I’ve been obsessively watching HGTV shows like Fixer Upper and Property Brothers lately. I love watching the home transformations. From finding hazardous electrical situations to dire foundation issues, taking on a fixer-upper is not for the faint of heart.

We’ve been looking at our kitchen for many months, trying to figure out what we could do to update it, but I just can’t picture it in my mind. I’m not one who has much vision; I have a hard time walking into a place and just visualizing what could be. I usually only see the mess. Whenever my husband comes up with an idea for something in the house or yard, he knows that he has to either draw me a picture—which he’s really good at—or find something online that is near what we’re talking about.

Marriage is a lot like a fixer-upper.

A big difference is that if I go into marriage with a wish list of items that I want to change about my spouse, I’m setting myself up for disappointment. The only person I can hope to change in my marriage is me. And the only one who can make those changes is the God who invented marriage in the first place.

Dream home, dream marriage

When Drew and Jonathan Scott of Property Brothers fame are working with a new family to purchase the home of their dreams, Drew always shows them what a move-in ready house looks like. They’re always awed by it.

Until they see the price tag. Invariably, Drew has shown them a property that meets everything on their wish list, but is way out of their price range.

He’s always trying to prove a point: You can’t afford move-in ready on your budget. Look for a fixer-upper and let Jonathan make your dreams come true.

I see a lot of parallels there with marriage. We might see other couples we know whose marriages we admire. They work well together as a team, they love doing things together, he’s romantic and thoughtful, she’s lovely and godly and keeps a beautiful home.

Yeah. Right.

I’m guessing if you asked your ideal couple if their marriage has always looked that way, they would say no. It took a lot of work. And it continues to take a lot of work. They started as fixer-uppers themselves.

It’s not something we readily share in the church, but how freeing it is to know that we aren’t alone in our need for a bit of freshening up in our marriage? And sometimes that might mean a total gut job.

Things need to get a lot messier before they can get better.

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Renovating our marriage

Many years ago, when our children were still very young, I finally agreed with my husband, David, that our issues needed to be put into the hands of someone who knew what they were doing. Over several months, our counselor taught us many things about renovating our marriage. On one occasion, we were asked to tell each other something we’d never shared before.

David’s answer felt like a sledgehammer pounding through the walls of my heart: “If I had known that marriage was going to be like this, I wouldn’t have gotten married.”

Ouch. I hadn’t realized how rundown he had felt our marriage was. My heart-home was definitely in need of renovation.

Old relationships had hardened my heart and made me vow to never get hurt that way again. Evidently, the brick wall I had built to keep my heart safe also kept it from intimacy with David. Although I felt we had a good marriage—we got along well, we were best friends, we really didn’t fight—I wasn’t willing to admit that we could have so much more.

Growing up in the shadow of his older sibling had caused David to need more affirmation than my walled-up heart was willing to give. His primary “love language” (based on the book by Dr. Gary Chapman) is physical touch, and his secondary is words of affirmation. Without my willingness to take some risks and say out loud those things that I admired about him, or respond with the physical intimacy that he craved, I was unwittingly recalling his childhood as the overshadowed child. And that hurt.

In David’s pride, he went into our marriage thinking his love could fix me. He also thought my love could fix him, and neither of those two things happened!

But in my pride, I felt that we could handle these problems on our own. What I really needed was to lay down my sledgehammer and let the experts take over. I needed someone else to Reno My Reno, because when two broken people come together and try to fix each other, all you get is a bigger pile of shards.

Like Joanna Gaines of Fixer Upper, David and I can stage our marriage so that it looks beautiful and perfect to anyone who sees it from the outside. But others won’t have seen the Chip who’s been working behind the scenes. Being open with others about the labor that goes into it can bring such hope.

The focal point

Oftentimes, designers like Joanna and Jonathan speak of a fireplace being a focal point in a home. It’s what your eye is drawn to when you walk into a room.

I wanted my marriage to make me happy and to be the envy of my neighborhood, but I was putting the focus in the wrong place. Marriages that bring joy and invite people in have Jesus as their focal point. And like any good renovator, He’s always suggesting improvements to make our marriage better.

I am still learning to be more openhearted with David, and he’s learning how to receive affirmation from his heavenly Father when my efforts fall short. Prayer, daily devotionals (like FamilyLife’s “Moments With You,” which comes to my email box every morning), reading books, and going on dates are all good tools to use in marriage renos.

And lots and lots of sweat equity. Nothing gets better without a lot of work. “Open concept” means something entirely different when we’re talking about our hearts.

Bottom line: When both spouses are willing to give our hearts to the Master Renovator, He will change our fixer-upper marriages into the unions they were meant to be.

Copyright © 2018 by Stephanie Reeves. Used with permission.