Staying Together While Things Fall Apart

Staying Happily Married Through Construction

Credit: Courtesy

During our eighteen years of marriage, my husband Steve and I have been through two major home construction undertakings. Having almost finalized the most recent project — we are nearing the end of it … we hope — we know first-hand that living in the midst of construction can lead to lots of frayed nerves. 

Here is our list of seven things that we have found to be helpful to stay in our bliss while things feel like they’re falling apart:

Vision: Decide up front what is most important to you both. Do this well before you’re into the process of planning. The vision needs to be not only what you are going to do, but why you are going to do it.  Your why will help when you come up with the dreaded “change order” – something new that needs to happen now and really can’t wait till the next project.  This is something big that wasn’t part of the original vision of what you are doing.  The why will help you get through the dust and random people that seem to be at your house constantly.  Get back to why you are doing what you are doing so that you can get through the inconveniences of not having a kitchen for a month. 

Get a budget in place, pronto!  I know, I know … you don’t reeeaalllly need it right now because everything is feeling fun and exciting but believe me, most construction projects go over budget very quickly.  So being realistic with your funds from the get-go will be useful when you have to make a decision between the $150 faucet handles and the $750 faucet handles. Having a budget as a True North point for both of you to agree on keeps you more on track. After you have figured out your budget, increase it by a third.  Remember those change orders? It’s nice to have a little extra that you can dip into to make sure they get done.

Who is the communication point person? If there is one thing that will screw up projects every time, it’s too many cooks in the kitchen. Communication needs to be crystal clear because there are so many parties involved. On our first project – where we took the roof off and added a second story – I made a comment one day to the contractor: “Wouldn’t it be great if we had windows up there” as I was pointing to some random point above where the stairwell was going to be.  A few weeks later when Steve asked, “Why haven’t we done anything on the stairwell yet?” the response was, “We are waiting for Sara to decide on the windows.” Also, it’s great if there is one “go-to” person for all calls, texts, and emails. This way it never has to be a discussion on who got the message. Clear is kind and communication can feel very unkind quickly when key people are left out of the loop.

Bring in the experts.  Steve is a handy guy and I have a good sense of style. That doesn’t mean we didn’t hire a contractor and a designer.  They can be great mediators to help with how it gets done and what it will look like.  Santa Barbara is filled with experts in every single category you could think of so google, research, talk to others and find the right, trusted folks.

Get over it or die mad. This is a big one because there is serious compromise that will need to happen. When Steve and I have been locked into a conflict, we are always able to move forward when one of us reminds the other that we need to “get over it or die mad”!  This was the best wedding advice we received from our friend Skidge. Another of Steve’s favorite sayings is “Happy Spouse, Happy House”.  Go back to the why you are doing this and think about what you want and what your spouse wants.   

Try to project ten years from now about how you will feel about what you are disagreeing about. There is a good chance that you will just start to laugh when you realize that it just might not matter. 

Have regular meetings — with each other AND with the crew. We build weekly meetings into our contract. If we don’t have anything to talk about (trust me, you will) then cancel.  We cover what got done that week, what will get done the next week, and what issues have come up.  Don’t forget to do a budge update with your spouse. What have you spent?  What do you still need to spend? What change order came up and how will that 

impact the entire project.

Now, go back to your WHY you are doing this. Take a breath and envision what your space will be like when you are done, and you are enjoying your new space. Now get to work because Vision without Action is merely a dream. Action without Vision just passes the time. Vision with Action will create something great.


Sara Caputo transforms how individuals, teams, and small businesses navigate workflow and increase workplace efficiency. Her work has been featured in Working Women, Success, and Forbes, as well as other national and regional publications. She can be reached at sara@saracaputoconsulting.com.


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