How to Tackle a Home Renovation (Without Getting Divorced)

Ask an expert: A home-remodeling project can strain even the most stable relationship.

One divorce lawyer told Reader's Digest he's seen more divorces over remodeling projects than extramarital affairs. On a scale of 1 to 10, family therapists rank remodeling projects at a six. The number one source of conflict? Paint color.

It's a coat of celadon in the bathroom, you're thinking. What gives?

Think back to your wedding day. Remember the big blowout over cake versus pie? When a situation calls for a ton of decisions to be made — like planning a vacation, raising kids, and yes, a home renovation project — the chances for a couple to disagree are manifold. Home renovations require an astonishing number of decisions — have you looked at a paint chip display recently? Whether it's painting the walls or re-tiling the bathroom, home renovations are a microcosm for how couples handle conflict.

"Couples rarely agree on everything, but the way they handle their opposing viewpoints is a metaphor for how they feel about other issues they may not even be aware of, such as power struggles over money or basic control in the relationship," a marriage counselor told Ladies Home Journal.

All that navigating of disagreements can lead to some sobering realizations: Houzz found that 12 percent of couples have considered divorce while renovating a home. Don't blame the dream kitchen or your contractor for tearing you apart; the process exacerbates whatever issues already exist in the relationship, family therapist Rachel Sussman told Business Insider. Here's how to spackle any dings in the relationship walls before it all comes crumbling down.

Prepare for stress

Because this process will increase the overall likelihood of conflict between you and your mate, get a jump on scheduling in your tried-and-true reconnectors. Hire a babysitter, go out for a drink, hit the dance floor, have sex — do whatever it takes to help you reset and reconnect. Put it in the shared calendar! Commit to it! You can navigate a disagreement over cerise or chartreuse much more easily when you remember you're on the same team.

Use the c-word

It turns out your ideas of "modern chic" are wildly different. Houzz found that conflicting style was a major source of stress for couples, with one-third of survey respondents saying they did not care for their beloved's taste in bedroom decor. No one's right or wrong here, and you could go seven rounds on the pattern of a duvet. But is that really what you want to, well, go to the mattresses over? Each of you should make a list: must have; would be nice; don't care. That last item is crucial. When the choice doesn't make a difference to you, either way, be the one to compromise. As long as you're each compromising some of the time, everybody will wind up happy over something.

Keep an eye on the budget

Home renovations press hard on one of a relationship's hottest buttons — money. Before you hammer a single nail, you should agree on how much you're able to spend. And then add some to that. Pad your budget by 20 percent, renovation expert Scott McGillivray told Focus on the Family. If you can't afford it — you can't afford it. That goes for both of you.

Remember to laugh

"We decided to strip and refinish our kitchen cabinets during a heat wave with 90-plus degree temperatures and 90 percent humidity in a house with no air conditioning," one home renovating spouse told Reader's Digest. "As the sweat was pouring down, and the fumes were burning our eyes and skin, I looked over at my wife and said, 'This is more fun than sex!' We both laughed and got back to work."

Laugher is a great equalizer. It's a sentiment shared by another in-the-reno-trenches spouse: "What doesn't cause you to divorce doing DIY projects, just gives you great stories to laugh about for years after."

"If you're a healthy couple and it's just the stress, you get through it," Sussman told Business Insider. "You apologize. You try to keep your eye on the big picture [and say], 'This is going to be good for us.'"

And most of the time it is. Four out of five survey respondents said they felt more relaxed in their home after completing their project, the Houzz survey found. Better still? Nearly half noticed an increased level of happiness with their significant other.

The proof, it turns out, is in that paint chip.

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