You are willing to love and to cherish. You swear to this in front of friends and family, but no part of the verbalized contract says you have to love and to cherish that beat-up old recliner your partner insists on bringing into the marriage. Combining households after a wedding can be fraught with emotional land mines. Too often the prevailing sentiment is, “What is mine can be ours, but what is yours needs some editing.”
Divorce is often the first step in a happy marriage. No, not that kind. Divorce from your decorating baggage. Make no mistake, it is baggage — your favorite painting, the baseball cap collection, that delightful assemblage of unicorns that you have been gathering since middle school, the Budweiser mirror. What might seem inoffensive to you can cause your partner to convulse in horror.
Interior designers have seen the mishmash of disparate design styles countless times, and marriage counselors have heard about the pain of a partner’s poor taste, punctuated by sniffles.
The insistence on hanging on to something that is objectionable to your partner is not a marriage-ender but it might cause fissures, so you have to ask, is it worth it?
“The relationship is the highest priority,” says Cheryl Rutherford, a Grapevine-based licensed marriage counselor. “You go into a marriage feeling hopeful. The whole process of negotiating your new life should be hopeful.”
To make the relationship work and successfully combine households, “you have to be patient, and you have to be willing to let go of things,” says Lisa Teakell, a Fort Worth-based interior designer.
Even if you are patient and willing, your partner might not be. So if he or she insists on bringing a prized collection of hideousness, find a place for it. It doesn’t have to have pride of place in the living room.
“You have to communicate and compromise and find a home for some of these things,” says Amy Walton, owner of Fort Worth-based interior design and architectural firm Walton & Walton. “Sometimes all your partner wants is to be heard. Once you acknowledge them and are willing to consider the collection, that is all they need. They will be willing to give it up later.”
Fort Worth-based interior designer Lisa O’Harra knows firsthand how difficult it is to reject then welcome a partner’s precious accumulations from an earlier life. She and her husband were well established with their own homes when they married. They had to combine their furnishings. His were traditional, hers were designer-grade transitional.
“He was attached to things and could live with the same couch upholstered in the same fabric for 20 years,” O’Harra says, so it was difficult for her. She is happy to redo her surroundings; she considers it a professional requisite.
They agreed to walk through their individual homes pointing out the things they had to bring to their new home and life together. Anything of sentimental value took priority and would be accepted unconditionally. He had a chest of drawers that belonged to his grandmother. O’Harra didn’t like it. He had refinished it. He insisted it had to come. It lives with them in a guest room. His Thomas Kincaid artworks she found objectionable as well; they are too sweet for her taste. Those pieces are in his office. “I don’t ignore his opinions,” she says. “Now we try to find something we both like.”
After moving in to their house, O’Harra staked her claim on the interior, and offered up the seven acres of land to her husband: That could be his domain. The separation of responsibility worked, and the only wrinkle came when she forgot to run her plans for a bathroom redo by him, and he found the finished product not to his liking. She admits she failed to communicate and that was a mistake.
Respectful communication is on Rutherford’s short list of must-dos. The simple kindness of talking and listening is imperative, as well as inviting feedback and not trying to anticipate your partner — no mind reading.
It doesn’t matter if you don’t like the pillows, but insisting on having your way is problematic. “Being me-centered is grossly unhealthy,” she says.
If either you or your partner is completely inflexible, perhaps it is not about the pillows or the display of participatory 10K ribbons. Perhaps it is all about power.
Some partners are never going to agree, says Walton. Many times, one person has good taste and the other does not. The challenge comes when either person becomes too strident.
She says she often finds herself in situations where she has to serve not so much as the decorator but as the mediator. Those kinds of competitive situations are never a good sign.
One couple that she has worked with several times seems to delight in fighting. Walton likens it to being caught in a production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?—the squabbles are extreme and highly vocalized. Once, a disagreement over the use of a small closet (for the vacuum? or the stereo equipment?) brought the home renovations to a multi-month standstill. Yet, the couple, both with excellent taste she says, is still together.
For those getting married for the first time, rarely is it only the two taking vows who are making the decisions of what to buy and what to heave. Mothers have an undue influence, says Walton: “They are way too involved.”
The couples, if they are insecure making decorating decisions for the first time, will invite all their friends to weigh in. “Whenever I get a delay in getting an answer from a Millennial client, I find they are on the phone, taking a poll,” says Walton.
Coming to the style that represents you as part of a couple is going to take time. “Style is an evolution, and you won’t have everything right away and it won’t be perfect, and you have to understand that,” says Teakell. So for that oddity that came with your spouse, “just enjoy it and live with it and put it in the playroom later on.”
Know that your needs and wants are going to change and you can edit the cobbled-together collection as time passes. “We are supposed to change and grow,” says Rutherford, adding that if a couple’s style doesn’t, “how boring is that?”
Gaile Robinson is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to Indulge.