For two months, Bianca Orfano and her fiancé argued over dust.
“You couldn’t have anyone over because there was dust literally everywhere,” said the 27-year-old, who recently wrapped up home renovations with her fiancé, Andrew Branch, 33.
“For me, it was too much.”
Indeed, home renovations can be stressful — all that noise, disrupted personal space and yes, dust, are bound to get on a homeowner’s nerves — and a new survey from Houzz Inc found that 40 per cent of Canadians described remodelling with their partner as “frustrating,” 25 per cent said it was “difficult” and 9 per cent said it was “painful.”
But common as it is, renovations causing relationship stress could be a sign of bigger problems, says one Toronto psychotherapist.
“It’s usually not the renovation, it’s something that happened earlier,” said Michelle Fischler, a certified psychotherapist, explaining she can typically trace clients’ relationship problems back to other issues, such as a layoff, an affair or a miscarriage. Renovations can also draw out long-simmering issues such as how a couple deals with conflict, she said.
If the problems aren’t resolved before a renovation starts, tension can build and a couple can easily fall into a negative communication cycle, she warns.
Bianca Orfano, 27, (left) and fiance, Andrew Branch, 33, did some renovations to their new home together and found the work to add stress to their relationship. (Rick Madonik/Toronto Star)
For Orfano and Branch, engaged in August and living together for the first time, their renovation brought one deceivingly innocuous issue to the surface: Orfanois a neat freak and Branch is OK with mess.
“She’d clean up the mess and it would be back to dust,” said Branch, who did most of the kitchen and bathroom renovation himself. “I’d laugh, but she would not be laughing. We’d butt heads. We just have different ways of doing things.”
It didn’t help that they were on a tight budget, had little experience doing hands-on renovations and were trying to plan a wedding at the same time. The two were so overwhelmed by the work — Orfano and her family painted most of the house — they’re planning on postponing their September wedding.
But they’re chalking it up to a learning experience. They’ve learned to talk out their issues and have decided if they ever take on another renovation, they’ll hire a contractor — or at least a cleaner.
Contractor or not, homeowners need to be realistic about what they’re getting themselves into, said Damon Bennett, a contractor and TV personality. This means doing your own research, and having realistic expectations about time commitments, expenses, noise and mess, he said.
“People watch HGTV and they think everything can be done in an hour,” said Bennett, who’s worked on Mike Holmes’ TV shows. “Reality TV — and I’m part of that — has become a bit of an issue in terms of the expectations of the regular person.”
But there are some things no couple can prepare for.
Denise Hayward, 60, and her husband, Steve, went 36 hours without a toilet after their backup toilet broke down while the other bathroom was in mid-renovation.
“It was a nightmare,” said Hayward, whose husband resorted to using their Dorset Park backyard as a toilet during the fiasco.
The experience was exacerbated by the fact that Hayward, a show manager with the Building Industry and Land Development Association who usually oversaw their home renovations, was in the middle of a busy work period. She relied on Steve, a laid back semi-retired musician, to handle the day-to-day errands.
“I’d say, ‘Go to Home Depot,’ and he’d go to Lowe’s. He screwed it up every single time,” said Hayward, who hired a contractor to do the main project. “There was a lot of tension. I don’t want to use the word nagging but I had to always be correcting.”
They eventually secured a new, working toilet but the experience was scarring. After the contractor finished the January to March renovation, Hayward promised it would be their last. But in May, contractors were digging up their backyard for a patio and outdoor bar.
So how did the couple, married 39 years, ultimately resolve their relationship stress? By doing the opposite of what a therapist would recommend.
“We just stopped communicating,” said Hayward. “Eventually the memory will go away for one of us.”