How to have a big fight with your partner

21 min read Partner conflict about remodeling (or home buying) is a central plot line on HGTV…but it doesn’t have to be central to the story of your remodel.

Want to know how to have a BIG fight with your partner about your remodel (or even many smaller fights that blur into each other and become frustration and resentment)? 


Delay talking about your design priorities until each decision becomes urgent. Wait until you’re on the phone with the painter, plumber or cabinet installer and make the call on a significant decision without consulting them because they are in meeting, away for work or otherwise unavailable. 

Welcome to the Valentine’s Day episode of Mid Mod Remodel! 

Now, you know that I, Della, absolutely do not want you to have a big remodeling related fight with your partner for Valentine’s Day or any day for that matter. 

HGTV and lots of other corners of the reality TV realm also do not want you to have a remodeling related fight…but they do want drama and conflict on their shows to create interest. So, that’s often what you see on shows about remodeling and home buying. 

I bet you already know that my answer for avoiding remodel drama is…drum roll…a master plan!

And it is.

Each individual step of the Mid-Century Master Plan Method is meant to help smooth your process and eliminate conflict between partners as you plan!

What you can do right now

But even if you don’t have a full master plan or you can only take the time for a few key activities, there are tools to help you get on the same page and be ready for any remodeling decision that comes up. 

Here are two easy steps to get started:

1. Have a chat about what you WANT

Make a date to sit down with your partner over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine and talk about your future plans.

Catch them up to speed on what you’ve been thinking, feeling and worrying about. Listen for how their priorities, dream spaces, and order of projects sounds like yours or how it doesn’t.

You can’t agree until you know where you don’t currently agree!

2. Scope out your (two) styles

Figure out what your ideal home improvement project looks like.

The best place to start is to take my easy (three minute) Mid-Century Style Quiz.  But DON’T sit down and take it together on one screen! You each need to get your own result so you can spot the potential differences in your Mid-Century Moment.

Trust me on this. Starting with clarity is going to set you up for success later!

bonus step: Reach out for help

Sometimes it’s hard to figure out the middle ground between two different sets of wishes, priorities, and styles. That’s where having an outside assistant can come in super handy! Consider outsourcing your option searches and simplifying every step … with a master plan! Learn a little more about that right here!

In Today’s Episode You’ll Hear:

  • Why all those couples on HGTV seem so MAD.
  • How to design your drama free remodel.
  • Which tools will help you create the most remodeling harmony and the best results. 

Listen Now On 

Apple | Google |  Spotify


And you can always…

Read the Full Episode Transcript

It seems like every podcast I’m listening to these days is bracketed with ads reminding me to preorder a dozen red roses for this special someone in my life. And I’m going to talk to you about Valentine’s today, as well, but in a slightly different way. 

You see what I tend to think of every master plan we complete at any time of year as a Valentine to the house it’s intended for, there’s actually something more significant that you might find valuable to your happiness and your peace of mind and a master plan. I’m bringing it up today because we are just a few days off the 14th. 

And I don’t know of any recipe more powerful for the prevention of partner disagreement and a remodel, then the masterplan process. Today, I’m going to talk to you about how just a little bit of forethought, and a few simple steps can allow you to avoid one of the most famous, and I’m talking about urban legends. 

And also, I’m looking at you HGTV built in parts of a remodel, which is getting into a big fight with your spouse or partner. We don’t have to do that. 

Hey there. Welcome back to mid Monroe model. This is the show about updating MCM homes helping you match a mid-century home to your modern life. I’m your host della Hansmann, architect and mid-century ranch enthusiast, and you’re listening to Episode 1605. 

So before I get into it, I’m just going to say the quiet part right out loud right up at the top. A masterplan is what you need, in order to save money, save time, save stress, but all of those things are sources of partner disagreement. And also just to directly save on the sources, the numbers, the quantity, the severity of disagreement you’ll have with your partner, as you make all the important choices of improving house. 

So I encourage you to spend a little time around Valentine’s this year, making a date with your partner to talk about what you would love to see together, improved around your house, and then make a date and appointment with me to talk about whether a master plan is the right way to make those improvements happen. 

