One of my favorite shows on television is a home improvement show called, Fixer Upper. The hosts, Chip and Joanna Gaines, pose this question on their show: “Do you have the guts to take on a fixer upper?” After watching the show recently, those words stuck in my mind. As a marriage counselor, I often see couples who come to me to get help renovating their broken down marriages. The job is often bigger and more costly than they expect it to be. In many ways, this is very similar to a home renovation project like the ones depicted on my favorite show. Marriages that have been left in disrepair and have not been tended to, often resemble broken down old homes with boarded up windows and leaky roofs.
I have always been drawn to transformations. Perhaps this is why I do the work I do. However, I think it is only fair that couples understand that there is real hard work and investment involved in renovating a marriage that has been neglected over a period of time. It takes a willingness to roll up your sleeves and get to work. The work may be time consuming and costly but there is a great sense of satisfaction in seeing something with a solid foundation and “good bones” restored to its former glory.
Often, people are tired and don’t have the energy or resources to tackle such a large project and are tempted to walk away and leave their falling down broken relationships to move into a shiny new substitute that has no renovations needed. For a while this seems exciting, new, and uncomplicated – until things start falling apart and repairs are needed and they are faced with the same questions as before, “Do you have the guts to take on a fixer upper?” For some, they move from relationship to relationship with the cost of upgrades increasing with each new move. All of their old “stuff” gets dragged from relationship to relationship.
Drs. John and Julie Gottman developed what they call the “Sound Relationship House” theory of relationships. The foundation of that house is built on friendship and intimacy (knowing your partner’s inner world). The sidewalls of the house are trust and commitment. Without a strong foundation and sidewalls, a house cannot be solid. The same is true of relationships. If there is no friendship and intimacy and understanding of your partner, if trust has eroded, or there is lack of commitment to the relationship, the relationship will struggle to stand firm. These have to be repaired first before any other building can happen.
All too often, couples attempt to fix the problem by proverbially “slapping another coat of paint” on things to present the feeling of newness. Some ways I have seen couples do this are by buying something new and exciting, going on lavish getaways, embarking on a new adventure or business investment, having another child, or adopting a pet. For a time, these new experiences cover up the underlying rot going on and leave the impression of health. However, if the underlying structural issues of a relationship are not addressed, no amount of “paint” will hold it up.
If you are tired of covering up the problems and are ready to roll up your sleeves and dig into renovating your relationship, I would love to help you figure out how to make that happen.