"We really believe that keeping these points in mind as we have worked through our house together has not only just helped us get our projects done, but has strengthened our relationship ten-fold."
If there is one thing that Riley and I have learned since starting on this renovation journey of ours, it is that we absolutely love doing this together. We love working together, and we are really good at it! We feel grateful that in general, we wrap up projects feeling more united and connected than before. However, that doesn't mean things are always smooth sailing.
Many factors play into this, but I think it is safe to say (based on countless conversations we have had with friends of ours and our own experiences) that working on home renovations projects together is bound to test your relationship in some way, shape, or form. From budget discussions to the logistics of how to actually carry out the projects, there are just so many opportunities for contention to arise. So much so that many couples avoid it all together.
It's been 2 and a half years since we started on Big Blue, and we are celebrating 9 years of marriage today! We have learned a few things about working as a team along the way and thought today would be a fun and appropriate time to share some of our thoughts. And while we are talking from the perspective of renovating our home, we feel that these have benefited every facet of our relationship. We hope these 7 tips can offer a helpful perspective to any couples trying to maneuver through the tricky dynamics that can arise when working together!
Always, always, ALWAYS discuss your expectations. We try to do this at the beginning of each large project, but also at the beginning of any given work session. And then when our expectations shift and evolve (because they almost ALWAYS do) we try to intentionally vocalize this to each other. Without it, we are just paving the way for resentment to enter the scene. I personally have found that often times when I speak my expectations out loud, I realize how completely outlandish they are (ha!) and it saves us both from having to hustle to live up to them and inevitably failing.
Lean into each other's strengths, and create a safe space for each other's weak areas. Both Riley and I are incredibly detailed. I am really good at pinpointing what isn't working, and Riley is really good at coming up with creative solutions. Both of us make mistakes along the way though. We try to avoid holding them over each others heads, and allow them to be an opportunity for learning and growth and doing better next time. This takes intention in the moment. It takes choosing to not let out those dramatic sighs or pointed words as you start over, or find yourselves having to stay up later than you were expecting.
Don't be a bulldozer! It is rare that we both jump into a project with the exact same plan in mind. We each have different ideas and have learned that both of our voices matter. Don't be a bulldozer. Check in and ask yourself if you have taken time to really listen to the ideas your partner is bringing to the table. Ask them how they would go about carrying out the task at hand.
Actively water the good! For us this would sound something like, "Thanks for not hanging it over my head when I messed up that measurement." or "That was a really creative idea you had." or "Thank you for giving me space when I needed it back there." This feels like a gratitude practice to us, and helps us feel appreciated and appreciative.
Intentionally avoid criticizing each other. Just as the good grows when you water it, so does the bad. If you want to ruin your day, and your project, (and your relationship as Dr. John Gottman's research shows) then just start to point out everything wrong about the other person. "You are so impatient." "You really thought that would be a good idea?" "You are so difficult." It is important to express your feelings, and it is essential to do so in a kind, calm, and self-focused way. So those same phrases could sound something more like, "I am feeling really rushed by you right now, and it is affecting the way I'm showing up." "I am wondering your thought process here. Will you walk me through why you chose to do it this way so I can understand?" "I am feeling a lot of resistance from you when I offer my perspective."
Practice vocalizing your needs. When we were first married someone gave me a bit of advice. They said, "Make sure you vocalize your needs, because he really can't read your mind." It has been a big game changer for us, and has been especially helpful while doing projects. Being able to stop and say, "Hey you know, I am feeling a little off right now and I really need you to be extra patient with me while I figure out what is going on with me." Or, "When you talk to me with that tone it makes me feel stupid. In order for me to fully show up, I need you to speak to me differently."
Drop the blame game. Before you start pointing fingers at your partner/spouse when things aren't going well, point that finger at yourself. Be accountable for the energy that you are bringing to the table. Be accountable for your actions. I've found that accountability is pretty contagious, and if you consistently own up to your part eventually the people around you start feeling more comfortable and inspired to do the same. For us this sounds like, "Hey, I am feeling extra irritable right now. I'm sure that is making it difficult to be around me. I'm sorry. I will try to do better." Sometimes it's because I'm hungry or tired. Sometimes it's because I haven't done tip #1 or #6. Either way it's on me to take care of it!
We really believe that keeping these points in mind as we have worked through our house together has not only just helped us get our projects done, but has strengthened our relationship ten-fold. We hope they can work as additional tools to keep in your belt the next time you and your partner/spouse dive into a project together!
-Kams (& Riley!)