It’s a ritual that’s broken many a couple: the trip to IKEA. (Photo: Thinkstock)
My wife views IKEA as a fantasyland for nesters — a place where families can explore all kinds of bright and wonderful options to create the homes of their dreams. I, on the other hand, see IKEA as a place where my days off go to die — a ginormous, escape-proof maze where a good four hours of your weekend (or all of it, if you count the time it takes to assemble the furniture) and hundreds of dollars of your hard-earned money are sucked into a blue-and-gold hole. So, naturally, our trips to IKEA don’t exactly make for happy marital times.
Fortunately for us, being in an IKEA mixed marriage hasn’t resulted in what is a common sight at the furniture superstore: the marital meltdown. The Wall Street Journal recently devoted an article to the phenomenon; it was titled, “Can Your Relationship Handle a Trip to IKEA?” And poor Liz Lemon once saw the IKEA effect at work on 30 Rock.
WATCH: “30 Rock” takes on IKEA
30 Rock showed us how destructive IKEA can be to couples. (Video: YouTube)
Marital experts say IKEA-fueled relationship discord is a real phenomenon. “It’s a lightning rod for relationships,” California psychologist Ramani Durvasula tells Yahoo Makers. She says each of IKEA’s tastefully decorated room displays is a potential argument waiting to happen: The kitchen (“Who cooks dinner?”); the bedroom (“We don’t have sex enough!”); the office (“I don’t think you should work at home!”); the dining room (“How come we have to have your parents over for dinner all the time?”); the living room (“How come our living room isn’t clean?“); and the nursery (“How come we don’t have kids yet?”).
“You get to go through every minefield of the relationship by the time you’re done,” says Durvasula.
Cheryl Arutt, also a California-based psychologist, agrees. “The dynamics that couples fight about are quite literally on display at IKEA,” she says. And when a couple goes through stress, an argument often follows. “Brain science teaches us that when people get really stressed out, they go into ‘fight or flight’ mode. The part of the brain that tells us, ‘This person who is really frustrating me right now is also someone who loves me and whom I love,’ is harder to access when we get stressed out.”
WATCH: Have You Had an IKEA Meltdown?
And the danger doesn’t stop once you
flee leave IKEA. “Being in the store is only 50 percent of the problem,” says Durvasula. “Now you’ve got to get this damn thing in your car. Then you’ve got to build it.” Yes, the home assembly component of an IKEA purchase also can be a trying time for couples. “If you screw it up, it’s like having a monument to the communications failure of your relationship sitting in your living room,” she adds, especially if you had a blowout fight during a botched assembly job. “You’ll see two handles are in the wrong places, and for the rest of your life you’ll remember, ‘That’s because my wife was being a bitch,’” she laughs. “That’s probably not what you want in the living room!”
So is IKEA a gigantic Swedish marriage destroyer, taking out relationships one BILLY bookcase at a time? Well, it doesn’t have to be. A trip to IKEA can be a survivable and even fun experience for couples; plus, IKEA sells some cool, reasonably priced stuff.
That’s why we reached out to Durvasula and Arutt — both well-known psychologists, relationship experts, and, most importantly, avowed IKEA shoppers. We asked them to provide Yahoo Makers with these tips on how to return from your IKEA excursion with only your furniture, and not your relationship, in need of assembly.
1. Plan ahead
Never step into an IKEA without a plan. (Photo: AP)
“As with everything in life, planning is everything,” says Durvasula. “Too many people make the mistake of showing up to IKEA and trying to figure it out once they’re there. And that’s when the problems begin.” Such couples end up in arguments over furniture dimensions (“That won’t fit in the living room wall!!” “Yes, it will!!”). Or they haven’t yet hashed out exactly what kind of furniture they want to buy. Or worse, an unwilling spouse is dragged all the way to an IKEA and undergoes the afternoon-long ordeal of shopping, hauling the thing into the car, lugging it home, and assembling it — only to find the piece needed to complete it was sold separately and now you have to go back for it (yes, that happened to me).
