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When Mars and Venus Remodel

A primer for doing it yourself—while doing it together

Unless you're stranded on a remote island somewhere in the South Pacific, you've no doubt witnessed the glut of home improvement shows sweeping millions off their feet, onto their couches, and into the living rooms of prime-time couples caught in the act of remodeling. At the flip of a clicker, it seems everyone's going hammer happy. And home decorating, which was once a girls-only pastime, is fast becoming her guy's favorite sport.

Thanks in part to our "good friend" Bob Vila, and a horde of cable shows such as Trading Spaces, Weekend Warriors, and While You Were Out, for the first time in history, both men and women are eager to find personal satisfaction as they together collaborate and decorate the living rooms, laundry rooms, and powder rooms of their dreams. In fact, this do-it-yourself phenomenon has spawned an entire cable network (diy) and website (www.diynet.com).

According to the National Association of the Remodeling Industry, this trend in home enthusiasm has permanently moved into the neighborhood. The NARI says we'll spend $175 billion on home renovations this year, which is up from $150 billion in 2000. So chances are high that you and your spouse will consider, at some point, trying your hand at home improvement.

But remodeling is only part of the equation. Another part is how to remodel and keep your marriage in tip-top shape. Before you start tearing down walls, add these seven relational "tools" to your work belt.

1. Discover your decorating personalities.

When it comes to choosing styles and designs, most of us need help wading through the plethora of choices available. To ease this issue, designer Diane Love, author of the book Yes No Design, invites you to discover your decorating personality. She suggests gathering a stack of home magazines and selecting nine rooms from those magazines that you really love, and nine rooms you really can't stand. Then look back at your positive photos and select one item in each room that most attracts you. Study its shape and features. Maybe you're drawn to the sofa, window, or rug. According to Love, if you find yourself choosing symmetrical objects, you may have a more ordered decorating personality and will be happiest in rooms with even lines and balanced elements. If you lean toward eclectic, asymmetrical compositions, you probably have what she calls a sentimental decorating personality.

When designing with your spouse, this valuable information can help avoid purchases you might later regret.

2. Respect your spouse's preferences.

Michael Payne, interior designer and host of HGTV's Designing for the Sexes, says that with respect and communication, any couple can find a compromise of styles. "The fundamental problem I often see," says Payne, "is couples who don't adequately share their preferences with each other. On one of our shows, a guy, without talking with his wife, had taken a sledgehammer to their fireplace, which he obviously didn't care for. The couple ran into trouble when they discovered the wife wanted a sleek-looking fireplace with white, built-in cabinetry, while the husband wanted a fireplace with a rugged, mountain-lodge look. For two years, they lived with the defaced fireplace because they couldn't agree on what to do with it."

To avoid this kind of scene, Payne has his couple-clients sit down together with a stack of design magazines and stick Post-it notes on the pages they like. When they're done, he has them switch piles to study the other person's choices. Then he has them ask each other questions, such as, "Tell me what you like about this color," or "Help me understand how this style makes you feel." These conversations typically lead to each person growing an appreciation for the other's likes and dislikes. Then Payne takes them shopping together in showrooms and furniture galleries, particularly so the man, who often needs to see a finished product, can see examples of color, flooring, and furniture in combination.

3. Learn a new skill together.

Ready to tile your kitchen, screen your porch, or faux paint your foyer, but don't know where to start? Sign up as a couple for a free, do-it-yourself class available at Home Depot or other home improvement stores. For a few hours investment, you can learn a new skill from an expert, buy the products you need, and spend time together. If time is at a premium, Home Depot also offers an online service (www.homedepot.com) that will give you free, step-by-step instructions on everything from installing a ceiling fan to designing a kitchen. You can also download a personal worksheet and even save your ideas on your own webpage.

4. Compromise when mixing personal objects.

When my husband, David, and I were newlyweds, he brought a set of enormous stereo speakers (think side-by-side double-drawer filing cabinets) into our gnat-sized apartment. I was convinced they had to go, but nothing would persuade David to part with them. Finally, we struck a compromise: Since we didn't have money to buy end tables, I asked if he was willing to have his mammoth treasures double as end tables. At first he complained that the sound quality would be wrong. Then, in my sweetest new-bride voice, I countered, "But if you think about it, we can stand in front of the couch and the sound will be perfect for slow dancing." That did it. It took years to get those real end tables.

5. Create a doable budget—and agree to stick to it.

"The four most dangerous words in redecorating are 'while we're at it,'" says HGTV's Payne. "Whether it's staining your backyard deck or changing kitchen cabinets, there will always be an opportunity for a 'while we're at it.'" Payne believes most couples can avoid major conflict if they make the important decision to stay strong in the face of "alternatives" and stick to a mutually agreed upon budget. Otherwise, the situation becomes far too emotional in the moment. "I have couples decide up front how much they can afford to spend," says Payne, "and then from that, they set aside 10 percent as contingency when unexpected problems come up. And problems always come up."

6. Honestly assess your skills.

Several years ago our son Joshua and his wife, Rebecca, bought an older home and planned to remodel the kitchen, lay wood floors, replaster the walls, and do a number of other repairs. Just one problem: Neither Joshua nor Rebecca had used much more than a hammer. But the pros on television made it look easy, the idea sounded romantic, and besides, they reasoned, with a little sweat equity, in a few years they could probably sell their tiny house and become multimillionaires.

"During the remodeling," Joshua recounts, "some friends offered to help put on a new roof. We couldn't afford a professional so we gratefully accepted their offer. But the night after they pulled off the shingles it started to rain—hard. In no time rain was pouring through the ceiling. Rebecca and I ran around trying to catch the drips and save our new floors, but they were ruined. Since we didn't own a ladder, we climbed the tree next to the house to spread out sheet plastic on the roof. Half-way up, Rebecca slipped and fell. There lay my wife, soaked, bleeding, and crying. And we had several thousand dollars worth of interior damage."

7. Agree to keep your relationship, not your project, the priority.

When paint starts flying, saws start whining, and dust starts settling, it's sometimes easy to let little irritations creep in and rob couples of the enthusiasm they shared at the beginning of their project.

In an effort to keep their attitudes from heading south, new homeowners Chris and Anna Spurlin of College Park, Florida, created a motto for their remodeling experiences: "This house is only a house. It isn't eternal." They taped the motto to a wall to remind each other to stay focused on what was most important in their lives.

Marriage is a lifelong construction project and for most of us, so is decorating our home. Both require taking time to identify our spouse's needs and blending our personalities and preferences to form a totally new creation. With respect, communication, and compromise, you and your spouse can work together toward the mutual goal of a comfortable, beautiful home.

Caron Loveless, author of Honey, They Shrunk My Hormones (Howard Publishing), lives with her husband in Florida.

What's the #1 disagreement between designing couples?

"Definitely color," says Michael Payne, host of HGTV's Designing for the Sexes. "A lot of men grow up fearful of color. They're raised with a limited choice of patterns and palettes. They're almost discouraged from liking color, whereas women grow up with thousands of shades of lipstick alone. So when a wife wants to paint the dining room red, it's really not surprising if she gets a bit of resistance from her husband."


Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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Creativity; Marriage; Teamwork
Today's Christian Woman, Summer, 2003
Posted September 30, 2008

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