- Rachel Sussman is a relationship expert and marriage counselor.
- She’s seen many couples fighting while renovating their home. It even happened to her.
- Like having children, the home-renovation process may bring to the surface relationship issues that you’ve pushed under the rug.
Nearly 30 years ago, Rachel Sussman and her husband bought a second home.
During the renovation process, Sussman recalled, they had “one of the biggest fights we ever had.”
Sussman isn’t alone – one survey found that 12% of couples have considered divorce while renovating a home. But Sussman is a marriage therapist, and even she found that the experience took a terrible toll on her marriage.
“We were shrieking at each other, which we don’t usually do,” Sussman told me. Fortunately, she added, “a couple days later we were laughing about it.” They asked each other: If they’d known then how stressful the renovation process would be, “would we have still done this?”
Sussman told me she sees many couples at each other’s throats while doing home renovations. It’s not necessarily that the renovation process causes problems; it’s more that the process exacerbates whatever issues already exist in the relationship.
In some cases, it can even catalyze the dissolution of a relationship, bringing to the surface issues you might have swept under the rug. A recent instalment in The New York Times’ “Modern Love” column featured the story of Elaisha Stokes and her ex-husband, who tried to renovate a neglected brownstone and ended up divorcing.
Stokes writes: “I had tracked down old contractors who had worked on the house during its 22-year vacancy. They told me the home was cursed and regaled me with stories of those who had tried to move in over the years, only to watch their lives implode.”
Sussman said home renovations can drive couples crazy for a few reasons. When the builder calls and needs an immediate answer, you’ve got to make a joint decision quickly. And typically, you end up spending more money than you planned to.
She mentioned that some couples take on a home renovation project to “save” their relationship, the way some couples think having a child will revive their relationship. “But in actuality, if a relationship is on thin ice, the more you test it, it’s really just going to break.”
Looking at different styles of homes together can help you figure out what your partner likes and dislikes
When Sussman works with couples facing this issue, she’ll try to dig deeper to “tease out any underlying issues the couples may have.” That makes talking about the home renovations easier.
Meanwhile, Dawn Michael, a couples therapist and clinical sexologist who used to teach classes on how to handle a remodeling project as a couple, told Houzz that it helps to sit down together and look at pictures of different homes. That way, you get a sense of what the other person likes and dislikes.
Another exercise that Michael shared with Houzz: Each person writes down 10 home-design ideas and exchanges them with their partner. Then, each partner circles ideas that are similar, checks the ones they can compromise on, and crosses out the ideas they can’t stand.
Perhaps the best antidote to home renovation-related strife is simply to prepare for it in advance. Know that the process may contribute to conflict between you and your partner, and think about potential ways to mitigate the stress.
As Sussman put it, “If you’re a healthy couple and it’s just the stress, you get through it. You apologise. You try to keep your eye on the big picture [and say], ‘This is going to be good for us.'”
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