Why Ikea makes couples fight

It’s good that they made it clear about the size of that cinnamon bun. Picture: Reddit

It’s good that they made it clear about the size of that cinnamon bun. Picture: Reddit

The psychology behind why Ikea makes couples fight

By: Simone Mitchel/Perth Now

HAVING an Ikea bust up is something of a rite of passage in any relationship.

And just like with a pizza, you can choose to have your fight in house or take away.

Some people choose to have their tense moments within the disorienting maze that is an Ikea store, others prefer to save their blow-up for the moment they get an item home and have to assemble flatpack furniture.

Domestic battles over the Swedish retailer’s products are such a common feature of modern cohabitation that comedian Amy Poehler once joked that Ikea was Swedish for “argument”.

So let’s look at the two options. They both have their charms.


Ikea is a maze of model bedrooms, kitchens and kiddies’ rooms. Customers are encouraged to spend time sitting in a faux lounge room, imagining what life could look like in these spaces.

And that’s where trouble often starts.

According to Dr. Gorkan Ahmetoglu, lecturer in business psychology at University College London, shoppers at Ikea don’t realize how deeply the store’s perfect set up can affect them. He says it makes them feel literally at home, which means they don’t have to be on their best behavior.

Clinical psychologist Dr. Ramani Durvasula told the Wall Street Journal “the store literally becomes a map of a relationship nightmare”.

“Walking through the kitchens brings up touchy subjects, like who does most of the cooking. Then you get to the children’s section, which opens up another set of issues”.

A nice idea to alleviate in-store Ikea tension is to create an incentive for good behavior. For example, if you manage to make it to the checkout without filing for divorce you get a soft-serve ice cream cone or a plate of meatballs in the cafeteria on the way out. This is not unlike Pavlov’s classical conditioning with dogs — you will come to associate a trip to Ikea with reasonably priced culinary fare instead of wanting to stab your significant other in the heart with a tiny pencil.

The other thing that you can do is try and lighten the mood by introducing a pun session to your Ikea trip, like this brave gent did.


Swedish design is often praised for its simplicity, but that is often wildly disputed by anyone trying to assemble a piece of flat-packed Ikea furniture.

Frustrating projects, such as navigating a foreign city with a map or constructing a chest of drawers can put the most solid couple’s relationship to the test.

“Little things like putting a set of shelves together will bring up some ancient history with the partners,” Don Ferguson, author of Reptiles in Love: Ending Destructive Fights and Evolving Toward More Loving Relationships, explained to Quartz.

“Do you trust me? Do you think I’m stupid? Do you think I have no skills? Do you wish your old boyfriend was here doing this?”

Dr. Ramani Durvasula, who we quoted earlier, agrees, referring to the complex Liatorp wall unit as “the Divorcemaker”.

According to the psychologists, the conflict can begin as soon as the unboxing takes place.

Even couples who aim for egalitarian division of labor across the whole of their relationship find that when it comes to individual tasks, one person usually steps forward as the lead: she oversees paying the bills, for example, while he’s head chef in the kitchen, writes Corinne Purtill.

Presented with a new task — like, say, assembling a Hemnes dresser — couples may have competing ideas of who’s best suited to take the lead.

A power struggle ensues, and power struggles are breeding grounds for conflict.

“Unless one of you is the accepted leader for building something, you’re thrown into this dynamic of ‘who is in charge?’” said Scott Stanley, a psychology professor at the University of Denver and author of the book, Fighting for Your Marriage.

Conflict also arises when something goes wrong in the construction process.

“The question is, do people have a tendency to blame the other person, or to understand that things just happen?” said Ariely, professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University.

“During the [construction] process, things happen in an unexpected way. There are pieces missing. People put things together in the wrong way. The question is, how much do we tend to blame the other person?”

There’s also the problem of fundamental attribution error, Ariely said. We tend to attribute our own mistakes to external factors (“I put this together wrong because the instructions were bad”) and others’ mistakes to internal ones (“You put this together wrong because you never pay attention.”)

As a side note, Allen keys are amazing, because as soon as you pull them out of the little plastic bag, they vanish into thin air.

Seriously, where did they go.