I’m gonna go out on a limb and bet it is. And you can do that by going to mid mod-midwest.com/services, where you’ll find the forum where you can apply to work with us. It’s easy, it’s fun to fill in. It’s just asking you a few questions about your house and what you want for it and set up a time to chat through what is the right step to take to make a perfect plan to set the vision for your home improvement. 

As always, you’ll find that link plus the show notes, the transcript, everything I’m going to mention today at the website show notes page mid ma dash midwest.com/ 1605. So if you are going to take on a home improvement project small or certainly large with your spouse or partner, you need a strategy to avoid disagreement. 

Now you don’t necessarily need to hire us or to master plans specifically to stay on good terms with your spouse. You don’t need to enroll and ready to remodel and go through each step as a fun partner and team building exercise. But you do need the masterplan method or something like it that I haven’t thought of are named to get you through the process of not being suddenly surprised by last minute decisions. 

And this is something that comes up all the time, in stories we hear from our friends, family loved ones strangers about their remodels, the big fight the thing that almost broke them up the hahaha isn’t it funny now when we look back on how mad we were how surprised we were how upset we were, sometimes people tell you these stories from a genuinely calm, reflective place. And sometimes these tell you these stories with a little bit of an edge. 

But I actually think it’s a false narrative that you must have a big fight with your partner. This is part of the frustration I have with HGTV generally to get back to our season theme, which is that because it is a show. Because it is built in to give you drama. 

It’s just like when you’re watching something as generally soothing as bakeoff, there are going to be some moments where it’s one might imagine built into the script that someone’s going to choose something that they know the hosts always disagree with. Or there’s going to be some sort of personal drama, or they’ll bring in a person who’s just a little bit of an abrasive personality, so that there will be some drama in the show. Something to talk about. Or something to hate. Something to love. Something to say, Oh, I’m not like that. 

And that kind of conflict. I think it’s so easy to show in a couple in a home improvement show. And even more frustratingly, it’s so easy to bake in some really pernicious stereotypes about who can do what and who likes, what kinds of things, who worries about the money and who thinks about aesthetics. I’m not even going to dignify those things with listing them out loud, specifically by gender. 

But you can imagine how these kinds of stereotypes come down. But even though it is common, and understandable to have disagreements between partners, and a remodel, it’s not actually a requirement of the remodeling process. There’s no reason why you must do it. 

And so, I’m going to…well, let’s put it this way. I’m going to start the episode with an anti how to how to do what you don’t want how to have a big fight with your partner about your remodel or many fights that blur into each other and become an active frustration and resentment source. 

Are you ready? It’s a good one. The secret to having a lot of fights with your partner or about your remodel is to put off any places where the two of you don’t see perfectly eye to eye until the last possible minute. Until the moment when to make a change is expensive. Or the moment when you must decide by tomorrow in order to move forward. 

Until the moment when one of you is on the phone with a decision maker, and has to say I say this, and I don’t know what my partner wants yet, but we have to say yes, so go. That’s the place where things are going to go further. So this sort of thing, leaving until the last night before tomorrow. Leaving it to the place where you have to order before the sale goes away. Leaving it to let’s just decide that in the next big phase of the remodel, when everything is particularly fraught. You’ve got an excellent chance of you or your partner making a choice that you personally or they will hate when it’s too late to change it back or very expensive to do so. 

And look, even if this doesn’t lead to a big fight, it can lead to resentment. I just had a design SOS call with a mid-century homeowner recently, who was feeling up against the wall with a bunch of last minute decisions. And we ended up having a great conversation, I set her mind at ease about some tricky choices like the right colors and types of metal for bathroom fixtures that were about to be chosen and installed, and how to reconcile her desire for a slightly more vintage mid-century taste with her husband’s preference for a more contemporary modernism and a couple of key spots. 

But she also shared with me just some of the frustrations she was going to have to work on swallowing last minute choices made by her by her husband, or in one case by the contractor without consulting either of them that lead to choices that they collectively don’t love but are living with because they didn’t want to delay the project any longer. And time was of the essence. Some of those choices she shared are going to simmer in her for quite a while. 

