The Remodel

Posted on January 2, 2014

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Prologue

I wrote this post back in October.  I chickened out on posting it at the time.  It felt a little too vulnerable to be so candid about my own experience.  On top of that it sounded a little too whiny, and like most people, I prefer to be the hero in my own stories.  For those who read my stuff, you know that I am a fan of Brene Brown’s research on vulnerability.  In the interest of being congruent with my belief system, I will start the year with this one.  Additionally, with 3 more months behind me, my perspective is somewhat different.  As I have previously observed, problems look bigger when you are up close to them.  A few months later, they may not seem so significant.  So here is my harrowing tale of the remodel.

I have a great strategy for marital therapists wishing to expand their practices.  Here’s what you do.  Find the contractors in your area that specialize in home remodeling, and have them include your business card with every bid.  Some friends of mine remodeled their home about 10 years ago, and the contractor asked them on the front end about the condition of their marriage.  He shared that many couples split up after going through a remodel.  They hired him anyway, and I am glad to report that they are still married after the remodel.  I did a quick internet search by typing in “home remodel divorce” and found there were numerous articles out there on the subject.  An L.A. Times article (Jaffe, 2001) suggested that a remodel ranks “somewhere between infidelity and a meddling mother in law” in terms of relationship stress.  Other articles cited statistics that 12% of couples going through a remodel have considered separation or divorce during the process.  When it comes to remodeling, to quote Nancy Reagan (out of context), “Just say, ‘no.’”

My wife and I have lived in our home for 21 years.  The first year we moved in, the church asked to use our house for the “home tour” at Christmas time.  I don’t think our home was that extraordinary at the time, but it was new construction when we bought it so everything was new and the styles were current.  Carol had some stenciling done in the living room and dining room that seemed unnecessary to me, but visitors always seemed impressed by it.  I am more about function than appearance.  Since that time we have done very little to update the house, and it has been a long time since anyone has suggested that our house be on the home tour.  We still had the original “mystic pearl” (i.e. pink) carpeting.  The kitchen cabinets were about ready to come off the wall.  The wood floors were discolored from 21 years of use.

Early this year we received a windfall of some money from my wife’s family.  I remember one of those featured articles on Yahoo! saying that one of the worst financial mistakes people make is to spend their windfall.  We did not follow that advice.  We spent it on a remodel.  If you have read me much, you know that I am a frugal man.  You can call me “cheap,” and I won’t be offended.

In our housing development, there were four model homes.  That means that every fourth house had our floor plan to begin with.  We live in a wonderful neighborhood where we know everyone so we started touring the homes of all of our neighbors who had our floor plan.  If we didn’t know them, we just broke in when they were at work (I am kidding, of course).  We came away with many ideas of how we might update the house.  The plan we finally decided upon involved removing a wall between our kitchen and our family room.  After 21 years in the house, all of the flooring needed to be replaced.

Now I know that I should have a spirit of thankfulness that we have a nice home and that we came into some money that allowed us to update it.  However, my experience is that a remodel is a little more like one of those disaster movies where things just keep going from bad to worse.  Because I am old and my pop culture references are dated, I think of “The Towering Inferno,” or “The Poseidon Adventure,” or “Earthquake.”  If I wanted to gain some nerd creds, I might reference the episode of Firefly where they have the explosion on the ship and lose most of the oxygen, and Malcolm ends up making the repair by himself after being shot while about to pass out from oxygen deprivation and blood loss.  Remodeling is kind of like that.  It started with losing the kitchen and the family room being torn up, and us eating meals in the living room.  It hit bottom when both my wife and I were left doing our work in the master bedroom because every other room in the house was torn up.[1]

Well into the project, we were playing pickleball and someone asked us if we were double the time and double the budget.  I did not know going into this that these were standard expectations.  The answer is we are only about 150% of budget, but well more than double the time expectation.  Demolition started on February 14, Valentine’s Day.  We arranged to be out of town celebrating our 29th wedding anniversary so we would not be home at the time.  The expectation was that the bulk of the remodel would take six weeks.  That would have had it wrapped up before Easter.

One of the questions I am most frequently asked this year is, “Is the remodel done?”  I know you want to ask so go ahead.  “Scott, is the remodel done?”  The answer is, “I don’t want to talk about it.”  Actually, the answer is, “it depends what you mean by ‘done.’”

This post is probably the most self-disclosing I have been on this blog and also the least effort I have made to try to spin things so that I look good.  I have been reading Daring Greatly by Brene Brown in which she makes the case for risking vulnerability.  So to tell you a little more about myself, I am a real homebody.  As Simon and Garfunkel once sang, “Home is where I wanna be.”  I have sometimes quipped that I would never need to leave the house if I didn’t run out of Diet Coke and ice cream.  Home is my sanctuary.  A close friend of mine has observed that I have the appearance of an extrovert but am really an introvert.  I enjoy having people over and entertaining, but when the party is over, I am glad to have my house back.  By having my house back, I mean everybody leaves and it is quiet again.  My work schedule is such that my most popular appointment times are the evening and late afternoon appointments.  In the morning I am often at home.  I have my quiet time.  I catch up on the paperwork and follow up aspects of my job.  I do the planning and practicing for my other job as a music director.  The morning is Scott’s time.  When the house is crawling with workers, “quiet time” is anything but.  Frequently this year I have found myself “fleeing the premises” to escape the construction activity.  I am like a refugee fleeing to the office for sanctuary after his city has fallen.

