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4 renovation principles to keep your marriage strong

Over the years, my husband, Bob, and I have restored many historic homes, moving every 18 to 24 months with five kids in tow. The first was a small servants’ cottage on the enormous estate featured in the 1940 film The Philadelphia Story starring Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant.

The stairs were so narrow we had to cut our bed’s box spring in half to get it into the second story bedroom. That was our first adventure in the world of innovation and creativity when faced with a renovation roadblock. Needless to say, we had to think outside the box.

Every time a new project rolls around, Bob and I learn something new about each other. To stay close amid challenging renovations, especially when we don’t exactly see eye to eye, we’ve had to work on building a healthy relationship. To do this, we

  • Start with a strong foundation built on kindness.
  • Are willing to compromise and lay aside our preferences if something else is important to each other.
  • Cultivate trust by listening to and respecting each other’s ideas and perspectives.
  • Prioritize relationship, because people are always more important than projects—always.

Anyone who has attempted a remodel with their spouse understands that this type of work is stressful and can strain a relationship. Consider using these four principles to keep your marriage strong during your next project.

Check your foundation

In any renovation project, you must look beneath the surface of a house before you add a second story. That means inspecting the foundation and substructure, as well as what’s behind the walls, floors and ceilings. You must deal with mold, rot and cracks before you add the wallpaper, paint and marble countertops.

Just like the homebuilder in Matthew 7:26-27, if you don’t make sure your house (or your marriage) has a strong foundation, it won’t stand up against the storms that will inevitably come your way. But if you take the time to look beneath the surface, perform quality repairs and ensure your foundation is solid, your house will withstand even the fiercest wind and rain.

Practice the art of compromise

Bob and I used to love poring over architectural and decorating magazines before starting a new project. We’d talk about our personal preferences, must-haves and nonnegotiables. Understanding what was most important to each of us helped us reach a compromise and come up with a game plan together.

We’ve found that compromises and decisions should be made well before a project begins. This eliminates many needless arguments in the heat of the moment because we already have a plan both of us agreed on. (Take it from me; we’ve learned this lesson the hard way.)

It’s also helpful to determine in advance what our specific roles will be and who will make certain decisions during a project. I tend to make the design selections, and Bob decides on the structural features. When we stay in our designated lanes, we complement each other instead of sowing seeds of division, irritation and control. Working out these details makes it easier to stick to our plan and adjust when necessary.

Practicing the art of compromise in your marriage, defining your specific roles and talking through decisions in advance will help you work together as a team and avoid the pitfalls of stressful life events, such as challenging home renovation projects.

Trust each other

Our most recent restoration project was a 300-year-old property in Pennsylvania that has become our current home, Hillside Farm. (The original deed to the property was signed over by William Penn!) When we started the project, the chandelier in the foyer still had wax candles in it, and trees were growing inside the house on the third story. Amid these challenges, we had a lot of opportunities to cultivate trust in our relationship during this particular project. Sometimes we did well—and sometimes we didn’t.

While Bob and I were reworking the kitchen, I decided to design the center island myself and have Amish woodworkers build it. I didn’t consult Bob, partly because I wanted to surprise him, but also because I thought

I knew best. So I didn’t give him the opportunity to trust my vision for the room.

When the woodworkers brought the island to the house, they pulled me outside and said, “Ma’am, the island is too big to fit through the door.”

Bob, whose rule of thumb is “Measure twice, cut once,” would have measured the doors, because he remembers those kinds of details. Thankfully, when he came home, instead of saying, “Why didn’t you talk with me first?” he very sweetly said, “Once we figure out how to get this thing into the house, it’s never leaving.”

After Bob took out the giant kitchen windows and corresponding trim, the island fit through the opening—but just barely. The island saga is now a running joke in the family and taught me to trust my spouse with my ideas, even when a project takes longer to complete or I want things done a different way.

Cultivating trust is essential for intimacy in marriage. It may take some work, but the rewards are priceless.

Prioritize your relationship

As our eldest two children went off to college, our house grew quieter. It was in this season that I wrote my first book. Once it was released, I was thrust into the world of Zoom interviews and podcasts. My little desk in the corner of the kitchen didn’t cut it anymore. Once again, it was time for Bob and me to roll up our sleeves and pull out the toolbox.

Our focus was an unused playroom on the second floor that was too small to be a bedroom and had been collecting junk for years. I made an uncharacteristically daring decision and chose to paint the walls, trim and furniture the same color with a high-gloss paint. Bob thought I was crazy, but he chose to support me anyway. He trusted my creative process over his own, and that made me feel truly heard, valued and loved. It was an act of kindness and service. When the remodel was complete, Bob absolutely loved the office and now jokingly tells people that it was his idea.

Valuing relationship over your own preferences and opinions is another important way to build closeness in your marriage.

Remodeling and marriage

With over 20 years of marriage and a long list of home restoration projects under our tool belts, Bob and I try to keep those four principles at the forefront of our marriage and any project we tackle. Though projects have been difficult at times, causing stresses and strains in our marriage, we’re determined to choose each other over our projects because we’re building something far more important with every renovation we undertake. We’re forging a marriage built on the solid foundation of Christ, with 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 as our blueprint.

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