Why Shopping Together Hurts Relationships

February 15th 2017

Starting around the year 2015, a surprising threat to relationships started being documented: the IKEA superstore.

IKEA storeMichell Zappa/Flickr -

Just take a look at what happens when you Google "IKEA relationships."

IKEA relationships Google search screen shotGoogle

What is it about shopping in IKEA that wrecks relationships?

1. "Any big shopping experience ... becomes ripe for conflict [...]"

Associate editor Cari Romm of NY Mag's The Science of Us found herself a victim of the IKEA "relationship death-trap," so she reached out to psychology professor Julie Peterson for some answers.

IKEA shopping bag in cartrarye/Flickr -

Dr. Peterson points to the seemingly endless amount of products IKEA has to offer, and how too many options can be overwhelming. "Any big shopping experience, when you’re doing it as a dyad, it becomes ripe for conflict," she says. "[You have] so many choice options, and then on the other hand you have this sort of burden of balancing your needs and desires with your partner’s needs and desires, and as a result it kind of creates this perfect storm."

2. "The store literally becomes a map of a relationship nightmare."

Dr. Ramani Durvasula, a psychology professor at California State University Los Angeles, offered another theory to The Wall Street Journal on why couples fight in IKEA. She believes that as couples navigate the store, seeing perfect kitchens and bedrooms, it leads to some introspective thoughts on their own home lives — and how they don't measure up to IKEA's perfectly staged rooms.

"The store literally becomes a map of a relationship nightmare," she told The Wall Street Journal. Seeing a spotless kitchen could remind you of how little your partner tidies up, for example.

3. Then you have to put the furniture together — and teamwork doesn't always make the dream work.

There's a reason why IKEA furniture instructions are an often-used punch line. Their instructions are in pictures rather than words:

IKEA shelf instructionsIKEA -

IKEA shelf instructionsIKEA -

Dr. Peterson explains to Romm why these instructions can cause further stress and frustration: "You have a lot of steps to go through to get to that final product, and you’re compromising every single step of the way, because most of us don’t do things exactly the way our partners do them."

For some couples, these instructions serve as a way to test their communication skills. Dr. Durvasula actually has couples therapy patients assemble IKEA furniture in her office as a relationship exercise. She told The Wall Street Journal she calls IKEA's Liatorp shelving units "the Divorcemaker."


If you're part of a couple that can't shop without fighting, the best thing you can do is work on your communication before you step into the store, Dr. Peterson suggests. Have a plan and stick to it. And at the very least, know that when it comes to fighting in IKEA, you are far from alone.

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