Couple stressed out by house makeover

  • Article by: CAROLYN HAX
  • Updated: August 9, 2009 - 4:28 PM

Dear Carolyn: My boyfriend of two years and I decided to live together, as he was looking to buy a house. He loves a project and found a foreclosed fixer-upper. I said I preferred something ready-to-live-in for a bit more money, but he's paying the mortgage. And I did like the idea of choosing the carpet, paint, appliances, etc.

In the past four months, I've gone from excited to completely overwhelmed. Everything, and I mean everything, needs to be repaired or replaced. He's trying to do all the work himself, with some help from me, his mother and a good friend. Almost all his time away from work is spent on the house.

While it's his house, it will be our home, and I feel guilty for not being more involved. I try to compensate by doing the lion's share of cleaning at our apartment.

I have told him how I'm feeling, and he's been very understanding. But I can tell that it's adding to his stress; he thinks he has made me miserable by taking this on. I feel like talking about it just makes us both feel bad, but saying everything is fine feels dishonest. We intend to get married someday. Any advice?

HOME RENOVATION HELL

Carolyn says: Dealing with unfinished walls, floors and plumbing is a special kind of hell, and I can sympathize. But I don't think that's what overwhelms you.

If this were your project, you'd be complaining about the exhaustion and the dust and the relentlessness of having this occupy your every waking and nonworking hour. If this weren't your project, you'd be complaining about never seeing your boyfriend.

But you are neither here, nor there. Specifically, "We intend to get married someday" isn't a vow or a deed. So if you turn your free time over to stripping wallpaper and shoveling plaster -- which, on the ol' fun ladder, falls many, many rungs below feathering one's love nest -- then you run the risk of having nothing to show for it should you break up.

And if you elect to see this as his house and his problem, then you run the risk of either scuttling the marriage with your detachment, or of feeling undeserving of the completed home's shelter should the marriage come to pass.

There's no one thing that got you here; the shacking up, his solo purchase, the size of the project, and your (possibly mutual) wishful thinking on what a fixer-upper demands all helped lead you to this spot.

Therefore, no one thing will get you out of it. You need to admit to yourself that you're in limbo in far more than a residential sense. You need to figure out where you stand, what you want and what's realistic to have -- anything from a house-free Saturday morning to a marriage license. Then, you talk, again, about approaching the house on new terms.

E-mail Carolyn Hax at tellme@washpost.com, or chat with her at 11 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.

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