Preparing Your Relationship for a Tiny House

previewJust as a house needs a strong foundation, so does the relationship between two individuals building that house.  Being young, recently-engaged lovebirds, we still have a lot to learn about building a relationship that will last a lifetime.

Build a house, break a marriage?

In undertaking a big project together, the pressures of decision making, money, and time will magnify any couple’s issues.  The project can suck up all the extra energy that normally gets put into the relationship, leading couple-fighting-over-house-300to poorer communication, more negative interactions, and less love all around.  The desire to avoid this unhappy fate led us to consider the question, “how can couples prevent the stress of house-building from negatively impacting their relationship?”

We identified two overarching problems — value imbalances and effort imbalances — that are common when couples undertake large projects and that could lead to relationship decline.  

Value imbalances, such as what aspects of the house to invest in, cause disagreements.  For example, you might care about having nice, brand new appliances while your partner wants to spend the money on hardwood flooring.  Or perhaps one partner values using environmentally-friendly materials while the other desires cost-efficient materials.  The second kind of imbalance, effort imbalance, comes from perceiving the other partner as not putting in their share of time and effort (or doing less meaningful tasks) relative to your own contributions.

Preventing and correcting imbalances 

Value imbalances and effort imbalances can breed frustration and resentment over time, so it’s important to address them as soon as possible.

Value imbalances: A three-part solution

Step 1:  Listen to your partner’s desires without judgment or criticism.  Everyone has different goals and aesthetic tastes that makes some things attractive to them.

Step 2:  Understand the specific goal underlying your partner’s preferences.  For example, an intention behind wanting premium windows could be a desire for increased safety, superior energy efficiency, better resale value, a more coordinated look, greater durability, or impressing others.  Discussing the situation in terms of  psychological needs (e.g., “nice windows are important for me to feel pride in the home”) allows both people to become receptive to each other’s feelings and potential solutions.

Step 3:  Compromise on a mutually-agreeable decision.  If appearance is the motivator for luxury windows but the other person balks at the cost, a solution might be to seek premium windows on Craigslist or at secondhand stores.  Or choose standard windows and paint them to look custom.  Or modify the home design to include fewer windows.

Two partners who are moving toward each other, rather than both trying to win an uncompromising victory, have a dramatically improved chance of finding happiness together.

Summary for dealing with value imbalances:

1) Compassion, not criticism
2) Introspection of personal needs or concerns motivating the desire
3) Work with your partner towards a solution.  Remember that most things in life aren’t worth stressing your relationship over.

Effort imbalances: Divide and conquer 

In our eyes, the remedy for effort imbalances is to forget equality.  This is counterintuitive, as it would seem that effort imbalance should be corrected by making things more equal.  But many times, equality backfires when partners try to split up every task equally, trying to guarantee fairness above all else.  However, it’s usually more efficient and enjoyable to assign tasks suited to each person’s strengths.  For example, I don’t mind calling businesses and getting information about their products, but other tasks, such as using a miter saw, require much more of my mental energy.  On the other hand, Nate doesn’t like making phone calls but is comfortable using the saw.  This approach doesn’t mean that we are afraid to challenge ourselves or learn new skills; it’s just that in terms of efficiency, it makes sense to generally distribute tasks based on what each person likes.

For this approach to work, you must recognize that all contributions are necessary and valuable.  Once you start differentially valuing assignments, it undermines one person’s area of contribution and effort imbalance is born.

Summary for curing effort imbalances:

1) Identify each other’s strengths.
2) Harness those strengths towards completing specific goals.
3) Trust that your partner wants to help, and appreciate his or her contributions.
Stay tuned for some exciting news about our choices for materials!

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