“Scott, is the remodel done yet?”  I told you.  I don’t want to talk about it.  Besides, I am already tired of hearing myself complain.

After the interior came the backyard landscaping.  This was particularly difficult as I had no dissatisfaction with how things were before.  While it really was time for the 21 year old pink carpet and kitchen cabinets to go, I felt no such mandate regarding the backyard.  I was perfectly happy with how it had been.  Redoing the backyard landscaping meant another several months of having workers at my house every day.  It was also a large expense for what I saw as a nominal benefit.  The finished product is really nice, but will never have been worth it to me.  If I want to sound extra-spiritual about it, it does not even seem like good stewardship.  Additionally, much of the front yard landscaping needed to be removed so that the fence could be replaced.  Consequently, the front yard is now an eyesore.

“Is the remodel done yet?”  It depends what you mean by “done.”

We have been at this for almost 8 months, longer if you include the time before construction began that we spent boxing things up to store in the garage.  Most of the work of interacting with contractors and the designer, selecting floor coverings, curtains, and paint colors has fallen to my wife.  In that regard, I had the lighter duty.  In the last few weeks, I have hoped each day that tomorrow would be the day there would not be work going on at my house.  I think Monday might actually be that day.  I sometimes think it is like “Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan” when Kirk is asking how long it will take to repair the ship, and Spock says, “If hours were days, and days were hours…”  With the remodel it is “If weeks were months and months were weeks, it will take six, okay eight, weeks.”

“Is the remodel done yet?”  You do like to keep asking that, don’t you?

Well, it is like this.  I think we have gone as far as we can for the time being.  The master bath still has the aforementioned pink carpeting, cabinets that need some work, and the original impractical oversized tile tub.  The front yard needs the aforementioned attention.  I think for financial, mental health, and relational reasons, some of that will have to wait.

But this is a blog that is primarily about relationships.  I have been blessed with a wonderful wife.  Those of you who know us know that this is true.  A number of years ago, we were driving to visit some friends.  On the way, Carol got involved in a lengthy phone conversation with her sister (what I call a “filibuster”).  I needed some help with directions and was becoming frustrated with trying to break into the conversation.  After she got done she said in disbelief, “You’re mad at me; you’re never mad at me.”  She was right.  It is rare for me to be upset with her.  It is a wonderful thing that the worst thing that has happened to our relationship in 30 years of marriage is a remodel.  As has been noted above, most of the money for the remodel came from a windfall from her family.  Also as previously mentioned, Carol did most of the work in interacting with the contractors.  It is all well and good to look at these things logically, but emotionally, the remodel felt like something that had been inflicted upon me, taking away my sanctuary, and having no relief in sight (temporally or financially).  It is one of the few times in our marriage I have felt resentful toward my wife.

I am happy to report that we are still happily married.  We are also pretty adept at talking about our feelings and listening to each other rather than attacking and defending.  We managed to survive the remodel with our love intact and did it without therapy.[2]  If your marriage is anything less than great and you are thinking about a remodel, I have two suggestions 1) just say “no”; 2) call me and we can schedule an appointment.  You know I understand what it is like.

Epilogue

One morning in December, I was up as usual before dawn brushing my teeth and shaving before heading for the gym.  I was running about half an hour later than I would have been as my wife of 30 years was sleeping in my arms.  Under such circumstances, I am loathe to get up even if I am already awake.  As I was lathering my face I was thinking, “You know, this has been a really good year.”  I have often noted how memory rose tints everything.  Gottman (1994) noted that happy couples tend to have a favorable recall of the history of their relationship while distressed couples tend to remember the relationship history more negatively.  As Columbia sang, “Rose tints my world and keeps me safe from the trouble and pain.”[3]  I am thankful for that.

Reference

Baldwin, N. (n.d.). Can remodeling a home lead to divorce? Retrieved 04 October 2013 at http://www.examiner.com/article/can-remodeling-a-home-lead-to-divorce.

Gottman, J. (1994). Why marriage succeed or fail…and how you can make your last. Simon and Schuster: New York.

Jaffe, W. (2001). The Remodeling Balancing Act.  Retrieved 04 October 2013 at http://articles.latimes.com/2001/jun/03/realestate/re-5852.


[1] Carol asked me to point out that the remodel had “exploded.”  That is to say that the project become more extensive than originally intended as things went along.  As Professor Tolkien once observed, “The tale grew with the telling.”  In this case, the remodel grew with the remodeling.

[2] I regularly point out to new clients that my goal is to work my way out of a job with them.  Part way through I point out that that job is done when they can do for themselves what I do for them in session.  The goal is not to have you conflict free, but to not let the conflict leave you feeling disconnected.

[3] Getting that reference is a sign of a misspent youth.  It is, of course, from Rocky Horror.

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