LEARN HOW TO WORK TOGETHER - BEFORE YOU WORK ON YOUR HOME
When you are living in a home together, the key word is not ‘home’, it’s ‘together’.
In order to make a comfortable home, the first order of business has to be helping each other be comfortable. This is an essential part of your commitment, after all, and if you do it well, it can be a source of great personal pride.
If the person I live with is just wrong, shouldn’t I insist that we do things my way?
Sadly, that won’t work -- unless one of you honestly doesn’t care what decision is made. If you don’t find ways to come to agreements with each other, what you will find is that you’re not really living together – you’re just living apart in the same house.
Let’s say your dream is to have a kitchen in which the whole family can join together and cook the evening meal. You know that renovating and expanding your cramped little kitchen is the right thing to do, but your mate would rather take a leave of absence from work and take the family on a long trip.
You think that, of course a trip would be fun -- when you win the lottery -- but this is the real world and after three months you’ll have nothing to show but some photos and a depleted bank account.
On the other hand, a bigger kitchen will give your family a way to be together for years to come, and add a lot of value to your house, so you insist on having it your way. You hire out the job, walls are knocked down, an addition is built, and the space, now three times larger than the original, is beautifully finished. So far, so good.
But what if today has been pretty much typical of what your days have become? You get home from work just in time to make dinner – by yourself. Work is stressful because you can’t afford to take any risks -- not with that construction loan to pay off. Your mate, whose day was stressful for the same reasons, is unwinding at an adult-league soccer game. Your children are home, head-sets on. One will be leaving soon for baseball practice, and the other has just started a mammoth report that’s due tomorrow. They’ve already talked and texted with their friends about every aspect of their day, and now they’re too tired to repeat it again for you. Did you think your children would no longer behave this way once the new kitchen was finished?
Well, think again!
If your family didn’t look forward to cooking together before, they aren’t going to magically start now. Do you wish you weren’t still paying off that kitchen loan so you could have come home earlier? Do you find yourself thinking that instead of spending all that time planning your kitchen you might have made just a few simple up-grades and then taken that family trip? If you had, would your family have spent much more time together? Or could you just have invested the money elsewhere?
It’s important to always remember that a house is not a home. Instead a home is the result of the people who inhabit it making their decisions together.
My clients Dana and Jim learned that bit of wisdom just before their individual opinions completely tore them apart. They moved into a little cottage just after they had their daughter, and decided to stay after their son was born. Six years of living in a tiny home with the two growing children sharing a bedroom was beginning to chafe, and it was becoming clear that something needed to change. Between them they earned enough money to build a major addition. Though they couldn’t agree on most elements of the priorities list, they felt that as long as they could both have exactly what they wanted for themselves, they would be happy if the other was satisfied as well.
At first, anyway.
Their initial renovation wish-list looked like a conventional description of any really nice up-scale suburban home:
When we looked a little more deeply at their list, things got a bit more complicated:
These kinds of disagreements aren’t uncommon. Most often, they’re resolved as the process moves forward and we can see more clearly what the renovation will involve.
What made Dana and Jim’s situation difficult, however, were exactly those traits that originally drew them together -- they were so competitive, passionate, and articulate, that the statements they made always sounded as though they had come to irrevocable decisions. They saw the situation as a winner-take-all contest. They knew the other would ride roughshod over their feelings and concerns if that’s what it took to win, so both of them were on guard and furious.
Of course, many conflicting ideas about how space should be used and decorated, will be resolved with deft design. But the need to win and to see your mate lose is, to say the least, totally antithetical to finding a solution.
In any relationship we have the responsibility for taking care of ourselves, and Dana and Jim fully trusted each other in that one regard. They were VERY good at protecting their personal interests, and they each gave as good as they got. But it turned out they were too good.
Through conversations I had between the two of them, it became crystal-clear to everyone that Dana and Jim didn’t have design problems -- they had very serious marriage problems. They hoped that having a project to work on together would draw them closer, but found that designing a house renovation was just another battle ground for their on-going struggles. Designing a house is a terrible place to let your problems play out. Not only are the resulting mistakes going to be costly, but by the time they are recognized there’s often no money left to fix them.
Being a partner isn’t easy, even when there’s deep love and commitment. What Jim and Dana needed is what we all need: a set of common sense rules about how to act and react toward our Important Others.
The rules below are for both of you. They are common wisdom. We’ve all heard them before, but they still bear repeating.
These RULES are just a starting point. They are not optional. Ignore them at your peril. Read them, think about them, and talk about them with your partner. Don’t gloss over them. And notice that the word negotiation is not in any of the RULES. Negotiation will never make a solid partnership. Reaching agreement does.
Jim and Dana admitted to the trouble they were having with working together, and they set the renovation aside for a year while they worked on their marriage instead.
Twenty years later, they are still married and very much together. The house is smaller than they initially planned, but it is comfortable and beautifully appointed. The family enjoys spending time together, and their guests enjoy being with them. They didn’t overextend themselves on their expenses, allowing Dana to cut her work hours and spend more time with the children. Most importantly, though, what they have done with their home bears witness to how deeply they care about each other and their kids.
Changing your home changes your lives together. Emotionally it’s a big upheaval for everyone involved. And, of course, the bigger the changes are, the more potential for stress. Your choices are a testament to how well you know each other, how well you support each other, and to the things you both value.
Do not try to ride rough-shod over your partner, and do not place greater value on your dreams about physical space than on human-relationships, whether the needs are expressed or not.
Be straightforward about your inner thoughts as well as what you tell each other. There will be differences. Celebrate them -- or change them, as the case may be. Do not undertake a renovation until you are both able to live by at least these four practices: