Relationships are hard. Dating is harder. And finding your soulmate? Well, that can seem like an endless parade of cheap dates, broken promises, and sometimes even financial ruin. Yuck. But unless you’re dating a carpenter, how does this relate to construction?

As it turns out, picking the right general contractor can be a lot like dating. Even worse, owners can feel like they’re on a reality TV show with the whole world watching to make sure you have an amazing finale. Except, instead of a giant ring and on-air proposal, the finale of your relationship with your contractor is a multi-million dollar building that, let’s be honest, will need to last much longer than many reality TV marriages. So what’s an owner to do to make sure they pick a contractor with staying-power?

Steps to Find “The One”

1. Good Looks Fade, Character is Forever

First, keep your wits about you. Don’t become infatuated with good looks and smart pick-up lines. Instead, pick your contractor based on qualifications, references, and ability to complete the job. Look for a contractor with experience delivering projects similar to yours. Second, do a little background work. Just like any sane person would google their blind date, work to get a sense of a contractor’s reputation and check their references. Just like when a potential partner has a gaggle of “crazy” exs, a contractor with no solid references should send off alarm bells. If they don’t take care of their existing clients, you can bet they won’t take care of you.

Second, check to make sure they have the resources needed to manage your project. For instance, a heavy workload could mean less time to spend on your job. On the other hand, if they are unemployed or underemployed, there is probably a reason. Likewise, a low bonding capacity could indicate a contractor is unable to handle large projects, or just general inexperience.

2. Communicate With Purpose

Now, it’s time to define the relationship. Unlike in the dating world, this part of the construction process is clear-cut—you’ll have a signed contract and defined scope of work. What’s important now is to keep the lines of communication with your contractor open and honest. Just like with any other relationship, if you aren’t being open and honest with one another, what’s the point? Whether you’re discussing finances, scheduling, or paint colors, it’s vital everyone on your team listens to each other and tries to understand the other person’s point of view. Even the method you choose to communicate can make or break the project, so it’s important to define expectations early. Do discussions need to happen via text, email, or conference call? Putting ground rules in place early will positively affect the outcome of the project. Of course, communication over electronic means can’t replace a face-to-face meeting, but even those meetings can be at their most productive when a communication plan is in place.

Making It Last

Finally, the age-old advice still holds true. Never go to bed angry. Address conflict early and in a productive manner. Again, how you address conflict can make or break any project. Most of the time, issues usually go back to a lack of understanding or poor communication. But let’s face it, sometimes stuff just happens—like finding a sinkhole while digging footings, uncovering asbestos during a historic remodel, or the plumbing subcontractor making a common mistake. As long as your contractor communicates the issue clearly and provides a resolution, with faith and trust, your relationship can survive almost any issue.

Plan for a Beautiful Future Together

Now that you’ve made it down the aisle (or to the ribbon-cutting) what comes next? Hopefully, this successful project will be a springboard for a lifelong relationship. The true sign of a successful relationship isn’t a single project finished on time and on budget, but instead, the owner’s willingness to hire the same contractor again. When there’s no question of who you’d want on your building team in the future, you’ll know you’ve found your construction soulmate. Happy Valentine’s Day!