therapists for the advice you need to hear so you don’t become part of that statistic.

The Conversations You Need To Have Before You Start

Before you embark on a home reno, you should make sure that you and your partner are on the same page in terms of your expectations and goals for the project. Are you going to agree on every last detail? Probably not. But you should see eye-to-eye on the bigger things, like setting a realistic budget and figuring out how you want to use the newly renovated space. If you have these conversations before tensions are running high, you’ll be able to prevent some (not all!) of the major blow-ups down the road.

“You need to discuss budget, your individual wants for the result of the renovation, your different style preferences and how you’re going to manage the disruption of the renovation,” Tessina said. “You need to be able to talk about your disagreements and resolve them. If you can’t do this about everyday things, you won’t be able to do it about the special stressful situation of renovation.”

Psychologist Samantha Rodman underscored the importance of having these frank discussions together early on. The longer you wait, the more of a headache it’s going to be down the road.

“If one partner expects to impress others and entertain a great deal in an expensively renovated space, the other partner needs to either get on board or else state their objections clearly before the process begins,” she said. “Once the project has begun, it causes a lot more conflict to slam on the brakes when the less enthusiastic partner begins to voice their objections and veto things.”

How The Renovation Might Affect Your Relationship

Preparing for some of the more stressful or frustrating aspects of a remodel can help you weather these relationship challenges. And while it’s not all bad ― hey, at the end of this, you’ll be at least one step closer to your dream home! — you do need to know what you’re getting yourself into.

Disagreements about finances are common, especially when unforeseen costs start popping up. Another major source of stress is the chaotic state of your home if you decide to live there while the renovations are in progress. There’s noise and dust and the eyesore of tarps and exposed wiring, not to mention the inconvenience of having parts of the house be off-limits for a period of time. And then, of course, are the inevitable delays you can expect when it comes to construction.

“Your contractor may be working several jobs at once, and if inspections and permits are needed, these can create delays also,” Tessina said. “Meals can become difficult, especially if the kitchen is the site of the reno.”

And for couples who didn’t properly hash things out beforehand, the remodel can bring certain deep-seated issues to light.

“If one partner wanted an extensive reno and the other didn’t, this can highlight differences in values and goals, which can make the couple reexamine their basic level of compatibility,” Rodman said.

But it’s not all doom and gloom: “A home renovation can be positive in that a couple is working on a goal of making their home more of a haven for both of them. If they have similar goals, they will love their new space and feel much more fulfilled in it,” Rodman added.

What’s more, if you make it through the process relatively unscathed, you’ll have the reward of knowing you can get through other stressful events without jumping down each other’s throats.

“If you work well together, and can solve problems as they come up without fighting, a reno may strengthen your relationship, and a successful renovation will make you feel successful as a partnership, which really strengthens a relationship,” Tessina said.

Tips For Not Losing Your Minds

To start, try doing a few smaller projects around the house before taking on a larger renovation, Tessina suggested.

“See how you do working together on things first. Make sure you know how to follow through to completion,” she said. “Nothing is more demoralizing than a half-done renovation.”

It may also be helpful to find another space where you two can relax and recharge a bit when your home feels like a total mess.

“Have someplace set up to retreat to: a relative or friend’s home where you can stay for a few days when things are bad at your house,” Tessina said.

And don’t forget to keep checking in with each other throughout the process to make sure you’re both OK with the direction, pace and cost of the renovation, Rodman said.

“If conflicts arise, try to empathize with one another’s perspectives instead of getting tunnel vision and obsessed with the project turning out in the way that you planned,” she added. “Flexibility is key when partners embark on any major project together.”

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