Disclaimer: I’m no marriage counselor. But my marriage has survived 4 years of renovation, so maybe my tips can help you, too!
About the Episode:
Over the last 4 years, my husband and I have continuously renovated our house. All by ourselves. Usually after work. And pretty much Every. Single. Day. So how have we both survived this long? Well… It’s been a challenge, but we’ve managed it!
In this episode, you’ll hear:
- How we learned our distribution of tasks to minimize fights and maximize matrimonial harmony
- Why we choose our battles VERY CAREFULLY (but we definitely have battles)
- Which tasks we each HATE HATE HATE and how we help each other make it suck a little less
And so much more!
Follow me on Instagram @FarmhouseVernacular!
Hello, and welcome to the Vernacular Life podcast, where we talk about anything and everything that goes on in our turn of the century folk Victorian farmhouse. I’m your host, Paige, and this is a good topic, okay? So you probably know, we have been renovating this house for about four years, me and my husband. And if you’ve renovated with a spouse, you know that when you’re doing a project that is expensive and time consuming and laborious and difficult and kind of chaos creating in your life, things can get a little bit heated. And so today, I want to just talk about renovation with your spouse.
Now, of course, disclaimer, I am not a marriage therapist. I am not a relationships counselor. I am none of those things. I am simply a woman who has renovated with her husband for four years and we have not seriously injured the other one, so we have come out on the other side, still happy, still healthy. And so these are just a couple tips and tricks that we have found really good for dealing with the tension and the stress of renovation.
Of course, by all means, if you need to go talk to someone, go talk to someone. These are just some of the things that we have figured out along the way. So we have been renovating, like I said, for four years, and when I say renovating, I don’t mean repainting. I don’t mean just pulling up carpet to find beautiful wood floors.
I mean tearing off two walls of the house when we were building the master bathroom and the mud room. I mean redoing the roof of the study in a weekend, because it was leaking. I mean jacking up the dining room corner of the house with carjacks, because the sill board was completely rotted.
I mean, we have done some ridiculous projects in this house together, and the house is still standing and we’re still standing. But it’s challenging to renovate with a spouse because, of course, you’re spending money. And when you’re spending money, that’s always a possibility for something to just get a little bit tense.
You are problem-solving. You are working really hard. You’re exhausted because usually, we’re not renovating as a full-time job. Usually, we’re doing it after our other jobs. You’re spending a lot of time, a lot of effort continually throwing your living space into chaos. And those are all just recipes for heightened tension, possibly.
So the first thing that we learned, probably after our third room, is that we need to understand what our default behavior is for each of us. We need to understand kind of what our inherent standards are, how we like to work, what we decide is good enough, what we want to do a little bit more on. We need to understand where both of us exist naturally. Okay?
So for me, my life motto, I swear, is 90% is an A. And that comes from college of that 90% is an A, and working any harder than that to get a higher grade is not going to necessarily reflect in my GPA. So as long as I get a 90%, I don’t really care. I don’t care about the last 10%. I don’t care about spending the extra time to take something to be perfect and 100%.
This drives my husband nuts. I wouldn’t call him a perfectionist, but his standard of good enough is much higher than mine. And so from his perspective, I was slacking off. I was stopping before it was good enough. Whereas I was like, that’s perfectly fine, and you’re just wasting extra time.
So before we figured out that we both just have different standards of good enough, that was a lot of annoyance with each other, because I was over here like, “Why are you spending so much time on this?” And he was like, “Why won’t you spend the time on this to make it look good?” So what we eventually figured out was I will do 90% of the job. I’ll go through, I’ll brute force, I’ll get it to what I think is good, and then he comes in and finishes up the last part of it.
And that works really well, because then he doesn’t have to spend his time doing a lot of the grunt work. There’s no difficulty to doing the grunt work. You just have to do it. But then I don’t get frustrated by having to do more than I think is reasonable. So we learned pretty early on that our default behavior can complement each other, as long as we structure our work so that we’re playing to both of our strengths.
Let’s do a concrete example of this. When we insulate, we insulate all of the walls in this house, because it’s an old house, has balloon framing, which means the studs run from the foundation all the way up to the attic. So all of that cold air in the crawl space will run up the interior walls into the attic, unless we insulate it. For me, I stick insulation in the stud cavities and we’re good. I don’t think anything else about it.
