Almost two years ago, my guy and I began a huge home renovation project of an old, New England farmhouse. I'm talking, down-to-the-studs, total-revamp-of-the-original-house-we-purchased, huge. Walls and staircases were moved. Bathrooms and closets were created. Ceilings were raised. Rooms were expanded, collapsed or merged. Huge-huge.
The project has dragged on for what seems like an eternity and I've done my fair share of moaning about it. Now, I'm looking for the takeaway. The lessons I've gleaned from recreating and rebuilding this house, I've realized, also apply to building and maintaining loving relationships. So, here's my two cents — basically all I've got left after this project — and what I've learned from it about both life and love...
- Be clear about your expectations. Whether it's with your architect or life partner, be as transparent as possible about what you want from him or her. Every relationship needs rules in place that all parties understand and agree to. Without rules, you'll end up in an unhappy, misunderstood place, scratching your head in bewilderment. Why didn't he or she just do x? Because it wasn't laid out, that's why. Get good and clear with yourself so you can share that good and clear with others.
- Make choices you can live with. Paint colors? Carpeting? Refrigerator? Make sure your choices will serve you well in the long run. Despite your protestations to the contrary, you will end up living with them for the foreseeable future. If your gut tells you you're heading down an unfortunate design path, turn around. Same goes for your relationship. If you're about to take a wrong turn and put your relationship in jeopardy, you know it already. Simply put, just don't.
- Choose the right partner. After all the frustration and chaos, I still like and respect our builder. Okay, have I ever been tempted to take a blunt instrument (and there are plenty lying around) to his truck? Yes, but the overall feeling is positive. Choosing who you partner with — in projects or in love — makes all the difference. If you've found a partner who will ride the waves of life's ups and downs with you, you've won the relationship jackpot. Is any relationship perfect? Ha! But if you choose wisely, you'll find life — and home renovation projects — easier to live through.
- Be patient. This house project has frayed my patience to its last shreds. It's been delayed many times for reasons I couldn't accept nor understand. Other life events stalled or derailed it. But if you're going the distance because the "bones" of the house or the relationship seem really worthwhile, patience will be easier to access. As well, a valuable relationship doesn't grow overnight. It bucks and evolves before it gets to a livable place. It took some time, but I can now say that my relationship is solid and secure. And, just like this house, the wait — and the patience it required — has been worth it.
- Give people second chances. On this job, there have been many personalities to contend with. Upon meeting our electrician, I immediately said to our builder, "I can't work with him." The guy was too contrary and opinionated. Fast forward, I adore him. As it turned out, he wanted to do his best work and he wasn't afraid to speak up about things preventing that. We all show up, at times, in ways that don't represent our best selves. You do it and so does your partner. Forgive, make room, and keep an open mind. Beautiful things grow from these places.
- Accept that not everything will turn out the way you planned. Nothing is truer in life, love or home renovations. Even now, with the house project still unfinished, I already see where mistakes were made: a light switch awkwardly placed behind a door, a funky wallpaper project that didn't pan out as pictured on Houzz, a dining room fixture that's just…no. But that's how it goes. Your partner may also not be everything you imagined. But that's what keeps the relationship interesting. If you're waiting for perfection, please let me know when it arrives. In the meantime, you know where future work needs to be done.
- Praise and gratitude go a long way. One of our carpenters takes great care with his work. He's meticulous and creative. He proudly points out the results he's most pleased with. And I love to share his excitement and compliment his work. It makes both of us happy. I'm so grateful to the people who've put their blood and sweat into making our home. And to the man who shares it with me. Don't save your praise and gratitude for the guy who holds the door for you at the bank. Let it shine on the people who mean the most to you. You can never go wrong with that and the dividends are huge and endless. Not unlike this home renovation. Amen.
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