How to survive stressful DIY tasks as a couple

While DIY projects as a couple can look simple on the surface, there are several factors that can make them more stressful than expected.

At their core, DIY projects as a couple can be an intense period of communication, compromise, decision-making, power dynamics, and time management. Living spaces are highly personal and can have a major impact on how we feel on a daily basis.   

Couples who undertake DIY projects together are often faced with a series of micro-decisions that can quickly add up and cause tension. For example, when fitting a new door, you have to decide on the design, the type of wood, colour and finish, handles, locks, hinges, and so on. If these decisions aren’t handled well, one or both partners can feel like their opinions don’t matter, which can lead to resentment and arguments.  

Dr Gurpreet Kaur, chartered clinical psychologist, agrees: The success of a joint DIY project depends on many factors, such as good communication and the desire from each partner for the project to be completed in the way agreed. It may also be affected by each other’s temperament, stress levels, and additional responsibilities and demands.  

Problems may occur if there are communication breakdowns, expectations not being met and a lack of understanding about external circumstances impacting the project, such as delivery dates or contractor difficulties. 

Seven tips for surviving DIY tasks with your partner 

In partnership with Toolstation, relationship expert Jessica Alderson and chartered clinical psychologist Dr Gurpreet Kaur share seven steps for surviving DIY with your partner.

1) Work together as a team 

The number one rule for working on DIY or home renovation projects as a couple is to approach them with the mindset that you are a team working together towards the same goal.

It isn’t a battle between two people with different ideas but rather an attempt to create a space that reflects a blend of both of your preferences. If you’re in a relationship with each other, you’re choosing to build a future together, and that includes your home. Clear communication and joint goals are the key to relationships running smoothly during DIY projects. 

2) Put yourself in their shoes 

If either of you finds yourselves getting defensive, take a step back and remind yourself that it’s unlikely that your partner is being difficult for the sake of it. Put yourself in their shoes and try to understand that, like everyone, they just want a living space they love and feel comfortable in.

That isn’t to say you should ignore your own needs by any means, but empathising can help you to approach the situation from a more understanding point of view and foster a constructive dialogue. 

3) Be open to compromise 

Compromise is essential in any healthy relationship, and it’s likely that you’ll need to compromise in your DIY projects. It’s not about ‘giving in’ to each other but rather finding a middle ground that you both feel comfortable with. This could mean compromising on certain aspects of the project or taking turns making decisions. Remember that a good compromise is when both partners feel satisfied with the outcome. 

4) Divide tasks based on strengths 

Each person may have different skills and strengths when it comes to DIY projects, so it’s helpful to divide tasks accordingly. This will not only save time and effort but also reduce potential conflicts. For example, if one partner is more skilled at painting while the other is better at assembling furniture, assign each task to the relevant person. 

5) Celebrate wins together 

Celebrate smaller milestones and successes during a DIY project together. This will help to keep motivation high and remind both of you that you are working towards a common goal. For example, if your partner did a great job on the tiling, make sure to acknowledge and appreciate their efforts. This helps maintain positive energy. 

6) Set expectations beforehand 

Before heading into a DIY project it is good practice to talk about any foreseeable problems which may arise, as well as ways to manage stress responses both for themselves and for supporting their partner. This gives couples the opportunity to set clear expectations, and form agreements about taking time away from the project to reconnect and reflect on any stress that’s arising. 

For long-term DIY projects or home renovations, it can be helpful to budget in advance to avoid any financial tension or stress. Money is one of the leading causes of conflict in relationships, so discussing and setting a budget beforehand can help prevent disagreements further down the line. 

7) Take breaks when needed 

Tiredness, hunger, and thirst can all contribute to crankiness and irritability, so it’s important to take breaks when needed. DIY projects can be physically and mentally demanding. Scheduling breaks or listening to your body can help both partners maintain their patience and avoid unnecessary arguments or mistakes. 

The most important thing to remember is that if we are feeling stressed, the brain is most likely in threat mode, which means it’s priming us for a fight, flight, freeze or appease response. Learning to intervene with this through deep breathing, going on walks, talking, and laughing with loved ones, or reframing and challenging negative thoughts can help to calm stress.  

The best thing to work on initially is relaxing the body and training the brain to learn to switch off the threat response and put safe mode on again. This can be done by bringing more oxygen into the bloodstream and slowing breathing down. 

A quick technique to learn is the 4-4-8 method to help with this. Breathe in through your nose for four seconds. Hold your breath, while making sure not to tense your body, for four seconds and breathe out through your mouth for eight seconds like you are breathing out through a straw. Do this five to ten times and your mind will learn to relax.