One point in particular was a mistake in selecting white finished interior window frames instead of their preference would stained to match the rest of the house. And this was actually a strong preference by both halves of the couple and a mistake made in the specifying. But by the time they realized what had happened, it would have been expensive to the tune of 10s of 1000s of dollars and a major delay in the project to make a change. In that case, all I could do for her was sympathize and make suggestions about how to minimize the visual impact. 

Since they didn’t have wood window frames they wanted I recommend they also choose painted window trim to match the wall and keep all those colors very closely aligned or matching exactly, so that the the lack of wood at the window frame would blend unobtrusively rather than standing out. 

Now that’s not exactly a fight between halves of a couple. I don’t want to go telling tales out of school on those. But believe me, I’ve heard a few. And it’s just an interesting example, though of the type of choice that can be made at the last minute because of leaving specifications until the last minute that ends up in a long term frustration or disappointment. Or even just a eh feeling about something you spent a lot of effort on and a lot of time and money on. And then you didn’t love it when it was done. 

The bottom line there though, is that whenever you’re making decisions under the gun, it’s going to be easier to make a wrong choice. And it’s going to be easier to feel deeply about the choice you want as opposed to the choice your partner wants without having the time or the resources to find a middle ground. So that’s the anti, that’s what you don’t want to do. How can you avoid this? Well, surprise, surprise. 

I feel like the masterplan method is the perfect antidote to this problem. And that’s not an accident. When you work in residential architecture, you spend a not insignificant amount of your time talking to couples, and hearing feeling getting the vibes for the emotional energy of their inner life. As you go through that process. I’ve always joked that when you say you want to go into residential architecture, they ought to throw in a couple of couples therapy classes for you along the way. But that’s not actually how architecture school works. 

What had become apparent to me though, from the very first meetings, I sat in with AWS as an intern right out of grad school, and my very first job with my boss, was that couples communication was key to from a selfish point of view as the designer was key to being able to find out what they even wanted to being able to please one or both of them really. And to be able to have them happy and satisfied with the final result of design and the construction when everything was completed when all the i’s were dotted, and all the T’s were crossed. So it’s been in my head for over two decades now as I think about this process. 

And it’s always been at the top of mind for me as I formed my own business, and I started to work as the project lead with couples. And with single people of all stripes, you can actually have, it’s perfectly possible to have a fight with yourself about being of two minds something and then having to make a snap decision at the last minute and regretting it. 

So these steps are perfectly useful for everyone, but they’re particularly useful for couples and I’m today I’m going to talk about how each step of the master plan method is particularly useful for putting off preventing or minimizing partner disagreement during a remodel. I’m also going to talk about the philosophy about how culturally, we almost set ourselves up for failure, expecting a remodel to be a struggle. 

There are so many narratives to about how architects and contractors don’t get along how men and women, Mars and Venus, or whatever can’t agree on their home improvement choices. I just don’t believe that’s true. But I do know that clear and open and early communication is necessary. It’s the keystone of making sure that you won’t run afoul of your own or someone else’s expectations as you plan your home improvement. 

So the first step of the master plan method is dream. And this is where it all begins. This is where agreement begins, and it sometimes comes out of disagreement. Note that I don’t mean you need to agree with your partner, your spouse with anybody else at this point. But getting clarity right away right from the top about what you each value most what you wish for, and expect, what you hope for and need out of the remodel process is how you’ll eventually be able to make all your decisions properly going forward. 

I often say that there are two potentially great ways to go through the dream process in a partnership. And the first one is to do everything side by side. So this is kind of the way that we do the kickoff meeting with our clients by necessity, I have a meeting on zoom with both partners of the remodeling team, ideally, every now and then we have someone speaking for their partner, because they’re busy, they’re unavailable. 

Little kids sometimes factor into this, but I really prefer to have both partners there. And I’m asking them for their opinions in real time on what’s their most important quibble about the space in each given area and the kitchen, in the bathrooms in the hallway, what’s not working, what is working, what’s the most important priority of the space, what’s the most urgent priority over the whole project. And then I get the answers from the couple simultaneously. 

