When you stood at the altar, you swore you’d stick by your partner for better or for worse. In sickness and in health. For richer or for poorer.
But those sweet vows said nothing about home renovations. Indecision, temporary homelessness, foraging for food—transforming your home is a difficult endeavor, to say the least. And, in extreme cases, remodeling your home will test even the strongest of relationships.
In fact, studies show that 12% of couples consider divorce during home renovations. And we’re betting a good chunk of the remaining 88% spent a few chilly days sleeping in separate beds.
Here, we’ve uncovered six renovation decisions that might cause a relationship fiasco.
1. Adding a ginormous TV
When one spouse wants a massive 90-inch screen to impress his buddies for each showing of “Monday Night Raw” and the other pushes for something more discreet, a marital feud might be brewing.
“Nine out of 10 times, TV size becomes an issue for couples going through a renovation,” says Stephanie Riordan, a designer with Tellus Design + Build in Los Angeles. “One person wants it as large as possible, and the other doesn’t want it to become a focal point in the room.”
Decide first where the TV will go (this is another common sticking point), and then figure out what fits the space. Still can’t hash it out? Luckily, there’s an easy solution: Compromise. TVs come in a huge array of sizes—just pick one halfway between the two extremes.
2. Toilet compartments
Apparently, not everyone wants privacy when they pee. According to Long Beach, CA, architect Mark Grisafe, adding a toilet compartment to your master bathroom can be a huge point of contention for couples.
But first: What the heck is a toilet compartment? You probably know it, if not by name: It’s the tiny room within a bathroom that holds, aptly enough, your toilet. (Yes, space-deprived New Yorkers, this is really a thing.)
“I assumed that everyone had the same feeling about toilet compartments in the master bathroom—the more private, the better,” Grisafe tells us.
But some people love these little piddle palaces. Arguments over this issue surface during nearly all of Grisafe’s jobs that involve a master suite/bathroom addition. One-half of the couple will say, “What do I have to hide?” The other half wants privacy as their No. 1 priority to do their No. 2.
“Apparently it’s a whole cultural thing where each individual has their own sense about what the goals of that space are,” Grisafe says. “Everybody assumes they feel the same way, and it never gets talked about until they have to make that decision.”
3. Cheaping out
Poor fiscal management might be the cause of many a marriage breakdown, but trying to save money could be just as dangerous.
“The person in the relationship who pushes for the inexpensive contractor—or the one who wants to do his unemployed buddy ‘a solid’ by hiring him to do the work—usually ends up being the recipient of a nonstop stream of negative comments,” Grisafe says.
You know the kind we mean; the complaints about the cheap cabinets that don’t close easily, or the electrical panel that blows a fuse every time someone turns on the oven and toaster at the same time.
“It’s something that slowly—over time—eats away at a relationship,” he says.
There’s a similar risk if you decide to DIY—even if you’re the handiest of homeowners.
“I’ve seen couples go into DIY work and start getting upset the other isn’t doing it the way they wanted, isn’t finishing one job before moving on to another, or is just being sloppy,” says Jeffrey Welder, a home decorating expert with Vant Wall Panels. “If you decide to handle the heavy labor yourself, go into it with open minds, be prepared to work really hard, and know there’s a lot of compromise involved.”
If you want to see marital strife rear its ugly head during a home renovation, stick around for the part where couples need to make decisions on cabinetry, countertops, and flooring. Glaze or patina? Quartz or granite? Hardwood or vinyl?
Conflicts on this aren’t altogether surprising. We all have different tastes—and these are things that you’ll have to look at every day. But many couples don’t discuss these finishing touches until very late in the game, Grisafe says.
“One of them will say, ‘I want this,’ and they’ll want me to get on their side,” he says. “One of the things I tell couples when they start getting wound up is, ‘I have my standard fee, but it’s double for marriage counseling.’”
Grisafe even brings on an interior design consultant early in the process to prevent conflict and discuss those decisions upfront.
5. Paint colors
Quick: What color is your dream bedroom? If you asked your partner that question right now, would you both have the same answer?
Sure, niggling over slight differences between two shades of blue probably won’t be a relationship killer. But if you’re dying to paint your kitchen a dramatic red and your husband insists on a crisp white, get on the same page before you start buying samples.
“Paint has caused more friction than anything I can think of,” Welder says.
If you’re truly stuck, there is a solution: a paint specialist. Think of them like therapists—but for color.
“The specialist will talk with you both about personalities, interests, and values, and help you decide on a color scheme you both agree on,” Welder says.
6. Anything kitchen-related
Finally, if you’re really looking to test your marriage, embark on a kitchen remodel. You’re guaranteed some fireworks—and not the good kind.
Just ask Toni Coleman, a psychotherapist and relationship coach who’s helped her share of couples through the process.
“The kitchen, in particular, is such a hot-button issue because it is the heart of the home,” Coleman says. “When you’re going through a renovation, suddenly it’s total chaos—you’re not able to get a decent meal, you have to find some other way to prepare food, you’re sitting who knows where. It throws the whole house out of sync.”
Conflict also occurs simply because of the exorbitant costs involved with a kitchen remodel, Coleman says. The average cost of a major kitchen renovation will drain upward of $60,000 from your bank account. Between the emotional stress, the financial stress, and the timeline for kitchen remodels—which can often get dragged out due to unforeseen problems—you’ve got a recipe for disaster.
“A kitchen remodel can be a marriage wrecker,” she says. “Many couples have told me they’re surprised it didn’t end with a divorce.”
That doesn’t mean you should avoid remodeling altogether. But be prepared to employ some peacekeeping strategies. Before starting the project, Coleman recommends you and your partner discuss any concerns about the costs or inconvenience involved, and devise a plan for how you’ll deal without your kitchen.
“It will help to keep the stress down, which is key to successfully surviving a kitchen remodel,” she says.