Every year, thousands of couples take on home improvement and renovation works – for many the story is the same. What starts out as exciting and challenging becomes stressful, exhausting and a constant source of friction.
Disagreements tend to centre around money, lack of equal responsibility and one partners tendency to criticise decisions made by the other in their absence.
So how can you get through the process whilst maintaining your sanity and a healthy relationship with your partner?
Dream the same dream…
Undertaking building works is like any other major decision in your relationship. You both have to be prepared to commit equally to the process and broadly want the same outcome.
At the beginning of the process, you and your partner need to discuss your respective attitudes towards risk, money and working with other people. If your views are very different in some areas, try to put in some ground rules (particularly around communication) to make sure that you keep talking throughout the process.
It’s also important to make sure that you are both clear about what you want from the build and why you want it. Try to remember that each partner experiences their home environment very differently so it is easy to misunderstand the needs or concerns of the other.
It’s all about the money…
Money…it’s a very thorny issue and probably the single biggest cause of disputes on projects.
Even of your attitude and approach towards money is very similar, it would be a minor miracle to get through your project without it being a cause of dispute between you at some stage.
To minimise the risk of potential arguments, it is essential to spend as much time on the budget as you can before starting the build. Research and get costs particularly on items that will be expensive, don’t guess.
Most people are hopelessly optimistic about costs at the beginning of their project – be strict with yourselves and agree spending limits. It is also wise not to buy the ‘fun stuff’ like lights and fittings too early in project. Not only might you have changed you mind by the time the space is finished, you might have run out of money for the ‘essentials’ by spending too early on the ‘nice to have’s’.
Who should be in charge of your project? That slightly depends – any successful project requires everyone to play to their strengths so define your roles and responsibilities around what you know you are good at.
In many partnerships there is complimentary blend of skills, one of you may be a visionary ‘big picture’ person, the other may be great at monitoring every detail. Both strengths will be required at different times within the project, the secret is knowing when to step up and take the lead and equally when to step back and let your partner take over.
Taking a practical approach such as making a list of functions or tasks and agreeing who will be responsible for what might seem simple and obvious but can be a relationship saver.
Sorry, who’s in charge here…
Whatever you and your partner have agreed, the people involved in the project may have different opinions as to who’s in control. For some, the person principally involved in the day to day decisions of the project is viewed as the ‘boss’. For others, whoever holds the purse strings is always key player.
From the beginning of the project, be as clear with others about the lines of decision making and responsibility as possible. Working with an independent project manager can be helpful . All the parties will use that person as the single point of contact so information and decisions are relayed through them ensuring no-one in the process should ever be ‘left out’.
Your Time Starts….Now
Don’t make important decisions in isolation and resist pressure to make critical decisions in a hurry. When you’re on site without your partner and being pressured, it’s easy to make ill considered decisions. However, this is YOUR project – anything important will effect you and your partner long after the build team have left so if you need time to think, make sure you get it.
We can’t be at the top of our game all of the time and don’t be surprised if your normally calm partner suddenly gets overwhelmed by the project. External pressures of work, additional family commitments or sheer ‘project fatigue’ can set in – be prepared to step in if your partner cannot fulfil the functions you have both agreed they would take on. The chances are a short break from the project will bring them back more energised and enthused about it.
And Another Thing…
Resist the temptation to criticise – a common scenario has one partner at home or on site undertaking the majority of the ‘detail’ decisions (the colour of the paint, this door knob, that door knob…). When asking for input from their partner, no attention is paid and no opinion offered. However, it is entirely unhelpful to allow someone else to take all of the responsibility for decision making if you are not prepared to live with their choices, so either take some interest or leave them to it.
Losing The Plot…
Accept that from time to time the pressure will get to one or other or both of you. Try to head this off by making some time out from the project for yourselves – this could be an hour, a day or a weekend.
Whatever time you can afford, make sure that you are both committed to it being quality time. Pick a recreational activity that you both enjoy and one that allows you to focus on something other than the build. If you are super organised, try and factor any longer time periods in at the beginning of the project so that at least you know when you will be having your break.
Easy does it…
Make your life as easy for yourself as you can. Use your support network – friends, family and colleagues will want to help you in this busy time. Accept offers of assistance, be it childcare, a home cooked meal or even someone offering to do the ironing. Remember, you’ll have the chance to thank those people properly when your lovely new space is finished.
Start with the end in mind…
When things get tough, remember there is a good reason that you’re doing this. You’re creating something that you will be able to enjoy together for years to come and within weeks of the project finishing, those feelings of stress and tiredness will have faded. So when it all feels too much, take a few deep breaths or go for a walk and keep telling yourself it will all be worth it.