My husband wants to take all of the insulation scraps and stuff them down in between the floor and make sure that he covers every single nook and cranny. I don’t have patience for that. I just don’t. So I go through and I put insulation in 90% of the room, and then he comes back behind me and takes all of my little scraps and fills every little mouse hole to his heart’s content. We get a higher quality product as a result, I don’t have to do work that I don’t want to do, and he’s not frustrated with work getting left undone.
So if you can figure out kind of what about your personalities might cause an issue in renovation, particularly with the standard of getting it done, that will really save you a lot of headache if you can figure out how to get those two to mesh together.
Now, I usually default to him, because he has the higher standard. And so if we’re doing trim work or we’re doing finish work or detail work, I will just let him go, because it’s usually more beneficial for me to just go away and pick up a room and sweep something and come back 30 minutes later to his perfect carpentry, and then I can paint it and it all looks beautiful.
But tip number two is to choose your hill to die on. Very rarely will I fight his perfectionism because most of the time, like I said, it results in a better outcome than I could get by myself. This is the biggest thing though, is that if I’m going to fight something or if one of us is going to fight something, you have to figure out is this really worth a fight? Is this thing that we’re discussing right now really worth the amount of energy that we’re putting into this, or are we just frustrated and looking for a vent?
So the one example where I put my foot down, I picked a hill in this house, had to do with drywall, because my husband is so precise. He wants everything to be as tight and perfect and clean as possible. And drywalling is a terrible job. I don’t know if you’ve ever drywalled, but holding drywall over your head and screwing drywall into a ceiling and taking pieces up and down and up and down, it’s just a recipe for frustration every single time.
And so in the first one or two rooms that we drywalled the ceiling, we were trying to apply his level of precision to the drywall. Now, I am the mudder and sander in our house. So I will put the mud up. I will sand it. I will patch it. I get the walls looking nice and smooth. So I know that if there’s an eighth-inch gap between the drywall, it’s fine, because I’m going to cover it with mud anyway.
But he was making things so precise and so tight that we were having to put things up and take them down two and three times. And eventually I was like, “You know what? I’m sorry. I’m going to put my foot down on your precision right now, because we’re going to mud this later. Nobody is going to see this precision. I would rather us get it done so we can stop holding this over our heads, and then you can save your wonderful and amazing precision for crown molding and trim work.”
And that, to me, was something that I was actually willing to go to bat for, because I was like, we’re doing extra work. We’re actually doing extra work that does not matter right now. So you have to figure out what battles are worth having. If he wants an extra 30 minutes just to make this little piece of trim way more precise and beautiful, okay, fine.
I’ll go bake cookies or something, whatever. But if it’s something that I really feel passionate about putting my foot down on, then you can go ahead and do that. But you want to pick those very, very carefully, and I’ll explain kind of the root reasoning for that in a little bit.
Because every challenge that you come up into the house, you have to ask yourself, is this worth my relationship? Is insulation worth my relationship? Is drywalling a ceiling worth my relationship? And most of the time, the answer is no. If you’re going to really pick something to fight about in the house, make sure that there’s a good reason for doing it, because it’s not worth your relationship with your spouse at all.
Now tip number three is to know what tasks make each of you really, really, really mad, and then do everything in your power to make sure that your partner doesn’t have to do those tasks. So for example, a lot of the detail work, obviously, my husband does, because he’s the skilled one, the detailed one at that.
But one thing that I hate doing, I hate it with a passion, is setting nails after you put up trim. So we put up trim with a 16-gauge pneumatic nailer, and sometimes they don’t go in all the way, and so they sit a little bit proud of the surface and you have to take a nail set and a hammer and go around and pound all of those down below the surface.
And we talked about this briefly in the how to learn new hobbies episode, but I have no hand-eye coordination, like none. It’s embarrassing how bad my hand-eye coordination is. I can’t throw things into trash cans when I’m five feet away from them. It does not work. So coordinating a nail set on top of a nail while swinging a hammer while trying to make sure I’m hitting it hard enough to actually do something, means that 90% of the time, the nail set slips off and puts a hole in the wood.
And it sends me from zero to rage instantly. Absolutely instantly. So now, we just know that about me. I don’t know why. I can’t make it any better. I can’t improve this, and so I just don’t set the nails. He always sets the nails. By comparison, crown molding day is always a very stressful day, because you’re usually cutting into expensive molding. You have to do a lot of really precise measurements.
