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Building a house with a spouse

OK, it’s a funny rhyme, but it is a serious occasion. Building a house with the one you love can be a dangerous undertaking for your relationship. Many married couples end up divorced after several years of working on a house together. Often the house then has to be sold in order to pay the legal fees. What started out as a dream became a personal catastrophe: No house, no partner and financial distress. How does that happen?

The core of the problem is that building a house is, well… very hard. It is not very often that people express that the building of their house was easier, cheaper and took less time then they originally thought. More likely is that it will cost twice as much and take twice as long as planned. To do embark on such project with a romantic partner is at best a risky undertaking.

The problem often starts with the fact that building the house was actually something that only one person really wanted to do. The other person just tried to be supportive. That in it of itself does not have to be a bad thing, as long as it is understood what is going on. Worse, however is when the project is started to try and “rescue” a relationship that is heading for the cliffs. Taking on a large project like a house can be a real distraction from fundamental problems in the relationship.

But let’s say the couple has a solid relationship, the choice of building a house was well reasoned and thought through, and there seems to be enough skills, time and money available to take on the challenge of building of a house. Even in this almost ideal case trouble may arise, caused by several rather dynamic forces.

First, you will have to make thousands of decisions together. Everything from the size of the deck to the color of the kitchen counter tiles is up to the two of you. Do you have the same taste? What areas do you care about the most? Where are you willing to compromise?

Second, even with the best of planning building a house is a financial strain. This will make the choices about the house even more complicated. Who is willing to spend more money on the house in order to satisfy his or her taste? And how much money will be left for an occasional movie, vacation, or dinner?

Third, the time that used to be spent having fun together is now going to be spent building the house. What time is left to go on hikes together, sleep in and go out for coffee? How much energy do you have left in the evening for watching a movie, drinking a glass of wine, or making love?

And last but not least, male and female energy can complement each other, but they can also clash. The male energy tends to want to get things done with less eye for beauty and detail. In most societies the males are the “house builders”, which can cause a power struggle in the decision making processes. The male may claim to have more expertise, even though this may just be imaginary. “That is just the way it’s done” may be a typical male defense for making some decisions.

Of course, building a house together can also be an absolute thrill, the highlight of your life which solidifies an already strong relationship. If at the end you are still financially solvent, your back still feels good, you love your house and you can still laugh together, you have done fantastically well. Here are some tips to help you achieve this:

  • Practice “consensus decision making.” That means that all involved agree, and no one strongly disagrees. Also, if appropriate, determine which areas of the house you each care about most. Maybe your partner has no interest in helping you make decisions about certain areas, and vice versa.

  • Determine how much house you really need. Don’t go to the financial edge, it’s not worth it! Keep it smaller and simpler. There is zero correlation between expensive homes and happiness (if anything, I imagine it would be a negative correlation).

  • Set scheduled time aside for fun. If you don’t do this, your entire emotional life and relationship will be gobbled up by the building process.

  • Don’t hurt yourself. A slipped disk or a couple of missing fingers can haunt you for the rest of your life. Use natural building techniques, be well rested (especially when using power tools), get help!!! Make your house building process so that it is strength and health building. Our natual building workshops will help you understand how to make that a reality.

  • If you have the opportunity, do a small “practice project” together. Build a garage, a studio, a bath house or tool-shed and see how that goes. If this mini-project ends up being an experience full of tension, consider that a red flag. Doing this will also help you to sharpen skills, judge size, time and physical abilities.

  • This brings me to one of the harder thing to clearly articulate as one of the most essential parts of natural building. If your life has become about the house, you have gone too far. Life is about relationships, people, community, and connections. Houses should be a means toward these ends, not a distraction from them.

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