Rebuilding a Happy Home
When it comes to a renovation decision, my wife, Cecilia, says that I always make sure to consult her –– and then ignore her and do what I want. That simply can’t be true, though. I’m far too afraid of her to ignore her input.
Besides, I find that home projects tend to bring us together. They happily combine my love of old houses with her love of shopping for stuff. (In retrospect, we should have taken up sailing. It would have been a cheaper hobby.)
Our most recent project: searching for a front porch light.
“Everything you want would make our house look like a Chinese restaurant,” Cecilia tells me.
So I show her another hanging lantern. “What about this one?”
“It looks like it should be on a submarine,” she says. “But that’s fine. I guess we’ll never get anything feminine.”
“We’ll keep looking,” I reply.
Apparently, though, renovations don’t go so smoothly for everyone. I asked my buddy Chris Bonura how things had gone with his wife, Verena, during their post-diluvian rebuild. Chris is such a do-it-himselfer that he shored and leveled his Mid-City house several years back. He’s about as patient a renovator as you can imagine. But he’d rather not discuss how the couple had weathered their recent rebuild.
“Let’s not dredge that up,” he grumbles.
“Oh, it wasn’t that bad,” Verena protests.
Nevertheless, I let that dog lie.
renovating the relationship
Next, I turned to my friends Sheila and Stan Taylor, who are on the verge of finishing their house in Gentilly. In the disaster of ‘05, the house took more than 5 feet of water. It had been their home since just after they married two decades ago.
The couple spent six months living on the Carnival Sensation cruise ship and then moved into an apartment. “I never would have believed that, two years later, I would still not be living at home,” Sheila says.
It has been a stressful time for the couple, Stan says: “You find yourself getting closer, and then …”
“The next day you find yourself getting a divorce,” finishes Sheila, laughing. “We’re getting a divorce just about every day.”
Making decisions at times has been difficult. When they shop, Sheila says she likes to take her time finding the best value for the money, but Stan just wants to get in and out of the store as quickly as possible. “He’s very impatient,” she says. “He’s not like me.”
In some cases, Sheila says, they have disagreed on certain decisions. At times, she says she has given in. The choice of bamboo flooring is an example, she says: “I done already told him the bamboo is his baby.”
Stan glares at his wife incredulously. “Pete’s not Dr. Phil,”
he tells her.
After listening stoically for a while, it’s Stan’s turn. But he takes a philosophical approach. “This is a whole new territory for us,” he begins.
Sheila takes his cue. “You’re doing a massive renovation that you never had any intention of doing,” she says.
“I think that’s a good metaphor,” Stan continues. “It’s a renovation on your relationship, too.”
Rebuilding is forcing the couple to learn to work through issues, Stan says. “Down the line, we’re going to see that it made for a better relationship.”
Seeking some generic tips, I put in a call to my mom. She’s a psychologist, and I’m certain she can refer me to a few good marriage counselors.
But it occurs to me that no psychologist could be more qualified than my mom on this matter. I spent most of my youth surrounded by my parents’ endless renovations of our family home. Post-Katrina, my dad has been at it again, building a new bathroom at their current residence.
Oh, and one other factor: Let’s say that Dad can be slightly … opinionated.
Mom says Katrina has been hard on a lot of marriages. She says a lot of couples are plagued by disagreements –– and not just over how to rebuild but whether to rebuild at all.
If a couple does agree to rebuild, she recommends several approaches to keeping the peace. One is to use a clear process: First, she says, agree on the scope of the rebuilding, and then get down to the monetary decisions and then the aesthetic decisions. Alternatively, if one person is good with the money and the other good with aesthetics, they can divide the labor accordingly. Yet another approach, she says, would be to divide up the projects, with one person overseeing work on one set of rooms and the other taking another set of rooms.
My dad finds out about this discussion and inserts his own view on the matter. “Talk over everything ahead of time, understand what the choices are,” he says. “And then let the woman decide.”