Creating a home together is truly an act of deep intimacy. It is about personal desires and aspirations. It is about fantasies and wishes from as far back as you can remember. It is so much about all your hopes and dreams, and how you will make memories together. When partners take on the complex challenge of creating a home as an honest team effort, their experience cannot help but increase intimacy.
Sir Winston Churchill once said, "... we shape our dwellings, and afterwards our dwellings shape us." Too often in my marriage therapy practice I see couples who's dwellings have shaped them in ways they would never have imagined -- ways that are not conducive to healthy and happy married life.
Our homes are a respite from the rest of the harried world. They are a sanctuary for the individual, as well as the relationship. A marriage depends on and desperately desires this. So whether your sanctuary is a colonial on a cul-de-sac, a New York City apartment or a small cabin in the woods, it needs to be able to comfort you as an individual, and as a couple. Here are four strategies I have come to believe are essential for creating a home together, and would urge any couple to follow:
1. Contemplate your fantasies about the space you will live in. Share your fantasies aloud with each other. Ask questions. What did your partner love and hate about the home(s) they grew up in? What have they loved about any home they've made for themselves? Consider together all your important scenarios. Let your visions expand and go wild. For example:
- Where will you listen to music together? Or practice your instrument alone?
- Where will you look out a window together?
- Do you want to be able to take showers together?
- Where might you read a book, alone?
- What do hope your bedroom will feel like?
- Where might you play a game together?
- Do you need a place for projects?
- Do you need some separate space for each of you?
- What kind of atmosphere do you envision?
- How will you entertain?
- What is your wildest dream for this space called home?
2. Take the time to understand your spouse's perspectives just as well as your own. Designing space, decorating space, and using space is not as obvious as we might think. Our implicit expectations can just be all wrong. Later we find ourselves surprised to find out how differently our partner feels about what is evolving or has already been completed.
So, never make assumptions; we need to get explicit. Ask your partner questions that flush out all the implicit expectations you might be embracing: from color choices and cabinet designs, to bathroom layouts and budgets. Allow for wide-ranging dialogues on what is significant for each of you. Don't assume your spouse gets it.
3. Never relinquish your part in creating a home as a team. Collaborate. Negotiate. Give and take. Your sanctuary can only become a reality through a process that respects and honors each other's differences.
I've learned over many years of working with couples that if one partner doesn't contribute to this important marriage collaboration, it is not surprising to see resentment kick into the picture at some point in the future. And resentment can absolutely haunt your home over time.
I think of the wife who woke up one day, years later, to the fact that the home she and her husband had renovated included a beautifully designed workshop for all her husband's hobbies, but no permanent place for her easel and art materials. She wondered how her needs had not been attended to; how could that have happened in the renovation process?
Or the husband who left a marriage with just his clothes and a bag of tools, saying there truly wasn't a piece of furniture or anything that decorated the rooms that he would have ever chosen; there was nothing he loved. Nothing that held meaning. He wondered how he had ended up in a home which was never a place of comfort or peace; how did that actually occur?
It is the rare couple who agree on the myriad decisions that must be made in order to create a respite from the world. It necessitates your absolute best team skills, skills which by the way, will come to the rescue over and over again throughout a marriage.
4. Use and trust in the creative brainstorming process. If you're not familiar with the key behavioral components of being a good brainstormer, it is worth reading up on what I consider to be the number one set of skills for all couples. A few basic components: get all ideas and goals on the table, nothing is considered crazy; provide inspiration; ask questions; play devil's advocate; and do it all with a good dose of patience and a smile.
Invest some time to take advantage of any technology that will help you to help your spouse appreciate your visions and how you imagine them implemented. Research and do it in pictures; bring a collection to the table. Sit together and provide a website tour of your favorite ideas.
In closing I'd like to share a favorite quote of mine from the author Judith Viorst:
One advantage of marriage, it seems to me, is that when you fall out of love with [your partner], it keeps you together until you maybe fall in again.
In similar fashion I would put forth the following:
One advantage of creating your respite home, it seems to me, is that when you fall out of love with [your partner], it keeps you together until you maybe fall in again.