In April of 2014, just a few months before Josh and I were married, we attended a couples’ retreat day as part of our church’s marriage preparation requirements. The day was a bit of a mixed bag of church teachings about relationships, professional advice from financial advisors and family therapists about their various areas of expertise, and personal reflection time with your spouse to be. In one of those personal reflection times, we were asked to answer a cyclically complicated question about something we thought the other person thought was true about us that really wasn’t. Ironically, both of us wrote the exact same thing…
I wouldn’t really need to, nor do I necessarily want to, build a house.
At the time, this was a revelation because Josh and I had spent a lot of time talking about “our dream house one day.” As a builder and remodeler, I always knew that he would bring a hyper critical eye to every house we ever looked at seeing projects, remodels, and things that he would have done differently. We’d watched a fair amount of HGTV together, and I’d had a lot of fun transforming his “house” into a “home” when I’d moved in at the beginning of our engagement, and so on some level, I think he’d always assumed that I’d be really into designing our future home, and all the finishing touches that would go with it.
That moment, as we both revealed that building a house was a great conversation topic, but not necessarily part of our future plans, came as a relief. I’d watched the tenuous process of my grandparent’s house building, and Josh ticked off a hundred things he’d learn from and lamented about building his parents a house, and while it had been fun to dream up all the “what ifs” about our own hypothetical home someday, I was glad we were on the same page about avoiding such a massive undertaking. We made a five year plan for ourselves. Building a house was nowhere on it!
Four years later, in July of 2018, we sat in the Lauterbrunnen Valley, Switzerland, celebrating our anniversary and making a new five year plan. In the four years we’d been married we’d done a lot of the things we’d hoped we’d do when we first hashed it out on our retreat. We’d been to Europe, twice. I’d finished my master’s degree. Josh was much more secure in his business, and his rental real estate portfolio had grown well. We talked about the next steps, and what we wanted life to look like in five years. We talked about remodeling our current house. We talked about buying a new house. We talked about a fixer upper. We did not talk about building.
And then we came home, and faced with a little dose of perspective about how life could change, and what our new priorities were, suddenly, and what felt at first like completely out of nowhere, Josh wanted to build a house! And not just build a house…but build it ourselves…and not just ourselves like our own general contractors…but ourselves with our own hands.
I reluctantly agreed under a number of conditions:
- We built on a lot with trees.
- We would only build a house designed for exactly what we wanted.
- We built now, and didn’t put it off.
- Over the course of the building process, I got to say “This is why I never wanted to build a house!” a dozen times.
We closed on a lot less than two months later after falling in love with the third blueprint we looked at. To date…I’ve said: “This is why I never wanted to build a house!” four times.😂
The process has surprised me in a lot of ways, the greatest of which might be just how remarkable it is to watch a pile of seeming “sticks” turn into something substantial.
There are lots of parts of building a house that seem remarkably fragile. The rafters are actually pretty flimsy when they’re just laying on the ground unsupported by anything. Walls quickly twist and torque if they’re not squared up and braced. A good straight line wind can take things down hundred times faster than it takes to put them up. But one part of the house that was unyielding and fixed was the foundation. The siding, shingles, paint, windows…even the walls themselves, they go in in bits and pieces, and they can change with the times. They can be repaired after a storm. They can be replaced when they wear out. They can be updated, sport new colors, or evolve with new technology or different materials. But that foundation? It’s not going anywhere. It’s poured in place. It’s insulated. It’s sealed tight. It’s buried deep, not going anywhere.
We’re not that fundamentally different as people. And we’re not that fundamentally different in our relationships.
While at the moment I felt completely caught off guard by Josh’s change of heart, in hindsight, I should not have been surprised. His screen name when we first met online was “BetterBuilder,” and in watching him build something, it becomes quite clear that he is. He is fundamentally, at the foundation of who he is, a builder. He’s got the heart, head, and hands of a craftsman, and honestly, the care he puts into the details of our house that no one will ever see because it’s the “right” way to build something, is impressive and admirable. I think there’s secretly nothing he loves quite as much as being told “no one builds like that anymore,” because he knows that in doing it that way, he’s part of the tradition of builders that came before him, and that he’s doing it in a way will last as an example for those who come after.
Not long after we decided to build, someone asked me if I felt “tricked” because Josh had told me that he didn’t want or need to build a house, and now all of a sudden he did. I laughed at the absurdity of the idea that I was naive enough to be tricked into a year long building project and a new mortgage. That’d be a heck of a hoodwink. Josh didn’t need to trick me into building a house, it was a decision we made together as a couple. And if I would have been completely and absolutely opposed to it, or it wouldn’t have made sense for our long term goals and finances, we wouldn’t be doing it. And to be honest, if I really would have thought about it five years ago at that pre-marriage retreat, the smart money would have been on Josh changing his mind all along. I’m not sure he ever really changed it at all, instead just putting it off a bit until he realized how important it was to him.
At the end of the day, our relationship and the foundation of our marriage, is built upon the people we are at the core of our being. Josh is a builder. It’s his bedrock. Getting married wasn’t going to change that. Saying that he didn’t “need” to build a house wasn’t going to change that. Making a five year plan that didn’t include a new house wasn’t going to change that. At some point, that was going to come out in a big kind of way.
Make sure you’re building yourself and your relationships on your bedrock. Not on the person you think you’ll be someday. Not on the person you think you can change your partner into. Put down a strong, unshakeable foundation built into the core of who you know yourself to be and what your truth is. Looks, money, prestige, titles…it’s paint on the wall. And the thing about paint on the wall is it only takes $30 and a free afternoon to change it. Dig deeper. Forge stronger. Build better. Because when the rafters come down, and the wood warps, the the basement floods, and the paint flakes, it’s that foundation, the core of who and what you are, that’s going to give you the foothold to build each other up again.