Eggshell white or cranberry rouge walls? "Buy now, pay later" or "Save now, buy later"? Skylight or fluorescent light?

Do questions like these tend to spike stress levels in your marriage? If so, you’re not alone. The seemingly endless list of decisions involved in a home remodel shakes the framework of even the strongest relationship. Add some penny pressure and upheaval of your routine, and renovating a home triggers newlywed fits and middle-age marriage tiffs alike. Even if you’re not currently in the midst of a renovation project, probability says you soon will be. In the 2013 Houzz & Home survey, 84 per cent of respondents say they’re planning to do some degree of home redecorating or remodelling in the next two years. Being that a corresponding Houzz survey reports that 12 per cent of couples consider separation or divorce mid-remodel, it’s imperative that a home project become a marriage project too.

By nature, remodelling is messy work. Browsing aisles upon aisles – and websites upon websites – of cabinet handles, carpet textures, retro-vintage faucets and 74 shades of grey paint conjures up those deep and inevitable negotiations over style, money and priorities – but that’s a good thing! With the right tools and attitudes, you and your spouse can design a cohesive blueprint for your home while simultaneously strengthening the foundation of your marriage.

As you navigate the emotional, physical, financial and relational storms of sawdust and stovetops, use these tips to successfully tune in to the needs of your spouse.

Eye for style

You may like shabby chic, while he thinks shabby chic refers to a scruffy chicken. "Conflicting style is a major source of stress," reports Houzz, "as one third of respondents do not like their significant other’s design style." While there’s no objective right or wrong answer when it comes to interior design, finding the right style for you as a couple helps cement your marital unity. Try this exercise from Houzz to establish a style for your home. To begin, each of you browse websites, magazines or stores to formulate a clear sense of your favourite styles, and then share your ideas with each other during a date night. Keep the mood positive by expressing your likes, without bashing theirs. With curiosity, try to decipher your spouse’s style and switch the game to start pointing out what features you think he or she would like! The commonalities become your couple style.

Ear for expectation

Room layout and appliance choices can reveal existing expectations you and your spouse carry into marriage. Listen for and learn to decipher the hints your spouse drops. For instance, is he interested in shopping for a dual convection oven with 10 cooking modes? This could be a sign that he expects to participate in cooking. Does she grimace at tailoring a room solely to provide an optimum movie-watching experience? Maybe you should ask her about her feelings toward media use in the home. As in any relationship decision, maintain priority by honouring your spouse above yourself, looking out for their interests rather than your own (Philippians 2:4).

Mouth for communication

Never let a contractor, family member or salesperson pressure you into making a decision before you have ample time to discuss the matter with your spouse. Whether you need help or not, asking for your husband's or wife's opinion makes them feel needed and appreciated, says Dr. Gary Smalley in his book For Better or for Best. Whatever you do, though, don’t take this opinion, laugh snobbishly and toss it in the trash. Rather, use the information to better know your spouse. Smalley shares how he and his wife gain a deeper understanding of themselves and each other while reducing arguments over decisions: "We agreed never to make final decisions on matters that affected both of us unless we both agreed. We now call this approach ‘win-win.’"

Mind for budget

Experts agree that spending personalities lay the twisted roots of countless marital fights. That is, unless purchases are carefully maneuvered with honest, realistic discussions about budget. House fixes – and their costs – can range from buying a new light fixture to remodelling an entire kitchen. On average, reports CIBC, Canadians plan to spend $15,300 on home renovations this year. Whatever your expected budget, though, renovation expert Scott McGillivray advises adding an overrun of 20 per cent. Even then, keep an eye on the bottom line! Running up debt only adds stress to your marriage while you’re adding stuff to your home, so be cautious of taking out a line of credit to finance your fixes.

Heart for research

Research. Research. Research. It’s not back-to-school shopping, but you do need to school yourself before you shop. Allow you and your spouse time to research plans, pricing and purchases before you start your project. Make use of the Internet for its e-commerce potential to compare prices, read vendor reviews, analyze consumer reports and scan local classifieds websites, such as "A few minutes of web surfing can save both money and frustration," Smalley writes. Plus, reading objective information helps you see the pros in your spouse’s preferences and the cons in your own. And the ultimate result of research? You and your spouse will unite as a team as you make informed, confident decisions about household renos, big or small.

Hands for work

Are you planning to work long hours, hire out or both? Whichever you decide, heed this wisdom from Solomon: "Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil" (Ecclesiastes 4:9). That’s powerful motivation for you and your spouse to work together as a team, drawing on each other’s strengths – and never belittling each other’s shortfalls! Husbands, whether your wife is an interior designer or a contented utilitarian, she yearns to feel at home in her house. "When your wife is stressed out and hurting, she needs to know that you are willing to share an intimate moment of comfort," says Smalley in If Only He Knew, even if your project may have to be put on hold. And wives, whether your husband is a handy man or an eager handy-man wannabe, he needs to be admired as the head of the household. Overflow with words of appreciation for your man, remembering that "criticizing his work is the fastest way to discourage him from working side-by-side with you again," Smalley cautions.

Fortunately, a little compromise and a lot of patience pay off in the end! In fact, "four out of five survey respondents reported feeling more relaxed in their home after completing their project," found Houzz. Better still, 41 per cent notice an increased level of happiness with their significant other.

Cara Plett is an in-house writer for Focus on the Family Canada.

© 2013 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved

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