Commentary: Remodeling your home is more stressful than it appears on HGTV

Fueled by the popularity of HGTV, where we watch bathrooms, wood floors, kitchens and even whole houses, get demolished and renovated in lickety-split time, our community is flush with homeowners in various stages of remodeling. Many have chosen to upgrade and "love it" rather than "list it."

Whether they have temporarily moved into a second residence, rental home or apartment, or are forced to endure living in their home while construction takes place, all must cope with a stressful process. This stress rarely is discussed on these makeover shows, although, for a season, Jeff Lewis' "Interior Therapy" identified some of the conflicts arising between couples.

These stressors begin with choosing a contractor, architect and consultants, such as home designers and engineers, for help in making the many decisions regarding the scope, feasibility and details of the project.

How to choose a competent and responsible contractor whose personality with whom you can relate and knows how to communicate effectively? How to define the scope or your project and what are your limits?

What can you afford and how far over your budget will you be forced to go when you discover all of the issues hiding behind your ceilings and walls, under your floors and inside your plumbing? Even without complications, how much does "project creep," or the tendency for one improvement to lead to another, enter the scope of work?

And how long will the project take to actually complete beyond contractor estimates? How will you deal with the habits of various sub-contractors and workers in your home on a daily basis, which may violate your sense of personal space? Are you able to speak up assertively, if you feel decisions are being forced on your by a contractor, designer or sub-contractors?

But the stressors also include the more intangible psychological and emotional issues between couples when they decide to embark upon a remodel. This process tends to bring to the surface whatever dynamics are being played out between a couple that may have been hidden by the consistency of their physical space and not having to deal with important decision-making and major expenditures.

Examples include communication problems, lack of knowledge and differences in design and taste, conflict resolution, control of decision-making and finances, difficulty adjusting to the disruption of personal space and common routine by the mess of demolition and coping with and the noise and inconvenience of construction.

It is not uncommon to hear stories of how difficulty in dealing with interpersonal communication and poor conflict resolution issues led to severe marital strain and, sometimes, even eventual separation and divorce. Don't be afraid to seek counseling together before the stress reaches intolerable levels. The resentment between couples that may build up over the course of months of construction may linger after the project is completed, detracting from their ability to enjoy the outcome.

For couples who want to avoid adding marital strain to the unavoidable remodel stressors, it is best to come to agreement about an approximate budget for the project before beginning, as well as who will be the primary decision maker about matters of taste when these issues arise. Most couples find that requiring both to mutually approve of every decision is just too much to bear.

It is also a good idea to make sure that you have activities that take you out of the home to make sure you have breaks from the wear and tear of daily construction. It is common for sexual interest and frequency to diminish during a remodel and for anxiety over the cost to be played out by overeating or other compulsive behaviors. Keeping to daily established routines of diet, exercise and sleep helps cope with the added stress and mitigates the chaos of construction.

Drs. STEVEN and DEBORAH HENDLIN are clinical psychologists in Newport Beach.

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