IKEA is doing its part to promote marital harmony by helping couples plan ahead. “At IKEA, our goal is to create a better everyday life at home,” a spokesperson said in a statement to Yahoo Makers. “To make shopping at IKEA stress-free and enjoyable, we offer a number of options. Customers can easily prepare previsit by going to our website and viewing the IKEA catalog and catalog app.”
The IKEA app can help with your PSP (preshopping prep). (Photo: IKEA)
Use those resources to plan what you’re going to buy. Come to some sort of agreement with your shopping partner on the color and shape of the item or items. And make sure the item or items you’re buying will fit in the desired space in your home. “Have those conversations in the comfort of your living room and not in the midst of the chaos of the store,” advises Durvasula.
2. Don’t shop while hungry
Don’t get “hangry”; have a meatball. (Photo: IKEA)
That Snickers commercial is right: You really aren’t you when you’re hungry. So it’s probably best not to go into any potential stress-inducing situation with your partner when you’re feeling peckish. “Don’t shop hungry,” says Arutt. Particularly among those who get low blood sugar, there’s a whole faction of people who get irritable before they get hungry.” And there’s really no excuse for falling victim to such a preventable shopping saboteur at IKEA, which has food on site. “Have some Swedish meatballs first,” Arutt suggests.
3. Don’t go while you’re stressed out
Maneuvering through an IKEA isn’t for the faint of heart — or the stressed. (Photo: Thinkstock)
A pre-existing stress condition is reason enough to abort a potential IKEA trip. “Don’t go after you’ve had a really long day at work or you got into an argument with your boss or the children have been difficult that day,” says Durvasula. “It’s already a bit of a powder keg in there, so you want to go in when you’re in a good mindset and feeling collaborative with your partner.”
And if one person is still not fully into an IKEA trip, the other partner may need to sweeten the pot. “Maybe turn it into something that’s pleasurable, like going out for lunch or dinner beforehand,” Durvasula suggests.
4. Go when it’s empty
OK, if it’s THIS empty, it’s probably closed. But you should shop when the IKEA is as close to empty as possible. (Photo: Thinkstock)
With hundreds of screaming babies, annoyed children, shopping carts bumping into you, and, of course, all those fighting couples, IKEA on the weekends is a cauldron of stress. “You know the best time to go to IKEA: an hour before it closes on a weeknight,” says Durvasula, who’s been known to swing by IKEA after a long workday. “It’s honestly like my private IKEA shopping experience. There’s nobody there. The loading zone is empty. You could ride a skateboard through that place.” So hit up the IKEA at off-hours. Just try not to go to the one Durvasula goes to; she really loves her empty IKEA experience.
5. Split up
Sometimes it’s best to go it alone. (Photo: Thinkstock)
No, we’re not talking about ending the relationship to avoid going to IKEA. Once inside, it’s OK to go your own separate ways. Arutt says each person should be sure to bring his or her cellphone to make it easy to break off or to come together to make joint decisions. “Divide and conquer can work,” she says.
If you run into a stalemate, sit down, debate the pros and cons of each position, and then compromise (aka do what she wants). (Photo: AP)
The key to any good relationship, compromise, is the most reliable way to ensure that you emerge from your IKEA trip still a couple. “Relationships are a compromise; it’s a cliché because it’s true,” says Durvasula. When decorating our homes, she explains, “we so want things to look a certain way that we don’t get out of our own way long enough to hear what are partners would like and how to meet in the middle.”
