Can relationships survive renovations?

Steve and Chantelle's Block burger date

Sometimes couples just need to go to Macca's and smash a burger.

The whole point of renovating is to improve the home you've got, but what happens if the renovation deteriorates the relationship you've built in the process?

Fans of The Block have witnessed some almighty relationship meltdowns over the years, as couples took a verbal sledgehammer to each other while Australia watched on.

But even when the cameras aren't rolling, renovations can crumble a couple's love life quicker than the drywall they're trying to demolish.

There are some simple things a renovating couple can do to avoid wanting to sleep separately.
There are some simple things a renovating couple can do to avoid wanting to sleep separately. 

They have all the ingredients for a couple's biggest fights: money, stress, clashing opinions, mistakes, and more then money. Even the strongest relationships wane under that sort of pressure.

"A home renovation is one of the most stressful things a couple can embark on," relationships and sex counsellor and Fairfax columnist Matty Silver says. "Running around all day with more things to do than there are hours in the day will leave couples feeling exhausted and often frustrated."

Former Block contestant Chantelle Ford, who competed on the show with former partner Steve O'Donnell, says the pair faced arguments over everything from a rug choice to the tone of voice they found themselves inexplicably using with each other in times of stress.

"It is so, so much harder than you could ever expect," Ms Ford says. "We had to make an agreement early that we wouldn't take on the other person's tone and we would believe that they weren't trying to be horrible." 

Although the couple broke up more than a year after winning 2014 series Fans vs Faves, she says the experience took an incredible strain on their relationship.

"It was definitely a huge stress on both us - it's really hard to see your partner go through a tough time like that too," she says.


Ms Ford, who now runs her own millinery brand, says one of the biggest challenges was continuing to see your better half as your partner and not your work colleague.

"You've got to remember the person with you is your partner and your love, not your work buddy," she says. "Steve and I were each other's ally. From the start, we realised it was us against the world, and that is really cool."

Dani Wales, a contestant on the 2012 series and All Stars with partner Dan Reilly, says one of the most important lessons she learned during two series on the show was to not take things so seriously.

Current Block contestants Whitney and Andrew have felt the strain of their mammoth task.
Current Block contestants Whitney and Andrew have felt the strain of their mammoth task. Photo: Channel Nine

"I think you have to realise there are so much bigger things going on in the world," says Ms Wales, who last year discovered her mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer. "That really shot everything, I realised it didn't matter [what sort of] sheets I chose." 

The couple are renovating again in Melbourne while he continues as foreman on the current Block season. Ms Wales says taking on yet another renovation has proved how important it is to take time out as a couple.

"We recently said to each other, we're in this renovating rut again," she says. "We're not doing anything, not socialising ... You really have to force yourself to do those things and get away from it."

Former Block contestants Steve O'Donnell and Chantelle Ford. "It's so much harder than you expect," she says.
Former Block contestants Steve O'Donnell and Chantelle Ford. "It's so much harder than you expect," she says. Photo: Channel Nine

Ms Silver says the stress of a renovation can also sap away a person's libido by affecting hormones and interfering with the quality time that helps a couple stay connected.

"When you just had a big argument, about for example what colour to paint the house or what sort of tab to put in the bathroom, the last thing on your mind is having sex," says Ms Silver. "Women usually need some sort of foreplay - men often just need an erection - but if men are too tired or angry they may find that difficult too."

But she says sex can be an excellent way of relieving stress and believes it is important to prioritise time to have physical contact during renovations, even if they are too tired to have sex.

Former contestants Dan Reilly and Dani Wales. "There are much bigger things going on," she says.
Former contestants Dan Reilly and Dani Wales. "There are much bigger things going on," she says. Photo: Channel Nine

"Sex can encompass a range of other activities, just caressing and giving each other a massage or just having oral sex which is less tiring. Having an orgasm this way is a good way of relieving stress," she says.

Beyond the bedsheets, we ask Ms Silver, Ms Ford and Ms Wales their top tips for helping you love life survive reno madness.

1. Be realistic from day one. From everything from budget to responsibilities and expectations. If you don't have $7000 for a high-end bath, don't fight reality.

Andrew recently broke down on camera, showing the strain.
Andrew recently broke down on camera, showing the strain. Photo: Channel Nine

2. Pick your battles. Do you really want to fight to the death over Antique USA White or Slipper Satin White? Some things are more important than others to get your back up over.

3. Walk away. Remember when you sat on that angry email reply at work and were later glad you did? Take five minutes or even the rest of the day to walk away from the problem and distress before you bring it up again.

4. Talk about it. Communicating is a relationship cliche for a reason. It's always important to reach out for a chat, especially after having a big fight and you have more perspective on the issue. Staying angry with each other doesn't help anyone.

5. Try to have at least one date night a week. Go to the movies or get a cheap dinner. If you have children, get a babysitter. Couple time is important and date nights show a willingness to keep your relationship a priority.

6. Sleep well, eat well. Don't lose sight of your health and wellbeing or resent your partner for doing the same. Make time to practice self care so you can be a good partner and tackle that bathroom with a fresh outlook.

7. Remember, you're on the same team. If you were on The Block, this would be literally true, but even at home it's important to realise you're both working towards the same objective - even if you vehemently disagree on the kitchen tiles.

8. Compromise. If you choose the taps, let your partner pick the basin. A little tit for tat can go a long way. 

9. Know you're partners strengths and weaknesses. If they can't lift a fridge, don't ask them to. If they're no good at booking the tradies, don't make them. Play to your strengths and celebrate your achievements.

10. Keep it all in perspective. What good is a finished reno if your relationship is finito too?

This story was first published on Domain.