“Why do couples fight in Ikea?” friends asked us.
They had made a long-planned store visit on the weekend and almost every couple they encountered, including themselves, were stressed, tense and exchanging angry words. What starts out as a highly anticipated (often romantic) outing soon derails and the ‘loving feelings’ flee the scene at a rate of knots.
Ikea’s value proposition is a quick, cheap, self-service solution: choose your item, bag it, pay for it, and take it home. Presto! New look home in one afternoon.
The problem begins with the first step of the process – choosing what you want is a lot easier if there’s only one opinion to accommodate. And though its not expensive furniture, it is not usually a trivial purchase either. Warring couples tend to hold on to their point of view a little more enthusiastically when significant sums are at stake. Add to that the pressure of a noisy, overcrowded store and the frustration of an understaffed service desk and it’s a recipe for relationship meltdown.
But it’s more than just the environment that makes couples so argue-prone… after all, couples can be found in stubborn standoffs in every furniture store.
Furniture and home decorating have high symbolic status – a simple bookcase to one person might mean longed for order and tidiness, while for another it’s an opportunity to show off treasured possessions. One may seek to establish a quiet retreat with books neatly stowed, while the other is thinking about how the bookcase will transform the room into a lively entertainment space. It’s still just a bookcase but the solutions that it offers are many. Couples are almost never aware of their own underlying biases and agendas when they set out to make a purchase, so communication tends to be fuzzy and quickly becomes defensive as couples try to argue their unclear and unstated view about what ‘we’ should buy.
Of course, if the couple survives the store experience with relationship still intact, they have yet to face the real challenge: how to get all the stuff they bought into the car AND assembled without triggering a nuclear holocaust!
Questions for Reflection
1. At your last furniture store outing: how well did you communicate your values about your purchase decisions?
2. When your spouse doesn’t understand you, do you…
- get defensive
- argue your point more aggressively
- clam up
- criticise your spouse for being stupid or inattentive
- storm off
- try a different way to explain your point of view
3. How do you feel when your spouse doesn’t understand you?
Other Posts in this Series
Why Couples fight in Ikea: here – this post
The Ikea Carpark Battle: here
The Ikea Assembly Meltdown: here
*No criticism intended – these observations apply equally to almost all home furnishing stores