You have to match things up, and it’s just kind of frustrating. That tends to make my husband a little bit cranky. So I know that when we’re doing crown molding day, my job is to be the one that’s cheerful. And I make sure that we have snacks and we have cookies and we have candy and we have tasty treats while we’re doing crown molding so that as we inevitably run into the crown molding issues, we can have a little bit of a pick me up, and we can make sure that that mood stays up.
So if you know that you’re going to be doing something that makes one of you just kind of irrationally annoyed that day, see if the other one can kind of be the pep squad and the one who can take things up a notch and make things happy and keep things from being too serious. Now, speaking of things being too serious, this is another really, really good tip.
This is tip number four, and it’s to have a tension release phrase. Okay? And the purpose of this phrase is that when things are getting a little bit tense, when you’re kind of going back and forth, and when you’re like, “I think we should paint it blue.” “No, we should paint it red.”
Whatever that is, this phrase kind of jumps in and says, hold up we’re getting a little heated, but I still love you, and I want to laugh a little bit right now, because laughter is a huge, huge part of our renovation relationship. That’s that’s all we do. We laugh and we banter and we joke the entire time.
So anything that we can do to put laughter back into the situation is great. So this tension release phrase, the point of it is to kind of check the conversation to say, okay, we’re getting a little heated but remember, we’re going to pick our hill to die on, and this actually isn’t a hill that we want to die on, so I’m going to say this right now.
And we’ll both kind of be like, oh yeah, we’re not actually really that invested in this. Let’s just figure something out. So our phrase is, “I’ll kick your butt.” But we don’t say butt, we say this slightly more profane version of that.
And it usually evolves into I’m going to kick your butt so hard, you’re never been kicked so hard. We kind of just roll with the hyperbole of this phrase, and it’s usually enough to kind of snap us out of whatever issue we’re having or to kind of snap us out of the tension part of it, and then we can get onto actually solving the problem.
This phrase I love so much, because it says I’m still kind of mad, but I’m kind of also done with being mad at you, so maybe we can just say this so we can move on to the kiss and make up part of the little arguments, and we can stop being in the fighting part of it, if that makes sense.
So as soon as we say that, one of us, whoever says it, because we both will say it at different points in a conversation, we instantly start laughing. And we instantly start riffing on it and we start bantering and then three minutes go by, and suddenly, we don’t even remember what we were fighting about, and we can return to the problem and figure out how to solve it. But I love this technique so much, because it almost reminds you of the absurdity of the situation that you’re in.
In no world is it normal to wake up on a Saturday and be like, “You know what we’re going to do today, because it should be fun? We’re going to take two walls off the house.” Oh yeah, that’s great. That’s totally normal, and everybody at work is like, “What are you doing this week?” And you can be like, “Aha! We’re taking sledgehammers to our house,” casually. It is absurd living in a renovation and doing any kind of large work on your house, especially if you’re doing a lot of it yourself, it’s insanity. It doesn’t make any sense.
Why do we do this to ourselves? And I’m a huge believer, huge personal believer that almost everything in life can be funny in some capacity. It may not be funny in the moment. It may not be funny now or a week from now, or it always might be something that’s a little bit sore. But I think if you can look on the funny side, look on the comical side, look on the bright side, then it just makes absurd and challenging and stressful and difficult situations a little bit more tolerable, because I love to laugh.
I love it. Favorite thing in the world. So once you’re through this, you’ve picked your hill to die on, we’re making sure that we have our tension release phrase going so that things don’t get too crazy, we hug. And that’s tip number five, because it’s really hard to stay mad at someone when you’re physically hugging them.
It just doesn’t work very well. Hugging, holding hands, sitting next to each other. A lot of the times when we’re thinking and we’re doing a big think and we’re trying to figure something out on the room, we’ll sit at the top of the stairs. And the funny thing about sitting at the top of the stairs is that now we don’t really fit.
We have to jam ourselves onto the top step sitting next to each other. But we do that, and then we sit there and discuss the problem. So sometimes, you just need to remind yourself this is your person. I know we’re covered in disgusting plaster dust and spray foam insulation right now, and it’s 100 million degrees out and we still have two more walls to demo. I know. It’s terrible. I hate it.
But I love you, and I would really love to hug you if that’s okay. So hugging, physical affection, or pet names or anything like that that can kind of remind you of how you guys interact normally, 10 out of 10. Can’t recommend enough. Now this I think is like fairly common, just general relationship advice, but I think it’s very applicable to renovating houses, and it’s that it’s not you versus your spouse. I know sometimes it feels that way, because you’re like, “I want a black bathroom,” and it’s like, “No, I want a white bathroom.”
