• December 6, 2003

Staying Married Through the Restoration

Our secrets for not killing each other during the stress of a major remodel

Restoration Diary, ,

Sometimes people ask, “How do you do it? How do you stay married while living in the house during the restoration?”

Well, sometimes we do it better than others. I’ve read interviews featuring other couples who have traveled down this road and when they say how they had no problems and this experience has brought them closer together in their marriage, I think who are they kidding?

Living without a fully functional kitchen for over a year like we have tends to make meal times difficult and we end up eating out more than we should.

The worst thing we face is what we term the “bathroom situation”. We have no shower. The upstairs main bath has been stripped down except for a bath tub. I feel sorry for David when I see him rinsing his hair by pouring water over his head from a cup. We have a working toilet and sink in a closet-sized half bath downstairs on the back porch, not very convenient in the middle of the night.

Plus, just the problems of an older house – bad electric, bad roof, furnace problems, mix in two busy careers equals one frazzled couple.

I will admit living with the state of our kitchen and bath has gotten easier as time goes on, a year and 3 months to be exact. It was a huge adjustment at first but now it seems almost normal. We don’t even notice it any more except on the rare occasions we get away and realize how much quicker and easier it is to take a shower, brush your teeth and style your hair all in the same room. You don’t realize how complicated a simple act like getting ready to go out for an evening really is when your bathroom is torn apart because it begins to seem normal.

We have no experience with restoration and are figuring things out as time and money allow. This leads to conflicts because, in truth, neither of us really knows what we are doing. Our approaches to projects are usually polar opposites and as different as our upbringings.

David’s father, who researched and developed different medical drugs in a lab, has more than a healthy respect for germs, almost verging on a germ phobia. I grew up on a farm, a germ’s paradise. We didn’t bother with shoes in the summer, spent lots of time climbing through years of dirt (or worse) in old barn rafters and hay lofts, playing with lots of different animals, hopefully taking a dip in the swimming pool to clean up, and if I was lucky remembering to wash my hands before eating. When you grow up on a farm you are going to get dirty. I don’t remember safety or germs being a big focus or even a focus in my house.

For Christmas David received a first aid kit from his father. My dad gave me a pry bar, a built-in saw wrench and bottle opener (I guess that comes in handy when the state of your house drives you to drink) and a rechargeable saw, drill and flashlight kit. We’ve used both the first aid kit and the tools, not necessarily in that order.

David: Wait, what are you doing with that sledgehammer?

Heather: I’m going to whack out the cement covering the front porch.

D: Wait. You don’t know what’s under there.

H: Yes, I do. I crawled under the front porch and I think the original wood floor is still intact.

D: You crawled under the front porch?

H: Yeah. I just took off some of those asbestos shingles and crawled under there.

D: Asbestos! Did you wear your respirator?

H: It’s fine.

D: It’s not fine. Wait, I think we need to make a plan.

H: I have a plan. I’m going to whack the cement floor with a sledgehammer, spray water from the garden hose on high power in the cracks to loosen up the cement and then pry up the cement with a crowbar.

D: A garden hose! What?

H: (Frustrated sigh…and a rolling of the eyes for good measure) It’s fine.

D: Put on some safety glasses! Wait, YOU ARE NOT EVEN WEARING SHOES!

These are the days of our lives…The only real piece of advice I can offer is this (the secret of our so-called success):

1) Put one person in charge of a project and let them do it in their own way without offering “help” or suggestions.

2) When you need the other person’s help with a project, let them approach it in their own way.

An example of this, again, has to do with our front porch floor. After days of backbreaking work removing cement that was 4 inches thick, rusty old chicken wire, nails, staples, and each of us getting tentus shots, we discovered linoleum glued to the top of the original wood floor. I can’t explain how upsetting this discovery was after all the work we’d done to get down to the original porch floor.

David was in charge of removing the linoleum. He tried pry bars, scrapers, heating the linoleum with the Silent Paint Remover and none of these options worked very well. After the 3rd night of working on this until 2 in the morning, I suggested that maybe we should just replace the wood floor or put down a sea grass rug but was met with, “Are you kidding! After all this I’m getting that damn linoleum up.” Man verses the linoleum. Man losing. Man finally allows his wife to help him.

D: What are you doing with that steak knife?

H: The blade is thin enough that I can get it underneath the linoleum to pry it up.

D: How did you even think of that? What leads you to think, “Gee, I think a steak knife will do the trick?”

H: It’s working!

D: We use that to eat with. I don’t want you to use it on the floor!

H: We’re not eating with it now…I just broke the blade. I’m going to go get another knife. I never really liked these knives anyway.

D: Okay, you’ve just broken the blades of 3 steak knives. How are we supposed to eat?

H: It’s fine! My technique is working. Do you want this linoleum up or not?

D: Some technique…grumble, grumble

H: What did you just say? You’re just upset that my way is working.

3) Praise all the work your partner does even if you are less than thrilled with the outcome.

Comments { 4 }
  1. sharonk

    This totally sounds familiar…
    I agree, each person should have their own “sphere of influence” in the renovation, there is much less stress that way.

    I tend to be a little more cavalier about “contaminants” – my husband freaks if he thinks anything within 10 feet of a paint brush is going to be used with food again…we won’t even talk about the measures I have to go through to ‘disinfect’ the kitchen sink when I have been too lazy to run down to the utility sink in the basement to wash out a paintbrush…:)

  2. Anne in Portland Or

    This sounds so familar. After tearing down a wall in our livingroom, our conversation was: Don – “Why do you get so aggressive?!, the whole house could’ve come down on you!” Anne – “The wall was not even connected to the ceiling, it’s not a bearing wall and the wallpaper and plaster were all cracked and crumbling. Now we can repair the chimmney that we didn’t have access to on the end of the wall and we’ve opened up the livingroom” Don-”It will take months to fix all of this” Anne-”No it won’t” and so on. Like you I was raised on a farm, barefoot and all. My husband is strictly a city boy and remodeling is all so new to him. – Keep at it,eventually you work out a routine between the two of you – we did.

  3. mommydearest

    Try living through minor restorations with three children and a live-in Mom. AAARGHHHH! I do feel bad for her right now, we are working on our bathroom on the main floor and she is 64 and has to walk up and/or down the stairs every time the need arises. I keep telling her it is good for her bones.

  4. Col

    There are few people who realize the value in saving such a house. Marriage is kind of like that too. I hope you succeed at both. Thanks for documenting your experience. I enjoyed it thoroughly and the house is fantastic. I am on my third remodel, second marriage. I think I have it down but you know the saying…..”you’d be surprised how little I knew up until yesterday”.

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