Home Renovation

How Buying a Home Taught Me To 'Fight Right' With My Partner

Because there will always be decor choices and remodeling decisions to debate over.

January 27, 2021
Photo by Julia Gartland

Buying a home, in my opinion, is one of the most emotionally-charged domestic tasks you can take on with your partner, second only to grocery shopping while you’re both hungry. Add in a pandemic and burgeoning real estate market (in practically every town in the country) and, well, you’ve got yourselves a recipe for disaster.

Like with so many other people, the pandemic pushed up the timeline my husband and I had carefully constructed for when we’d leave our beloved apartment in Astoria, Queens. We’d both grown up in the suburbs and knew we’d want to make the move out to the Hudson Valley eventually, but the onset of COVID-19 sped up our timeline. We suddenly found ourselves both working from home, with a newborn, in a very expensive city that we loved but didn’t have to live in if neither of us was commuting to Manhattan any longer. Plus—and it needs to be said—no matter how much you love your spouse, spending 24/7 with them in a 400-square-foot apartment where they’re constantly in your sightline is...less than ideal.

We have been privileged enough to be able to save for our first home over a number of years and, after researching several towns and narrowing down an area of interest, we thought we were as prepared as anyone could be to take on the titan that is house-hunting. Oh, how wrong we were.

Almost immediately, we started fighting over things big and small. He wasn’t willing to stretch the budget for a dream home; I was. I didn’t think we needed an office space; he did (spoiler: he was right). He didn’t care about where I thought we should put the hypothetical Christmas tree in the house we hadn’t even put an offer on yet; I (very emphatically) did. Yes, that is a true fight we had—no, I am not proud.

Like planning a wedding and having a child (both of which we’d already tackled—successfully, I’d say), hunting down the perfect piece of real estate to call home has a way of putting your relationship under a microscope, and it made it very clear to us that we needed a new way to have these types of emotionally-charged conversations. Enter: our “majority rules” mindset.

I’ll preface this by saying that this is just what works for us—it may not work (or be) for everyone, and that’s ok. I’m a firm believer in a “you do you” mentality and think whatever stretches you and your spouse into having productive, respectful and civil “arguments” is a success in my book. For us, it was all about divvying up the decision-making power. If a disagreement was brought to the table, the power over the decision was split up 51 percent to 49 percent, with the “lead” in the scenario going to the person with the most knowledge or experience in the situation.

Make sense? Here’s an example: When deciding between two towns to search in, the topic of commutability to the city came up. I was okay with being further away from the city, while my husband wanted to keep the commute to his current office under an hour and a half door-to-door. Ultimately, he was given the 51 percent majority stake in this decision—he was more likely to have to return to work in an office setting than I was, and therefore he was considered the “lead” on this decision.

Likewise, I took the reins when it came to choosing between marble and quartz for our new countertops. My ever-practical spouse extolled the ease of quartz, but I just couldn’t get the well-loved natural patina of true marble countertops out of my head. Since I’m the more design-minded of the two of us (and the one more likely to be cooking on—and cleaning—said countertops), I swept this argument into my “win” column with a cool 51 percent of the say (TBD if I will regret this down the line, stay tuned).

Something about this decision making process just really clicked for us. Maybe it’s because he’s an accountant (numbers FTW) and I like logic—whatever the reason, it instantly gave us an actionable way to process through our decision making in scenarios where we disagreed with each other. It’s important to remember that having the majority stake in an argument doesn’t mean you have a trump card or veto power. Your partner still owns 49 percent of this decision, meaning it’s on you both to hear each other out and move towards a solution that still satisfies you each nearly completely.

In the end, this way of arguing (if you could even call it that any more), helped us land on a first—and possibly “forever”—home we were both thrilled with. Our charming blue 1826 colonial is in a sleepy Hudson Valley town and can be restored (my 51 percent) and landscaped (his 51 percent) into the home of our dreams, all with an office (his 51 percent), a manageable commute, charming nearby towns and trails, and plenty of decor projects and decisions for us to debate over. Oh, and did I mention it has the perfect place for our Christmas tree?

How do you resolve home-related conflicts in your own partnership? Tell us your secrets below.

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1 Comment

AntoniaJames January 27, 2021
Oh, goodness. So many thoughts on this. After nearly 40 years of marriage and 3 home purchases (each one, quite a big deal for us, and each one, perfect for our circumstances at the time), may I offer two words of advice: patience and flexibility.

Adding to those two words, but related, this context: I negotiate billion-dollar global commercial transactions for technology companies, some of which deals take over a year to get to signatures. I apply what works there to what works in decisions of all kinds with my husband.

Most importantly, listen to your counter-party's concerns and make sure they know that their concerns are important to you.

Second, think carefully about whether the point at hand is indeed the right hill to die on. I taught negotiating to MBA students in Silicon Valley for many years, so I could add about 10 other key negotiating tips of relevance here, but I'll just leave it at the ones stated. ;o)