Renovate Your Way To A Better Marriage


How a fixer-upper first home became one couple's labor of love.

Those months right before and after the move were the start of a dangerous dynamic: Ryan felt like nothing he did would ever be enough; I felt like our house might never be a comfortable home.

Apparently, our experience is not uncommon. Dr. Michael Klein, PhD, a San Francisco-based couples therapist and adjunct faculty member at the California Institute of Integral Studies, says remodeling is a huge stress trigger among couples. Klein puts it in a larger category of home stressors that also includes where to live (for example, "Should we stay in the city, or move to the suburbs?") and home purchasing.

After sex and money (in that order), Klein ranks the home front the third most common cause of tension among couples. In addition to the potential for differing opinions about design choices, home-improvement projects can be huge financial drains, which can bump remodeling back up to the number-two trigger, money.

Klein says one of the biggest issues between couples renovating their homes is when one person (about 75 percent of the time, he notes, it's the woman) wants to spend more money than the other. "Often, you'll have a woman saying, "I want to live in a beautiful home, I'm looking at all these design magazines, and I've got all these ideas,'" Klein says. "On the other side of the dynamic, the man can fall into the psychological issue of feeling like the victim, thinking, 'I’m working so hard, you don't appreciate me, if we continue spending like this, how will we ever save for retirement?'"

Klein has a point about the magazines—they're dangerous.

In the midst of our renovation, I began a new job doing public relations for Rejuvenation, a Portland-based manufacturer and retailer of reproduction lighting and hardware. All of a sudden my inbox was crammed with the latest issues of Martha Stewart Living, Elle Decor, and new publications like Cottage Living and Domino. I’d bring them home and read in bed about how to choose upholstery and create the perfect master-bedroom hideaway, while Ryan lay next to me reading a how-to book about electrical wiring.