Can Your Marriage Survive a Home Improvement? A home improvement project can drive a major wedge between you and your spouse. Donít let it happen. Make sure you have the right relationship tools for the job. BY SHARON RIVKIN, M.A., M.F.T.
Before your begin ripping down walls in your home, make sure the walls to your communication are already down.
“ Combining maturity with good communication and awarenessóa successful compromise is the rule, rather than the exception.”
Spring is almost here, and itís time to start thinking about spring cleaning, yard maintenance, and home improvements. But before you start a home improvement, is your marriage strong enough for the undertaking?
Be forewarned that your marriage will go through many tests and hurdles while youíre pounding nails and arguing with contractors. Why? Because home improvement challenges the foundation of your marriage and the success of which is based on maturity, good communication, and compromise.
1. What is your maturity level? Compromise happens with maturity. If youíre demanding and heís stubborn, or if you keep the peace and he always gets his way, compromise will never happenÖthere will only be a winner and a loser. The more mature a person is, the more able they are to "get out of themselves" and effectively communicate with their partner, which means really listening to and respecting their spouseís view. This, in turn, enables the couple to negotiate and compromise. If your marriage is rated low on the maturity level, get to work immediately on changing destructive patterns and making behavioral changes that will strengthen your relationship, which will lead to better communication and, ultimately, to successful compromise; thus making for a happier, long-term partnership.
2. How are your communication skills? If your verbal exchanges with your spouse seem to consistently end up in feelings of frustration, not being heard, or heated arguments, heed these warning signs that something is definitely awry in your marriage. Lack of communication is the leading cause of marital breakdown, so get busy working to improve your maturity level, which will help to improve how you talk and listen to your partner, before you start to improve your home! Why? Because home projects require constant communication between you and your spouse, you and your workers, and you and your contractor. If you canít communicate effectively, problems will inevitably occur, tasks improperly executed and completed, and unresolved fighting and unfair concessions. Good communication takes practice, practice, practice and includes speaking clearly and succinctly, listening, using "I" statements, having patience, and, more importantly, the safety to state your opinion without blame or shame or the need to be right. In short, each party feels heard and understood.
3. Why is it so hard to compromise? Itís rare that we all feel exactly the same way about the same thing, so the art of compromise includes being aware of whatís truly important to you and your partner, and honoring his/her ideas, beliefs, and passions. Combining maturity with good communication and awareness, a successful compromise is the rule, rather than the exception. For instance, youíre replacing your dilapidated deck, and you and your husband are disputing over whether to use wood (your preference) or a composite (your husbandís choice). With careful analysis, youíve determined that your husband adores being on the deck, mowing the grass that surrounds the deck, barbecuing, and sinking into his favorite outdoor chair.
You, on the other hand, enjoy being outside, but your passion isnít barbecuing or cutting the grass. Yours is more art-based, with an eye for color that draws your passion to the outdoor colors of the flowers and foliage. So, with that awareness, youíre able to see that the deck is more important to your husband and thus the beginning of compromise. Because compromise is a settlement of a dispute that is reached by each side making concessions, how would you compromise? "Honey, I understand how important the deck is to you, and while Iím willing to let you choose the material (your concession), Iíd like to be able to pick out the color (his concession)."
Equally important is the ability to compromise over issues with opposing ideas. Letís say the deck is installed and you insist on a railing, but your husband thinks it will impede his view. Though code doesnít require a railing due to the low height of the deck, you, however, are adamant that a railing be installed because of aesthetics. Remember, compromise happens when each party makes concessions. Because your passion is art and color, you feel strongly that the installation of a beautiful rail will complete the appearance. How do you compromise when your ideas are opposite? "I know that a rail is important to you (his concession), but could we compromise on the height so I have a better view of the yard (your concession)?"
If you want to up the ante for a successful home project, check your maturity level and start working on your marriage. Then, sharpen your communication skills and become aware of the differences that make your spouse the unique person that he/she is. This winning formula takes work, but when each husband and wife feels heard and understood, theyíre willing to compromiseÖand the payoff is a healthier and happy marriage.
Also known as the "last ditch effort therapist," Sharon M. Rivkin, therapist and conflict resolution/affairs expert, is the author of "Breaking the Argument Cycle: How to Stop Fighting Without Therapy" and developer of the First Argument Technique, a 3-step system that helps couples fix their relationships and understand why they fight. Her work has been featured in Oprah Magazine, Reader's Digest, Time.com, Yahoo!News.com, WebMD.com, and DrLaura.com. Sharon has appeared on TV, was quoted on The Insider TV show, and makes regular radio appearances nationwide. She has also appeared on Martha Stewart Whole Living Radio and is the "Resident Shrink" on Coach Ron Tunick's radio show, The Business of Life, on KKZZ 1400AM. For more information, please visit her website at www.sharonrivkin.com.