But as every couple knows, there is the occasional stalemate. “If you can’t compromise, take turns on who’s making decisions about things,” says Arutt. Also, “If there’s one member of the couple who doesn’t really care about a particular decision designwise, this would be a good time to go with the person who cares more.” Sometimes surrender is a good option …
7. Take a break
Don’t become one of THOSE couples arguing in the furniture store. (Photo: Thinkstock)
… And so is withdrawal. “If you’re getting into a conflict, remove yourself from the situation,” says Arutt. It all comes back to that “fight or flight” response, which she says skews our perspectives during relationship spats. “We think we’re making a lot of sense and the other person is being impossible,” she says. “If you find yourself thinking that, you’re probably in ‘fight or flight’ and need to take a few steps to cool down.” Fortunately, IKEAs are huge and lend themselves quite well to strategic retreats. Not only does it give you time to relax, but after enough time wandering those cavernous blue labyrinths alone, you’ll be dying to be reunited with a familiar face.
8. Make it sexy
A good post-IKEA ritual. (Photo: Thinkstock)
Allow all that bedroom furniture to give you two some ideas (just please wait until you get home). “Giving each other back rubs is an excellent idea after the shopping trip,” says Arutt. Durvasula has an even more unconventional idea for the post-IKEA activities. “Maybe put the furniture together without clothes on,” she says. “Make it erotic.” You probably shouldn’t take that advice if you’re clumsy with tools; there’s nothing erotic about a painful trip to the emergency room.
9. Assemble it the right way
This couple celebrated their successful assembly of an IKEA shelf — and so did their cat. (Photo: Christopher/Flickr)
Those who may not enjoy the IKEA shopping experience may opt to dive right into the IKEA assembly experience in the interest of “getting it over with.” Don’t fall into that trap. “I say get it home and take a break,” says Durvasula. “Take a walk, make love — whatever you do to relieve your stress, reboot before you sit down to the task of putting it together.”
And then once you do decide to start assembly, watch out: This is the part that gives couples trouble. As part of couples counseling, Durvasula occasionally advises patients to assemble a big piece of IKEA furniture together and report back to her how it went. “I’ve had couples say, ‘He was really dismissive,’ or, ‘She was really bossy; I didn’t like my IKEA wife,’” she says. “It becomes a way for me teach them to ask questions. To stop and listen. To realize there’s another way to manage anger than throwing the instructions and walking out of the room. We’re able to find their pressure points by watching how they assemble a piece of furniture and then taking that into real life.”
Couples that successfully navigate a large piece of IKEA furniture get Durvasula’s seal of approval. “I say to people, ‘If you can put that thing together and it looks good, plan on your golden anniversary; you’re both keepers!’”
10. Or don’t assemble it at all … by yourself, anyway
You can also get help putting together your IKEA stuff. (Photo: IKEA)
IKEA says customers don’t have to risk the assembly. “They can choose from several service options to make the final process easy,” the company said in a statement to Yahoo Makers. “This includes IKEA picking the choice items, picking and delivering, or a combo of three; picking, delivering, and assembling. All these choices contribute to having a great IKEA shopping experience.”
Arutt likes the conflict-avoidance benefits of letting someone else do the hard work. “If there are people who love putting together puzzles and work well together and they’re gung ho [about buying and assembling IKEA furniture], it’s certainly more cost-effective to do that yourself,” she says. Otherwise, she adds, “It’s actually fairly reasonable to have [IKEA] bring a whole truckload of your stuff and put it together.”
So, yes, IKEA can be tough on couples. But remember that adversity can also bring two people closer together. And if you correctly navigate the relationship proving ground that is IKEA, you can emerge with a battle-hardened union that’s stronger than an ALGOT shelf — and with some cool new furniture as a bonus.
“Remember that at the end of the shopping trip, you’ll likely have something wonderful and new to enjoy together,” says Arutt. “So try to keep the goal in sight, as well as the sense of accomplishment you’ll have once you and your partner can say, ‘Mission accomplished!’”
It’s a moment of triumph you and your loved one can savor as you admire the fruits of your drama-free IKEA excursion. Because a strong relationship is classically stylish and quietly beautiful in its everyday charm, just like a piece of IKEA furniture — only (slightly) more difficult to put together.
More on Yahoo Makers: