How To Have Productive (Even Pleasant!) Design Discussions with Your Partner

How To Have Productive (Even Pleasant!) Design Discussions with Your Partner

Tess Wilson
Jun 22, 2016

A while back, my partner proposed installing a floor-to-ceiling tree decal on our bedroom wall. The resulting discussion was a bit...awkward because though I readily acknowledged—even listed—the positive qualities of decals (temporary, fun, easy-to-install), I could only list one con: I don't like them. When it comes to design discussions, almost everything is purely a matter of opinion, so how do you discuss things productively? Here are 9 tips for amicable, cooperative—even fun—conversations that will ensure you both love the look of your home.

Note: I'm using the word "partner" in this post for ease of communication, but the ideas can be applied to anyone you make a home with.

Express Yourself. If your partner presents an idea that you don't like, try to express that, instead of insulting the suggestion itself. "I don't like it," "I don't want it," and "That's not what I had in mind" are clear and direct statements, but they make it clear that this is just your opinion. You're not saying the suggestion is in any way bad or lacking—you just don't like it.

Explain Yourself. When you're sharing ideas with your partner, let them know what you're thinking—ideally, ahead of time. Perhaps you found the perfect couch that just happens to be double your budget. If you show them that couch and all they see is the huge price, they might be too outraged to have a productive discussion about its merits, where you might find a cheaper version, and/or whether you could DIY something similar. Saying "I KNOW THIS IS UNREASONABLE BUT HEAR ME OUT..." right up front gives your partner a gentle reminder to stay openminded and focus on what you're trying to share.

Stay Openminded. Did your partner just show you some couch that's way over your budget? Don't dismiss it right away! For one thing, there are always sales and coupon codes. I've kept my eye on certain items that were outside my price range, then pounced when they were marked 40% off and I had a 20% off discount code for signing up for the company's newsletter. I ended up getting something I loved for less than the more reasonably priced alternatives that I only kind of liked. Just remember: if your partner presents you with an idea, take a deep breath and soak it in. Your first instinct is valuable, but so is giving things a chance.

Serve Them a Compliment Sandwich. If your partner suggests a couch that they love and you hate, try to find something positive to say—while making it clear that this particular couch is not an option. There's almost always something you like if you take the time to look for it, so be sure to share that. "Ooh, it has such a nice deep seat! I don't like that style, but the color of the legs is fantastic." Now, rather than just expressing one fact—that you don't like it—you've let your partner know that you prefer sofas with deep seats and you like that color wood for furniture legs. You're getting somewhere!

But Don't Tiptoe Around The Truth. While it's important to give your partner's ideas a chance and to mention the things you do like rather than just the things you don't, it can be easy for miscommunications to happen when everyone's being so nice. If you know down to the tips of your toes that you hate that sofa and will hate it until your dying day, don't say, "It's okay, I guess." If you need time to think about it, that's fine; just be sure to alert your partner if you come to the decision that it's a definite no. Don't pussyfoot around the truth and don't let something stay on your list of contenders or you'll get down to the Final Four sofas and your partner will be like, "You don't like it? Why have you never mentioned this before?!?" The Compliment Sandwich can work, but only if that unpleasant middle layer is straightforward, firm, and honest—and is heard as such.

Recognize & Appreciate The Effort Your Partner Has Made. Maybe I'm a sensitive little flower—I definitely am—but if I spend hours researching sofas, trying to find something that's the right price, size, style, color, and fabric for our home, it would be totally disheartening if my partner rejected my 12 contenders with a quick, "I don't like any of those." While that might be a true, valuable statement, it's hard to see hours of effort undone in one sentence. Once again, it can be helpful to look a little deeper, give things a chance, and point out the things you do like. And saying, "Wow, thanks for doing all this! I'm sure it was tedious," never hurts.

Keep The Relevant Facts At Hand. If your partner suggests a gorgeous couch that's too big for your living room, say just that: "That's gorgeous! But it's 18" too long for the space." This provides your partner with positive feedback, emphasizes the times when you're totally on the same page, and keeps everyone aware of the nuts-and-bolts. If you just said, "It's too big," your partner won't know that you love everything else about it. If you just said, "It's gorgeous!" without double-checking the facts, you'd waste time on something that's a non-starter.

Avoid Expressing Opinions As Facts. While "That couch is 18" too long for our living room" is a fact, things like, "That's ugly" and "That's stupid" are definitely NOT. We're talking about design opinions here, so there's no objective truth or right answer. Go back to the Express Yourself trick and explain how you feel. Rather than saying "That's ugly"—it's not, it's just your opinion that it is,—say something like, "It feels a little too Dolores Umbridgey to me" or "That pattern hurts my eyes." These are facts, so you can state them confidently as such.

Try Not To Take Opinions Personally. If a pattern hurts your partner's eyes, that's not a diss on something that feels wonderful to your eyes! And if they say, "That's a little brighter than I would prefer," they're not calling you tacky—they're just expressing their preference. It can be hard not to take negative feedback super-personally—ask me how I know—but it's important in these types of conversations. However, if your partner does say things like, "That's ugly" and "That's stupid," all bets are off.

These are the things that work for me, but as mentioned, I am a delicate flower type who needs a gentle touch—I want to know what works for you! Are you and your partner comfortable being totally blunt: "I hate that," "That's so tacky," "What were you thinking?!"? Or does a more diplomatic, polite approach keep your discussions from turning into fights? Please share!

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