Or sequentially. I often witness a little bit of live action push pull, occasionally some surprise or disbelief when someone says something confidently out loud, and their partner wasn’t expecting it. But we work that out in real time together, and we establish what everyone’s looking for. And whether that’s the same thing or two different things so that I can throw both into our design matrix in our heads for me and my team as we go forward into the process. 

For each of the exercises that are included in the dream phase, where you ask yourself, what matters where you interrogate yourself about what you wish for and love about the house, you think about spaces from your past want to bring forward all of these things you can do separately from your partner, or you can do them together. 

So doing them together, sitting down with a cup of coffee or tea, wine, and walking through these questions. Each one in a verbal debate and then writing down a short answer. That’s one way to do it. The other is to think about it as a three step process. You answer these questions on your own time, maybe while you commute to work. And they do an on their own time making voice memos to themselves while they walk the dog or making notes before they go to bed at night. 

And then step three, a three step process, you bring your two sets of answers together, and you compare notes. Please don’t send two completely unrelated sets of desires to your design team or your contractor without being aware of what each other want you being aware of your separate and connected priorities is really important to the process of couple agreement. 

So the point though, is to get those ideas whether they’re the same or in contrast with each other out in the open ASAP, it’s fine to disagree about what you want. And then to continue to not feel the same way about what you want up to and including the point of including other people in the process. By the time you talk to me at your kickoff meeting, or even by the time you talk to your contractor about pricing alternatives, doing it one way or another, you’re not required to be marching in lockstep with each other. 

In fact, it will do the design and build team in your life a big favor to know that there are still two opinions in the air about that part of it. But as a favor to the world and to yourself in order to get the best results. The less surprised with each other, the less irritation or rancor you can build into that conversation, the better. And to that end, the more you’ve talked it through upfront when time is not of the essence, the better off you’ll be. 

So that’s perhaps the most obvious one. The way to not disagree about the last minute choices and your remodel is to start your process of discovery and agreement with each other right off the bat. Now I’m going to talk about the second step of the master plan method which might not seem so obvious as a couple exercise and that is the discovery phase. 

Now the discovery phase of the master plan process is about learning what’s going on in the house you have right now, you might not feel that this is an exercise you need to do as a couple. You don’t in fact need to be on speakerphone during every call to the H vac guy. And you don’t need to both walk the property with the insurance person after a hailstorm. You won’t both need to measure or photograph the house together. But if only one of you feels complete understanding and agency over the house and the other one feels less familiar with terminology or with the house itself or with handy type of tasks. 

There’s going to be unnecessary imbalance In the way that you make your design decisions going forward, that’s not great for partner agreement. So what can we do about this to sweeten up the Valentine’s Day aspect a little bit. This is where I always ask people to play to their strengths. We often learn our handyman skills from family or from our early independent adulting experiences, and come into a relationship with more or less comfort with things like replacing a light fixture painting a wall, or even calling up service people and chatting with them.

It’s not possible to go back and rewrite an entire childhood or early 20s era of DIY projects. And that’s not necessary. But this can be a great way to divide and conquer, it’s important to think more about balance than equality. And it’s certainly important to keep each other in the loop. So if one of the two of you is more confident about the house about talking to inspectors, or repair people about going downstairs into the basement and doing a little fiddling around and the other one is less so then think about how you can develop your own area of expertise, less handy person. 

There are other ways to become the expert in your house, you might dig into the Visual History of the mid-century era, that could be reading old books and magazines, or even just amassing a very detailed thorough Pinterest board of vintage ads that tickle your fancy. You might learn about your house, not by measuring it and making a computer model, but by photo documenting it, which literally anyone with an iPhone can do. 

Just taking a careful note of all the different types of trim all the different types of wood grain and stain all the different types of existing metal that exists in the house, and being able to put your fingers on those on your phone in a quick way when it comes up in a conversation about planning and design. Or it could be even simpler. If you’re an extrovert, you might literally just befriend you’re elderly neighbors, and ask them something about the history of the people who lived in your house first piece together, why they finished that basement without an inspection. Or if they know why every single house on the block has the same interesting detail. 

