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DIY projects put couples to the test

| Thursday, Aug. 20, 2015, 8:55 p.m.
Mark Brewer illustration
Mark Brewer
Mark Brewer illustration

Relationship educator Ken MacLeod jokes that putting up wallpaper together is the true test of marriage.

“My wife and I once put up one of those wallpaper borders, and that was pretty rough,” the Highland Park resident says. “We never even tried to put wallpaper on a whole wall after that.

“I think home projects tend to highlight all the personality differences that make marriage so much fun. But in a home-improvement project, they are less fun,” says MacLeod, project director for Family Guidance's relationship education service, TWOgether Pittsburgh.

Among those couples who assemble furniture together, 17 percent admit the experience always triggers arguments, reports CivicScience, a consumer-research firm. According to a remodeling-industry study, 12 percent acknowledged they had even considered separation or divorce during renovation. At the very least, 46 percent of couples undertaking do-it-yourself projects together found the undertaking frustrating.

“My guess is it would be closer to 90 percent,” says Jack Cahalane, chief of adult mood and anxiety services at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic of UPMC.

“In general, couples who are unhappy together will be unhappy doing projects, and those that are generally happy together will be more successful and happy doing them,” he says. “Couples who know they are having a rocky time and are deciding whether to take on a large remodeling project together have to decide if it's less stressful, difficult and costly to call in a professional, as opposed to a divorce lawyer.”

Despite such cautionary tales, some couples are proving that relationships can indeed survive DIY projects.

“We would fight about projects when we first got married 13 years ago, but we kind of learned our strengths and weaknesses,” says Jennifer Benford, 41, of Bullskin Township, Fayette County. She and her husband, Joseph Benford, 38, are currently completing a pantry.

“He's doing the building and I'm doing the smoothing, the cosmetics,” she says. “If we divide the duties, then we don't fight. He likes to get it done, and I like to be perfect.”

When their first project — installing living-room flooring in one night — extended to 2 a.m., they learned to block out considerably more time on later projects.

“When something does come together nicely, we can say, ‘Hey, we did that together,'” Jennifer Benford says. “It's something we can enjoy for years — and at a savings.”

A fixer-upper home in Spring Hill has been the source of a number of renovations for Andy Wright, 34, and his wife, Amy Charley, 30.

“We are learning to communicate more effectively, and previous mistakes we made have been minimized,” Wright says.

“I've grown to appreciate Andy's thoroughness, and most of the time, we end up laughing at each other — a lot,” Charley says.

“When there is contribution from both partners, it makes the final result more gratifying knowing it was accomplished as a team,” Wright says.

“It's so much more special when you used your brain and body to create it,” his wife says. “Plus, Andy looks cute when he's all sweaty!”

Couples considering their first DIY should understand that some measure of “sweat equity” is necessary, and a project likely will take longer than anticipated, says Susan Kreinbrook, 34, of Harrison Township.

She and her husband, Aaron Kreinbrook, 38, painted much of their house and updated the exterior of their detached garage among other work. “Giving yourselves a break,” she says, “not needing to work on it every second of spare time is important, too.”

Allison, 52, and Luke Lesic, 46, of Ross have completed several projects, indoors and out, from drywalling to landscaping.

“The most successful were the ones we took our time on and didn't rush into right away,” Allison Lesic says. “I cannot stress enough how much communication and planning make for a ‘pleasant' project. Know when to bring on a professional!”

Erin, 25, and David Markovitz, 30, of Elizabeth have redone their bathroom, tiled a kitchen backsplash and refurbished a crib for their son.

“They've all turned out pretty well, but they are pretty much only satisfying when they are done,” Erin, 25, says. “You can't take your partner too seriously when they get mad, because it's more than likely they are getting mad at the project, not you. It relaxes you both when you can laugh at each other instead of saying rude things back and forth.”

Rex Rutkoski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4664 or

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