The Kiddy Pool: Love It or List It

Right now it feels like my husband and I are playing our own version of HGTV’s show Love It or List It. Our house is on the market because we’d like to move closer to the town where we both work—actually, the office where we both work, since we share our space there too. But we’re not sure the cost will be feasible without sacrificing too many of the great things about our current neighborhood. We wonder if some modifications (namely, adding a quiet writing space for both of us) might make all the difference to our current place. We’re essentially in the privileged position of many of the couples on the “reality” show that pits a realtor against a designer and uses house-hunting and renovations to convince the couples to “love it or list it.”

Each episode seems to follow the same structure, where one partner longs to stay in the family’s home and one is eager to leave it behind. The person who doesn’t want to move gives the designer a list of remodeling demands and the person who doesn’t want to stay gives the real estate agent criteria for a new home. The couple provides a budget, and it’s immediately clear that these wish lists are nearly impossible to fulfill to the letter. Thus the stage is sets for conflict and compromise, since in neither case will both parties achieve all of their desires. This, for me, is where the show gets interesting.

My husband and I often talk about the process of “coming into agreement.” We’re both expressive, articulate, and logical people; both of us trained as rhetoricians, and we use that education to hash out the minutiae of every decision from every angle imaginable. We’re both also stubborn, making this a sometimes thought-provoking and sometimes exhausting process. We learned early in our marriage that it is, in fact, possible to over-communicate. Our discussion style differs dramatically from what we see on screen in HGTV’s program, but the desired outcome is the same: one house for one family, and, more broadly, a compromise.

On the show, the couples argue and assert diametrically-opposed stances. The tone of conversation between the couple and with the realtor and designer is argumentative and tense. To me, it seems at least partially staged, though the show’s cast denies that. Certainly the buying/selling process is stressful enough without adding camera crews. The couples run into the same obstacles we’re facing as we navigate our local housing market: location, home features, and cost. It’s not reasonable to meet all the objectives even when the couple starts with the same goal, let alone with two opposing lists and goals. Everything hinges on that “or” in the show’s title, so something (or someone) has to give.

That is a fundamental truth of relationships, and what transforms my husband and I (with our incessant hypothesizing), is that our primary relationship is with God. We need to come into agreement with each other, as a couple, but the way that we do that is by first coming into agreement with God. It’s much easier to make compromises with each other when we act upon the truth that seeking and submitting to God’s will is essential. Loving or listing our home is not about winning, losing, moving, or staying, but about obeying God. Unlike the couples on the show, we aren’t starting this process in opposition to each other, but marriage and family (and, indeed, any meaningful relationship) provide ample opportunities for disagreement just like that.

Each couple’s process may look different, but all successful marriages must negotiate between too much sacrifice from each partner and too little. Add children to the mix, and suddenly there are more needs and desires and wills to consider. For me, the attraction of Love It or List It goes beyond the houses to the communicative process itself, since every episode (however contrived) concludes with resolution. They weigh their options and choose. By the end of the show, just like the end of every marital decision, it matters less where they live and more how they live together. The same is true for me and my husband; it’s not where we go that counts, it’s that we go with God.

About Erin Wyble Newcomb

Erin Wyble Newcomb earned her Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction and Women's Studies from Penn State University. In addition to parenting her daughters, running marathons, and making things with glitter, she teaches in the English Department at SUNY New Paltz. Follow Erin on Twitter @ErinWyble or at http://phdmama.com/.


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