But it’s actually you two versus the problem. The problem is what color to paint the bathroom. And the two of you together can figure out the best solution that will lead to a bathroom color that you like. And sometimes you’re going to compromise. Sometimes one’s going to be happier. Sometimes the other’s going to be happier. But you’re not out to get each other.
Obviously, you bought this house and you started this project because together, you thought you could build something. You could make something more beautiful. You could make it look better. You could make it nicer. So don’t lose sight of that. Your relationship matters more than the house, always. Your relationship matters more than the leaking plumbing. Your relationship matters more than whatever’s going on in your current renovation project.
And I think the thing for me, personally, is that if anybody ever asked me, you have five seconds to choose, you can have your house or your husband. And even after all the time that we’ve worked on this house, it would be a literal no-brainer. I’d be like, “Oh, bye house. I’m going with him. He’s my favorite.” So just remember that you two are attacking the house, not each other. The house is the big, scary villain here that we need to conquer, and you will.
It also helps if you can kind of sense when a disagreement is brewing, particularly if you know that there are things about renovation that bug each of you, like setting nails or doing crown molding. If you know that there’s a possibility that one of you’s going to get annoyed, just be aware of that and just kind of be on the lookout. We’re not inventing fights or anything.
We’re just like, I know when we do drywall, we tend to get grumpy, so we’re going to make sure before we do drywall that we have a nice little dance or we hug or we make sure to call each other cute pet names, or we have a really good date night the night before. We want to make sure that that drywall is not going to take us down.
Right? And that kind of brings us to our last renovating with your spouse tip, and it’s that you’re keeping perspective, keeping perspective on this, okay? The house is a chapter in time. It might be a very long chapter. It might be very dusty and difficult and exhausting chapter, but it is just a chapter. It’s just a portion in this relationship that you guys have. So how big of a deal is it, really? How much of a conflict do you want to bring up around this house, right?
Conflict happens. Disagreements happen. And when you’re spending as much time and as much money and as much effort and as much physical labor and as much mental labor as it takes to renovate a house, inevitably things are going to get annoying and things are going to get frustrating, and you’re going to get frustrated with people. But it’s not even your spouse.
You might get frustrated with contractors. You might get frustrated with relatives. You might get frustrated with all these people, but is this really worth losing it over? Really? And if it is worth losing it over, it better be really, really worth losing it over. Because at the end of the day, as much as I love my house, as much as this is my soulmate house and I love him to death and he speaks to me and we have a wonderful time together, it’s a house.
And the people who are in it, and the people who come see me in it, and the people who live here matter a lot more than what happens while making the walls pretty, if that makes sense. So again, I think we veered slightly into just general relationship advice there, and that was not my intention. I don’t want you to take it as like, this is the only way to fix your relationship because there are so many other relationship advice people out there and professionals and all that kind of stuff.
But we never renovated a house before we moved here. We had never really done anything on this scale. We both are kind of self-starters. We both like to teach ourselves things. We both like to work with our hands. We both like to be independent, almost to a fault, honestly. We like to be the ones who do things and who make things happen. And so we brought that attitude toward this house, and for the most part, it’s been really, really great.
I mean, we have the best time together. Both of our love languages are quality time, so getting to work on a project that’s interesting and challenging like the house while spending time together is the best. It’s the greatest. And I think that’s part of the reason that we’ve had so much fun with this house is because it’s a never-ending date.
It’s like, oh, I get to do this thing in this place I like with this person who is my favorite. But we were total novices. We had no idea what it was like to have to take work off because a waterline froze and we have to redo it. We had no idea what it was like to deal with a leaking roof or to deal with a sagging foundation.
And it was just a big, interesting challenge that we had to tackle. And so if any of these resonate with you, maybe try them out. And if they don’t resonate with you, then maybe look up some other resources and people who could possibly help, because I promise you, a house isn’t worth your relationship. It’s not.
I think it can be a really fun adventure if you and your spouse can kind of get together and be moving in a direction that you really, really enjoy with the house. So that was a little bit of a shorter and sweeter episode. I hope you enjoyed it. If nothing else, I hope you maybe laughed at some of the things that we find frustrating, and my inability to set nails into trim.
Thank you so much as always for hanging out with me. I’ve loved having you, and I will see you next time. Bye.