Maintenance Required

Written by Ann Malmberg

My husband and I have lived in our house for four years. There are still rooms I consider “unfinished” and boxes shoved in closets. You would think that four years would be enough time to get completely settled in. While we have made significant improvements to the quality of our yard, it is still a constant work in progress. In the last couple of years, our small deck, that seemed nice enough four years ago, has slowly devolved to a state of warped, loose planks and even one that fell off completely.

I’ve learned that being a homeowner is a lot of (ongoing) work, whether we choose to do the work or not. You might even say it’s kind of like being married or in a long-term relationship.

Preventative maintenance is necessary.
Cleaning gutters, weather stripping doors, pressure washing siding. Sounds like a fun day, right? Of course, we can choose to forgo these less-than-fun tasks, but we should not be surprised when areas of neglect rear their ugly heads at some point in the future, as demonstrated by our now embarrassingly decrepit deck. Sometimes when something breaks or quits working, I spend a period of time ignoring it in the hopes it will magically fix itself. Early in our relationship I used to keep feelings of irritation, anger, and resentment over an issue to myself instead of discussing them with my partner. That led to me feeling even more irritation, anger, and resentment (and usually a big fight.) I’ve learned issues won’t just go away because we ignore them; in fact, it’s likely they will get worse.  Sooner or later, things are bound to come to the surface, resulting in an argument that’s bigger and more damaging than it would have been had it been dealt with earlier on, before it actually became a real problem.

Make it a priority.
Let’s be real. There are approximately 1,000 things I’d probably rather be doing on a sunny Saturday afternoon than cleaning the gross goop out of our rain gutters. Unfortunately, if we choose not to make this chore a priority, the gutters will overflow during the next heavy rain, and we’ll likely be cleaning up water from our basement. Working on our relationship is not always fun, and there are so many other things we could choose to devote our time to or be distracted by. But in order to prevent huge relationship issues down the road, we need to make it a priority now, just like those rain gutters. When my husband and I are experiencing tension, sometimes the last thing we want to do is be around each other—it’s uncomfortable and anxiety-inducing. We could choose to busy ourselves after work with separate activities or retreat to different rooms to watch TV (and sometimes we do.) But this just puts more distance between us, and in the end, our relationship is more important than avoiding some tense conversations.

Emergency issues arise.
Ask any homeowner and most will tell you their worst nightmare is having a huge, expensive problem spring up when they’re least expecting it and likely when it is most inconvenient (like when our furnace went out during a subzero week in February.)  Oftentimes homeowners have no choice but to fork over hundreds or even thousands of dollars for a repair, which is why having money saved for such an occasion is so important. On the relationship side, I think about if an emergency issue were to arise in our lives—a serious diagnosis or injury, a death in the family, the loss of a job, or even just a huge blowout argument—are we prepared? Do we have the relationship skills necessary to make it to the other side? Programs like PREPARE/ENRICH and Couple Checkup are great for building vital relationship skills such as communication and conflict resolution, so that couples are equipped to deal with adversity, whether it originates from internal or external sources.

Spring cleaning isn’t just for windows.
Ah, spring. Those first few warm days where people feel the urge to clear out the clutter, dust away the cobwebs, and deep clean the grime that has accumulated over the winter. Relationships can benefit from an annual clean up as well, or in this context it could be more of a “check in.” Whether it’s once a year on your anniversary or as often as a weekly or monthly date night, make a point to touch base with each other on the state of your relationship. How are you both feeling? Is there an issue that needs to be discussed? What did you do well as a couple over the past year/month/week? What could you be better at? Whenever my husband and I have a candid conversation about our relationship, I feel a sense of peaceful satisfaction—not entirely different from the feeling I have after giving the house a good deep clean.

The work never ends.
There is always something we can be doing to improve our home, whether it’s a task as small as dusting the blinds or something bigger like insulating our attic. Even when I feel like our relationship is in a great place, I know there are things we can do to continually grow and be better for each other. After cleaning the entire house, you’ll find me plopped on the couch, enjoying a glass of wine, and basking in a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. Eventually, however, the dust and grime will begin to recollect, and I’ll need to pull out the cleaning supplies once again.

Owning a home is a commitment. Like a relationship, it can be stressful, confusing and very much a learning experience. By having the will to put in some effort and embracing a work-in-progress mentality, it can ultimately be very rewarding. Eventually you may find that your house, and your relationship, have grown into something more meaningful—a warm and cozy sanctuary you’re proud of, despite some flaws. A place that feels like home.

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