Becoming a small expert in some part of the existing status of your house will make you feel more like an equal partner as you make decisions going forward, both with your partner, and as you advocate for yourself, and your partners to outside experts along the way. So that’s two of five steps in the master plan essential for partner agreement. 

The third one is distill. And this is what we talked about how the house is going to turn out aesthetically. Now you do not need to have the same aesthetic taste as your partner, but you absolutely need to understand what their taste is, and how it relates to yours. And you’re gonna have to find a way to meet in the middle, or to compromise in some way so that you can both like the visual outcome of your remodel. 

Here’s where I have another handy resource for you. I’m going to point you to the mid-century style quiz. If you have not taken it yet, oh my goodness, what are you taking waiting for. But if you’ve taken it and your partner hasn’t, you’re still missing a key step here. So go to midmod-midwest.com/style quiz to take the mid-century style quiz, which you can do in under three minutes. 

This is not an exercise where you want to do it together. You want to get your results cleanly without their opinion and you want to get their results on file to now it’s a relatively rough approximation of your mid-century style, it only has three results. So even if you get the same answer, don’t assume that means you like all the same things. 

This is a great place where you might spend a little time looking at Pinterest separately or together, talking about what you like and don’t like and other examples, and making sure you have a clean understanding of what you each want out of your house. 

Again, you don’t need to be in perfect agreement when you meet with your designer, certainly not when you meet with me. But letting the people in your life know what you both like, and what only one of you likes and how the other person feels in contrast is very important to be getting good results out of the process. 

Now, the fourth step of the master plan process, draft comes down to comparing options weighing pros and cons. And this is absolutely a place where While it might seem like it’s about looking at cost alternatives, or it’s simply about comparing one practical layout with another. 

This can be a great place to suss out partner disagreement early in the process, and then work out the compromise solutions when there’s still a lot of time ahead of you when you still have time to be calm, to have debates about things to discuss it. And it’s not a last minute choice. While it’s always going to be possible when you’re in the middle of construction to come up with a good idea, weigh it, measure it, go ahead and say yes to it, the less you’re surprised by the developing outcome of your model, the less likely you are to have partner disagreement about it. 

So I want you to make sure that you are on the same page with your partner. And one of the best ways to do that is by sort of testing this versus that this versus that and a bunch of different situations. One of the reasons we always repair three options for our clients when we’re putting together a master plan for each of the major areas of the house is that we want them to be able to see more than what they had originally imagined. 

In a lot of cases, our clients come to us with a rough floor plan layout in mind. They’ll have rough pencil sketch of how they think they might like to change the floorplan. And we typically do develop that further and show them reflect back to them what they’ve asked us for. But we also want to show them several alternatives. Because nothing is going to make you feel more confident about your final choice that knowing you tested it against a couple of alternatives and ruled them out. 

The last step of the master plan process is to develop your master plan to put together the floor plans, the visual sketches, the example images from Pinterest, the material samples, all of this in one package that you can easily show to contractors, and you can easily get pricing for and keep yourself on track through the whole process. 

But the act of making that document the act of putting all of that down on paper is also a perfect way to finally test that you and your partner both fully understand what’s going to happen in the model and agree with it. So this is another last chance before you’re standing with a contract to be signed in hand or before you’re standing in the middle of your under construction home realizing you didn’t quite understand how that floorplan was going to work and you don’t like this. 

You won’t be experiencing that if you’ve already looked at prospective sketches of how the new space will work if you’ve already been able to see sort of beyond some of the unexpected bends in the road. And the more you can remove surprises, the more you can remove potential conflict. 

So to recap, the ultimate secret for removing and reducing partner disagreement in a remodel is to separate as much as possible the time when you’re weighing things the time when you’re noticing that you don’t agree about something and working out what you’re going to do instead, from the time when you’re actively making last minute decisions. The bigger the gap of time, the less opportunity the less heat there is under that pot to bring it to a boiling point of stress. 

