You’re going to laugh at me, but that’s not new. When DC and I decided we were going to get married and get a house together two years ago, I actually said to him: “Lucky for you, I can decorate. Consider that a gift to the relationship.” I was serious.
What DC heard was: “You think I have no taste, and since when did this become a dictatorship?”
While, I was thinking: Since I’m the one who writes the home design column, and has written books on home design, and has staged many houses to help them sell, naturally decorating will be my job. (Plus, my furniture is better.), he was thinking: Wait one hockey minute. Why do I feel as if my identity is about to be swept away in the next Goodwill truck along with my collection of Pittsburgh sports mugs? Besides, I like my furniture, and, to be frank, some of yours I don’t like. Take your landscape art for instance. Please, take it!
Though we both knew better than to speak our minds, occasionally words flew. For instance, I might have said, “I have actual evidence of my decorating skills. Show me yours.”
And he might have said: “Why is it always your ‘furniture’ and my ‘junk’?”
Oooh boy. Something told me this wasn’t going to be as simple as putting what I liked where I liked and getting rid of the rest.
Merging two fully loaded households that respectively belonged to two fully realized adults is like trying to park a moving truck in a mailbox.
Though DC and I re-enacted a few scenes from “Clash of the Titans,” in the end, we both liked the result and our home’s design and our relationship were better for it. But had I known Seattle designer Rebecca West back then, DC and I could have skipped the décor wars and gotten the job done just as well with a lot less friction.
“When working with couples, I like to make sure both voices get expressed,” said West, who specializes in design spaces for life transitions. “If one of the voices is muffled, that won’t work. Both need to come along on the adventure.”
Now I know.
West offers merging couples these tips.
Get your priorities straight. What’s more important, your relationship or the color of the carpet? If you care about the relationship and the other person cares about a chair, let him or her keep the chair. “Staying selfish is the most common mistake people make in this situation,” said West. “They forget that they’re trying to create something new.”
Think forward not backward. “When couples marry or remarry as adults, the challenge is to thoughtfully blend belongings in ways that support where the two of you are going and what you’re building together, and to let of go the person you are leaving behind,” said West. Focus on the future.
Have compassion. You may never understand why your partner is so attached to his recliner. But to him it’s where he’s watched all those great games since college. At his core, he feels that if you reject his chair, you’re rejecting him. Appreciate what certain belongings might mean to your mate.
Respect feelings. Similarly, if something really rubs you the wrong way, even if it’s irrational, say so. Maybe your new beau has a stuffed animal from his ex-girlfriend on the bed. It reminds him of his childhood dog, but it reminds you of her, and every time you come into the bedroom you grind your teeth. That item needs to go.
Dig deep. Ask yourself why you are putting up a fight. Is it because he won the last argument? Or because she’s not throwing away enough? A fight about the sofa is often not about the sofa. Identify and address what’s really beneath the disagreement.
Show don’t tell. “Verbal language is not helpful in interior design,” said West, who asks partners to each choose photos of 10 rooms they would like to come home to. Then she compares the images and finds that couples aren’t as far apart as they think. “Staying in a verbal place and not a visual place creates arguments that don’t need to happen.”
The taboo. Every new relationship has old baggage. For couples remarrying, the marital bed is one charged item. A new bed is best, but if you can’t afford one, at least get new bedding. Photos of past partners also don’t have a place on the walls in the new home, said West. “Put them in an old-marriage box, and move forward.” Preserve the past chapter while honoring the new one.
Consider it an investment. Moving into a home neither of you shared with a former partner is ideal, but not always practical. If one person is moving into a home that the other partner shared with a former spouse, redecorate. “Often the person who lives there doesn’t want to spend money to redo the place,” said West, “but by not remodeling with the new partner, you prevent that person’s spirit from coming in.” You’re not wasting money; you’re investing in your future.
Opposites may attract, but when two adults merge households, their styles often collide and solutions aren’t black and white. Photo courtesy of dreamstime.