There are four things that will put stress on a marriage:
- Having kids.
- Renovating your home.
- Having kids inside your home while renovating.
- Renovating your home with kids “helping.”
Numbers three and four are the hardest because few things are more stressful than a two-year-old swinging a floorboard around with nails sticking out of it.
Home improvement projects are a cheap form of marriage counseling. By the time you finish the project, you will have aired every grievance you can think of and every offense that happened from the day you met through yesterday afternoon.
You’ll start with your current project then move on to past projects. That will ultimately result in arguing over who works harder, who did what today, and who should be doing more. Then you cruise into who has the weirdest family and end with who is less thoughtful and how many times someone had to take out the trash — a responsibility that wasn’t even theirs until last Saturday.
All the little imperfections you usually ignore about each other become amplified because the contractor didn’t take the time to put the light-switch cover on straight and the cabinet installation has gone from being finished on November 20 to being installed on December 15th. It will take them five days. You have family arriving on December 21.
One of you micromanages way too much, and the other one doesn’t do things precisely enough. You are in a hurry and don’t care about accuracy; he is indecisive, and the reason you don’t have flooring picked out yet.
“We can only do this once,” he says. “We can’t cut corners.”
“We need floors for Christmas,” you say.
“We don’t need the floors now; we can do them later. We’ll buy rugs.”
“Did Joseph do this to Mary at the ninth hour?” you ask. “Is that why the inns were all full?”
“I would hardly compare this to that,” he says. “You’re not even pregnant.”
It’s about priorities. When you have no appliances or counter tops, or cabinets, or running water, or electricity, floors aren’t at the top of his list. Never mind that picking sub-flooring splinters out of your behind until Easter is on yours.
And though you know he’s right, you don’t care because you’re fighting and a fight is no time for submission and humility. It’s about winning.
Before you know it, you’re googling the statistics to see the percentage rate of people who file for divorce citing “home improvement.” Divorce, though, is not an option. You can no longer afford one because, together, you settled on the level three granite even though you were partial to the level two option.
So, you walk away.
Sure, faces were made when backs were turned, but whatever.
You find a calm solace pulling out flooring nails in another room, which is oddly soothing and zen-like. He finds it with the new Shop-Vac that has a HEPA filter, which could very well save lives with all the drywall dust that is now covering every square inch of your home like the glistening light sparkles that cover snow on a cold, sunny day.
You come together and reconcile over how well an industrial vacuum cleans your stairs.
“It’s almost brand new again,” you marvel.
“It’s so clean,” he says.
Later, you’ll both sit on the plywood flooring, covered in drywall dust, dirt, and cuts from floorboard nails your two-year-old hit you with. Together, you sit in silence and share a beer on the splintered sub-floor while staring at an open house devoid of anything but time and space. The cat gallops by like she’s in the Kentucky Derby. She is the only one who appreciates the sudden, extreme open floor concept. She hopes it lasts forever.
You know that one day very soon, you’ll sit in that same spot but with a carpet or floor rug underneath you — you aren’t sure which because your husband is still waffling on what to do in that room — and you’ll stare at a beautiful kitchen.
It’ll be a living space you designed and worked on together in a house that wasn’t always yours. Although, very soon, it will start to feel like it is.
Home renovations are kind of like marriage. It’s not always pretty once you pull back the panels and flooring. Despite who does or doesn’t do what, no matter how many times you argue, at the end of the day your marriage is that room you’re working on. You don’t want what was there at the beginning; it didn’t work for either of you when you started occupying and using that space together. You want it better and more custom to fit your life together. You want it to be something you can both be proud of working on and be content and comfortable living in.
So, you’ll keep plugging forward on the project and each other.
You’ll finish stronger than when you started.
You’ll round this hill out with a high-five and an accomplished sense of teamwork.
And you’ll keep the floorboard studded with nails far away from your two-year-old.