I’m going to take this theme of Valentine’s Day problem solving right into our two micro elements for the end of the episode. By the way, if you’re enjoying these, the little pep talk I’m about to give you and a little level one quick solution you could take on I would love for you to let us know drop an email send me a DM if there’s a particular pep talk or a material question or a layout question or what can I do to solve my problem in my house right now? question you’d love answered. Let me know I would love to talk that through with you. 

Now meanwhile, here’s your little pep talk, your encouragement. I like to use the idea of thinking about spaces deeply. asking yourself questions imagining what you want from spaces in order to pre visualize what they might be like, and see what you might like to change how you might like the best solution for that space. As I’ve been spending a lot of time talking about kitchens, we just had the kitchen clinic last weekend. 

And by the way, it was an absolute last couple of dozen mid-century fans, they’re talking about how they wanted to make their kitchens better, I recommended to everybody that was there to think about the idea of setting a scene in a space. 

Now a scene is not everything that space is used for it’s one part of the day one time of the year. One thing that happens in a week, a scene might be the first cup of coffee you make in your kitchen in the morning, or it might be family dinner that happens on a weeknight, or it might be Sunday afternoon when your whole extended family is over for watching the game or having a game night. 

So in each of those scenes you’re going to have a different set of characters in play might be just one person might be 20 all trying to crowd in one space, you’re going to be trying to carry out a different activity, you’ll need different lighting, different tools, different reach to different objects in your house. As you imagine each one of these moments recurring events that come back through your life. 

Think about the mood, the feeling, the vibes you want to set, and use those to help you make practical decisions about is the lighting dimmable? Where is it? What drawers or doors? Are you standing adjacent to? How much things how many things can you reach and touch versus how many steps you have to take across the space in order to make something happen? What’s the view you have as you stand and wait for the tea kettle to boil? Is it just a wall of cabinets? Or are you looking out towards the sunrise in your backyard? 

So use the idea of setting a scene to help you clarify what you want, and chat through these scenes with your partner this can be if you get into the right mood for it a really fun, hang out activity, perhaps even a date night activity to visualize the future you’ll have in your new home. And what are the qualities of each space that it needs not just at any random time of day, but for certain specific moments that you know you’ll experience as you go through your day week and year.  

The practical thing you can take on this week is let’s talk about your entry sequence. And again, this is how instead of thinking about remodeling as calling a contractor and having a whole bunch of drywall dust, let’s think about a micro remodel as something you can buy and try solve a problem with a purchase. 

And so if you find yourself either constantly losing your keys and wandering around the house asking your partner help you find them or helping your partner wander around the house finding their lost keys I’m the I’m the person that loses the keys in my life. 

Think about how you can solve that problem with a purchase. Consider creating a shelf with a key bowl or a magnetized key rack. Think about how you can make a few simple purchases to augment or improve on what’s happening at the center of your house. 

Now, if you are an average person, you probably do have a couple of hooks, a couple of shelves, a bench, a chair, a mirror somewhere near your door. But this might be a great time to look at this week, this weekend and think about how you could improve on that. 

Could you add some better light to that entry quality? Or could you put up a mirror so you can see your partner’s face smiling at you over your shoulder as you get ready to go out the door? Could you put in some extra hooks if people are throwing their coats on the chair because the hooks are all full? Whatever you can do to solve a problem with a purchase is a great activity to take on right away this weekend. Next weekend, add it to your to do list. 

All right. I’m gonna let you go by saying that if you’ve had masterplan, thinking on your mind, now’s a great time to get in touch with us. It’s still plenty early in the year to put together a master plan and then start to reach out to contractors and get in with their relatively earlier energy. 

They’re certainly going to be pretty booked up for the next little bit, but you’re going to be able to go forward, you’re gonna be able to get creative bid in place, you’ll be able to find out what the timeline is for projects in your area all more accurately when you have a master plan. 

And you’ll be able to put off some of the not so inevitable conflicts that come from planning a great remodel with a partner. So Happy Valentine’s Day to you and to your mid-century house, and I’ll talk to you next week.