When Your Spouse Just Doesn’t Get It

When your spouse just doesn't get it: Remodeling and Marriage

What if your spouse just doesn’t get it? What if you just know that the ugly recliner has to go, and he just doesn’t see it? What if you just know that the whole family will be happier, smarter and more successful if you just get rid of that stupid chair? Does that give you permission to just dump it?


Take a deep breath and recognize is that your partner probably wants a comfortable home that they feel proud of just as much as you do. Of course, what that means to them might differ, and how they express what that means to them might be hard to interpret. Nonetheless, everyone living in the house has a right to feel at home there, and so everyone should get a vote. This will mean compromise. Sometimes the chair will stay.

The home affects both men and women. Many times women assume that men don’t care as much about their home, but I have found that to be utterly untrue. While men may not always care about the specific wall color or whether they have throw pillows, the state of their home affects them deeply.

In our culture men are still shouldered with the label of “provider” – for them home is a “castle” and is tangible evidence of their ability to provide. Women, on the other hand, are still branded with the label of “nurturer” – for the nurturer, the home is a reflection of how well they care for their family. Hence the guy’s desire for a top-of-the-line range in the kitchen (status and providing), and the gal’s desire for the perfect yellow paint color that will create a warm, inviting, cozy space.

Bear in mind that these are vast generalizations, and in your relationship these roles might even be flipped, but no matter who is in which role, in my experience this is the cause of so many home remodeling arguments — you both care, you’re just using a completely different language.

The desire to have a “nest” or “castle” is a reflection of the status of our home – of what it does for the people around us. A nest is meant to nurture the friends and family that are in it. A castle is meant to protect the family and impress the outsider. But the home has another role, too, one that is equally important to both men and women. That is home as “refuge.”

Many homes succeed at nurturing the family or impressing the neighbors, but they fail at supporting the providers and being a refuge from work and the world. It fails to support the homemaker because there is no way to “leave work.” Just walking through the space means staring at your to-do list. This might explain a constant changing and redecorating of the space, all in a never-ending struggle to finally feel relaxed and at home in the house.

It fails to support those who work out of the home because the house is only a reflection of the homemaker, not the out-of-home worker, and there is no place for that person to relax. In many homes you might struggle to know that a guy even lives there. It may be nicely decorated, but it’s void of the guy’s personality, and it’s all off limits because it might get stained, broken, or misplaced. Guys just want a place to recharge, and that can’t happen in a place where they’re afraid of breaking something. They retreat into the den, basement, or man-cave, the one space where they are “allowed” to be themselves.

Without understanding the needs that each partner has for the home – castle or nest, refuge and space to recharge, arguments center around the size of the sofa or the price of the countertop. Each partner digs in on a position, not understanding the underlying needs that they, or their partners, have for the space.

The point is, know that your home matters to your spouse, too. Try to figure out what it is that each person needs from the house, and you’ll get a lot farther in your discussions about what to change and what to spend, and you’ll understand where compromises are okay and where each person really needs to get what it is they are seeking.

As Friedrich Nietzsche said, “it is not a lack of love, but a lack of friendship that makes unhappy marriages.” Seek to respect your partner’s position, and truly listen, before making changes (or refusing to make changes) to your space. It is their home, too.

Hi! I’m Rebecca West.

I’m not your classic interior designer because, frankly, I don’t care if you buy a new sofa. I do care if your home supports your goals and feels like “you.” Remember, happy starts at home!